Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Atlantia, Ally Condie

So on the top of the book cover it says "Human voices wake us and we drown" and that never made sense to me. I'm still not sure of it's connection.

That said, when I picked up "Reached" for my older daughter at the library, Summerlost and Atlantia were just sitting right next to it and so I grabbed them.

This book was much more of a page turner. Slightly predictable with a couple minor twists I didn't see coming. This fulfilled the 2017 challenge because it had a mythical creature: Sirens.

So the premise is that above ground, our air got so polluted that our life spans were critically shortened due to lung cancers and other diseases. So engineers devised these enclosures in the deep ocean to perpetuate the human race. There was a Divide in which everyone Above would have someone they love Below to help them continue to make sure the people Below were supported with food and goods necessary for life. There is a ceremony for the people Below, but you never get an age, I just assumed 16-18, where the youth can choose to accept their fate Below or accept a life of sacrifice Above. It reminded me of the choosing ceremony in Divergent, but they didn't cut their hands and place their blood anywhere. But there was a bowl of water and a bowl of dirt.

Part way into this Division living, there were some "miracles" that happened Below and out of it was born a new religion of Gods and many people in both worlds became believers. But of course there has to be corruption and deceit and treason.

Rio has always wanted to go Above, and her twin sister Bay has always loved Below. Their mother is the Minister, their father died young of a condition called Waterlung. It's rare, but fatal. Their mother died unexpectedly and suddenly recently. So when Bay, in her grief, begs her sister to stay with her Below (there is absolutely NO contact between the two groups of people), Rio decides to give up that dream because she loves Bay.  But when Bay makes a choice that surprises everyone, that is the catalyst for Rio to find out all the information she never knew-all the history that has been kept from everyone, even the Ministers, and right the wrongs of society. Like I said, fairly predictable. But a page turner. So 4 stars.

Summerlost, Ally Condie

Ally Condie's newest book, also the first one (I believe) for middle readers. Cedar Lee has recently lost her father and brother in a drunk driving car crash incident. It's just her, her mom and her younger brother Miles. They go to this small town with a really big Shakespeare Festival and she befriends a local boy, Leo, who helps her get a job selling concessions at the festival and they embark on some other money making ventures.

The chapters are really super short, which I think makes it good for younger readers who may have trouble with longer chapters.

You never know exactly what was wrong with Cedar's brother Ben, but all the signs pointed to autism spectrum disorder. Cedar is very conflicted about how fiercely she loved him, but how it was sometimes hard to be around him. I think a lot of people who live with others who are 'different' have this conflicted feeling. I know I did growing up with a sister who is 'different'. I wasn't sure how to explain it, didn't know if I even NEEDED to explain it. I remember one time my sister went to a summer camp at BYU and my mom had asked another girl if she would be my sister's roommate. I don't remember if she agreed or not, but it ended up not happening and somehow I ended up finding out that this girl didn't want to be "held back" from meeting new people and having certain experiences by needing to be my sister's roommate for the week. I was torn between understanding how she felt and not blaming her and being angry at her for being selfish. I never confronted her about it. But it always bothered me. Partially because I wasn't sure what I would have chosen if I had been in her shoes, and I hated that I wasn't more firm in the idea that I'd be the one to help the person.

Anyhow, there's also a little mystery in this story. Lisette Chamberlain is a late actress who got her start at the Shakespeare Festival and was also the first local to get a lead role. She went on to become a successful soap opera actress. Leo knows EVERYTHING about Lisette and he decides for extra money, they'll secretly give tours about her in the early morning.

There's dealings with bullies, grief, getting in trouble (Cedar and Miles watch this horrible soap opera they get sucked into because one of the characters gets buried alive and the person who got her buried sends food down in a tube and communicates with her-but they never reveal how she goes to the bathroom down there), and true friendship. At the end they wonder if they "like" like each other, but really it comes down that "you're my person" the friend who gets you, who understands you, who can compliment your appearance but not have a crush on you. It was an enjoyable read, just a little slow for me.

4 stars.

The Land of Stories 3 A Grimm Warning, Chris Colfer

So, one of the premises of these books is that the Brother's Grimm didn't just collect fairy tales from an assortment of people through oral tradition and write them down. They were actually told these stories by two fairies: The Fairy Godmother and Mother Goose, both from the Land of Stories. And that they also gave stories to Hans Christian Anderson and other writers around the world so that our world could have and learn from and be delighted by the stories of their world. They noticed that in war-torn countries, the stories would lift the spirits of the children and help them to have an escape.

