Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Unbound, Neal Shushterman

Ahhh! Another "Unwind" book! Well, this is a collection of short stories about other kids and people in the post "Undivided" world. And it was incredible writing as always, some of it-with the parts Pirates, the Dah Zey are sickening. Others, like with Haden and Grace enlightening. You hear theories about Connor and Risa, but they are never direct narrators. But there is a CLIFFHANGER at the end with the other parts pirate, Divan (the one Argent Skinner has been valet for). GAH. That means that there is MORE to these stories that will come.....who knows when?

But the MOST exciting thing is that in the forward or whatever of this book, there is mention that UNWIND is going to be turned into a MOVIE!!! I am thrilled, because there are some things that this series brings up that I think NEED to be talked about, and a movie will make more people aware and hopefully get more people reading the books which is where I believe the meat and bones of the issues are.

Back when Planned Parenthood was under attack about leaked videos, what bothered me was not whether or not Planned Parenthood was guilty of the crimes for which they were accused, but that the conversation was happening AT ALL. That people were casually discussing whether or not the SALE OF HUMAN PARTS (no matter how small) IS OK. What the what??? Of course, I immediately felt like I was living the the prequel to these books. I am hoping that whenever the movie comes out that society isn't too far. That it will help people to see where lines that shouldn't be crossed more clearly. I hope that it will be an eye opener and make everyone skeptical of ALL information. That the government could easily be pushing their own agendas on us while making us think its our own ideas to begin with and they are just magnanimously giving us what we've been asking for. I hope it makes people realize that governments can easily play both sides and be behind EVERY side of EVERY argument and when we've been too blind to see that happening, that nobody is going to win. I hope it makes people think, and then think again, and be more awake and not so social network buzzed to see a problem when it stares them in the face.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Left Neglected, Lisa Genova

**I updated this review since I forgot to write about one thing I think is really important. It's marked with another *

This is the author who brought us "Still Alice" and is every bit as a good read. I realize that she uses modern writing techniques-like fragmented sentences so that we read more the way people talk. It's not the stuff of classics or great English papers, but it does make for very enjoyable and relateable reading.

I laughed a LOT while reading this, which I didn't expect, being a serious subject of a person with a traumatic brain injury leading to long term brain damage. However, Sarah, the main character has 3 children and parenting those children in the book is OH SO REAL! And that cracked me up on a regular basis.

So Sarah, who is on the fast track as a VP of HR at a consulting firm, working 60-70 hours a week or more, always on the go, the queen of multitasking, meets her unfortunate accident because she is distracted with-you guessed it-her phone in the car. I am SO glad this was the reason because this is a HUGE problem in society. People feeling that they're "not doing anything" while they're driving on their commute so they can now take this "Down time" in order to make calls, answer texts or emails, etc. When you're driving, you're DRIVING and it takes concentration and attention-without distractions-to do this in the safest manner possible. Luckily, the author chose for Sarah to only hurt herself in this accident. It would be horrible if she were to have been responsible for putting someone else in the hospital or morgue.

The one thing I didn't quite understand were the italicized flash backs or coma induced scenes. It always seemed hazy to know if she was just remembering things from the past or if these were things that happened dream-like during her medically induced coma. Parts of them told really vital parts to her background story, but others seemed really fragmented and weird and it never became super clear what purpose they served.

Anyhow, when Sarah finally wakes up in the hospital, it becomes apparent that her right side of the brain was injured the worst and is no longer aware that she has a left side or that ANYTHING has a left side. It's called "Left neglect" and is apparently more common than the average person is aware of. She's forced to slow down, to relearn things, to rely on others for help, to let her mom back into her life. You journey with her as she slowly rehabilitates and plateaus, expresses frustration at the health insurance industry and their arbitrary dates and deadlines of when someone is "finished" or how many sessions a person will "need" to rehabilitate. That's a whole other relateable issue that is touched on in this book. In the middle of this, she also is still a mother with mother things to do and worry about. Like her oldest son, Charlie, being diagnosed with ADHD and finding that some of his coping strategies and hers can be the same. My favorite part was when she talked to the association for handicapped sports and the ski hill and was able to do some snow sports again in spite of the disability that still made it hard for her to walk.

It's a great story for evalutating what you really need and want out of life. And it's also made me incredibly appreciative of being able to do little things, like walking, getting myself dressed, typing this blog post, reading a book, being able to control my own body! There are so many aspects of life we all take for granted, that we never stop to think what it would be like to NOT see the left side of things. So this book is definitely about perspective as well as everything else.

**One thing that I think is incredibly important is that Sarah's husband stays with her. Just as Alice's husband sticks with her in "Still Alice". I think it's important to have stories like this where the person affected is not abandoned and that the wedding vows "in sickness and in health" are taking quite literally and not lightly. There's no sugar coating how hard this is-Sarah's husband goes through his own phase of denial that there is a chance his wife may never fully recover, but he handle's it with a good deal of grace, in my opinion. I think that's another reason I have liked Genova's books, is that she shows it's possible. Both Alice and Sarah feel undeserving of their husband's vow keeping; as if they felt that both partners signed up for a marriage in which things were more equally divided, and being cared for is NOT being an equal partner. However, they both know they would be their husband's caregiver in a heart beat were the situations reversed. Thoughts of their husbands having an affair (and not blaming them for it) cross their minds. I think it's part of being a woman. Not feeling like we deserve the kindness and loyalty we so freely give. Perhaps it's a pride thing, we are the caretaker, not the other way around, and it's extremely humbling to have to admit you can't do something or that you need help. And another thing to then ACCEPT the help wherever it's given.

Depression is lightly touched on, as is forgiveness and how sometimes it doesn't come easy, but when you let yourself be open to it happening at all, it will come and when it does, it's a release for everyone involved.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card

I have to admit that I didn't like the beginning of the book. I got really tired of the little boy banter when Ender first went to the Battle School. But as he grew up, I got more into it. And as it became more and more psychological, it drew me in even more. I've got the movie to watch now too.

