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 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.