Friday, June 22, 2012

Glass Castle

"Walls has joined the company of writers such as Mary Karr and Frank McCourt who have been able to transform their sad memories into fine art." - People

Compared to Frank McCourt, I much more thoroughly enjoyed Jeannette Walls's memoir, The Glass Castle.  Though I've never read Mary Karr, so I can't compare, I did enjoy the tale of the unconventional and poverty-stricken upbringing of the Walls children by their uniquely dysfunctional parents. The Walls' parents chose an alternative lifestyle for them and their children which they saw as beneficial; the children only learned to pull themselves up by their bootstraps to break the cycle. I couldn't put down this heartfelt memoir. 

Dragon Bones

Dragon Bones is Lisa See's third book of the Red Princess series. I haven't read the first two, but I still understood it pretty well. It's a murder-mystery love story between Inspector Liu Hulan and Attorney David Stark, who happen to be married, but estranged as they separately mourn the death of their young daughter. Together they are assigned to cases near the 3 Gorges Dam along the Yangtze River in China. Liu is to investigate a suspicious death and David is to find out how Chinese artifacts are being smuggled out of the country. See paints a modern picture of China while tying in the mysteries of the past.  i like how See shows me her perspective of China and occasionally characters speak in Chinese that See translates for the reader. It wasn't an awesome book, but it was certainly enjoyable.  I liked reading about modern China (okay, 1990s China) and I enjoyed the characters as well as the mystery and journey of the novel.  If you think you might enjoy this Chinese murder-mystery style romance, give it a try!

When the Black Girl Sings

Bil Wright's When the Black Girl Sings tell the coming of age story of an adopted young black girl. Adoption is the texture, rather than the storyline, but the novel does deal with important issues such as race, religion (but it isn't preachy!), having to make choices, and growing up. 

While well written and teaching a good lesson, When the Black Girl Sings didn't really appeal to me. It just didn't pull me in. I didn't identify with any of the characters. I think I only recommend it to kids who are faced with the same issues the novel deals with. 

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox is one of the best books I have ever read. Maggie O'Farrell gives us the story from three points of view: Iris, in the present, as she meets the great-aunt she never knew she had; Esme, in the past and in the present, who has been locked away in an "institution" for more than sixty years; and Kitty, the grandma with Alzheimer's, whose story is done in stream-of-consciousness. Kitty always said she was an only child, but Esme is obviously her sister, and Iris feels obligated to care for her great-aunt.  The institution is closing, so all the patients are labeled as harmless to clear the institution of responsibility.  Esme is clearly damaged, but is it because she's insane? And if she's insane, was she before? Or is she now, only because of how she was treated? 

The family secrets of Esme and Kitty come to the surface as Iris cares for and bonds with Esme.  it's full of hurt, pain, and the feeling of not belonging.  iris's own family secrets are revealed, and she is forced to make hard decisions.  The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox is an  intense read that I couldn't put down until I figured out the secrets.  The ending is somewhat rushed and vaguely written, but it still packs and punch.  This great read shows that even when problems are resolved, that doesn't mean there's a happy ending.  Actions have long consequences.  I really enjoyed this novel and highly recommend it. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Irish Princess

Karen Harper's The Irish Princess introduced me to Elizabeth Fitzgerald, the uncrowned Irish Princess of Tudor times and rule. The Fitzgeralds and Henry VIII don't exactly get along, and that leads to quite a few visits to the Tower of London for the Fitzgerald men. Elizabeth, or Gera, is also forced to relocate to London so Henry VIII and his men can keep an eye on her and her family. 

I enjoyed The Irish Princess; it was nice to be introduced to a new character and storyline. I feel like Harper really captured that Irish "feel" that Gera needed, though I'm no expert in that area. Gera was a fun character to read about; she's stubborn, outspoken, and reminded me of what I've read of Elizabeth I, which makes sense because they were close friends. It was also weird that Henry VIII was the bad guy, I usually like him, or feel sorry for him at any rate! 