This book was slightly predictable for me, though I was only absolutely sure of some things only pages before the reveal. There are a LOT of things to consider from this book. The idea of politics, false identities on the internet, using people, military tactics and training methods, the difference between virtual reality and reality....so many things. Was this book really first published in 1977?? Totally ahead of its time. The idea that people will unavoidably do things differently when they think something is a game vs. reality is extremely poignant. Because it's so true. It's part of the reason why virtual violence is sometimes linked to real life violence. If a person can convince themselves that something is only a game, they can do anything, for if it's not real, then niether are their real consequences. Another thought this book brings up is perception of intelligence. Because the alien race does not communicate in the same way as us, both races are unable to communicate with each other and therefore makes assumptions about one another. It is easy to see how quickly conflict can escalate when there is no way to say "I'm sorry" or "I was wrong" or "It was a mistake, I didn't mean to". And I guess, as an extension, how important it is to use those phrases in your life to avoid future conflict that spirals out of control.

I give it 4 stars because of beginning I wasn't fond of, and because alien take-overs are not my favorite genre to begin with. I'm not sure when I'll read the other books, I'm sure I'll get around to them, but for me it's not such a compelling series that I just HAVE to get my hands on the next one right away. I'll probably intersperse them between other books of varying genre.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Favorite, Kiera Cass

This was the last novella I had to read of this series.

I give it 4.5 stars. It was a little over the top gushy, but then I had to remind myself that the main character IS a teenage girl, what can I expect? I was like that when I was 17 too.

The best part of this novella is that you get to see Maxon from a completely different point of view. Not through a parents' eyes, not through his own eyes, not through America's eyes. And I think that's important. What Maxon does for Carter and Marlee-and others-shows how one generation truly CAN choose to put aside what they've know, experienced and been taught, and become BETTER. This is the story that made me realize that Maxon truly is a good guy and truly tries to do what's right and what's best. He may not always do it perfectly, but the fact that he tries speaks volumes in my opinion. When your heart is in the right place, that's what's important.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Mademoiselle: Conversations with Nadia Boulanger, Bruno Monsaingeon

A couple months ago I was feeling a little discouraged. I was homesick for Colorado and felt that I wasn't as good of a teacher (I teach private flute and piano lessons) as I ought to be. I did not win an audition I wanted badly. I was one of the last 2 cut. I was really feeling down.

On a whim, I searched my library system to see if they had any books on Nadia Boulanger. I learned about her from my college flute professor and in more detail in my 20th century music lit class. She was the master teacher of music in the 20th century. Piano, organ, composition. She taught many of the great composers of the 20th century, including Stravinsky and Copland. She has and continues to be an inspiration to musicians worldwide. So I thought where better to look for inspiration? And my library turned up this book.

Some may find fault with the format of the book. Monsaingeon admits that this book was not one long sit down interview (or even a series of interviews strung together) or an actual "conversation" with Nadia, but I found it to be a very smart literary choice as a format. It seemed intimate and helped the flow, otherwise, I fear it would just be a bunch of organized quotations (which I would have gladly devoured). This format made it more readable and personable, which I think is fitting given the descriptions of Nadia and who she was as a person. I remember my final exam for 20th century lit and my professor gave us our essay topic ahead of time so we could really think about it. She asked us to write a short essay on who we thought was the most influential composer of the 20th century and why. She assured us that there were no right or wrong answers, only poorly supported or well supported answers. I chose to write about Nadia. She was not a composer. She herself said many times she tried her hand at it and loved it, but that her music didn't mean anything and was worthless so she gave it up to devote her life to teaching. I argued that even though she herself didn't compose The Rite of Spring, Afternoon of a Faun, or Appalacian Spring-she was a part of all of it because of the influence she had as a teacher. Because of her, the great composers were given tools to become who they became and to write what they wrote. Those works would not exist in the same way had she not had influence over them. I'm pretty sure I got full credit. I know I received an A or A- in the class.

I love how she didn't really discriminate among pupils. If someone wanted her to teach them, she woudl teach them. I copied SO many quotes that to put even half of them on here would be violating copywrite restrictions! But here's one that sums up something I think is wonderful: "I have a student who has made fantastic progress....in 25 years. 25 years is a long time! But today she's able to teach in a little American town, teaching piano very decently to people who want to play the piano a bit. She earns her living, she does what she does quite properly. She has a place in her society. Why should I say to her: you must be a Rostropovich or a Richter? I don't see why you must be Richter to teach in a little town, he wouldn't know what on earth to do there. So you mustn't  construct universal classifications. Each individual poses a particular problem. You must dare to choose, but on what basis? Talent is not necessarily linked to the quality of a man; you can be a great musician and at the same time a dreadful, vice ridden person- vices pay for human weaknesses-what is unacceptable is mediocrity." Pages 55-56  and on page 57 she continues "Should I have discouraged those who are not first class? I don't think so. I believe it's necessary to fulfill certain essential conditions, and afterwards each as a place for a specific function. You must take your actionas to the limit of your aspirations." Why should we all be some amazing musician when we can all be the best to our own abilities according to our desires? We all have a place and even though I'm not able to play semi-professionally right now like I did in CO, I can still be a respectable and GOOD teacher!

I also like her outlook on life in general and overcoming the human tendency to laziness: "I regret not knowing and not speaking Russian, or Latin either, which inevitably cuts me off from my roots [her mother was Russian but refused to let her daughters learn it because when she married her husband, she completely adopted and assimilated herself with her new motherland of France]; and I'm ashamed to have to admit that if I'd had the courage and resolved to learn one word a week for ten years-that's not a lot, one word a week-I could have read all of Russian literature. Now, have I read it? No. I have to search for the letters to read my own name in Russian. It's the result of my negligence, of my indifference. I only had to learn it. No one prevented me and nothing stopped me from learning one word a week. If my desire is such that mynatural laziness prevents me realizing it, then the desire isn't very strong." Pages 39-40. Oh how true that is for just about EVERYTHING!

