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.