Friday, August 12, 2011

Reading, 2.0

I originally set this blog up as a place to review books I was reading and to have a little practice at talking about books (since that was pretty much my entire life as a student). It morphed into a school project my last semester of college, and now it has lain dormant since December.

It think it's time to pick things back up.

But this time I'm not limiting myself to book reviews.

What exactly I'm going to expand to, I'm not yet sure, but I have some ideas.
  • Link ups. There are a couple of blogs on there on the interwebz that offer literature/writing related link ups, which offer great inspiration AND an opportunity to bring in new readers.
  • Book reviews...That I haven't written. I'm not sure if this is a cop-out or not, but I like the idea of actually going through some book reviews and then sharing them with a larger audience.
  • Reviewing movies/T.V. shows based on books. I LOVE getting ticked off about movies that don't do the book their based on justice. I just love getting ticked off, period.
  • My own writing. So, I write things other than crappy blog posts, you know. I might, very occasionally, post those writings here.
That's what I've got so far. I may find myself doing all of these or none (though I think "none" is unlikely). What with college being done and behind me I want to have a project that requires me to do at least a little thinking; I don't want to forget how, you know?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Life As We Knew It

I do not like reading about natural disasters that are actually plausible. Like, I can read The Hunger Games and at least fell like all that stuff isn't likely to happen in my or my daughter's lifetimes. But the moon getting knocked out orbit by an asteroid? Heck, that could happen tomorrow! That sort of thing feeds my paranoia just enough that lie awake at night plotting just how long my family could survive in such a situation (normally it's not very long). Life As We Knew It is no exception to the paranoia feeding, but damn, it's a really good book.

So, as you might expect, the book takes place in a world (out world) where the moon has been knocked out of orbit which significantly affects the natural order of things on the planet. Tides are out of whack (ridiculous, huge tidal waves that wipe out entire coastlines), the weather is going nuts, there are volcanoes going off all over the planet and that causes something akin to a nuclear winter, and there are sickness epidemics going on all over the place. Caught in the midst of this is Miranda Howell and her mom and two brothers (her dad and his pregnant wife make a brief appearance, trying to make their way south, but their fates are unknown as disaster after disaster unfolds). The story is basically Miranda's family trying to survive--but they aren't just trying to survive this new, horrible world they inhabit, but trying to survive spending hours and hours cooped up in the same small room together (which, I'm sure, would drive anyone crazy).

This story is so incredibly gripping. I read it very quickly and pretty much ate myself silly the entire time. Food and the amount of food and how hungry Miranda is (the story is told in the form of her journal) is a huge piece of this story and everything is so immediate and frightening that I found myself compensating for Miranda's lack of food by eating a ton myself. But that's just how engaging this book is.

Comparable Reads: I can't think of any book that quite puts me into this amount of panic. The only thing that I can think of that compares is the movie The Day After Tomorrow (similar wacky weather patterns, except in that movie, I think the ice caps melted or something).

Who this book is for: While it certainly will appeal to teen readers (the main character is a seventeen year old girl with very typical seventeen year old girl interests, even after, to a point, the moon disaster occurs), the tale is so gripping and the range of characters actually in the book is pretty wide, that I think most people could find something interesting and a character to whom they could relate. 

Ruby Holler

So, you know how I said I have very specific books that I choose to read in the previous post? (Okay, you won't have if you're reading this from most recent post to oldest post, but you'll see when you get to An Abundance of Katherines) Well, though I tend to be a thoroughly devoted reader of all things fantasy and historical fiction, as a kid I loved, loved, loved Sharon Creech (who writes, primarily, realistic fiction). Of course, I still love Sharon Creech, but my obsessive reading of her works fell off as I got older (around age fifteen or so). So, realizing I had an extreme lack of middle level books in my repertoire, I decided to pick up one of the few Sharon Creech books I have not read (mostly because it was published right around the time I had stopped reading her books).

Ruby Holler is about the "trouble twins", Dallas (boy) and Florida (girl), who have been bounced around from foster house to foster house, facing everything from neglect to flat out cruelty (there are a lot of allusions towards physical and emotional abuse), always landing back at the Boxton Creek Home where they had been abandoned thirteen years before. Their new foster parents, an older couple, Tiller and Sairy, whose children have grown and left home, have decided to take them in, but just for the summer, in hopes of giving the kids an adventure of a lifetime. However, things don't turn out quite as anyone had planned, and isn't that the point?

This story is so wonderful and sweet and made me bawl like a little baby at the end (I'm actually trying not to cry now as I think about it). As usual with Sharon Creech, there is a series of interesting and gripping plots and subplots all mixed together to highlight the beauty and importance of home and family, whatever shape or place it may be. I particularly liked the ending--it was so wonderfully frustrating and vague, yet perfect, so you can't get mad at Sharon Creech for writing it like that, but you can't prevent your mind from running over with ideas as to how the story ended. So good.

Comparable Reads: I think if this book sounds interesting, any of the other books Creech has written that sort of fit this profile (the country, adolescents, adventures), you'll likely find those books interesting, too. So, you have, of course Walk to Moons, and then Chasing Redbird, Bloomability, and The Wanderer.