There is SO much wisdom in these pages. There is a section where people who knew her or studied with her wrote a little something and it was beautiful to read. Well, Pierre Schaeffer's tribute was quite a bit over the top. I'm sure Nadia would brush off all of these nice comments, but I think Pierre's she would have scolded him for using such flowery comparisons while paying homage.

There are some things that you might get lost on if you're not a classical musician, but there are so many things that are just practical about Nadia and her mannerism and outlook on life, that I think anyone could read this book and find wisdom for themselves. And I'm sure I enjoyed this book far more because of my previous knowledge of Nadia and it has far greater meaning and significance behind it because I feel that she has influenced me indirectly through the teachers I've had who have also tried to emulate her example. I almost tried to name my daughter Nadia! However my husband wasn't as fond of the name and it didn't hold the same significance to him. So we got Natalie. It's still Frech ;-)

Holidays on Ice, David Sedaris

I knew nothing of this book except that it was on the Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge list. Meaning it was mentioned or referenced or read by Rory Gilmore during the 7 season run of Gilmore Girls.

You'll be seeing more of these. I actually listed to this as an audio book while doing chores. I've decided I prefer listening to audio books or magazines or podcasts while doing mundane chores more than listening to music. Probably becuase it keeps my mind engaged on a level that helps me not care about the mundane task but not so much that I forget about doing said mundane task (as listening to classical music would most likely do to me, and for some reason I'm not a fan of pop music while cleaning). Perhaps I just want to associate music with only pleasant things and not housework.

Anyhow, this is a collection of short stories/essays. As far as I can tell, a few of these are based on real life experiences of the author and the other are just fictional accounts. There was some language and subject matter of a more adult variety. The tone VERY sardonic. I laughed several times during the recounting of Crumpet the Elf, was touched with the story of how his family treated a prostitute who worked with his sister and she rescued one night from an abusive boyfriend, and was more and more disgusted and appalled at the "Christmas Means Giving" in which the "Keeping up with the Joneses" was taken quite literally WAAAAAY too far. The Christmas letter one started out decently enough, making fun of those holiday letters we receive that all seem to give glowing reviews of the previous year and everyone's successes, triumphs, good grades, accomplishments, and picture perfect lives. And how sick they make everyone. I mean, we get to see this ALL THE TIME now if you're on facebook. It's like the never ending Christmas letter, right? So why do we need more? I remember a close friend's family who never did a Christmas letter because they didn't want to be a fraud but also didn't want to talk about how one son was still smoking weed and at least no one had dropped out of school-yay! Anyhow, this particular essay takes a VERY gruesome turn at the end and it made me feel ill. I think I understand the underlying message and beyond sardonic tone, but it wasn't very pleasant.

There was another making fun of a local elementary school's Christmas program. I didn't care for this one at all because it's not like an elementary school is trying to be anything more than it is and parents just want to see kids perform and they don't really care what it is. I thought this one was uninspired and really trying to offend people. I had a "whatever" attitude, but if I removed myself from being critical, there were bits where I might have given an offhanded chuckle at a specific description.

I really didn't get the one called "based on a true story" where a media person is pleading for help from a local religeous congregation to persuade a fellow parishoner to sell the rights to her miraculous story. It was all about how the media man paints a picture that is so motivated by money that he can't see that anyone else could possibly find motivation in anything else. Nothing should be too sacred to a person to sell for money. Annoyingly true, though, about some media outlets.

I give it 2.5 stars (3 on good reads since I tend to round up more often than not) for the good moments, but I won't be going out telling anyone they just HAVE to read it because it's so good.

Monday, November 30, 2015

The Lake House, Kate Morton

Ok, I would rate this 4.5 stars if I could do decimals. On Goodreads I put it as 4. "Forgotten Garden" is still my favorite of Morton's books.

I REALLY enjoyed this book. My ability to read was a bit scattered and I had to rush to finish it because I only had it for 2 weeks (being a new release and all). It was a little slow at the beginning and this one was decidedly different from all the other books of Morton's in that you get the point of view of MANY different narrators rather than the main 2. This makes things a little confusing at times, because other than the date at the chapter heading, you don't know from the outset whose point of view you're getting.

While Morton keeps you guessing and you keep getting bombshell after bombshell-so the the outcome keeps you guessing. Morton leads you through a maze and you don't know which ones are dead ends and which ones are the real deal until the end! However, I don't know if it's because it's the 5th one of hers and that I'm more used to her style, but I had a hunch, VERY early on, within the first few chapters, actually, and my hunch was RIGHT. I second guessed myself a little because of the clues along the way, but I never fully abandoned that hunch. I have mixed feelings about being right. Loving that I was clever enough to figure it out so early, but also wondering if I truly LIKED figuring it out that early. There were plenty of other things that I got wrong or NEVER saw coming. Or only saw coming maybe a chapter or two in advance.

As always the lessons to be learned are: be faithful to your partner, honesty is the best policy, skeletons in the closet have a way of becoming known, etc.

In some ways it felt like watching a really long episode of "Castle" because Sadie is a dectective and Alice is a murder mystery author with a series with a specific decetive character. The fact that Alice is a writer made things extra interesting to me. She states things about writers that makes you wonder how much of Kate Morton was put into Alice Edevane. Alice once stated something to the effect that any author who claims that they don't put some of their own opinions and interests into their main character is lying. So this book, more than any other, has made my interest in Kate Morton as a person become decidedly more piqued.

I've read some less than stellar views of this book, but I feel like it's more because the people who didn't enjoy it no longer enjoy this type of book. The criticism is along the lines of "it's the same old thing, twists and turns and blatant use of red herrings in attempt to draw you off the path so the ending is still a surprise, but it really wasn't". I'm still not sure exactly how I feel about the many different tangents and sub plots, it was definitely quite a bit more "busy" than her previous books, but in the end, it was ALL connected and ALL relevant. So I think because of that, it worked and could bring up a lot of great things to talk about.