Most of the story was true to history, Harper obviously took some liberties, but Gera was a real person and her relationships were also true. It was an enjoyable read, but at times I found myself wishing that Philippa Gregory had written it, because it got a little dry and felt a little long. I also wish Harper had included a family tree in the front of the book, like Gregory always does. Overall, though, it was a pretty good book and I recommend it to my fellow historical fiction lovers! 

Teacher Man

Teacher Man is Frank McCourt's final memoir. It is still disjointed, like 'Tis, but not as bad. It is more of an elaboration on the teaching aspect of his life, so it was a little more enjoyable to me. Regardless, I still recommend it with the catch as before -- only if you like Angela's Ashes more than I did! Read on!


Night is Elie Wiesel's tale of his life and experience surviving the Holocaust at the death camp of Auschwitz. To be completely honest, I didn't really like it. But how can you analytically critique someone's heartfelt story? Is it cruel to dislike a personal memoir of the Holocaust? It's really hard to compare one person's pain to another, but Night is not one of the most touching, shocking, or what-have-you holocaust novel I've read. He didn't come alive to me, as Anne Frank does her diary or the characters in Devil's Arithmetic do. Maybe there was a problem in translation? Night wasn't originally written or published in English. Maybe I've read too many novels about the Holocaust? I've read a ton; maybe that's made me hardened to it? Maybe I'm not a sap anymore? Okay, that's not true, because I almost cried at the middle school while going over the end of Anne Frank. But I just didn't really enjoy Night. It seemed rather disjointed to me. This is not to say it didn't have a good message, because it did. Wiesel teaches peace and equality. He sings his father's praises, as his novel is just as much about his relationship with his father as the camps they were in. Night  has a good message, but is not one of my favorites. Read on!


'Tis is Frank McCourt's sequel his memoir Angela's Ashes and continues on with the story of his life. To be completely honest, I didn't love it. I'm not sure I even liked it. It felt really disjointed and was kind of boring. It didn't pull me in. I really couldn't relate to Frank and I felt like he made a lot of the problems in his life. He made some bad choices and made his life harder than it needed to be; it was hard to sympathize with him and enjoy the book. I only recommend this book if you enjoyed Angela's Ashes more than I did, in which case you will also enjoy 'Tis more than I! Read on!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Father's Day

I've been blessed to have a father who loves me and who I can rely on. My daddy is a jack-of-all-trades and I know he'll always be there for me when I need him. When I think of my dad, I think of the dad in the following story.
A little girl took her father’s lunch to him as he worked deep in a well. Although she could not see her father down in the darkness of the well, when she called to him he answered, so she knew he was there. The father told her to drop the lunch bucket into the hole, and he would catch it. He did so, and in a moment called up to her that he had too much lunch for just one person, and invited her to join him. “Jump,” he said, “and I will catch you. You cannot see me, but I can see you, and I will not let you fall.” She jumped into the dark well and landed safely in her father’s strong arms. Together they had a fun time sharing the lunch.
 I know my dad will always catch me when I jump. Love you, Papi! Happy Father's Day!

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Education of Little Tree

The Education of Little Tree was recommended to me by one of the English teachers at the middle school. It is a memoir-style novel that may or may not be true. Asa Earl Carter published under the pseudonym of Forrest Carter, and after his death his brother said that the family had no Native American heritage despite the story line. There's a lot of controversy surrounding this novel, not only because Carter's story being a fictional work posing as a memoir. Carter was involved with the KKK and The Education of Little Tree is reputed to be his deathbed repentance.

Whether or not The Education of Little Tree is true or false (I vote false), it has a good moral and teaches a good lesson. Little Tree's parents, one white and one Cherokee, die and his Cherokee grandparents take him in and raise him.  They teach him their ways of simple living, tradition, love of nature, and to "spread the good." They make efforts to educate themselves and place emphasis on Little Tree learning by experience and making his own choices. 

Personally, I think the history of the author does not negate the message of this novel. I wouldn't say it's my favorite book, nor would I have picked it up on my own, but I found it to be a good read enjoyed it. Read on!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Year of the Flood

 "So, if you were making the world, you'd make it better?" I said. Better than God, was 
what I meant.  All of a sudden I was feeling pious, like Bernice.  Like a Gardener.  
"Yes," he said. "As a matter of fact, I would."

