Friday, December 5, 2014

Wonder, RJ Palacio

What a beautiful book!!!! Auggie is an 11 year old boy who is about to enter public school for the first time. He's been home schooled his entire life because most of his early childhood was spent getting many, many surgeries and recovering from them. He's had so many surgeries because of a cranio-facial abnormality. In laymen's terms, his face is severely deformed. He was born that way.

This story is told by many different perspectives. I had a little trouble following which point of view it was coming from, since there are a few different peers of Auggie's that get a section as well as his sister, her boyfriend, and another friend. Out of all of them, I felt the voice of the boyfriend was the weakest, although the type set was different which gave constant reminder who was narrating. It wasn't like that for anyone else.

Anyhow, this story takes you through Auggie's first year in public school, 5th grade, which where he's at happens to be the first year of middle school. Crazy! The earliest I've seen/experienced/taught, middle school was 6th grade, sometimes not even until 7th. But regardless, that age, 10-12 is a rough age. There are many, many mean and horrible things that kids do to each other. But along side that, there are many, many good and wonderful things kids do for each other. Sometimes they do them out of obligations-or at least that's how it starts-and some do it out of the goodness of their hearts. Some kids put on a great face in front of adults, but turn 180 when adults aren't around. And some kids learn their hateful-or at least hurtful behavior from their parents. I particularly loved the section that Auggie's sister told. How she grapples with labels of her past that she is trying to ditch as her first year of high school unfolds. How she's always been known as "The girl who has a deformed little brother" and has had friends too scared of his face to come over for play dates. She loves her brother so fiercely it's almost motherly, yet she has conflicted feelings about being associated with him. She's angry with herself for feeling this way, but can't seem to dismiss them as easily as she'd like.

I also appreciated how Auggie described things, such as people "not staring" or "smiling too wide" or "trying to hide their shock at seeing my face for the first time". As a person, it's sometimes near impossible to NOT have some sort of knee-jerk response to seeing something outside of the norm. And Auggie gets that. He knows people are not trying to be mean or rude, that it's just a normal reaction and he doesn't take offense. It's what happens AFTER that, that counts. It's hard sometimes not to overdo it and treat someone like that in a "special" way-they don't want that-they want to be treated normal. And the person in this book who shows the most perfect example of this is Summer. This character has a heart of gold and I just love her to death! She is not caught up in who's who, she's not caught up in what "crowd" she ought to be a part of. She does her own thing. She's friendly to everyone. She is the ONE person who goes out of her way to be friends with the kid who has "the plague" because she WANTS to. Not because she has some guilty conscious telling her that this is the right thing to do, or this is probably what she should do-although she probably did have an inner voice telling her it would be the right thing to do-the motivation was that she just wanted to be his friend. No ulterior motive. And it wasn't after she got to know him that she even breached the subject of why his face was the way it is. And Auggie knows those questions are innocent curiosity. And having people ask and him telling at least might stop the whispered assumptions that probably go on. I wish we could all be more like Summer-who can treat everyone the same-and that people who are classified as "different" were all like Auggie-not take offense to the tiny things that some people do-especially when they don't mean to offend and are obviously trying to do the right thing. I don't know a ton of "Auggie's" but a overwhelming majority have been a LOT like Auggie. There's just a few who have become bitter and have made it hard to be pleasant towards them and it has absolutely NOTHING to do with outward appearance!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell

This was my first Rainbow Rowell novel. I have friends for whom this is one of their favorite authors. I had seen several recommendations, from friends whom I've NEVER been disappointed when taking a recommendation from them. *sigh* Until now. I was NOT a big fan of this book.

There are several things I DID like. The characters were very real, likable, believable, and captivating. Cather (Cath)-our protagonist-has some quirks that are extremely endearing. And Levi is personifies someone everyone knows, the guy who is always smiling and friendly and optimistic. You are just as oblivious to certain things as Cath is, so you do get surprised by a few things just because you, as the reader, are ignorant of anything Cath is ignorant of (most of the time). There was a sweet story line. There is also a lot of baggage because Cath and her twin, Wren (Cather-Wren, their mom wasn't counting on twins and apparently didn't want to think of a second name for the second twin) were left by their mom when they were 8, the day after Sept. 11, 2001.

It was also interesting because Cath is a fanfiction writer. There are really 3 stories going on at once, which is clever and I give Rowell props for that. There's Cath's real life story, the Simon Snow and the Mage's Heir books in canon by "Gemma T. Leslie", and Cath's fanfaction version of Simon Snow. But this, for me was where I started to get a little annoyed. Simon Snow is so OBVIOUSLY a parallel of Harry Potter and that, for some reason REALLY bothered me. Simon Snow goes to a school to learn to be a magician. He has a super smart female friend. He has an enemy at the school (who happens to also be his roommate). He is an orphan. He is supposed to be the hero of the magic world. There are 8 books and the cultural following of Simon Snow with midnight release parties for the books as well as the movies could easily describe the cultural phenomenon of Harry Potter. To me, it seemed weak for this made up fictional series to parallell HP so much. I kept saying "Really?" when I'd read more of this fictional story within this book. You can't help but compare everything Simon Snow to HP and try to convert things. Like the Hare's Snow is supposed to find to the Horcrux's in HP. I also had a hard time telling apart the "real" Simon Snow excerpts from the "fanfiction" excerpts of Simon Snow. There wasn't enough writing difference between Cath and Gemma T Leslie for me to just tell. Unless you go by content.

The other thing I didn't like was Cath's obession with men being gay. In HER version of Simon Snow, Simon and his arch nemesis, Baz fall in love and have a relationship. There are some scenes that are almost love scenes. Now, even though I don't agree with some things about being gay, I *usually* don't have a problem with gay characters. But for me, this just felt like it was thrown in just to be thrown in. To prove some kind of point. It was NOTHING like Kate Morton's character in "The Distant Hours" or even like William in "Downton Abbey", where there is definitely a struggling point with the character and their orientation that taught a lesson or brought about sympathy for their situation. And it wasn't just Simon and Baz with Cath either. When she writes with a guy named Nick for a partner assignment, she turns one of their characters into a gay guy with a secret boyfriend. But why? What is her fascination? She herself, is straight. Maybe the whole point was that there shouldn't need to be a specific reason to write things of this nature. But it was just presented in a way that I thought was too blatant. It was meant to be nonchalant, but for me it didn't come off like that. It felt too forced-as if Rowell, via Cath, HAD to prove a point.

And then there was the language-which I HAD been given fair warning about from BOTH friends who recommended this author. You could tell from the acknowledgement section that the author is the kind of person who drops the "F-bomb" in normal conversation and in places that swear words are starting to become mainstream. For instance, in describing someone she says they are just "f-ing awesome". And if you were a normal run-of-the-mill-every-day-college-student, the language is probably true-to-life and wouldn't be alarming to anyone. For me, I tried to skim over any of it because frankly, after awhile, it got old.

Also, the story, while sweet, wasn't very captivating for me. It was enjoyable, but not if I had something better around. I checked it out and started reading it, but before finishing it, I read the last two books in the Ember series and the 4th Michael Vey book as they got to me through library holds.

So, I'm sorry to those who love Rowell, but this one just didn't do it for me. I might give her one more chance with a different novel, but not for awhile.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Michael Vey, Hunt for Jade Dragon, Richard Paul Evans

Book 4. Wow, just as fast paced as usual! However, I do have to warn that there were parts of this book that were MUCH more predictable than others and many more hunches of mine proved correct than in the previous books. I'm not sure if that's just because I'm more used to the writing style and the story line of this series, but that gave me mixed feelings. I don't want a book to be predictable, but at the same time, it's fun to be right. :-)

I can't write too much without spoiling things, and I don't want to spoil things. However, this one was the first one that really left quite a large cliff hanger at the end, which is really a bummer since I found out there are going to be EIGHT (or was it 7?) books in the series and the next one will hopefully be out in a year. Part of me wants to read them as they come out. Part of me wants to wait 4 years for the series to be finished.

Dr. Hatch is more evil than ever. He still makes me sick to my stomach. And what makes me even more sick is how the Electric Children or Glows who are with him are becoming more and more like him in their evil and how they view and treat other human beings. It is truly disgusting stuff and not for the faint of heart. His eventual downfall will be something akin to the downfall of Dolores Umbridge. I never EVER thought there would be a character quite as horrible as Umbridge, but Hatch is her times a million in how horrible and truly evil he is. Yes. He needs to go DOWN and it's almost traumatic to realize that there are several more books before I'm certain it will happen.