Another story line that is brought up and would be good for discussion is adoption. The reasons why, the reasons why a birth parent might want to remain anonymous, the pro's and con's of being involved in your birth child's life after being adopted into another family and at what point should a birth parent become involved (and whether the child should know their biological parents for who they are or just be led to believe they are close family friends); the pros and cons of open vs. closed adoptions. Because it's split between two time periods, you can also discuss the major social changes that have come about in this topic in the last 80 years.

The other part I thought very interesting was unlike some of the other books she's written, several of the narrators overlap in their existence. For instance, Alice is a narrator both in her teen years as well as into her 80s, so there are characters specific to Alice's younger life (her mother and father), and then characters specific to her 'current' (80s) life (Sadie is the major narrator of 2003). Instead of just two generations, you get 4 here. You get Sadie, a young dective (around 30) in 2003, Alice in 2003 (80s), Alice as a teen (1930s), Alice's mother Elenor as 'Mother' and Elenor as a young teen herself, and Alice's grandmother Constance. It's nice to get that perspective of who people were and who they become and how their upbringing affects who they choose to become.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Life of Pi, Yann Martel

So I tried reading this a couple years ago, but it was just really slow and I had other books vying for my attention. So it wasn't until I saw it on the list of books mentioned in Gilmore Girls (and hence part of the "Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge") that I decided to try again. Only this time, I decided to listen to the audio. The narrator was very good. There are 2 narrators, one for the Writer, one for Pi, and he has a very good accent. He also does accents for the Japanese guys who interview Pi to try to find out why the ship sank. This book was MUCH better to listen to, rather than to read. As many slower books are.

I'm not sure I can say I truly enjoyed this book or not. It was a good story. It made me think about what psychological trauma does to a person and how they decide to view things. However, searching on the internet, the intent of this book is more of a theological one and how nearly everything is a matter of preference and is subjective to what you want  to be true. I'm not sure I completely agree with the author's intent, but I can appreciate the attempt.

The movie was enoyable, although I don't know that it would have appealed to me without having read the book. I though the execution of the story being told in flashback mode was a smart move.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Wish You Happy Forever, Jenny Bowen

This is a book about Jenny Bowen's journey as she first adopts an orphaned girl from China and is then moved to create a non-profit organization called "Half the Sky" to improve the care that orphans get in China. Before Half the Sky, institutionalized children-if they were lucky enough to be adopted-had issues bonding with their new families. They didn't know how to love or play or BE loved. Jenny and her colleagues managed to help China see that children need nurturing and individual care to meet emotional needs in order for their brains to develop properly so that even if they weren't adopted, they could be productive citizens in their country. It was not an easy journey, and I'm sure MUCH was cut out to make this book a readable length, but I felt she did a good job highlighting the good and the bad.

Since Jenny was a screenwriter for movies, this book is well written and has a good flow. Her voice is unique and I felt like I was having the story told to me. Her use of italics to emphasize China's attitude towards things was particularly a nice touch-for me I felt like it was used with...not quite a sarcastic inflection....but maybe with a slight eye roll that would be typical for a Westerner's reaction? For example, she mentions that the Chinese in general are really concerned with things that are famous and EVERY city has something that it is most famous for. So the word famous is typically italicized.

I found it absolutely incredible the amount of support her husband gave. All this crazy time consuming stuff happened after they adopted their first daughter from China (their other children were grown and moved out) and then they adopted a second daughter! I often found myself wondering when Jenny had time for her own daughters. She would be in China for long periods of time. Finally they moved there for "a year" that turned into 5 (I think) before they moved back to American and even then, sometimes her schedule was a month here and a month there. It's hard to be critical, though, because her daughter's have a MUCH better life even if she's not with them the traditional amount of time for a mother. And ALL of China's children in and out of instiutions are better off because of her vision and her drive with Half the Sky. As recent as 5 years ago, a Chinese official recognized the need to change the whole perspective of early childhood education in the entire nation based on the principles of Half the Sky. He wanted her NGO to teach the country of China how to nurture and teach their children. How exciting is that??

And how sad it is that America keeps pushing it's education to look like the China of yesteryear. But that's not the scope of this book review.

Anyhow, it was an enjoyable read, at some times a page turner. I love how she didn't sugar coat her negative experiences and how she didn't let them get her down, but empowered her to look for other directions. I love how she taught that there are times to stick rigidly to your mission and the rules you've laid out for yourself, but it's also important to realize that there may be times when it would be appropriate to drift and deviate. You need to allow yourself a tiny bit of flexibility. Not so much that you bleed your organization to death, but when it is justifyable, there will be a way. I also loved how she was able to honor abd respect a culture while still pushing to change it at its roots. And how eventually the Chinese saw it too, they knew they didn't see eye to eye, but on a whole, they never felt disrespected. I think that's an important lesson to learn. She never told them outright that they were WRONG-even though you know that's what she was thinking. She only presented the facts and showed them that things could be BETTER. She was careful to use verbage that would affect them the most (using that famous word again to her benefit when talking about who performed studies on early childhood development) but it did not appear manipulative, just attention grabbing.

And long story short, this story shows that yes, one person's vision CAN make a difference, but it also takes a LOT of other peope believing in that same vision in order for it to be successful. And Jenny was patient enough to wait for the right time and the right people to help her make it happen. I know that I myself tend to get impatient with life or my dreams and the rate at which they are (not) progressing. Sometimes all you truly need is time. And then things will start to fall into place.

And it's AMAZING what Jenny and Half the Sky were able to do!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Fairest, Marissa Meyer

A novella from Lunar Chronicles. I found this availble on Overdrive Audio, so I listened to this one. It is the back story of Lavana. You get to see how she wasn't always so evil. But her sister Channery was absolutely HORRIBLE! It really gives some clout to nuture being stronger than nature sometimes because Cinder is Channery's daughter, and Cinder is NOTHING like Channery.