Anyhow, Connor, now 14 and in high school, is on a field trip experience in Europe with his former teacher/current prinicipal (Mrs. Peters) and several other girls. They visit the cemetery where the brothers Grimm are buried and there is a special reading of three new fairy tales that have never before been read; they had been locked in a vault with specific instructions from the brothers to be opened and read 200 years from the date of sealing. When this happens, there are two stories that are eerily similar to the ones that Connor had written about for school assignments...but the third one is a warning about something bad that is going to happen in the fairy tale world that will also affect our world. Alex has been staying in the Fairy Tale world. Connor is the only one who realizes the warning for what it is and needs to get in touch with his sister. He also has his first crush on a girl who happens to also be on the trip. They communicate through a magic mirror. However, Alex is busy with her own personal life. She too is experiencing her first crush and also has taken on some leadership responsibilities in the fairy tale world.

Mother Goose is also partially responsible for the ill fated events, and so she helps Connor find another portal into the fairy tale world so he can help. However, he inadvertently brings along his crush, Bree, and an unsuspecting local boy in Bavaria. Because the portal is none other than the Neuschwanstein Castle. Yes, "Mad King Ludwig" King of Bavaria's final outlandish castle. Mother Goose tells Connor that since King Ludwig was already known for building castles everywhere, she called in a favor and asked him to have a castle built over an existing portal to look like a fairy tale castle. You army leader found out about the other world and threatened the brothers Grimm and their families if they did not lead them to the other world. They wanted to conquer it for Napoleon. Mother Goose bought the fairy tale world some time by enchanting it to trap the army for 200 years inside the portal before they would be let out. She thought everything would be ok, because at the end of book 2, they had sealed off the portals between the two worlds. But she was also hoping that by 200 years she could find a way for them to just be spit out into the regular world, but arrive at the new castle and they would just THINK they were in the fairy tale world. But of course, it wouldn't be a story if something didn't go wrong!

We also get introduced to yet another villain with a story: The Masked Man. He's far worse than the others have been.....

As I go on in this series, certain things are getting MUCH easier to predict. But it doesn't make it less enjoyable for me at this point.

Another 4.5 stars

The Land of Stories 2 The Enchantress Returns, Chris Colfer

Book 2 was just as fun and exciting as Book 1. The twins are another year older. Another collecting spell, but this one requires you to figure out what the objects are in order to collect them, not just go down the list. More stories untold. They both find out more about their connection to the fairy tale world.

More themes of learning about why certain people have ended up the way they are. Connor finds out he's really good at recounting their adventures as stories as if they came from his imagination. Alex has more confidence in herself knowing what she is capable of in the other dimension.

It's hard to write much more without giving away important plot details!

Another 4.5 stars.

The Land of Stories Book 1 The Wishing Spell, Chris Colfer

SUCH a fun series! My older daughter started reading them when she got the first 4 for Christmas 2015. I was looking for another audio to listen to with my 5 year old while we're in the car and this one was available. We both love it! Chris Colfer does the narration for the audios and I just LOVE his voices too. The only one I don't feel is super consistent is Jack, sometimes he sounds too feminine. But everyone else is spot on.

Connor and Alex are twins who are around 11 years old, if I'm remembering right, and their father was recently killed in a car accident. Their mom is trying to get by as a single parent. Alex is bookish and not very well off socially at school. Connor has it going on socially, but occasionally falls asleep in class and does the minimal work to get by. Though they are polar opposites in most ways, they love each other fiercely. Their paternal grandma gives them the story book that she and their dad read to them as young children: The Land of Stories.

While in possession of said book, Alex finds that it randomly hums and she can drop things into the book and they just disappear. One day she decides to see where everything is going....and Connor figures this out just in time to try to stop her, only to end up going with her. They fall into the Land of Stories and find that the fairy tale world is an actual world in another dimension. They find out the only way to get back home is to use a collecting spell called the wishing spell. They know it was used successfully once and is allowed to be used one last time. What happens next is an epic journey throughout all your favorite fairy tale stories and characters-but they are often not what you thought they were! Their stories are a bit different from how they were told here, and you learn that everyone has an untold story. Even the villains.  And I really liked that part. It helps, I think for kids to hear that people who make bad choices may also have been the victim of other bad choices. It helps to learn how to ask for and seek other people's stories instead of judging them.

