Friday, August 23, 2013

Percy Jackson and the Titan's Curse, Rick Riordian

Book 3 in the Percy Jackson Series. Very enjoyable read. Another tale of bravery and following your heart to know what decision is best. Some parts were very predictable, others not. I again enjoyed more mythology.

SPOILER ALERT for discussions' sake

Percy finds out at the end from Athena what his fatal flaw is. Every hero has one. Well, I guess you could say every PERSON has one. The conversation between Athena and Percy brings something else to light. She says "Kronos knows your flaw, even if you do not. He knows how to study his enemies. Think Percy. How has he manipulated you?" And that mirrors common Christianity beliefs about the Devil, or Satan. He knows our weaknesses even if we don't. He knows how to study us and manipulate us into sinning. Athena then tells him "Your fatal flaw is personal loyalty, Percy. You do not know when to cut your losses. To save a friend, you would sacrifice the world." I can relate to that, as I have often described myself as loyal to a fault. Percy states "That's not a flaw. Just because I want to help my friends-" To which she replies "The most dangerous flaws are those which are good in moderation. Evil is easy to fight. Lack of wisdom...that is very hard indeed." SO incredibly true in life! Many people, if they are going to sin, won't be in the form of murdering someone or even overtly stealing something. It's going to be something else. It's going to be going overboard with "Wholesome Recreation" with your family, or taking care of yourself to be healthy to an extreme becoming obsessed with fitness and your body and extreme eating habits. Things that are good in moderation-and then taken to the extreme. Very dangerous territory indeed. Absolutely NOTHING is good in the extreme. Nothing.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Rent Collector, Camron Wright

This book was recommended by my friend Amy. I have a few friends who have such impeccable taste in literature that if I see they've read and liked something, I can pick it up without any reservations. This was one of those books.

It takes place in the actual Cambodian dump of Stung Meanchey. Several characters are real people, such as the main character Sang Ly, her husband Ki Lim and son Nisay. However, some of the book is factual and based on the author's son's documentary River of Victory (, but most is fictional. Based on the author's idea of what would happen if the people of Stung Meanchey were to be given the gift of literacy.

The Rent Collector, also nicknamed "The Cow" is an older woman who name is Sopeap Sin. Not many like her. But that all changes when Sang Ly realized that Sopeap knows how to read and requests to be taught. In Stung Meanchey, you earn enough for each day's food by going through the trash and picking out recyclables which you are then paid for. There really isn't a way to "get ahead" and even if you could, life wouldn't necessarily be better. For instance, when Sang Ly's son is continually sick and they have been to every doctor they can possibly take him to, she decides she must go back to the village of her childhood to the Healer who lives there. While waiting for the Healer to come back from a quick trip to a neighboring village, Ki is granted temporary work in the rice fields there. He makes less working the rice fields than he does at the dump.

I don't know much about Cambodia and the revolution there, but from what the book depicts it is every bit as awful as the Nazi regime. They killed anyone who was educated, claiming it was useless and selfish that the only ones who mattered were the working class. That it was unfair for anyone to live off the working class, therefore everyone had to work. Only those who worked would eat. But on the flip side, they stripped the identity of people in work camps stating that they were each only one grain of rice in a huge bowl. Take one grain out and the bowl is still full.  That brings up a lot to think about in and of itself.

But Sopeap is not liked at all, it is not until she is needed again that you start to see who she really is as a person. It reminds us that the people who are the hardest to love are the ones who probably need it the most. It also shows how when we are sincere, sometimes we can break down the barriers and truly come to know the person inside a hardened exterior.

I absolutely loved all the references to wonderful literature, the discussions of what makes literature and how to interpret how everything is symbolic in literature as well as possible inclinations to the literal. There is a discussion about the Cambodian version of Cinderella, a woman by the name Sarann. And Sopeap details to Sang Ly that this story appears in almost every culture around the world, independent of one another. Sopeap talks about this idea saying "I am talking about the constant nature of truth. Look at Buggha's philosophy-it's about the path and our journey. That's what his teachings of the Noble Eightfold Path are all about. Do you see what I mean? Have you ever found a classical book of literature that isn't about a journey-whether actual or within?....There isn't one. It's not just Sarann and Cinderella. Look at all books, plays, movies-we keep writing the same plots, with the same characters, teaching the same lessons.Why do you suppose that is?" Sang Ly replies "Nobody has an original idea?" Sopeap replies "Or is the original idea so intrinsic, inherent, and ingenious, so fundamental to our existence, that we can't help but be drawn back? ... I'm suggesting that writers can't help themselves. Our trials, our troubles, our demons, our angels-we reenact them because these stories explain our lives. Literature's lessons repeat because they echo from deeper places. They touch a chord in our soul because they're notes we've already heard played. Plots repeat because, from the birth of man, they explore the reasons for our being. Stories tech us to not give up hope because there are times in our own journey when we mustn't give up hope. They teach endurance because in our lives we are meant to endure. They carry messages that are older than the words themselves, messages that reach beyond the page."