Now, Lavana had many things which hardened her heart, but it started with her being physically harmed by Channery (indirectly) leading to physical deformity. It was further fed by the fact that she was COMPLETELY delusional. That she was infatuated with a palace guard and mistook lust for love and used her powers of manipulation in order to get what she wanted....but never truly got it anyway.

In Cress, at the end there is a reference to Lavana and her 2 wedding bands....in Fairest, you get to know Levana from around age 14 to just before Cinder takes place, a little over 10 years later. It details the birth of Cinder; Princessl Selene; how Levana comes to marry and have a step-daughter, named Winter, one of her BIGGEST challenges (that of infertility), it details Channery's illness that led to her young death, the problems Luna faced and how they planned the whole letumosis debacle, the wolf army, and even the demand of a marriage alliance between Luna and Earth. It details the attack on the then 3 year old Princess Selene and the fire we know caused her the need to become cyborg in order to survive.

We also see how the life of Levana was completely devoid of love from anyone-family or otherwise. And it is love she craves above all else. It is the one thing that evades her in every circumstance and she keeps chasing the dream but using methods that almost ensure that she will NEVER be truly loved. Channery once told her that "Love" was a "conquest" and a "war" and held no romantic notions.

It's amazing how obvious horrible outcomes can be seen in settings like these to people who were never loved or don't know what real love is. And it's a reminder in real life to be kind and show love and compassion where we can because we don't know who isn't being exposed to that vital emotion anywhere else.

Cress. Marissa Meyer

The 3rd book in the Lunar Chronicles did not disappoint! This one had more action packed scenes than the last and even MORE came together as characters intertwine. Cress is a shell (meaning she does not have the Lunar gift of mind control) who was confiscated from her family at 4 days old per Queen Channery's infanticide laws. Only those babies were never actually killed that young....As Cress grew up in an underground compound with other shells, she discovered she had a knack for hacking. Head Thaumaturge Sybil Mira noticed this ability too and told Queen Lavana of this gift and how it could be used to their advantage. And so Cress found herself around 9 years of age or so shipped out to a remote satellite that would become her home. Completely cut off from everyone else in the galaxy, except for Sybil's trips out to replenish her basic supplies needed for survival and to collect a blood sample.

Cress spends her time scrambling the satellite signals from Lunar space craft so Earth cannot detect them, nor if/when they enter the atmosphere. She also monitors all the survellance of any Earthen interest by hacking into existing systems as well as well placed Lunar spy equipment. She is a hopeless romantic who dreams of being rescued. So when Cinder contacts her via the DCOMM chip that was in Emporer Kai's personal andriod, you know there's going to be an alliance.

So many unlikely escapes, certain complications, a death, a hostage, and the introduction of Queen Lavana's step daughter Winter, and an unlikely accomplice in Sybil's personal guard, Jacin Clay. I found it a completely enjoyable read! Can't wait for the next book!

The Red Pyramid, Rick Riordan

This is the first book in Kane Chronicles series. In true Riordan fashion, this story is told in the same way Percy Jackson is presented, wacky chapter titles that are explained as the story progresses. Dorky dialog that befits the "dad telling bedtime stories" sort of narrative. It's split narrative between Sadie and Carter who are brother and sister. And it's also presented as if it's been transcribed from a recording, so there are asides of "interruptions" from the other sibling who isn't currently narrating.

Ever since their mother died, the two kids have lived separately, Carter with his dad, an Egyptologist, who never gets to stay in one place. Always on the move, always on expiditions or museums, etc. And Sadie with her British maternal grandparents. Their dad was dark skinned, their mother fair with blue eyes. Carter takes after his dad, Sadie after her mom, so they don't look like siblings at all. When they find out that not only were their parents super interested in Egyptian history, culture and artifacts, but come from a deep blood line relation to Egyptian Pharoahs AND were magicians as well! And oh, by the way, the kids have magic in them too. It comes with the blood line.

So they are on a mission to finish what their parents started and rid the world of evil ancient Egyptian Gods and Goddesses. Natrually.

While some don't like his style in this series and I do have to say that I'm less emotionally attached to Carter and Sadie as compared to Percy and Annabeth, I did find this an entertaining read. My 10 year old daughter LOVES it, and I love the fact that it piques her interest about othe cultures and their long held traditions, myths, and persons of worship. I know that everything might not be 100% factual in the books, but if it sparks curiosity, then she'll find facts if she wants to. Many of the Percy books led her to the non-fiction side of the library to learn more about ancient Greece, Rome and the deity they believed in. And to me, that's what good books are all about! Clean entertainment and a spark to ignite further learning.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Accidental Empress

This is the same author who wrote "The Traitor's Wife". I admit I didn't like this one quite as much, but I think it was because I had a hard time wrapping my mind around the time frame changes. There were several times when a future scene was given and then you were whisked back to the past. For me, that made it harder to follow cohesively.

This is the story of Franz Joseph Habsburg, Emporer of Austria during their height of European power. After an assassination attempt, Franz' mother (who was the one responsible for Franz getting to be successor to the throne and had a BIG say in EVERYTHING) decides it's high time for him to produce an heir and writes to her sister inviting her to bring her eldest daughter, Helene to be Franz' betrothed. Elizabeth, or Sisi, as she is affectionately called, is just a few years younger and is allowed to come and help her sister transition to the role of Empress-and perhaps in the future meet her own good match! Needless to say Franz is captivated by Sisi instead of Helene (who doesn't want anything to do with the Emporer or the title of Empress) which is how Sisi accidentally becomes the Empress.