The Year of the Flood is slated as a sequel to Oryx and Crakeit's really more of a companion novel in my mind. It follows the forward-backward/past&present structure, as well as time frame, of Oryx and Crake with different characters. The Year of the Flood wraps up the cliffhanger of Oryx and Crake, which was very good. It's interesting, however, that when I read Oryx and Crake I wanted it to end one way, but with The Year of the Flood I wanted a different ending, luckily the one Margaret gave me!  

The characters of The Year of the Flood belong to a religious group, almost a cult, called "God's Gardeners." The story is told from multiple points of view of women from the gardeners. I found these characters much more relateable than Jimmy and Crake. Possibly because of their gender. Possibly because of the way it was written. Possibly because they are more relateable. However, the storyline was not as exciting as Oryx and Crake, (because I already knew what was coming?)  but I really like and recommend this novel!

Read on!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Oryx and Crake

In The Handmaid's Tale, society chose to embrace religion. In Oryx and Crake, science, technology, and evolution are the focus of society. Oryx and Crake begins with Snowman as the narrator and continues to unfold with Snowman in the present and flashbacks to Jimmy and Crake as they grow from young boys into men while science continues to take leaps and bounds developmentally. New animals are created. Society promotes extreme commercialization & sex and pornography are an easily accessible commodity. (reader beware!) 

Crake is perfect for this society. He's practically a scientific prodigy. Jimmy, on the other hand, is not. He is much better at art, and there's a little bit of the Science v Art conflict present in the novel. Crake is a manipulative, cunning, and calculating man with pure intentions. Jimmy is his loving, innocent minion.  

I really enjoyed reading Oryx and Crake. It's a definite page turner, waiting to see how the two stories meet. It's great! Read on!

The Handmaid's Tale

In the very same class where Feed was required reading, we were also introduced to The Handmaid's Tale. A post-apocalyptic novel of a newly formed utopia, which only brings misery and pain, serving as a dystopia, to many liberals of the 80s, including Offred, the handmaid in the title.  In a backlash of feminism, the Republic of Gilead is formed and is based on and governed by Old Testament manner and moral. Anyone who cannot conform to the new ways or lived differently in the past is subject to punishment, exile, or death. 

In this reformed government and society, Offred, and women like her, are separated from their families and made to serve as handmaids. They loose their entire person. Even their names are changed. Offred simply means she is of Fred. As in he is her master. She is handmaid to his wife. Handmaids as in the biblical sense. As in Sariah couldn't have a baby, so she offered her handmaiden to Abraham to produce an heir. Many of the women in the new Republic of Gilead are like Sariah and too old too have babies, and many of the babies made, even by the handmaids, are sickly. Offred's job is to make a baby for Fred and his wife. And this is Offred's story.

The Handmaid's Tale is a very interesting book to read. It's crazy to see how a society can take things too far while trying to to do good. I highly recommend this book to those of ya'll who like post-apocalyptic and utopia/dystopian-style. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Nothing but the Truth

In a series of overreactions and escalating events, the documentary style novel of Nothing but the Truth tells the tale of Phillip, who was suspended for humming the national anthem; Miss Narwin, the teacher directly involved; and the effects of Phillip's story on the town and, as it escalates, the nation. As the title implies, the subject of the novel is the truth, and how different people may have different truths for themselves. 

I was a little hesitant in starting this novel, especially after I didn't particularly care for the last Avi novel I read, Don't You Know There's a War On?, but I really liked the twist at the end. At first I was all, "Oh, of course Ammon's teacher had them read a book about how a naughty student can ruin a teacher's life." But now I see the real reason she had them read it. I really liked Nothing but the Truth and the lesson it teaches. 

Read on! 

Darci's Bridal Shower

One of my best friends, Darci, is getting married next month, and this past week was her bridal shower. The shower was in Salt Lake, so decided to go up to Mapleton a few days early and spend some time with these lovely dorks: 

We had some great girl time and Jordyn barely left my side! She even enjoyed watching So You Think You Can Dance and Breaking Pointe with me! 