How beautiful is that? Instead of criticizing the fact that there may be only 7 plots in the world, why not explore WHY, at the core of human nature we seem to gravitate-heavily-to those 7 plots. It may have absolutely nothing to do with a lack of originality and EVERYTHING to do with the fact that people inherently want to hope, want to have freedoms, want to avoid things, want good to triumph over evil. Mind blowing! It's not a weakness. It is a strength to paint the same picture with different hues and different colors.

Anyhow, this was a truly beautiful story. So many gems of literature-I have decided that I highly prefer the Cambodian Cinderella Sarann to the one we know in Western culture-the entire tale is printed in this book! I even read it to my 8 year old. This book has not only taught me so much about kindness, patients and basic human needs-both physical and emotional-but how to appreciate literature on an even deeper level. Especially some of the older, classics that are not as sensational page turners but can teach us so much. I'm even inspired to go back and attempt Mobey Dick again.....we'll see how that goes! This book touched me and resonated in my soul. Now you read it!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Daja's Book, Tamora Pierce

I can't remember if I started blogging after I read the first two books in this Quartet....The first was Sandry's Book followed by Tris's Book.

Anyhow, these 4 younger kids (I can't remember what age they are at the start, maybe around 10-12?) are found by a renowned mage, Niko. They are brought to a place called Winding Circle in order to learn their magic and learn how to contain and control it. None of the kids new they had any magic within them before this. Sandry's magic is with weaving and the materials used to weave, cotton, silk, etc. Tris's is with weather. Before she learned to control her magic, a bad mood would bring storms and anger would bring lightning. Briar's is with plants and the earth. Daja's is with fire and smithing. Because their abilities are all rare, they are brought together in this small group for learning. They all come from different backgrounds too. Sandry is a noble by blood, Tris from a merchant family, Briar was a street urchin and Daja a Trader.

Daja was a lone survivor of her family's trader ship after a terrible storm and wreck. Because of trader beliefs, that is NOT good. If you are the only survivor, then you are bad luck, you are a trangshi which basically means that you are erased from the books of traders as if you don't exist. She is not allowed to live among traders at all for fear that her bad luck will bring ill fates to the rest of the caravan.

In this book, they have travelled with Sandry's uncle and teachers to a northern land that has been suffering from drought for 3 years, plagued by grass fires, and unable to even mine copper for which they are famous. Sandry's uncle, The Duke is seeing if there's anything he can do to help. The other mages are doing likewise. In a preivous book in order to survive a terrible earth quake, Sandry spun all of their magic's together and now they are finding that their powers are jumping from one to the other, which causes problems. For instance when Briar goes to feel the ground to know what's fully going on with the drying saffron plants-one of the two main forms of money for this community-lightning shoots from his fingers and it kills some of the plants and creates a piece of glass from the sandy soil. Sandry examines some gold thread and it melts. So Sandry has to weave a map of where things are overlapping and re-weave it so they don't interfere with each other anymore. Inadvertently, Daja creates a living iron vine that actually grows and sprouts limbs and buds-so does so when it gets more metal to draw from. The Traders want this item, but according to their law, they can't do business with a trangshi. However, this is such a valuable and unusual item....things might change.

I really like these books, set in alternate times (I think older times for this one), a little like Harry Potter in which some people have magic and some don't, and you have to learn to use it. But unlike it in that you really specialize based on what you have and it's tied to certain elements. And not as sensational. Everyone knows about people with magic and rely on them to help out with their abilities, as Yarrun whose job it is to put out fires. It's nice to see kids from so strikingly different backgrounds become friends and how their backgrounds help give different perspectives on things. And how people can grow to become your family.

These are quick read books and very well written with many noble traits valued, such as honesty and integrity, not being greedy and doing things for the right reason. Being patient and understanding, even when you don't like the other person or how they act. All sorts of characteristics that every parent would want their kids to have. So having many protagonists value those traits makes these great books for a young reader to put on their list as well!