What ensues is a most taxing mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship. Maybe one of the worst in history. As a wife to know that your husband's mother has your husband's ear more than yours must be infuriating. I was incensed at the time period in history when there was such a maddeningly huge double standard. Sisi was threatened that she'd better be a virgin on her wedding night or there would be an immediate annulment. Yet, she was told and prepared that her husband would NOT come to the wedding bed a virgin. That there were certain rites of passage a young man had-especially when you were an emporer. In fact, those men were practically EXPECTED to have have mistresses. But for some reason they had to marry a woman of "good breeding" in order to produce a "proper heir" so basically Sisi ends up feeling like a breeding mare instead of a woman to be loved and valued.  Even her children were basically snatched from her at birth to be raised by her mother-in-law (and named by her as well) and was given very little access to them. Anyhow, back to the double standard, Sisi got very ill and had to spend a couple years abroad in warmer temperatures. There are two major differing opinons of historians on what caused that illness, but one of them is that she contracted a venereal disease from her husband. GAH. Women were supposed to be faithful for what? Their husband's to make them sick? I'm SO glad I didn't live back then.

The other thing that was interesting was that royalty truly felt that they were divinely appointed to be rules, and that they had God on their side in every battle. Really? Being born into a certain blood line can determine who is divinely appointed to be a leader? In this book, even Sisi questions this line of thinking. But that's honestly what they believed. And that it was sometimes a burden, but they can't refuse to serve God, can they?

There have been a lot of criticisms of the way Sisi was portrayed. Some say she was too whiny, but I didn't really feel that way. Maybe a little melodramatic, but when I read the notes in the back, it appears that much of history agrees that Sisi had a temperment that was NOT really compatible with her role as Empress. And she reacted to things in the way that I feel I would have as well if faced with the same situations. However, I don't have previous knowledge of this story in history, so I might have found more to criticize if I had. But it was an enjoyable read, even if it wasn't always "edge of your seat" like Traitor's Wife was. And it has sparked an interest in this part of history that I might look into more deepy. I also enjoyed all the music references to the composer of the court (and later Franz Liszt's role in composing for the coronation of Franz and Sisi as officially recognized King and Queen of Hugary).

Grounded, G.P. Ching

A book cover URL wasn't available. I got it for free from Freebooksy or BookBub, can't remember which. It's the first in a trilogy (why not?).

It was an interesting read....the main character, Lydia has grown up in an Amish compound. It's post apocolypitic America, and most people don't even know that people live outside the wall and are not radioactive rabid mutations. The Amish in this book live much the same way the Amish live today. However, in their modern world, things are VERY different. No one eats real meat or animal products, because of animal rights groups, but it's all synthetically produced (and with several references to food, it doesn't taste anything like real food either, it only looks like food-which side note, I'm all for animal rights and proper conditions and all, but I eat meat and animal products in a modest amount of my diet, and don't you think eating the natural product is better than some crazy science project synthetic version?? I mean, that's what we're trying to get away from now, right? GMO's and anything unnatural in our food products?). They also have gone to a currency of energy rather than money. And electrical energy isn't exactly abundant.

Nothing would have been out of the ordinary if Lydia's best friend (and assumed by the entire community to be future romantic interest) Jeremiah hadn't been after her to go on a rumspringa (the thing where Amish teens are allowed to experience the modern world and then decide if they want to come back and be baptized Amish and live that life or if they'd rather stay in the modern world). It's infinitely more dangerous in this setting because those Amish aren't even supposed to exist and part of their agreement with not having to comply with the current government is that they'd keep to themselves and be self sustaining and all that. But when Lydia's only family, her father, gets really sick, he needs to see an English doctor and get modern medical treatments, or he'll die. Lydia decides she wants to authorize that treatment. And she misses him. And Jeremiah convinces her that rumspringa is the perfect time and means to go to visit her dad.....but none of them could have foreseen what would happen next.

Due to a crazy science experiment generations previous, it is discovered that Lydia posesses a particular genetic mutation that allows her to hold an electrical charge. Of course, she meets a guy who has the same genetic mutation and voila! We have our love triangle. *sigh* Oh well.

One thing that is really interesting, and I'm not sure how I feel about it....is how it examines the role of women in an Amish community. It seems to imply that women are meant to be passive and submissive to be a "good" wife. And in the modern world, Lydia realizes that she does not want to be that way. She feels she has power (not just electrically), opinions, and a mind of her own to act on them. It's one of the reasons she feels she could never truly go back to who she was, or be with Jeremiah because his expectations of a wife and what she was willing to give as a wife are no longer one and the same. Now, I have no idea how women are actually viewed in an Amish community, but if I ever meet one, I'll be sure to ask. Because I know in MY religion, there are all sorts of misconceptions of how women are viewed and treated and how we are supposed to act or be in order to be a "good" Mormon woman. And many of them are false and some are based on a few bad experiences.

The writing was ok, it was interesting, a little like Michael Vey with an Amish twist. So maybe not quite as original as one would hope. The one thing that the author has me guessing about is who-if anyone-are the good guys and who are the bad guys. There are some bad guys who are very obviuosly bad. Like Dr. Hatch bad. But people you thought were allies might not be. So if I stumble upon the other books at the library or digital loan, I'll definitely read them, because I would like to have that resolved :-)

Scarlet, Marissa Meyer

That isn't the cover art, but it's as close as I could find.

The second book of the Luner Chronicles. Scarlet is Red Riding Hood. And of course, there has to be a wolf, right? So naturally there is. A BUNCH of them. But I won't spoil the story here ;-) This book had more romance to it than Cinder. Which always makes life interesting. Scarlet is from France. So there's a bit of a split narrative going on between Scarlet and her life in rural France and Cinder, who is now a fugitive. Cinder has picked up an unexpected-and unintended-ally in another fugitive. Towards the end of the book, the lives of the two girls collide in a fairly big way. As Cinder is delving more deeply into her past and origins, it leads her to Scarlet's grandmother, who has a space military background. This installment was far more action packed and moved at a quicker pace than the first. Definitely an enjoyable read!