The Diamond of Darkhold, Jeanne DuPrau

Ahh, back to the characters I know and LOVE from this series! Yes, Prophet of Yonwood was a little weird and I was a bit lukewarm about it, I really liked returning to the "Post Disaster" world. It's been awhile since I finished it, so unfortunately it's not as lucid, but I do know that I was very satisfied at the end.

One thing that is REALLY cool is that the people of Sparks get a chance to go on a salvaging expedition back to Ember. I love that the people of Sparks get proof of the underground city and realize that it wasn't a cave or something more primitive than their own current state, but rather far more advanced than they could have imagined.

Of course, Lina and Doon find another book that has been damaged and only has 8 pages of information remaining. Luckily there are a LOT of books that have been kept in Sparks that can help people of an inventive and engineering mind set, like Doon, to help reclaim some of the technologies previously lost after the "Disaster". And of course, it's a clean source of energy and it spreads throughout the land and people learn how to harness solar power on a scale we don't even use today (perhaps if we were forced into it, we would). There are flashes to the future which is very satisfying as a reader to know that the world is going to be ok. That the world is going to be a better place. And perhaps even better is the fact that Lina and Doon are not necessarily going to be famous in world history, but nothing they did was ever for the intent of gaining popularity or fame. They are always motivated by what the "right" thing to do is. Even when the right thing is not easy, popular, or promises dividends right away. And I think that fact is one of the things that made me fall in love with these characters and these books.

I just thought of another thing I loved....there is a family who mistreats Doon-they had found the City of Ember and took it for their own, sort of. Since the generator still spat out power every now and again. At one point when Doon finds a way to get away from them, he makes it impossible for that family to stay here. Later on in the book, this family resurfaces. And instead of condemning them for what they did, Doon forgives them and they allow this family to live in Sparks. It was interesting, because in the book it said something to the effect of "There were many reasons not to let them say" and then it states those reasons, and then says "But there were also reasons why they should let them stay" and it listed those reasons. I feel this is an important lesson to learn because people are going to wrong us all the time and we have to choose whether we are going to move past those things or not. Whether we will forgive or not. Whether we can ever let the good that people have the potential to reach, or let their imperfections always outweigh any future good.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Prophet of Yonwood, Jeanne DuPrau

The 3rd Book of Ember.

To be honest, I was not as crazy about this book as I was about the other two. Props to the author for making her narrators, Nickie and Grover quite different in feel to Lina and Doon, although the characters do have some paralells (Nickie and Lina both are VERY curious people and quite concerned with being able to know right from wrong).

As I said in my last post, I wasn't quite sure where the author was going with the topic of religion and God. After the fact, I think she did all right not overtly criticizing any specific belief set. But I'm wondering if the author herself has a personal belief in a God or not.

In Yonwood, North Carolina, Nickie spends a few weeks with her aunt Crystal at her great-grandfather's estate whom Crystal and Nickie's mother, Rachel, inherited. The idea is to fix up the estate and sell it, splitting the profit for inheritance. One thing I absolutely LOVED about this book is the feeling that Nickie gets in her need to know who her Great-Grandfather was and who the people who used to live with were and her intense curiosity to know their stories. She finds a notebook that belonged to her Great-grandfather with notes in it in his final lucid days before his passing.

I couldn't quite tell what year it was supposed to be. There was an insane amount of technology, everyone had a DATT phone device, Do A Thousand Things, which is reminiscent of a smart phone, yet the President of the United States repeatedly tells the people to "Pray to God for our cause" to paraphrase it. Certainly that doesn't jive with the leadership since such technology, with separation of Church and State and all. Nickie wonders a LOT about God, because what if your enemies were also praying to God? Were there many God's? Was there a "right" God? How would you know? There was an instance where the Phalanx Nations (the enemy to the US) held hostages and wouldn't let them go unless they converted to the "true faith" whatever that may be (it made me think of early Christian Crusades or present day demands of Islamic Extremists). The "Prophet" is a woman-Althea Towers-who out of the blue had a vision of mass destruction where everything on Earth was obliterated with fire and war. One lady, Mrs. Beeson decided the vision was from God, and because Althea was so incredibly shocked by her vision she was altogether mentally unwell. Mrs. Beeson has become "interpreter" for what Althea says and calls her a Prophet and tells the town that they have been blessed to have a Prophet in her midst and if they do what she says, and love God, they will be all right. Now, I'm a religious person and in the Bible it does teach that if you serve God you have no need to fear. But in this book, the people interpreted that to mean that there MIGHT be a war, but THEY wouldn't be affected by it. In MY religion's interpretation it means that regardless of what DOES happen to you on Earth (and it could be bad) if you live a good life, you don't need to fear death.

The other thing was that so many people, while worried about conflict, were very self absorbed, as if they were too tired, too busy, or too distracted to think of war as something that might actually happen to THEM. I wonder if that was meant to signify how self-absorbed we've become? I mean, there was a volcanic eruption somewhere and we have pictures of it because people who saw it happen were taking pictures and tweeting them instead of getting the H-E-double hockey sticks away from a dangerous situation!

Towards the end I was getting very confused and impatient to get to HOW this story connected to the City of Ember. I had some notions, but they were not addressed until the final chapter. So don't expect answers to come in bits and pieces-it all comes out in the end.

Nickie grapples with right and wrong. Is a certain thing wrong in and of itself, or only wrong up to a certain age? If you don't feel good about something, does that mean that it's wrong? Does that make a person a sinner? How do you tell good from bad? These are definitely good conversation points to have with a middle reader.

One thing I didn't like was the suggestion that people's faith is blind. Of course, for some people it is, and that kind of faith can be dangerous. As it states a couple times, when you believe in something so much, you are willing to do anything, ANYTHING, for that belief. We have seen that in many different ways. But it felt like the book was suggesting that ALL faith was like that. When things go back to "normal" in one area, they "go back to following regular laws made by people rather than commands that might or might not come from God." Another thing was a bit unsure about was that as part of the plot, Mrs. Beeson has asked people to "give up" certain things (giving things up in the name of a greater cause makes you feel strong-and while it had the slight feeling of mockery in the story, I don't feel it's bad to give up a vice for something better. I mean, there's Ramadan and Lent and other things that aren't fanatical in religions that required a sacrifice of some sort and it can make a person better, not just a lemming) and one character gives up romance books. Nickie (who has 3 goals at age 11, one of which is to fall in love) gets curious (as she does about EVERYTHING) picks up one of those books and there are a couple excerpts out of them. Nothing is explicit in the "excerpts" but I worry slightly that since those parts "weren't that bad"  or give it that appeal that it was something someone had to "give up" in order to be good, that some young reader will unsuspectingly pick up an actual romance novel and be exposed to things a young reader REALLY shouldn't be exposed to.

In this story, war is averted, but really it's just postponed. The root of the conflict was that people could not co-exist along side each other and live different belief systems. Each side insisted that their faith was the ONLY right one and that it had to be enforced by force. It seems to me, that if there's a lesson to be learned from this book, it could be found in the 11th Article of Faith from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints: "We claim the privilege of worshipping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscious and allow all men the same privilege. Let them worship how, where or what they may." We feel strongly that we need to tell everyone about our beliefs and our faith, in order that everyone has the chance to make a educated decision on whether to accept or reject it, but we do NOT believe in force. In fact, at the very root of our religion is the ability to have Agency to choose for ourselves. But we DO have religious extremists who are bent on exterminating anyone who believes differently from them and refuses to convert. And one cause of destruction is not just war, but that as a result of this behavior and mind set, diseases that had never before been seen or diseases that used to be isolated are now cropping up and spreading globally. This book was published in 2006.