4.5 stars. Not quite as beloved as Harry Potter, but then I think you almost need the entire series to rate the series as a whole instead of just individually.

The Five People You Meet in Heaven, Mitch Album

So this book I listened to on Audio and it was absolutely fantastic! The narrator did a wonderful job with the voices and character. There were even some sound effects spread throughout.

This book is one of the Rory Gilmore challenge ones and also fit the 2017 Challenge for a book over the span of a person's life. It starts on the last day of Eddie's life but flashes back to several of his birthdays, including the actual day his was born.

I really enjoyed this book. There was a lot of wisdom spread throughout. I liked the idea that Heaven means that we will finally understand why things happened or didn't happen to us while we were alive. I like that idea of understanding. It also resonates with my religion, that at some point we will be given perfect understanding of every experience. It was also interesting to me that as Eddie meets with some of these people he is allowed to give forgiveness or ask for forgiveness-something that would have been impossible during his lifetime. I also believe that there is a chance for forgiveness in heaven. That there isn't a too late.

I give this one a 4 star review.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Circle, Dave Eggers

I'm onto the 2017 Reading Challenge. I didn't get all the books in 2016, but that's ok. But I figured I'd see what I could do in 2017. This fits the category "A book that is being made into a movie this year"

So, this is an adult novel. A LOT of conversational swearing. I didn't like it in the beginning. It was a little much for me, but luckily that wore off after awhile. There are also a few explicit scenes that I skipped over.

Now that that's out of the way....Mae Holland is at a dead end job in her hometown after college when she finally contacts a former college roommate, Annie, to see if maybe there are any openings at the company she works for: The Circle. The Circle is a leading tech/social media company, reminiscent of Google. The campus has thousands of employees, careful to have representation of many ethnicities and interests. Mae lands a job in Customer Experience (it used to be Customer Service, but it improves morale when it's an experience). It's interesting because they ask for feedback surveys on how they did and if it's less than 100, they are require to send a follow up asking how they could improve (or if not, modify the number to reflect their true feelings of the score). Striving for perfection!

The campus offers everything and it's complimentary too. Meals, parties, entertainment, sports, a gym, daycare, doggy daycare, even hotel-like rooms if you need to stay late and don't want to commute home. They have the best healthcare-totally paid for-as well. They provide their employees with EVERYTHING.

This company started to help make the internet a safer place. Anonymity is done away with. We have no more problems with identity theft, so instead of Facebook, we now have TrueYou. All your interactions are connected to you and can be traced back to you. One password for everything. Sounds pretty nice. The internet is a more civil place because people can't be trolls or have no consequence for their actions like we sometimes find with cyber bullying now. Also sounds pretty nice.

This company has created a tiny camera, called SeeChange and it can be placed anywhere, has a batter that would last several years and can give you a detailed live stream feed. "Imagine the human rights implications" if we could see for REAL what is happening anywhere? Imagine what people wouldn't do if they knew they were being watched and knew they'd be caught. You could eliminate all crime!

The story was drawn out a bit, but it was written to prove a point. A point that we cannot let something like this happen. There are 3 main principles this company touts: "Secrets are lies", "Sharing is caring" and "Privacy is Theft". Those, when you read them here, seem obviously crazy. But in the context of this book, you can be sucked into actually agreeing with those statements. That it's selfish to want privacy when giving it up will obviously create a better and safer world for everyone else. People start pledging to be "transparent" which means they wear one of those cameras all day and live stream their whole lives. At first, it seems great-get the political leaders to all be transparent so we REALLY know what's going on. But then, those who want to fight for privacy are villainized and OBVIOUSLY trying to hide someone. So then, ANYONE who would like the right to privacy must have a reason to want to hide and everyone is immediately suspicious of them. Anyone who speaks out against the Circle is shortly thereafter found to have horrible things in their private dealings and discredited. The Circle is pure and honest, they are transparent (except where sensitive intellectual property issues are concerned) but NO ONE suspects that MAYBE they could be dishonest under the guise of intellectual property rights.