Cinder Marissa Meyer

Cinder is the first in a series (I know the 4th one is coming out soon, but I don't know how many are intended to finish the series) called the Lunar Chronicles. It takes place on futuristic Earth and each of the books have an eerie throwback to a fairy tale. Cinder is obviously Cinderella, though the way it fits is much different. So there are 3 differen populations we're dealing with here: Earth and its inhabitants, The Lunars, who are descended from Earthens-they are a new race of humans who have been living on the Moon so long that they have genetic differences, most notably manipulative mind control, and Cyborg's. Basically, scientists have learned how to keep a person alive using artificial parts. Anything from a single finger to a limb to even creating an artifician brain and nervous system. But if you are Cyborg, you're considered a second class citizen pretty much world wide. Add to this mix a horrible plague for which no vaccine or treatment has been found. It's a death sentence. It's a whirl wind of somewhat predictable occurances, and at least for me, as the reader I was able to put two and two together fairly quickly and was left frustrated wondering when Cinder was going to figure it out. One of my favorite characters is Iko. She's a droid (I picture droids in this book similar to Star Wars in function, but different in appearance) and has quite a personality! She's also one of Cinder's only friends. Of course, there's Prince Kai, the Emporer to be in the Asian area of this future world.

It was definitely an entertaining read and it's interesting to see how differently you can interpret classic fairy tales to become completely different, and yet so similar, like I said, it's kind of eerie!

Monday, August 3, 2015

The Opposite of Lonliness, Marina Keegan

This was interesting, I think I saw it recommended by a GoodReads email. So I picked it up. I had very mixed feelings. Marina was tragicaly killed in a car accident 5 days after she graduated from Yale University. She had a promising future ahead of her, but it was cut short. This book was published posthumously (obviously) and the forward by a Yale Professor states that this book shouldn't exist. It only exists because she died and didn't have a chance to give the world more. They didn't edit anything further and felt that even Marina would have wanted to polish it more or not have it out there at all, but at the same time, wanted the world to meet her and sample what she was capable of at such a young age. The professor also states that with these types of things, we tend to build it up more than it is because of the situation.

This book is split into two sections, fiction and non-fiction. Unlike many readers, I did not enjoy the fiction nearly as much as the non. To me, the characters were fairly shallow, there was WAAAAY too much sex and drugs. Sure the emotions were raw, and maybe being in my mid-30s I'm out of touch with just how casual all sex, all relationships and all drug use is. But I felt like none of her characters, even when in a relationship, ever made love with thier partner. It was always just having sex. There's a difference. A BIG difference. And if young people, even in relationships are only having sex, then they are missing out on what physical intimacy is supposed to be about. And the drug. All the smoking, marijuana use, other drugs being referred to. Do smart, intelligent yuppy collegiates going to super ritzy schools like Yale REALLY do drugs like that so casually and recreationally? And then there was the homosexual characters. They felt forced. Like she felt compelled to make sure she represented that group in every piece of short fiction. Like she needed to prove a point. It didn't seem innocent or even like an aside; like the gay factor had to be forcibly pointed out. It felt odd in the sense that if would seem odd if every short story made sure to include several descriptions of multiple nationalities represented by different characters. It's distracting instead of sensitive. Her fiction prose is brazen. It sounds like her age. But that doesn't bother me, I mean, it's not like her family published this book trying to make her out to be anything that she wasn't yet. Given life experience, I'm sure her style would have matured and refined just as anyone else would. I just didn't enjoy how she portrayed the lifestyle of the college aged kid.

Her non-fiction, on the other hand I found very reflective. She asks questions that should be asked by more people. Why DO people end up where they do? Why DO graduates pick a field that is passionless at such an alarming rate? Are recruiters THAT powerful or manipulative? How often do YOU treat someone rudely or as less of a person because of the occupation they have (blue collar or manual work). She chooses to portray that through an exterminator. My dad worked on cars for a living as an auto-body repairman. I'm sure part of it is perception, but I know he felt like others didn't view him as intelligent as them because of their job vs. his. I guess I don't know because he never said anything, but it's something that I feel I picked up. My favorite piece was the one where she talks about growing up with Celiac Disease. She was an infant and she was not thriving. Her mother relentlessly looked for a solution and finally figured out what it was instead of letting her baby girl waste away while medical professionals tried to figure it out. Celiac is NOT gluten-intolerance. It is a VERY serious auto-immune allergic condition that can be life threatening. Even the tiniest bit of gluten can cause illness. But Marina, as she grew older, felt like her mom was going over the top. Her attitude was "it's just food, really" you know, not a big deal. She stopped asking for super special treatment (like a chef to use a freshly cleaned pan to cook her food to avoid cross contamination). She used to be hyper diligent, even calling a company to find out the source for carmel coloring, but had become lax. She describes coming across a medical piece that informed her that if a woman with Celiac is pregnant, any gluten she comes in contact with could potentially be a risk for fetal development. In that moment she promised herself that when she was ready to have a baby she would be SO diligent, she would check EVERYTHING she would do EVERYTHING to make sure her child would be safe and then it hit her in that instant. She KNEW what her mom felt. And I think that's really great that she was able to have that moment of clear understanding before she was ever in a position to experience it-especially since she never was able to experience it.

All in all, if I could give it 3.5 stars, that's what I'd rate it. A little better than 3, but not quite 4.

Still Alice, Lisa Genova

This was an amazing read!! A friend recommended it to me, warned me it was sad, but said it was really good. She did not lie on any account!