The people of Yonwood were obsessed with being good, creating a "shield of good" to protect them. It is not enough to just be good. You have to look for real solutions to conflict as well. The more we can teach our kids about conflict resolution, the better. The more we can teach that people can live peaceable lives side by side while believing different things, the better. And teach that people who are "different" can still be "good" people. And teach that there are so, SO many things on this Earth to spend your time and effort on that could benefit ALL of mankind, we don't need to be caught up in petty differences or things of little consequence. Some things matter and some things don't. Learn how to tell the difference!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The People of Sparks, Jeanne DuPrau

I absolutely LOVED this Second book of Ember. Doon and Lina's adventure continues above ground when they come upon the City of Sparks. Of course, the people of Sparks feel obligated to help, even though the people of Ember more than double their population and they are some of the few survivors of the Disaster (which had both a war aspect and natural disaster aspect, reminiscent for me of The Testing and it's '7 stages of war, 4 wars and 3 huge Earth calamities, I think that was the book with that).

It's interesting how almost immediately, the two groups begin to compare ways of life....much technology has been lost and there is no electricity in Sparks, but they had electricity in Ember, different foods are available above than below, there are animals and weather conditions (Ember's climate was always the same) and much plant life that Emberites never knew. It's also interesting to note how quickly one person's unhappiness and wanting to blame someone else (scapegoat), and another's quest for power/control can escalate into an all out war. Misunderstandings get outrageous and no one seems to be willing to listen to another. Of course, innocent children are able to help.

There is one really quiet, wise adult figure who is not from either group. She explains to Lina about conflict and war. It's very matter of fact and not in a condemning sort of way, but in a "this is human nature" way, I felt.

There is also an emotionally charged scene in which Lina wants to make the right choice, but no one else is making the right choice and she is afraid to do it on her own, but as soon as she does, pretty much the entire community follows suit. Often it only takes one person to be courageous enough to do the right thing. We can't always wait for someone else to do it. Even children can be examples for adults. Sometimes as adults we are even more hindered in our minds than we would be as children.

Can't say enough good about this book!!!

**I have to say that I am partially into Book 3 which is actually a prequel, and I am honestly not quite sure what to think of it, as I am not sure of the author's intent on the way she is treating religion in Book 3. I will withhold final judgement on it until I finish and hopefully see what her point is, but just know that if you are religious, you may feel put out with her treatment of her characters and how they view faith, religion, God and love of God and what it will "do" for you.

Friday, October 10, 2014

City of Ember, Jeanne DuPrau

This book I picked up because my 4th grader's teacher is reading it aloud to the class. As my daughter was describing this book, it seemed like some sort of futuristic dystopian or alternate universe type of society. Naturally, I was curious, and naturally, I was slightly concerned having read an abundance in this genre and worried about the content and it's appropriateness for her age group. Her current teacher is an exchange teacher from Australia, but the regular classroom teacher (who will return after the Christmas break) had copies of The Hunger Games in his room, which I do NOT feel are appropriate for 4th graders! That was the whole reason I was a bit cautious.

But I was pleasantly surprised! The main characters are 12, getting their job assignments as they join the adults in the workforce of society. (Seriously, WHAT is with the age of 12 that is SO significant that MANY dystopian societies have some sort of ritual at the age of 12. If it's not 12 it's 16). The jobs are chosen by pulling out a strip of paper out of a bag. So the technology isn't very great. It's also very dark where they live. There is no natural source of light. Their civilization has been in existence for over 200 years but somehow the storehouses are running low. They were supposed to never run out. The Builders built their city. At the very beginning you learn that the builders also included a box with a timed lock that was to open on its own when the time was right. It was to be passed down from mayor to mayor. However, an epidemic sweeps through the population, a coughing sickness, and one mayor, desperate for relief from the sickness thinks the box might contain the answers, but try as he might, he couldn't get it open. Then instead of passing it down to the next mayor, it gets put in a closet and open on its own when the time came.

Lina is the protagonist along with her friend Doon. They each draw a job the other wants, so they trade (I kept waiting for them to get in trouble for trading, but it never happens; I guess they don't care WHO is doing each job just so long as the jobs get done). They together find things that no one else is looking for, and are concerned with finding solutions for the increasing black outs their city experiences. They are becoming more frequent and more lengthy.

Another topic this book approaches is when adults make wrong decisions. Lina and Doon are trusting of adults, and when they have vital information, their first thought is to take it to the adults in charge. They assume that the adults will do the right thing. But of course, this current mayor is corrupt (that isn't a giveaway, you get that idea from the first chapter), but the idea that it never occurred to the children I think is identifiable in most kids who would be reading this book. There ARE times when adults don't make the right decisions. And it's important not for kids to be wary of the adults in their lives, but to learn how to read a person's character and listen to their inner voice that will warn them of shady people who would do them harm. I think this is a topic that could be discussed in broader terms to relate to life experiences that might occur in our world today.

I can't say much more without giving away too much, but it was very clever, very age appropriate, good paced, entertaining and though provoking. It is part of a series of books, referred to as The Books of Ember. There are 4 books, and a review says The conclusion is everything a series closer should be, satisfying but provocative. —Horn Book Magazine 

The first book has been made into a movie as well. My daughter read the Graphic Novel, but I'm going to make her wait till her class finishes the book before checking the movie out from the library. Purist that I am :-)

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Michael Vey Battle of the Ampere, Richard Paul Evans

Book 3 in the series. Did NOT disappoint! New twists, new people, first death in the Electroclan.....many victories.

Same fast pace you're used to from the first two books. I'm starting to wish for a few slower parts to allow for more character development because I feel like they are always so busy with the next plan or the next step or defending themselves again that they aren't truly sure of who they are and what they're made of. You get really, REALLY awesome glimpses, but nothing concrete. However, they ARE just teenagers, and what teenager knows what they're made of, right?

Even though predicaments come up often, it doesn't seem abrupt, the flow is very good, and it wasn't melodramatic either (as in, I didn't think "seriously, not AGAIN", but maybe that's because you EXPECT things to keep happening to them).

I still get VERY uncomfortable with the level of evil Dr. Hatch is capable of-with not even a smidgen of a hint of remorse for his actions. He is truly a sociopath of the WORST kind....maybe like Hitler? Or whoever was the leader in Japan at the time of WWII?

Now to wait for the library to get me #4......

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Michael Vey, the Prisoner of Cell 25 and Michael Vey Rise of the Elgan, Richard Paul Evans

I read both of these SO fast that I'm just going to review them together.

Wow. SO INCREDIBLY fast paced. It's a real page turner. It's nice, because some of the chapters are pretty short, so you can read it in whatever bits and pieces you can steal throughout the day (which is how I sometimes have to read being a mom and all).

After the first one, I was tempted to have my 9 year old read them....but after the 2nd, I have decided to wait. You see, the evil guy, Dr. Hatch, is REALLY evil. Remember Unbroken, the story of Louis Zamperini who was a Japanese POW and all the horrible, degrading, sadistic things that happened to him? Yeah. What Dr. Hatch does gives me flashbacks of THAT. He is a mastermind at brainwashing and a mastermind of torture, both psychological and physical. He is the epitome of a mad scientist.

Of course, Michael Vey and his friends always come out on top against all odds-totally reminding me of Percy Jackson. But hopefully the eventual ban of evil in the name of good will come about at the end...I have no idea how many books this series will have. I know there's 4, but I don't know it well enough to know if #4 is the final one. I also just started book 3 and have 4 "In transit" from my hold request at the library :-)

Anyhow, Michael has electric powers. He's always thought he's the only one, but turns out, he's not. And when he meets and joins up with some of them who are likeminded and not brainwashed by Hatch along with a couple of unexpected bullies-turned best allies-and his super smart best friend Ostin (ironically named after the city in TX, Austen) who seems to know EVERYTHING-except how to be socially normal around girls :-) All of the best qualities of everyone together creates kind of a club, the Electroclan, and when the bad guys kidnap Michael's mom-that's when the Electroclan starts to show its power.