Who this book is for: I think the typical audience for Creech's novels are young teens or "tweens" (I hate that word, but I guess it applies here). The book is so wholesome, but without being too goody-goody or obnoxious. It's a nice break from the overly dramatic, angsty stuff that sort of fills the airwaves and some of the books in teen culture. And while angst is great (I'm being serious) and is definitely applicable to the life of a adolescent, sometimes it's nice to have a break. Also, as an adult, it's nice to take a break from adult troubles and be a kid again an see things from the eyes of a kid again.

An Abundance of Katherines

When I'm looking for a book to read I have two major faults. One, I tend to stick with on or two particular genres (historical fiction, fantasy/sci-fi--even better if I can find a book that covers both!). Two, I have a big problem with rereading the same book over and over. I can't stand to watch the same movie or T.V. shows more than once or twice (there are a few exceptions), but I can read the same freaking book a hundred times (just ask my copies of Lord of the Rings and His Dark Materials Trilogy). Anyway, during this semester, when I've been asked to sort of reach beyond what I usually read and tackle some YA lit I might have otherwise ignored, I figured John Green would be a good place to start.

I was familiar with who John Green was as a person rather than as an author, having been introduced to the Nerdfighters this semester (Google this now if you do not know about Nerdfighters--awesomeness), and I've liked what he has to say. And while he's definitely not a sci-fi/fantasy OR historical fiction kind of writer, I figured if I like him, I might like what he has to say.

So, An Abundance of Katherines is all about a guy named Colin who gets dumped, for the nineteenth time, by the nineteenth girl he's dated name Katherine. Interesting premise, right? Colin is also something of a child progidy (not a genius, there's a difference apparently) and in search of finding a way to make his mark on the world. Anyway, in hopes of working himself out of his latest dumping, he and his friend go a road trip that lands them in a sort of back-woods town in the South, where the two friends find themselves entrenched with a rich factory owner and her daughter, Lindsey, who, unlike Colin, is looking to make as little of a difference as possible, wanting to keep her small home town the same cozy place it's always been. Anyhow, hijinx ensue along with a lot of self-discovery, generally funny-ness, and much use of the word "fug" (the book provides an explanation).

Well, I ended up liking this book quite a lot. I didn't find it quite as griping as I had hoped, but it was certainly more than readable and was a nice alternative to my usual literary fare. I thought the characters were engaging (and this, if you haven't caught on yet, is important to me), their emotions real, and there was so much good use of language and wit, which is sometimes lacking in novels directed at teens. John Green talks to teenagers through a voice that isn't trying too hard to sound teenish, but it's not wicked adult like, either. Actually, if you watch any of his vlog brothers videos on YouTube, the narration in "Katherines" sounds very similar.

Here is my one complaint. The road trip. Colin's parents just let him go. He basically says, "Mom, Dad, I'm leaving. Don't know when I'll be back, but don't worry, I'm make sure it's in time for college." His friend, Hassan, who seems to come from protective and fairly religious parents, also has a very easy time getting permission. And the family that the two friends stay with--totally fine with just taking two complete strangers in! It just seemed too convenient for me. My parents were pretty relaxed after I graduated from high school, but they weren't THAT relaxed. It didn't feel believable, and if I'm going to read "realistic" fiction, then I kind of want there to be a higher level of plausibility.

Comparable Reads: I can't really think of anything I've read (at least not anything I can remember well enough) to compare this, too. I mean, the road trip factor and the teenager angsty stuff is similar to any book you might find directed at teens, but the writing, in my opinion, is so different, that I can't think of anything to do a worthy comparison to.

Who this book is for: While the audience is teen readers, I would argue adults (particularly those in their twenties) could really get into this. Like I said, the characters are engaging, and they're also not stereotyped teens. They're like real people with real issues, and I sometimes feel like writers try very hard to write a teenager rather than an actual person.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Golden Compass

The Golden Compass and His Dark Materials Trilogy (which The Golden Compass starts) are a few of my all time favorite books. Philip Pullman pens these novels in such a way that your thought process teeters along the line of reality, philosophy, and pure fantasy/science fiction. Recently, I reread The Golden Compass (not long after finishing The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ) and was once again reminded of why this book is so good.

The story centers around Lyra Belacqua, an orphaned girl living amongst the bookish scholars of Jordan College in Oxford, England, in a world utterly unlike our own, but eerily similar, where the people are just like us, but different, with their very souls bared for all to see (daemons) in the form of animals. One evening, after sneaking into a gathering only meant for the top mean of the college (where her fearsome uncle, Lord Asriel, was speaking), she hears of the North, fierce panserbjorne and Dust. Thus begins Lyra's journey. Children are being kidnapped for unknown purposes. Witches are aflight, preparing for war. Lyra's best friend is missing and she has made it her mission to find him.