This book is about Alice, a professor at Harvard who is 50 years old and at the peak of her professional career. She has 3 grown children, one is married (and anxiously awaiting children of her own), one is becoming a medical Dr. and one who has balked at the traditional path to college on her way to adulthood and is instead pursuing an acting career in LA. Which is a source of significant strife between them. Not long into the story line, Alice starts to have lapses in her thought process and memory. Once she finds herself completely disoriented in a part of town that she runs through every single day and just cannot for the life of her figure out where she is or where she needs to go to get to where she’s going. This is disconcerting enough for her to make an appointment with her physician. Who doesn’t really seem disturbed by anything-after all, many of the symptoms mirror that that accompany menopause-until she tells her about the disorienting episode. Later, Alice insists upon going to a neurologist. It’s through some more testing that she finds out her diagnosis: Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease. She’s on a train that has only one destination and no way to get off. We then go through with Alice’s perspective all of the way of her disease progressing at an alarming (but realistic, much of this book is based on solid research, real life experiences of real people living with this disease, and real time progression as seen in real life) rate. You feel her confusion, her despair, her frustration, everything. It is so raw and so real. I have a whole lot better perspective and a TON more compassion for this group of people than I had before. And compassion is definitely different from sympathy. People in this situation don’t need sympathy; they don’t need you to feel sorry for them, they need our compassion. They need us to patiently give them the same information as many times as they need it. They need us to know that even though they don’t catch the meanings of things, they can catch the essence, especially the emotional aspect of things around them. They may not be fully aware, but they can still comprehend some things. We don’t know which things, since they often find it difficult to communicate those things, so we need to remember that they are not just shells of a person. They are STILL THEMSELVES somewhere in there. Just like Alice is “Still Alice”.  I am a better person for having read this book. It makes you re-evaluate what is important to you in your life. When Alice realizes she doesn’t have much time of lucidity left, it’s not more research papers she wants to write or more conferences to attend. It’s time with her family, it’s reconciling relationships with her children to a good healthy place, it’s spending quality time with her husband while she still knows who he is and how he’s significant to her. And another thing that is wonderful about this book is that her family stays with her. They rally around her. Even her busy husband who has a lot of work to do (he is also a professor at Harvard). Sometimes it seem selfish of her husband to still dedicate so much of his time in his profession, but at the same time, he needs to be fulfilled in a way himself in order to be able to devote himself to her and her car, which I can imagine is extremely exhausting. Just like the mother of small children needs to make time for herself to be recharged and be a great mom.  He doesn’t leave her, he doesn’t berate her for not knowing things, for not knowing who he is. He is kind, he is patient, he is every bit as wonderful as the man in The Notebook who tells their story to his wife every day who has forgotten who she and he are. And in some ways, he’s more wonderful. Because you know how much he is hurting, how much he is dealing with.

The author is writing another book (it might already be out) called Love, Anthony which had 2 sneak peak chapters at the end of the Alice book that strongly points to a parent living with a severely autistic child which I am incredibly interested to read! She also has a different book, “Left Neglected” about a busy woman in her 30s who is trying to do everything and be everything to everyone, but gets in a car accident that leaves her with the inability to perceive everything to her left. This one sounds intriguing as well.  Although I think I’ll balance these heavier topic books with a few light hearted reads in between. Because for me, I think about books like these for a long time, and I like to always have something to read. If I read a few light books, it allows me to still think about the deeper books and the concepts it brings to light while still feeding my addiction to read.

I highly recommend this book! It was also made into a movie last year. I’ve got it on hold at the library….but I’m something like 44 in line. So I hope I get ahold of it soon enough to know how closely it follows the book. All I know is that Alice is supposed to have curly dark hair and the actress playing her doesn’t. But that can be forgiven if the acting is exceptional J

UnDivided, Neal Shushterman

Holy cow!!! In addition to the absolutely phenomenal split narrative that I’ve come to expect (and haven’t been let down!) from Shushterman, he was able to weave such hope and closure to a series that I feel so satisfied with. I don’t feel like I have to defend him as an author, or find the lessons to be learned, because the ending was wrapped up nicely with a bow. Not to say that it was a happy ending for everyone involved, of course, and some things were a LITTLE far fetched for the sake of the way things needed to end.

One of the coolest things is that you learn that his idea of an organ printer is not just a figment of his imagination. Something like that actually exists in its pre-embryonic state. There are people and researchers and scientists who are actually working to make technology like this possible and he documented the first mention of this by publishing part of a press release about it from 2013. This is something that I really wish I had a million bucks or so to back the research on this. I have a friend whose 12 year old daughter has a failing kidney. It’s congenital and progressive. However, she can’t even get on the transplant list until her kidney is at or below 10% function. Last I knew, it was 17%. And even then, there’s always fear of rejection or side effects from immunosuppressive medications and anti-rejection medications. If there was a way to make transplant organs from your own pluripotent stem cells (adult stem cells not associated at all with embryonic stem cells and have no moral issues to obtain them), then there would be no need for those types of medications because your body would recognizes it as its own. It would completely revolutionize medicine and transform people’s lives!

Anyhow, back to the story, I can’t write a ton without giving a lot of crucial parts away, but just know that you get everyone’s perspective. You get to see the societal shift that happens, not as the result of one single incident, but in several different things happening in succession that makes the world wake up and think “My God, what have we done?” We get to have the lesson upfront about how we should think twice about the information we receive, and at whose hand it comes from. We get the advice to “follow the money” something my dad says a lot about politics and politicians. And it’s true, unfortunately, that many times if you follow the money you find the true intentions of the people behind smooth facades. There’s hints at conspiracy theories that governments cause or at least perpetuate problems in order to be the ones who get to “fix” the problems and be seen in a better light. Now, I don’t know if I believe anything in our own current past or present would fall under that category (though many accusations are out there) but I WILL say that I wouldn’t put it past our government to do something like that, and it wouldn’t surprise me if proof were to come to light. I just hope that the rising generation is not as easily duped by advertising as the society that came from this fictional future America. Where democracy works just fine-but the opinions of the masses have been molded and manipulated to be something that the people wouldn’t truly want if they weren’t so brainwashed into believing what the powers that be want them to believe.

PS Even though this series is HIGHLY DISTURBING, in light of the allegations towards Planned Parenthood-regardless of whether you believe what they are being accused of as truthful or not-the fact that the idea is out there and exists means that people should read this series. Hopefully as a shock to the system to see where things could take us if we don't wake up and realize the horrific potential that's out there. Just the mere thought of aborted fetal tissue being sold and there being a market for it and some specimens are worth more than others, the ONLY thing I could think about was THIS book series.