I'm a big fan of these books now, although like I said, the level of dark evil that Dr. Hatch is, is pretty gruesome, and made me a little squeamish at times. I think at times I had less trouble stomaching The Hunger Games. I'm really, really looking forward to the eventual downfall of Dr. Hatch and I hope it's big! These books also open up a big potential discussion about brainwashing and what it is and how it happens. It might help kids be aware of what people do to try to manipulate them to do certain things, not to extent of what Dr. Hatch does, but there are similarities. For instance, Dr. Hatch gives the electric kids on his side anything they want, but in return asks them to do things for him "displays of loyalty" he calls them. This book also explores the complex that permeated Japanese culture for a LONG time, and also in Nazi Germany, that there are races of people who are superior to others. Dr. Hatch convinces the electric kids (or Glows) that they are eagles among chickens, that they are worth infinitely more than regular people. When Taylor (a girl Michael knew from high school) was asked to give a display of loyalty that could have had a negative impact on a person, she refused. Another Glow couldn't understand her hesitation saying "They're only people, Taylor!" Which could lead to a great conversation of how so many people could have been convinced that killing 6 million Jews was somehow OK. Obviously, not EVERYONE was brainwashed, but some were probably simply too afraid of what would happen to THEM if they showed loyalties anywhere else. It could also be the start of a discussion of how the Japanese tried various times to overrule the Koreans because of their belief of superiority (which also fueled their interest in WWII). So as you can see, it's not just a sci-fi action adventure novel, but also a starting point for very serious, non-fiction discussions.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Edenbrooke, Julianne Donaldson

"A proper romance"

This was a fun, clean Regency Period (think Pride and Prejudice) novel. I loved it! So fun to read. The poor 17 year old protagonist, Marianne Daventry is hopelessly naive, but that is TOTALLY expected from this period of time. There were things that I personally caught on to the second it happened and it took nearly half the book for Marianne to put two and two together. But like I said, it wasn't annoying because it fit with the time period. There was a prolonged tense situation with a rescuer that seemed a bit far fetched (and waaaay too much of a happy coincidence) but this too seemed to fit with the time period.

But oh, how it brought back memories of my own dating experience when I met my husband and while we were dating. Of course, we didn't have such societal rules about if and when we could declare feelings for one another, but just the flirting, the easy friendship, the worry about sincerity, the self-consciousness and the boldness that all come with a new relationship. And especially with a relationship when you choose to wait until you are married to give your whole self. Because of what was proper there in that time (although you do get the idea that not EVERYONE lived quite so strictly by those rules, even back then), it made it relate-able to me.

It's one of those books that makes you nostalgic for those times when a simple look or touch could cause you to get light headed. But it's just like a fire-it starts with a spark, but the fire cannot continue to burn as if it's just sparked. It would be wrong for us to think that just because we don't have huge, wild flames in our relationship that it is not a true fire. If you've ever cooked on a fire or sat by one to get warm, you know that fires are at their greatest potential when the flames die down and there are insanely hot coals. It's different, but it's still a fire. I think this misconception is at least part of why some relationships fail-they lose the excitement and people mistake this transformation as "falling out of love" when really it's just transitioning into a different stage that has a different feel. So when you read this, which I can whole-heartedly recommend!-don't just wish that you could have that again or go back to it, (especially if you've been in a relationship for a long time *like being married for 11+ years*), enjoy what your love has turned into and see if you can't just use your memory to get those heart beats to skip a few times again. :-)

The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood

Ok, so this book I learned about when I was perusing the internet to see if anyone had posted an essay on similarities in dystopian society books. I know I've listed some common themes I've seen, but it's no academic essay by any means. Another similarity I've found is that something is never quite right about the family unit. The most "normal" of family units (as in not interfered with by government in any obvious or overt way) was in the Hunger Games. So I read about this book and was curious, so I put it on hold. I was wary of this book because of the premise. And the movie adaptation is rated R (but then, so is Lord of the Flies). So I wasn't sure what I was getting into. It was published in 1985.

The story is told in present tense with flashbacks to life before. Apparently (you don't find out until the end) there were numerous environmental/chemical exposures as well as biological weaponry unleashed onto society that rendered many men sterile and the population dropped severely. Our government was completely taken over (the protagonist says the rumors were Islamist's, but it is never confirmed nor hinted at since, but the new government system is decidedly of some Christian origins since there are "Aunts" which are reminiscient of Catholic "Sisters" and they use the Bible-Old Testament mostly-in order to justify their positions). They did so using deadly force by killing the entire US government, presidency, senate and house, obliterated them all, and with the use of technology that was already in place: instead of money in the bank and a card, you had a number (it reminded me of kids at school with lunch numbers) and it was withdrawn that way. Everyone had their information attached to this number and they froze all the female accounts. This was the beginning of female oppression and the loss of freedoms and rights for women in general. Women were not allowed to read or write or be educated. Girls were married by around 14 because they needed to start early to attempt to repopulate the society and unions were assigned and girls given away by their mothers (as opposed to the current tradition of the fathers). Women were taken from their families. Then you add this infertility thing and the new government touting the Bible for things. Many religions are persecuted, Jews are the only ones who are allowed a choice-convert or deport (which some deportations you find out are thwarted). The book is VERY sacrilegious in nature because of how the Government uses-I'd say abuses the Bible. I'm not sure what the author's intent is with this. Maybe to make the reader beware that people will distort anything to their means? That religion is a joke?

Anyhow, there is some bad language. But not all of it is in the form of swearing. And there are some scenes that are fairly explicit (I wouldn't recommend this to anyone under 18 for sure), but they were described in a very sterile manner. The use of the "f" word was used several times, but in such a way as similar to when the "b" word is used at a dog show because that is the technical term for a female dog. So it wasn't quite as offensive as it could have been. It may have been used a couple times as a swear word, but I don't remember. The Bible story that the entire society (named Gilead) is based upon is the story of Jacob and his wife Rachel and her handmaid. How Rachel could not bear children so she gave him her handmaid that she "might have children by her". So the affluent men of society are given a "handmaid" via government issue-the women who have been found to have viable ovaries proven by one or more successful births-and once a month-as determined by ovulation cycle-there is a "ceremony" involving the wife and handmaid (to symbolize that the wife would have children by the handmaid) and the husband. By law there is to be no pleasure or romance or anything enjoyable. It is strictly procreation they are after. Nearly full clothing is used. Which the clothing is another thing....there is a caste system, wives wear blue, handmaids wear red, Martha's (working maid/cooks-the women who can't have kids I guess) have another uniform (green? I can't remember) and econowives get stripes. It's very full coverage type clothing. The handmaid only has so much time to conceive before she is cast out to the "colonies" or put out with the "unwomen" (those who supported abortions or had their tubes tied or something like that) and their jobs are dangerous and often lead to quick death. Because of course, if you take that one Bible story as a cue, women are the ones at fault for infertility. And taking Rachel saying "Give me children or I die" literally. The handmaids are stripped of their former names-you never even know the protagonists real name-you know her as Offred (Of Fred), their name being Of and whichever man they currently belonged to. There are also nearly daily hangings for various crimes.

It's a whacked out society for sure. But of course, there's an underground Female Road, not unlike the Underground Railroad for the black slaves of the US History past. At the very end, you read a narrative of an educational seminary whose setting is over 100 years into our future studying the text that you have completed reading which has come from some hidden cassette recordings dictated by a female voice found in an old locker of some sort. So you know the protagonist got out. You don't know anything about the quality of her life post escape, but the fact that there is a society that happens after them does not oppress women.

So I'm not entirely sure I'd recommend this book......definitely not wholeheartedly.....I probably could have gone without reading it, but once I got started (and it wasn't nearly as offensive as "A Casual Vacancy") I grew so concerned with Offred that I just needed to know if she got out, so I finished it. It won awards, but I don't see any real reason to read this book unless you want to have a college level academic discussion of things in this dystopian society.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Where She Went, Gayle Forman

Super fast, easy read. Still a bit more swearing than I'm usually comfortable with. I still don't care how "authentic" it made it or not, it's just not my taste.

This one is entirely from Adam's perspective. It took me awhile to get into it, since I had JUST read Mia's voice, I didn't feel like Adam's voice was completely distinct. It was interesting to have a guy protagonist who was completely torn apart by the fact that his girlfriend almost dies, stays by her side every step of the way to rehab to get to Juilliard on time, to be completely dropped without rhyme or reason. What gives? You spend most of the book incredibly angry at Mia, but feeling like you have no right to be angry at her given her circumstance. Which is exactly how Adam feels. So there's a good authentic emotional vibe going on.

Luckily, Forman likes to give you answers. Even though you have to wait, you DO get answers. And you DO get closure. I like how she explored the seriousness and the benefits of closure. Sometimes when things don't end up as we hoped or planned, we can come to accept them if we have a little understanding of what went wrong. It's all that "what if" and not being able to wrap your mind around things. If you know what went wrong, maybe you could fix it! But if no one explains, you don't get that chance. And it's frustrating. She also explores the pressure of being famous. The ugly side of being the one showing up in tabloids. Kinda makes you feel a little more sympathetic. And yeah, they chose that life and they knew that their life and a bunch of lies about it were going to get smeared all over. But we should remember that underneath it all, they ARE still people. And people, generally speaking, still have feelings. Even if I had everything I could ever need or want, I doubt it'd make up for being mocked or made fun of all the time.