Pullman manages to mix a gripping adventure story with a searing critique of organized religion (or at least the beginning of one), a unique look at childhood, innocence, the psychology and biology of growing up and how that effects society. He really manages to capture what Lyra is--a little girl and a born liar and actress. So often authors who write from the perspective of children sound ridiculous, but Pullman has shaped a serious but entirely childlike little girl. And he easily slips from character to character, making each pitch-perfect. You hear Lee Scoresby's Texas lilt and feel the rumble in Iorek Byrnison's throat. And there is a slight chill that runs up your spine each time Pullman introduces the completely seductive and fairly evil character of Mrs. Coulter.

What's more, the book puts forth, in a really interesting way, the idea of soul and faith and the purpose of religion in society. Pullman very subtly calls institutions in society into question by looking at certain things through the lens of an alternate universe and the eyes of a child. The book (and the sequels) allow for a number of questions that beg for discussion and thought.

Comparable Reads: I think C.S. Lewis' Narnia books offer a really great counterpoint to The Golden Compass (and subsequent books), particularly if you're interested in the concept of religion, organized and otherwise, and children's place within it, but you must read with an open mind. Also, A Wrinkle in Time has similar qualities (alternate universes, fantasy/sci-fi) and is a very fun read, though old school. 

Who is this book for?: While it's typically marketed as a YA book (and it certainly has YA elements), it is a novel that children and adults can both enjoy. It must be read with an open mind, I believe, because Pullman does go out of his way to challenge the reader's beliefs (if those beliefs align with Christianity), particularly in the two books after "Compass." I think parents and teachers who have children/students who are reading this book should be prepared to potentially have a discussion regarding the books, because there is some serious religion and philosophy discussed within the pages.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ

Title: The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ
Author: Philip Pullman
Genre: Literature
Price: $24.00
ISBN: 978-0802129963

This book isn't for the religiously faint of heart. Pullman, notoriously outspoken about Christianity and religion in general, pulls apart the well-known tales of Jesus Christ, from his auspicious birth to his betrayal, death, and resurrection, and creates the intertwined lives of brothers Jesus and Christ. The book reads in turn like a novel, a history, and the Bible itself, delivering short chapters filled with subtle meaning and heavy in irony. The idea, it seems, is to present a different version of the Biblical stories those of us who grew up under the influence of Jesus' story knew. The story makes sense and still (surprisingly if you know anything about Pullman's feelings regarding religion) is complementary to what Jesus tried to do within his ministry. While it's certainly not pro-religion or pro-Christianity, it's not against it either. If anything, it's pro-common sense and doing good.

I really enjoyed this book. I have always been interested in religion and have found Jesus to be an endlessly fascinating person, even when my own Christian beliefs have dissipated somewhat. Pullman frames Jesus and Christ in such a way that you can't help but like and dislike them both (the title is deceiving in that sense, I think). I also like how Pullman taps that Biblical tone, but still manages humor, mainly in the vein of irony. I also love Pullman's takes on seemingly miraculous events such as the virgin birth and the fish and bread story--both make complete sense and for me, resolved some issues I've had with Christian "mythology" without diminishing the significance of particular events. 

Comparable Reads:  I've got to say, I can't think of anything that would fit into a similar category, however, I do know that this book is a part of a group of books being published by several authors (Margaret Atwood, Karen Armstrong, and Salley Vickers, are just a few) called the Myths series. Each author has a different take on a myth from our world's past. Some of the topics include: Dream Angus, Penelope from Odysseus, and Atlas and Hercules. It all sounds really interesting!

Who this book is for: Young adults and "regular" adults who have an interest in gaining a new perspective on Jesus. I don't think people who firmly believe Jesus is exactly who he's said to be in the Bible with change their minds--I don't think that's the goal. The book does a wonderful job in making you think of not only who Jesus was or could be, but also how myths are made, how there could be a difference between truth and history and who gets to make that decision. I think reading this book could result in a lot of interesting discussions, either with yourself or with others and it can be done without having to touch upon the dogma of religion that can so divide us.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


Title: Mockingjay
Author: Suzanne Collins
Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction
Price: $22.99
ISBN: 978-0545310604

After much anticipation, I finally, finally got a hold of a copy of Suzanne Collin's novel, Mockingjay, which brings an end to her Hunger Games trilogy. Without revealing too much, what we have here is two major decisions to be made by the series main character, Katniss. One, will she take the mantel of leader in the rebellion against the Capitol of Panem (whether or not this role of leader is just as a figurehead or not will be determined). The other is who Katniss will choose as her "lover" (for a lack of a better way to put it). There is Gale, her best friend from childhood who she had hunted with and had always held a special place for in her heart. Then there is Peeta, with whom she had competed with in the Hunger Games and had shared extremely harrowing experiences.

I don't want to reveal too much about the book, because it's one of those books where if you know one thing, it might ruin others. The most I can say from here is that I liked the book...a lot. I read it in about a day, because I simply could not put it down. I felt as though the book gave a fairly solid and good ending to the series. There feels as though there is no room for any other books (which I like--I hate it when an author says she's ending a series, then doesn't) and as a reader, all issues that had been presented earlier in this book or the previous two feel settled. That doesn't mean I'm happy with everything that happened, and I felt as though there are still some loose ends.

For more information, please check out my previous blog posts on the first two books.