The shower was Saturday and it was great to see Darci! She lives too stinkin' far away! The shower was fun and it was nice to see the other bridesmaids, too. Someone took pictures, but they're not on facebook, so this will have to suffice:

at the wedding expo
 I had a great weekend and I loved seeing everyone!  

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Red Queen

Chronologically the third novel of the Cousins' War by Philippa Gregory, The Red Queen finishes out the battles for kingship, as told through the eyes of Margaret Beaufort, the young cousin of Henry VI. The Red Queen is probably my least favorite of the three, because Margaret isn't my favorite person. She's very pious, manipulative, and controlling. She birthed Henry Tudor and pushes him towards the throne, even over her cousin and his son. She conspired for power for many years before her plan came to fruition, and then she continued to be a controlling person, forcing her views on all those surrounding her. Despite my dislike of Margaret, I did enjoy reading The Red Queen because it was so interesting to read the story and learn about that part of history and gives a nice resolution to the Cousins' War. 

The White Queen

I originally read The White Queen when it first came out, but I decided to re-read it after Lady of the Rivers so that I could read all three books in chronological order. 

The White Queen is about Elizabeth Woodville, the daughter of Jacquetta from The Lady of the Rivers.  There is a slight magic carry-over,  but nothing too crazy. Elizabeth Woodville is another lesser-known historical figure, but still an important part of the Cousins' War (Elizabeth married Edward IV and is the mother of the princes in the tower, to which Philippa offers an interesting theory).  The White Queen tells the tale of Edward's struggles for the throne, Elizabeth's fight to marry the king as a commoner, and their romance. 

I think this is a great novel and ya'll should read! 
Read on! 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Lady of the Rivers

Lady of the Rivers is the third published book of the Cousins' War series by Philippa Gregory, but chronologically happens before The White Queen and The Red Queen

Jacquetta of Luxembourg grew up knowing the women in her family were different, because they are descended from Melusina, and she was no exception. Jacquetta has the sight. Because of this sight, Jacquetta is quickly married to the Duke of Bedford and taken from her home so that he may use her sight to his advantage, until his death leaves her a young widow with only one friend: the Duke's squire, Richard Woodville. Woodville and Jacquetta marry in secret and return to the English court of Henry VI, where Jacquetta serves the Queen, Margaret of Anjou.   But as the king falls into a deep sleep and cannot be awakened, the Lancasters begin to fall out of favor for a king who can actually rule.

Jacquetta is a real, but little known (until now, thanks to Philippa!), historical character born in the early 1400s. Because she is so unknown, other than that she is the mother of Elizabeth Woodville (of The White Queen), there is little published about her. Philippa, who is a historian unto herself, did a lot of research, and produced files and files of notes. In addition to the novel, she wrote an essay for readers to study, too. So much of Jacquetta's story is, of course, based on the truth of Philippa's research with Philippa filling in the gaps. Having previously read the other two, it was interesting to read the different perspective of the Cousins' War and I really enjoyed it. 

There were a few little problems, though. Jacquetta says "hi" -- a lot! And I'm pretty sure they didn't say "hi" in the 1400s, or, at least, none of the other historical novels I've read have lead me to believe such. Also, a lot of the ceremony, churching, and seclusion of childbirth Jacquetta participates in, shouldn't be happening yet. Margaret Beaufort (of The Red Queen)  introduced all of those. Which I learned from Philippa, so I'm not sure where the slip happened.  

Other than those errors, I thought the book was perfect. The Lady of the Rivers is now one of my favorites of Philippa's work. I loved getting to know Jacquetta and hear her story. I highly recommend and encourage you to read it! 
Read on! 

The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Mockingjay

I know I'm late to the game, but I wanted to write my thought about Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay and hear your thoughts as well! I'm assuming all ya'll have already read the series, so this is more "book club discussion" than "book review." So if you haven't read it, go read them, then come back!

I don't really have very much to say about Hunger Games itself. I like the novel. I like the whole idea, I mean, who comes up with that?? (although now I can clearly see her influences, but whatever. I maintain that there's no such thing as an original idea so it's not like I find her a copy cat or anything) I like the characters. I like that I never knew if Peeta really had feelings for Katniss or if it was all fake. I like how Collins didn't give the names to many of the other tributes so that killing them didn't feel that different from killing animals, especially for Katniss. I like how intense it was. I like how heartfelt Rue's death was. I like everything. It's a very enthralling book. 