Anyway, I personally appreciated the fact that this BOOK had good closure to it. And it was definitely entertaining. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

If I Stay, Gayle Forman

Hmm. I think around 3.5 ish starts of 5 is my assessment.

My copy of the book from the library had on the back a picture of the book's sequel. Talk about a spoiler alert! I don't know if the author ever wanted you to really question whether or not Mia (the protagonist) would choose to stay or not. Dialog in the book suggests that Mia seriously thinks she's just going to let go and not stay, but with Mia plastered on the sequel's cover looking very much alive, it really takes out all the guess work. So I suppose it could have been more suspenseful as well.

Then there was the writing style. It felt really young. I'm not usually one to be picky about writing style, but in some ways it just felt young, immature. But I can give the benefit of the doubt that because it was from a teenager's point of view, it should SOUND like a teenager. And it did.

The story was heartfelt enough, but I did not enjoy the casual use of the "f" word. I get that this is how a LOT of teens talk, this IS their normal casual language. But even JK Rowling was able to add LOT more "swearing" to the Harry Potter series without spelling them out aka "he swore under his breath". The other part I didn't enjoy was (and I get that this is the norm too, I just don't agree with it and therefore it tainted my experience reading the book) the permissiveness of Mia's parents with everything. The minute she gets her first boyfriend, her mom is telling her that they'll go get birth control from Planned Parenthood and gives her a box of condoms to start out with. This is before she is even intimate with the guy-or is even thinking about it! AND he sleeps over. In her room. At her house where she lives with her parents. Does this really happen a lot? Is this really normal? Is it really THAT naive to think that one can have a relationship with someone that does NOT involve sex? Especially as a teenager. Her mom even mentions that 17 is a really inconvenient time to fall in love, since her boyfriend, Adam is in a band that is getting really successful and she's hoping to go to Juilliard which is across the country. And the book both in text AND in the readers guide suggest how mature of a couple Adam and Mia are, how they aren't the typical "high school" couple. Which is true in some sense, they don't fight about petty things or have jealousy issues. They look at life and people in a more mature way. But wouldn't it be mature to think about your future, think about what the emotional repercussions would be if they took their relationship to a certain physical level only to be separated for long periods of time physically by distance? It seems to tear both of them up that they might be apart from each other, neither one wanting the other to give up their dreams and I just feel it might not have been so bad had they had a more casual, less physical relationship. Especially in high school. I don't like that so many YA books these days give teens the expectation that relationships = sex, especially if you are going to be "mature" about your relationship. I get that it happens. I don't agree with it, and I know there are many kids out there who choose to be virgins through high school and have great relationships regardless. I just don't want kids who haven't made a true inward exploration of what they believe to be right for themselves to have this type of expectation plugged into their mindset. I feel it disturbs their ability to truly sort out what THEY need instead of what they feel they "should" do if they want to be "normal".

Some things I enjoyed a lot were: this story takes place in rural Oregon and Portland, which I frequented as I grew up. It's always nice to read about places that I've actually been to and I can have a great mental image of. Also, Mia is a classical musician, a cellist. While I'm not a string player, I am a classical musician (flute) so I could understand quite a bit of Mia and how she feels she is perceived and her connection to music. I absolutely LOVED the role that classical music played in her recovery. Elizabeth Smart attributes playing the harp as a classical musician to her psychological recover from her 9 month abduction period. Mia had traumatic brain injuries from a car wreck, which involved physical as well as psychological injuries and having her play her cello strengthened every one of her weaknesses. I love her relationship with her family and her grandparents and the friends who serve as extended family. I love her dedication to something she loves, even if it's "dorky".

I'll probably watch the movie adaptation, when it comes out on redbox and I have a code. They already changed one significant thing-Adam doesn't write her a song! He begs her to NOT make him write a song for her. (He's not good at the sappy love song thing, he claims she'd have to cheat on him or something in order for him to write a song about her). But it looks like they do a pretty good job, considering the story starts in the now and then Mia has this out of body experience and her life story is told in flashbacks. Chloe Grace Moretz is playing Mia and I'm absolutely thrilled that she decided to learn to play the cello in real life for this role. However, as a classical musician, I can tell you there is no way on Earth she will be doing the real playing for the Juilliard Audition segment. You can't get THAT crazy good in a year. I absolutely believe she will truly play some for real, but I'm fairly familiar with several of the pieces Mia mentions she's learning and playing and the audition list, as Forman mentions, was taken straight off their website for required audition material. And that stuff ain't easy. I looked at the flute requirements. Yeah. I could NOT have done that out of high school. Only slight possibility of doing that AFTER a college education and that would only get me to do a bachelor's all over But I do appreciate SO much that Chloe WILL look the part and have proper technique and vibrato and all of those things. And FINALLY an actress who really is the same age as the person she is portraying. That goes a LONG way in believability for me.

There was a sneak peak at the sequel, which looks like it's either all from Adam's perspective, but perhaps a split narrative will happen? Based on the teaser, you know she does leave for NY and Juilliard and also doesn't do the long distance relationship with Adam, which absolutely kills him. Even though he told her that he could handle losing her that way if he didn't have to lose her to death. It was HIS idea to play cello music to her through headphones that jolts her back, finally, out of her coma and back to life. HE is the one who brings Mia her cello the instant she asks for it to play that aids in her faster than expected recovery. I just can't really understand why after all this, Mia would purposefully put a wedge between them when in today's day and age of technology it makes having a long distance relationship easier-and more affordable-than ever! I used to save baby-sitting and piano teaching money to put money on my phone card to call my long distance boyfriend because it was expensive! Now for the price you are already paying for internet, you can video chat! But I'm sure it's just Mia's messed up view of herself and her worthiness of Adam and not wanting to hold him back or something (I guess it's a messed up complex similar to Bella Swan in Twilight). But only time will tell. And yes, I'm a sucker for knowing what happens, and since the swearing wasn't nearly as bad as that Rowling book "A Casual Vacancy" I think I'll read the sequel. Which just so happens to be on the shelf at my local library branch. Guess I know where I'll be Monday morning when it opens!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Lord of the Flies, William Golding

I know this book has many different cover arts. This reflects the one I read. Also, I will not be reviewing the movie adaptation since it is rated R and aside from that, I'm not sure I need a visual more than what my imagination has already come up with. Although looking at pictures from the movie, the actor playing Ralph was a doppleganger of my imagination for sure!

Well, this is definitely a confusing bit of literature. But it was written in the 1950’s where, as I’ve have internet “conversations”, the point of literature and what the audience of the time wanted and demanded could have been very different from today. For me, I felt like there were WAAAAY too many unanswered questions, details just completely left out, like the character of “Piggy” we never find out his real name.

It starts out as what seems to be an island adventure story of a bunch of boys, “littluns” who are around the age lf 6, and “bigguns” who are closer to 12 ish. Our main protagonist, Ralph gets elected Chief because he found a Conch shell and Piggy shows him how to blow it and by so doing, he brings all of the boys out of the woodworks and seems to be in charge. His nemesis is Jack, the leader of the choir boys-turned hunters. With no adults, they are left to their own devices. Ralph wants rules and order and for everyone to make sure that they keep a fire going because the appearance of smoke may help them get rescued. Jack and the Hunters just want to hunt the native pigs for meat and have feasts. As mentioned in a “notes” section at the end of the copy I read, Ralph represents modern society with laws and order. Jack represents a lack of those things and the carnal, sensual nature of man that always balks against rules and order. Piggy, is as the name implies, overweight, he has asthma and wears glasses. The glasses are important because they are the only means of starting fire, using them and the sun to get a spark. He has intelligence and he thinks things through, but no one takes him seriously, so he unofficially makes himself Ralph’s right hand man. Ralph eventually realizes the value that Piggy has, but is then subsequently ridiculed for it. Jack and the hunters use paint to disguise themselves, first for camouflage to hunt better, but then it becomes a status symbol and also a way to transform who they are.