Honestly, this book ANNOYED ME. Because it seemed SO over the top and SO redundant, but I do appreciate how blatant the author made his point.

Oh, the character of Francis (thank goodness they wrote him out of the movie script entirely), he is the most pitiful man on the planet. He can't even have a normal physical relationship and expects his partner to rate him as a 100 every time or his feelings would get hurt. There's another guy who is nearly in tears because Mae, in her first week, gets invited to some event he's hosting and she doesn't RSVP and doesn't go. They have to talk it out and Mae has to apologize for the distress she inadvertently caused. It reminds me of how quickly I could feel hurt by seeing friends post pictures of themselves at things they didn't invite me to. I've talked with teenagers and know that that kind of thing bothers them. And people getting upset when people don't like or comment on their posts. This society is EXTREME with that. But I can see parts of happening right now.

I think I'll give this a solid 3 stars. Even though it was annoying and over the top, it DOES make me think about things a little differently. And it's validated my previous thinking that I had before reading it. Around a year or so ago, whenever I felt the urge to post something on Facebook, I started thinking "Do people REALLY want to know this?" "Do people really CARE about this?" "Do I NEED people to know about this?" "What am I trying to GAIN by posting this out there?" "Does this have a PURPOSE?" And most of the time, I'd decide that it really didn't need to be out there at all. It's not a secret, sharing isn't always caring, and privacy is a human right, NOT theft.

It also reminds us that MANY MANY evil things in our world today have been sold under the sheeps clothing of philanthropy. For the good of mankind. That we must make sacrifices for the individual in order to protect and make a better place. Francis had a bad close experience with kidnapping. So he started up this project so that no kid could ever be kidnapped again. Doesn't that sound wonderful? What's the catch? A chip that is implanted into a child's BONE. No mention of if it ever gets removed. It probably won't. Or can't be. So if you can be tracked every second as a child, what are the implications of full society being completely trackable? There are so many things that SEEM good. No more infidelity, secret deals, criminals hiding, no more runaways, and with cameras everywhere, no break-ins, no child abuse, or abuse of any kind.....but these are all things that would be FORCED, and it puts someone else in control. If it's not government, it's a money making for profit company. "We're watching you"

The movie stars Tom Hanks and Emma Watson, and if it's not rated R, my husband and I will definitely go see it. it's set to be released in April.

Red Rising, Pierce Brown

So this book satisfied the 2016 Reading Challenge of reading a book recommended by someone I had just met. So a new friend had been telling me about this book that her son had to read in high school. It does have quite a bit of swearing and a LOT of mature themes and is rather crude in many places. I don't know how I'd feel about a teenager reading it. Especially MY child. But I figure that if I just read all the required stuff along side them as it comes, we can discuss things and it will be easier.

Anyhow, this is a future/sci-fi story of people living on Mars. In fact, most of outerspace has been colonized and turned into livable space. Such things have caused some mutations or forced genetic modifications, I'm not really clear on that. This book reminded me of parts of "The Testing" and "Uglies" and "The Selection"

There is a caste system, shown by this diagram I found below:

There are more colors, Silvers, Bronze, and Gold, Gold's being the best, of course. And there are also High Reds and Low Reds. The main character, Darrow, is a low red. However, certain events lead him to be in a position (not sought out by himself) to potentially lead a rebellion against the Golds and make a better life for everyone. But you find out that this society doesn't just mess with it's lower citizens, it totally messes with and even culls the Golds. In things that they believe are necessary. But they are also completely corrupted amongst themselves. It's disgusting really.

This book definitely kept my attention and was a page turner. Sometimes a little hard to follow with the slang words that are exclusive to this fictional society. Twists and turns I didn't see coming. But like I said, proceed with caution. 3.5 stars.

A Fatal Grace, Louise Penny

I listened to this on audio awhile back and just realized I never blogged it. This is the second Inspector Gamache book. To be honest, I did not enjoy it nearly as much as I did the first one. This one was far more predictable than the first and had more swearing. Or maybe listening to it made it more obvious since I tend to skip over those types of things in my reading.

Of course, there were some episodes of Castle that were more predictable or less enjoyable, and I like the character of the Inspector enough to get around to the other books in the series here and there in between other things. 2.5 stars for me.