Catching Fire is probably my favorite of the three books & I wish they would have spent more time at the games, or more time discussing the games in the book. But it's hard in my mind to distinguish between Catching Fire and Mockingjay to me. They feel like one continuous book, which is fine, but I just have to discuss them together :) 

So, here we go. I really like Finnick. He's one of my favorite characters (and I was heartbroken when he died!). But I just get really bugged by Gale! Why is he acting all hurt? He was way more like a brother to Katniss, so I don't get why he's all upset. I understand that it's hard when things change in your life and your best friend starts dating someone else, but really. Get over it, Gale. You're just making Katniss more confused than she needs to be, and protecting everyone is her first priority, not romance. 

As far as Katniss, I totally understand. It's hard to choose between the boys and to even understand that you need to choose. But part of growing up means that you can't have both and you can't stay friends. You can call each other friends, but it won't be the same as it was before. Katniss loves Peeta and Gale differently and has different bonds with both of them. Gale understands her pain at her father's death. Peeta was with her at the games. Noone else will ever understand how the games felt to Katniss. 

I also feel like Gale didn't really love Katniss to begin with. He feels protective and responsible, he loves her but he isn't in love with her. He says he is, but he's not. 

The end of Mockingjay was really rushed to me. Prim's death didn't seem real. Katniss's mourning felt . . . different, somehow. Not quite true to Katniss. I feel like Prim's death was just a suckerpunch. Rue's death makes me super sad. Prim's death feels like something we could discuss over coffee. I do like how Katniss figured out that Coin was just like Snow; took her a little while, though! 

I'm not sure how I feel about the ending ending, though. It seems weird, but at the same time, it feels true to Katniss and to Peeta, although I still don't know if they are in love for real, but they do belong together. They need each other. It feels true to the story and to Panem. I'm curious as to how they set up a new government, though,and if it really works. 

Overall, I liked the series and was happy with how they ended. What do you think?

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Feed

The year Cass and I first met, the topic for his English class was Utopia/Dystopia, in which he read this book, and has spawned the reading of many other books that he and I both enjoy. We first read Feed that year, and I recently decided it merited a re-read. 

Feed, a cyberpunk, dystopian satire, is about a teenage boy, Titus, who lives in a world
 driven by technology and the consumer lifestyle. The internet has evolved into "The Feed"- a network directly connecting brains via an implanted computer chip at birth. Yup, the internet is right in your head, as well as interrupting commercials and ads. School is done through the feed, and almost everything in their world is manufactured and commercialized.

But this world and this life has a price; nature is paying. Clouds are manufactured. The oceans are so polluted that whales have to wear a protective sheath. Sexual production is no longer possible and all children are custom made to their parents specifications and inserted through IVF.  Yet noone seems to care. They're only aware of themselves and the feed.

 For Titus and his friends, it feels like everyone has the feed. But then they meet Violet. Titus is quite taken by Violet, but his friends don't really like her, and she doesn't like them either. So Titus and Violet start to isolate themselves. They start having a different kind of fun as Violet begins to resist the feed and they try to confuse the personalized ads. Until it's revealed that Violet is in serious trouble. 

Now, first things first. When you hear the title, it reminds you of facebook, no? And reading the book, it does feel like facebook gone too far, but Anderson published Feed in 2002! He is very tuned in to the technology of the world today and where it is leading us. I find this novel still relevant today, even after ten years and all of our newest technological advances. Some of the conditions of his world are a bit far off and belong in the realm of science fiction, but others are not too many steps away from where we are now: personalized ads are all over the place. Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Hulu. They all know what you like and suggest new things. Hulu will even let you customize your commercials. That world may be closer than we think.

To be honest, the characters were kind of difficult to relate to, as were some of the topics in the novel, but I think that's kind of the point: as we let technology rule our lives, we lose part of who we are.  Because of that, I find Feed to be an important dystopian read and a warning against what our society may become.