With the symbolism in mind, we can see how a lot of people get made fun of for having common sense. We see how those who listen to those with common sense are also ostracized. We see leaders who do things with emotion and fervor, serving what the people want to hear and see. With the paint, the hunters truly become savages and they become so incensed with it that death occurs to the innocent. And in the heat of the moment, many of the boys have a role in this murderous endeavor. It kind of reminded me of the KKK and how they disguise themselves and how, without that cover, could seem like decent people, but once they have on their disguise, are given courage to do horrible, terrible things to other human beings.

I wasn’t incredibly impressed by this book, to be honest. It was depressing and reminiscent of how I remember feeling at the end of reading “The Pearl” by John Steinbeck for one of my freshman year of high school required readings. But the point of these types of book isn’t really entertainment. These are warning books. These are meant to teach us lessons about ourselves as a human race. How we need to tame human nature and kick against the pricks that would have us become carnal, sensual, savage and without feeling towards one another. We need to be a human race that respects and reveres a certain level of order based on reason, common sense, human decency, and a love of mankind. We need to move past childish ways of making fun or not taking people seriously if they are “socially awkward” or anything that Piggy represents. We need to value EVERYONE for what they can bring. Hatred, jealousy, lust for power are all things that drove Jack to become what he did. A lesser character, Roger, became his wing-man as the only true sociopathic character who we find was the main person who would torture others. Truly sadistic. He took power, whereas Ralph had insisted on a vote for leadership.

We see the fall of the boys’ society when Ralph’s plan yielded no immediate results. Yet, the minute Jack offered something better-a taste of meat instead of the dull diet of fruit and water, alliances changed. And once his true colors showed, the other boys were too afraid of what would happen to them if they attempted to leave. It’s like the bible story of Jacob and Esau where Esau gave up everything in order to curb his hunger for a moment. We need to be weary of politicians and leaders who promise the offer of a quick solution. Maybe we should look for more honest people who tell us straight up that their solutions, while they may not LOOK like the right thing at first, or might hurt us a little more than we are already hurt, are actually better in the long run. After all, even during the most heinous crime of this book, when all was said and done, it was only finished when, as Ralph had always said, smoke was seen.

Some people have tried to draw similarities between Lord of the Flies and Hunger Games, but I only see VERY loose similarities and that is children inflicting violence on others….possibly as a form of entertainment. You get the impression that was what it was for in this book, but it’s never completely and solidly stated. I mean, in the 50s, how were they to be watched? So the premise of the two books  and WHY the kids are being violent are completely different and I believe that the intentions of the books are different and the lessons to be learned are different. Lord of the Flies felt hopeless, Hunger Games taught that the only things stronger than fear is hope.

But nonetheless, I did find this article interesting with some up to date comparisons and studies about human psychology:

Although I must warn that it pretty much sums up the entire plot synopsis on the second page, so if you want to read it without any idea, skip page two. The rest goes into more depth with thematic material.

Sky Raiders, Brandon Mull

Wow. Ok. So this was my August book club book. It is book one in what will be a 6 book series. This is the first series book that I will start reading right after the first is published and have to wait for the rest to come out.

I’m having a hard time getting over the premise of Cole, our protagonist, and his friends getting to this alternate world via kidnapping. Apparently there is a LOT of magic of some sort going on, since no one will notice they’re gone. They pretty much fade from existence on Earth. So at least parents aren’t left completely broken and terrified for their missing kids. I guess that’s merciful. But I had a hard time because of what is going on in the world today with kids being kidnapped to be sold into the Sex Slave industry, which is alive and well in many developed parts of our country and child prostituting is much more common that anyone would want to admit. It’s sickening and for some reason I just could not shake that image while reading this book. I keep waiting for Cole to wake up, maybe he’s in a really imaginative coma on Earth and this is all happening in his head. I would sure LOVE for that to happen at the end of the series. Or at least a happy ending when all kids kidnapped from Earth get returned and no time has passed on Earth or something like that.

Anyhow, if you get past the kidnapping part, this is a REALLY suspenseful, action packed adventure full of intrigue, hideouts, magical abilities, magical weaponry, deceit, betrayal, friendship, loyalty, risks, quick thinking, and so much more!

Absolutely imaginative. Just when you think you may understand something about this world, you realize you don’t even begin to know the half of it.

I am definitely interested to see where this series goes. I am secretly hoping that all the kids get to go back to Earth and be with their families and finish living their normal lives.

A Tale of Two Castles, Gail Carson Levine

I did a bunch of fluff reading while visiting my family. While the kids played with grandparents, I read. I chose easy, entertaining books for the purpose of collecting reading points for the adult summer reading program. Hey, the big drawing prize is an iPad, and if I can get an extra chance, why not?

My 9 year-old daughter got a few new books and when I ran out of things that sparked my interest, I moved to it. This one was really nice. Elodie is a young girl of 12 who is taking a boat to Two Castles where her family has instructed her to apprentice herself to a weaver-a good and noble trade-for 10 years (because it’s free), when her heart is in mansioning (acting). During the trip, she learns that the law has done away with all 10 year free apprenticeships and she has no money to pay for even a 7 year apprenticeship anywhere. She has also been warned that in Two Castles, there is a king (Greedy Grenny) ruling one castle and an Ogre who rules in the other. There are also rumored to be dragons in the city as well.

First day there, she sees the Ogre and a Dragon and manages to get her only large coin stolen by one of the many cats who are there for protection from the Ogre. Ogres are shape shifters and if there are enough cats, they can force an ogre to shape shift into a mouse and then devour it.

Through many adventures, Elodie explans her talent of acting, learns how to think-to induce and deduce and use common sense-and how to overcome prejudices. Many people feel a certain way toward certain beings and refuse to change. But Elodie is not inhibited by previously held suspicions, and it appears that those inhibitions are limited to those who have been brought up in Two Castles. Others elsewhere are much more open-minded to allow time for explanations and rational thought before making a judgment call.

Plenty of twists and turns, suspects who are guilty-or not! Plenty of suspense could  be found as well. I really enjoyed this book for middle readers.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Book Thief, Markus Zusak

Oh wow. Where to begin? I give 5 stars to this book. It was beautiful and tragic. How can it be both? So many things in life-and death-are both.

This book is Historical Fiction (I love this genre!) set in WWII Germany. The narrator is Death. His tone is (as you find out through some Q&A with the author) perfect. At first, Death as narrator didn't work, but then Zusak came back to him and changed some things and made it perfect. Death must come to collect souls, release them from their bodies and carry them to wherever he takes them (it is left to the imagination, insert your own belief system here, I suppose). He is tired. He is over worked. Especially during a war. Why do humans do this much killing of each other? But every once in awhile, he notices someone living. And the person of special interest to him is Liesel Meminger, a young girl of 9 at the opening of the book, who is acquainted with death. We don't know Liesel's father, but her mother has given her to foster care, we don't really know exactly why, but it is inferred that her mother wasn't part of the right political party at the time, and therefore viewed herself as a direct threat to the safety of her children. So the story unfolds as Liesel begins life with some foster parents on Himmel St. in Molching, Germany. Hans and Rosa. They have 2 grown children of their own. They are Christian (as is Liesel). Which isn't condemned but certainly not entirely safe to be either.

Theirs is the story of people in Germany who did NOT buy into what Hitler said. They didn't believe that Jews were a scourge. They show you the impoverished state of the people of Germany under Hitler's rule. His country was falling apart from the inside out as he touted the German Ideal. As a line in the movie "Captain America" states "People forget that first country the Nazi's invaded was their own." You had to "apply" to become a member of the Nazi party and sometimes they denied you because they thought you were too sympathetic to the Jews. Or they left your application pending indefinitely. And you really couldn't get much work if you weren't a member of the party. And then there was hiding Jews.......

In the Q&A section at the back with the author, this exchange was made:

Q: There are many novels set during the Holocaust, but The Book Thief offers a different perspective. What do you most want teenage readers to understand about Liesel's story and this dark period in our world's history?

A: I honestly just hope that they'll never forget the characters. This is the first time I've ever missed characters that I've written-especially Liesel and Rudy. I also hope that readers of any age will see another side of Nazi Germany, where certain people did hide their Jewish friends to save their lives (at the risk of their own). I wanted them to see people who were unwilling to fly the Nazi flag, and boys and girls who thought the Hitler Youth was boring and ridiculous. If nothing else, there's another side that lives beneath the propaganda reels that are still so effective decades later. Those were the pockets I was interested in.

And let me tell you how refreshing it was to read more of this side. I've read Corrie Ten Boom's story (and reviewed it on here) she and her family were also Christian's who hid their Jewish friends and ended up being sent to concentrations camps because of it. But this was another part of it entirely. This was the part of the citizenship that suffered at Hitler's hand not necessarily because of their offenses (although the minor infractions were punished severely), but because they weren't compliant enough. It gives me hope to know that not EVERYONE was duped by Hitler. Even some of the children and youth were able to see through the facade. 

At several points, there are stories within stories, and one such describes the power of words:

  There was once a strange, small man. He decided three important details about his life:
      1. He would part his hair on the opposite side to everyone else
      2. He would make himself a small, strange mustache
      3. He would one day rule the world

  The young man wandered around for quite some time, thinking, planning, and figuring out exactly how to make the world his. Then one day, out of nowhere, it struck him-the perfect plan. He'd seen a mother walking with her child. At one point, she admonished the small boy, until finally, he began to cry. Within a few minutes, she spoke very softly to him, after which he was soothed and even smiled.
   The young man rushed to the woman and embraced her. "Words!" He grinned. "What?" But there was no reply. He was already gone.
   Yes, the Fuhrer decided that he would rule the world with words. "I will never fire a gun," he devised. "I will not have to." Still, he was not rash. Let's allow him at least that much. He was not a stupid man at all. His first plan of attack was to plant the words in as many areas of his homeland as possible.
  He planted them day and night, and cultivated them.
  He watched them grow, until eventually, great forests of words had risen throughout Germany....It was a nation of farmed thoughts.
  While the words were growing, our young Fuhrer also planted seeds to create symbols, and these, too, were well on their way to full boom. Now the time had come. The Fuhrer was ready.
  He invited his people toward his own glorious heart, beckoning them with his finest, ugliest words, handpicked from his forests. And the people came.
  They were all placed on a conveyor belt and run through a rampant machine that gave them a lifetime in ten minutes. Words were fed to them. Time disappeared and they now knew everything they needed to know. They were hypnotized.

I hope I never live to see the day when something like this happens again. However, I worry that people get so desperate to hear the words they want to hear that they will believe them, no matter how irrational they may be. That we won't care if they are lies because they sound good. I guess from this we learn that "The pen is mightier than the sword" in some cases. Words can hurt more than sticks and stones-both psychologically and physically (in the case of Nazi Germany). We must use our words for good. Especially words of reason. Don't get sucked in to propaganda from any political spectrum. Never stop thinking for yourself or questioning or voicing your opinion-and being willing to change your opinion should rational information be presented to challenge it. If there ever comes a time when reasonable, rational words start to be ridiculed, beware.

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Five Love Languages of Children, Gary Chapman & Ross Campell, M.D.

A friend of mine told me about this book not long ago and I put it on hold at the library. I haven't read the original one, but remembered hearing a lot about it and doing a quiz to find mine (but I had forgotten).

I cheated and had my 9 year old take the quiz on their website:
But let's be honest, it's a lot easier for you to determine your own love language and then tell others about it than it is to decipher it out for your own. My 3 year old is too young to determine; that comes around age 5 or 6 or so. So I took the quiz and had my husband take it as well.

I feel like I learned a lot about myself and why I react the way I do (inwardly mostly) to certain things or the lack of certain things. I am overwhelmingly "Quality Time". This explains why I always just KNEW I didn't need a guy who would buy me things (incidentally, when faced with getting a gift or giving up one of the OTHER love languages, I always ignored the gift, so I scored 0 there. Don't get me wrong, I love to get gifts, but if doing so means I have to give up something else, I don't want it!), but that I always knew I needed a guy who would BE there. I couldn't be married to a businessman who was required to travel a lot. That just doesn't compute with my quality time need :-) It also explained to me why I feel so compelled to make sure that my kids have quality time with their grandparents, even it it might sometimes mean that we visit them instead of going somewhere else on vacation (someday our ability to do BOTH will emerge, but not for awhile); because by giving them time with their grandkids, I am expressing love in the deepest way I feel it. And it also explains to me why I sometimes feel hurt if people (friends and family alike) don't make time for me. While it's not an affront to me or their lack of care for me, because it's my primary love language, I tend to internalize it personally. Knowing this helps me to be aware that those hurt feelings are mine and mine alone and hat I can't be angry with others or assume they don't care. They just express their thoughtfulness in other ways and I can totally accept that! In short, it kind of explained to me why people don't always think the same way I do, lol.

My husband is Acts of Service and my 9 year old Words of Affirmation. Light bulb moments GALORE. It definitely isn't going to be a super easy adjustment, but knowing this and the other things mentioned in the book (discipline, how to teach kids how to manage anger in order to prevent passive/aggressive behavioral patterns), hopefully my family will be able to express love in more meaningful ways to each other.

Fabelhaven #3 Grip of the Shadow Plague, Brandon Mull

Book 3 in the Fabelhaven series.

A lot happens in character development:

Kendra learns more about the powers the fairies bestowed upon her and how to use it.

Seth learns that if he must take risks, they should be calculated and weighed heavily with the consequences of both taking and not taking the risk.

You learn more about other preserves and the Society of the Evening Star which is pure evil.

You learn the nature of newer magical creatures such as Centaurs, Dyrads, and Hamadryads.

The shadow plague permeates every species turning them into dark, evil versions of themselves. Only humans turn into shadows (invisible to everyone but Seth) and are able to fight the change from good to evil. There is a theory that Grandpa Sorenson and Warren disagree on-and that is the amount of personal accountability magical creatures have. Grandpa thinks that the creatures are what they are and you can't truly judge against them because they are doing what they naturally do. Sort of like how you can't blame a bear for being a bear and attacking a human-even if that human had had some sort of relationship with it before, because after all it IS still a bear and a bear is going to do what a bear is going to do. It's just his nature. Grandpa believes that creatures are either light or dark, and depending on their nature, it determines what they will or won't do. Warren doesn't fully agree, he believes that the creatures are intelligent enough to make a conscious choice. Interestingly enough, once everything is resolved, only creatures of light who ENJOYED being dark had any recollection of BEING dark. With that fact, and very little knowledge, I can definitely see both sides of their arguments. It also made me think of Percy Jackson and "Bob", a Titan who'd had his memory erased and Percy helped him to create a new "him" and when he began to remember, began to revert back, but then was convinced that he DID have a choice. Who he innately was did not have to determine who he would continue to be.

Kendra is now almost 15, so of course, we need a crush for her :-) Gavin fills this role. He's a bit older and has a stuttering problem (which I think is really interesting and good to have someone with an obvious thing to overcome also be a hero figure for the YA/kid audience). His talent? Dragons. We get into dragons in this book. One thing that all the books I've read that have anything to do with dragons agrees that they are highly intelligent beings-right on par with humans. Interesting that everyone would agree on this-and the fact that they also have a complex range of emotions as well.

We experience our first truly painful sacrifice through death. We've seen death before, a few times in this book, but the first death that got me choked up enough that I had a hard time continuing to read (since I haven't read them yet, I'm reading them aloud to my older daughter, she's now 9).

I have no idea how Brandon Mull is going to wrap things up in just 2 more novels, but I'm looking forward to it. It's kind of like Percy Jackson's world, in that the evil force is immortal and the ones who are concerned about keeping it at bay are mortal and the evil forces are also possessed of infinite patience. They seem to think that because they are immortal they will win in the end, eventually, so any time mortals have a victory, it's only a minor set back to the bad guys. I'm hoping that at the end of Fabelhaven there's some sense of finality, or at least a long duration of it....even though in real life, the fight against evil is never ending, it'd be nice to know in our fictional worlds that this fight is worth it and good will always prevail against evil.

Monday, May 26, 2014

The One, Kiera Cass

Ok, so very, VERY rarely do trilogies keep getting BETTER as they go. But As you may or may not recall, the first book, The Selection I gave a 3.5 star rating. The second book, The Elite I rated closer to a 4. THIS one? The One...I'm giving in 4.5.

Why? Because I believe the message this book was sending was not about a romance. It wasn't about which boy she was going to choose to love, it became an overwhelming message of "choosing to do the right thing no matter what the consequences of that choice may be." There are SO many times when doing the right thing SHOULD have gotten America kicked out of the palace whether or not the Prince wanted her there. Doing the right thing made her an enemy to the King basically. Finding ways around doing what she was supposed to and still following orders, but by doing the right thing, not by following verbatim.

Another message that I liked was that there are two sides to every story. And behind ever bully is a person who is probably very insecure about something and until you can see them for that vulnerability, and they by chance let you in can you begin to see them as a person rather than mean actions. One character in particular has been horrible the entire time, but when caught in a moment of insecurity releases everything about how she's felt and how she really doesn't LIKE being the mean girl, she just doesn't really know how to react or how else to manipulate circumstances to her advantage. She has such a change of heart from letting this out that she eventually apologizes to EVERYONE she's wronged.

And the final message I was much appreciative us is that America doesn't end up "choosing" one guy over another. She realizes what love really is-and that it's not just physical passion (although there is plenty of wanting going on), and it's not just getting along. It's about finding someone who makes you feel like your authentic self. It's also about letting go of someone you loved once and how it's OK that they will ALWAYS be a part of who you are. A part of your heart will ALWAYS belong to the people you gave it to in the past. I mean, I bet all of us can think back to the first time we thought we were "in love" and even if we don't feel that way about that specific person anymore, there's still a place in your heart for them. And that's ok. It's not betraying your current love. It's just a part of you. And it's about how no relationship is "happily ever after" as the last line of the book says "It's so much more." That you WILL fight. You WILL have disagreements. You WILL have misunderstandings. But you absolutely cannot make rash decisions in the heat of the moment when you are angry. You don't just jump to break up/divorce when you have a spat in the heat of the moment and move on to someone else because of it. You work it out. At the end of the day, the person you absolutely cannot live without, the one you'd take a bullet for, the one you want to be happy more than you want your own happiness is worth a few arguments, disagreements and misunderstandings. They are worth finding out THEIR side to the story. And I liked that message. Especially since you know how I feel about love triangles and how they give that false sense to be a beautiful leading lady, you need to have 2 men vying for you being completely unrealistic. I'm glad that it was spun in such a way that you can realize that people you grew to love romantically can be put in different positions and you CAN grow apart. I also enjoyed the happy ending for everyone. No one was left out or settled. Well, at least as far as main, main characters go.

The other happy ending (although it comes about in a sad way) is that the society is going to change and attitudes are going to shift. The caste system is going to come down, although they're not sure how. Since it's become such a huge part of people's identities, they know it's going to take a lot of time (in my opinion, it's going to take a generational shift over at least 1-2 generations to full eradicate former perceptions), but they're dedicated to do so. And with that, people will inherently gain more freedoms.

But all in all, the thing I was most satisfied with was that first message of doing what is right no matter what the outcome. America Singer puts doing what is right ahead of her own desires, ahead of what would make HER life easier or what would make HER life happier. I think that's a message the YA audience needs to hear. If America was willing to give up EVERYTHING in order to do what she felt in her heart was right, then we too can stand up for what we feel is right. And you don't have to be mean or circumventive or shady in how you do it either. Even when you feel like you are backed into a corner, there is a way out that will keep your integrity intact.

So all in all, along with the fairly non-controversial ending that is 98% happy, I am very satisfied with this trilogy. Fast reading, entertaining and proves great points in this final installation. I also enjoyed the author's style and ability to weave the story get stronger and improve as it went along. I kinda wish the first book had been stronger, but c'est la vive, right? She made up for it in the end.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Fault in Our Stars, John Green

This was a very touching novel. I used to read books by Lurlene McDaniels. All protagonists grappling with a terminal or potentially terminal illness, usually dying at the end. This was NOTHING like those books. This book was real, it was sarcastic, it was metaphorical, philosophical, and fresh. I actually listened to this book on audio since I could get it faster that way. I'm not always a fan of audio books simply because if you get a bad narrator, you're stuck. And I am a fast reader, so it takes longer to listen. But the narrator for this audio book was absolutely fantastic.

Warnings for future readers (I had these warnings going into it, which did help me and I would want this information as a parent when deciding when my child is mature enough for this book).
There is a sex scene-though not explicit by any stretch of the imagination. There is some swearing-albeit not nearly as much as A Casual Vacancy (which as you may know I could not continue searching for literature doused in explicatives beyond 20 some odd pages).

That said, the characters don't have any strong religious beliefs about post-death existence, so they grapple with the subject philosophically and metaphorically as two very intelligent teens who have had to grow up too fast faced with cancer.

It's always hard to know how to treat people with terminal illness, because everyone doesn't appreciate being treated the same way. However, there was an interview with the author tacked onto the end of the audio book and his sentiment is to treat them as a regular person. This sentiment is shared by Hazel, the protagonist, at a funeral when she hears that the deceased (a peer who was an amputee below the knee due to cancer) was now in heaven and was made whole again and she as a thought something like "As if he wasn't whole before" and how just because he didn't have part of one of his legs did not make him less whole or less of a person. Another scene I remember candidly was that of Hazel being at a mall, I think, and she had lung cancer, so she wears a cannula and drags around an oxygen tank everywhere. In this scene, she is sitting down taking a break and a young girl comes up to her and asks what she's wearing on her face. She tells her it's her cannula that helps her to breathe. The little girl asks to try it, her mother scolds, Hazel says "No, it's ok" and slips it off to fit the little nubbins in the girl who says something like "That tickles!" and then Hazel politely asks for it back because she needs it to breathe. It doesn't help that people will react differently when approached in different ways (how you never know if offering to help someone physically handicapped will be welcomed with a smile or a scathing "I don't NEED help, I am self sufficient!") it does give me courage to at least try to be more candid and "normal" with anyone I come across. That curiosity is not always a bad thing. For me, anyways, asking what something is or what syndrome someone has does not mean I am searching for a box to shove them in a label to apply to their forehead, but a way to relate to their everyday vernacular (or lack thereof) or for me to go home and personally research what goes into the care of such an individual so I can further sympathize or maybe even be able to offer educated help-NOT in the form of advice, but as in, "I know how to do such and such a procedure now, if you want I could give you a break", or I've researched how to monitor someone with Dandy Walker syndrome so that the parents can feel more at ease when going out on a date. Those types of help. One thing I disagreed with was the being 'whole' thing. I don't feel like the sentiment that we'll be made whole after death implies that only certain people were less whole. I believe that we are ALL fractionated. I believe we are ALL broken. That NONE of us are completely "whole". And I don't feel it implies what Hazel feels it implies. But that is based on my belief system and I can respect her reasoning based on her belief system.

One thing is that Hazel is obsessed with finding out what happens to characters in a book she relates to after the main character dies from cancer. I don't think, though, that it's so much that she needs to know about her characters, but her need to know about her OWN life. The characters in HER life story after her life is over. Because she knows she has a finite number of days. She knows she's living on borrowed time and she knows more than we do that her death is inevitable, even though everyone's death is inevitable. She is an only child. She is extremely concerned with her parents welfare after she dies. She doesn't want them to be lost or to divorce because of her death (which, as a adolescent she believes that even though cancer is NOT her fault can't help but feel responsible for sadness caused by her death).

Another thing that is explored is social media and friendship. When a friend dies, Hazel looks on his wall, and she has been a part of this person's daily life for MONTHS and all these people memorialize this person on his wall. People she never met, never heard about, people who never bothered to actually be a part of his actual life but are now suddenly available in death. All these friends who show up when you don't actually need friends anymore. When people we actually care about have their daily life disrupted by illness that take them out of our daily circle of friends, we need to go out of our way to stay in contact. We need to be friends in LIFE. Hazel has exactly one friend in the story who is a "before diagnosis" friend. She is quite superficial, but to her credit, she ALWAYS checks in on a semi-regular basis. In a global community we have no excuse NOT to stay in semi-regular contact with people who matter. Thinking about someone? Wondering how they are doing? Send a quick text. Post to their wall. Send a message. An email. DO something. It's a little "Tuesday's with Morrie" but important nonetheless.

Hazel is fairly convinced that most other cancer survivors are going to out live her. She has friends obsessed with heroism and what it means. They want to DO something, BE something, be REMEMBERED for something. But in fact, sometimes NOT being remembered is being a greater hero because it might mean you've done less harm to the world in general than would happen in pursuit of fame. It was a nice ending thought to ponder upon.