Rainer Maria Rilke

"Live a while in these books, learn from them what seems to you worth learning, but above all love them. This love will be repaid you a thousand and a thousand times, and however your life may turn,-it will, I am certain of it, run through the fabric of your growth as one of the most important threads among all the threads of your experiences, disappointments, and joys."--Rainer Maia Rilke


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Sunday, October 27, 2013

A Strange Book About Some Strange Characters

Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead

Adolescent Fiction

It was a very strange book about some very strange characters that got stranger the farther I read.

The main character is Georges who has just been downgraded in his lifestyle and moved to a new apartment.  Georges soon meets his neighbor, Safer.  Safer, the result of hippy parents and a lax home schooled life who has named himself, is a boy his same age but miles ahead in weirdness.  Safer has a spy club of one and pressures Georges to join him.  While Georges really wants to have Safer as a friend, he has some serious reservations about him--Safer's secrecy and mysteriousness border on the obsessive; he has no problem committing crimes and encouraging Georges to commit them in spite of (and, apparently, without considering) the consequences and risk of personal harm;  he is rather cruel to his family members; he's a pathological liar and he only hangs out with Georges when he wants something.  Why Georges wants to be friends with him at all is a bit murky.

It was an okay book but it never really got any better than that for me.  I have never read any of Stead's other books so I'm not sure what to expect from this author.  I did really like the two mysteries in the book.  I didn't even know something subversive was going on and then--BOOM!  Two surprises that made me want to reread the book and look for clues.  It has won several awards.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Book and Movie Are Two Totally Different Beings

World War Z:  An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks

Horror

I read this book prior to seeing the movie World War Z because I always like to read the book first.  With this book and movie, I needn't have bothered with my rules.  The two are not remotely alike--not even enough for a "based on" label.

The book is a little different in that it doesn't have a main character or really even a plot. The book is written by Max Brooks as if he were simply a reporter recording this for history's sake.  It is a series of interviews he conducts.   Many different characters are simply telling their history around a centralized theme:  the zombie apocalypse.  It's a different kind of book to read, but once I got used to it, I liked it.  The flow is abrupt and sudden, just like watching a news documentary.  It is about the "Zombie War", but really just the aftereffects, after the zombies have almost totally eradicated life on earth and how some humans survived this plague.  Much of the book is told through "official channels", so it has that dry fact feeling, except that it's about the zombie plague.  It starts out with an epidemiologist who wants to trace the plague back to the original source, to patient zero. 

Taken independently, the book and movie are quite good. If you try and mesh the two together, it's a mess for the brain to figure out. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Great Halloween Gift for the Gardener in Your Life

Wicked Plants:  The Weed That Killed Lincoln's Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities by Amy Stewart

Nonfiction

This is a fascinating nonfiction book about mostly common plants--and how they can kill you!

All of the plants mentioned in the book are noxious and to be avoided.  Some are downright deadly.  It contains fascinating historical lore and criminal legend (which were my favorite parts), but also a healthy dose of medicine and science dished up in a way that was really interesting.  Those topics are not usually interesting to me but the author presented it in a way that really kept me hooked.  The illustrations were a nice touch, but I am going to be greedy and say I wished there were also full-color photographs to make identification of the plants easier.  It was amazing to think that so little dosage of some tiny plants could be so fatal.  This is definitely a book a mystery writer, or potential murderer, would want to read.  It should be required reading for anyone planting a garden.  It is more a gift or trivia book rather than for a serious researcher.  Even if you're not a gardener, or potential murderer, this book is interesting and written in a way that could provide just pure fun and enjoyment.  It is a book you will want to sip slowly, to savor. 

At one time, much of this would have been common knowledge as people were more in tune and in contact with the natural world around them.  Books like this are so important so that vital knowledge, and folklore, isn't lost.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A Wild Heart

Wild Girl by Patricia Reilly Giff

Adolescent Fiction

This is a beautiful, tender, coming-of-age story.

Lidie has grown up with her aunt and uncle, waiting for the opportunity of being reunited with her father and brother one day.  When Lidie's mother died, the rest of the family moved to the US from Brazil to create a better life.  Lidie has been preparing for going to the US her entire life and she is shocked by her feelings when this dream comes true.  She didn't expect to miss her aunt, uncle, her home and everything that was familiar to her, so much.  Lidie thought being reunited with her father and brother would feel like coming back to her family, but it has been so many years since she's seen them that they are more like strangers.  And, they treat her like the little girl they left behind, not the young woman she has become.  Lidie is being treated like a baby and more than anything, she wants to show her father and brother how much she has in common with them, like training and riding racehorses.

Lidie's story is interspersed with the story of a young filly, a newborn horse taken from its farm home and mother in order to be trained as a race horse at the farm where Lidies' father works as a trainer and her brother as a jockey. 

This is a really short, really fast read.  It's a great book to read aloud during race time (the Kentucky Derby, for example).  It gives a glimpse into trainers' and jockeys' lives and experiences.  It's also a great lesson on immigration and separation from family.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Good in All Respects

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Drama

This is a really good read and a great book for young people.  It's hard to find something about the book that I didn't like.  It has won several awards and rightly so!  It's an easy read for middle school-aged students.  It is very approachable, and not heavy-handed or preachy with the subject matter. 

The main character is August, a boy who has always been home-schooled but who enters school in the fifth grade.  While that would be enough of a meaty plot, August has severe facial deformities due to a genetic condition.  Some description of this is given but, August, like the rest of us, seems to be his own worst critic. 

The book is told from alternating points of view and this makes the story so much richer.  (Dear teachers, this would be a great point-of-view lesson having certain groups read only one character.)  I though Auggie's sister's (Vi's) chapters were the most powerful, but I really loved how all the different character's point of views painted a whole picture of August and his situation.  I love that Palacio didn't pity her character or cut him any breaks.  The brutality of the story made it seem more fair.

It is a book for either a boy or girl of any age.  It has a universal appeal even though it's a situation not many can connect with, at least not initially The story shows the very best of childhood innocence and forgiveness.  This story is also about the important topics of bullying and being a true friend, but also about acceptance, kindness and humanity.  It's about looking beyond our own concept of outward beauty to see the true beauty within.

Monday, October 14, 2013

So-So

The Kill Order:  Maze Runner #0.5 by James Daschner

Dystopian

I have no idea why you should read this as related to the Maze Runner series, or at all.  I thought perhaps it would explain why the 'maze' was created, but it didn't.  I couldn't see that it explained anything.  In what way is this a prequel?  (This is not a rhetorical question...I would really like to know.) Perhaps this should be read after reading more of the series?

The book opens on a small group of survivors who have made it through the sun flares that have killed off most of the population. I was really interested in the pre-story to this part of the book as it sounded fascinating, but don't get your hopes up.  Hardly any of this is explained. 

Now, the few survivors have a new enemy--a virus that turns people into zombie-type creatures.  Sellout!  It felt like the author was buying into the present day zombie hype rather than coming up with a creative idea.

Mark and Trina survived the flares and made a home in the wilderness with a bunch of other misfits.  When the zombie plague invades their small group, they find themselves on the run once again.  Mark discovers evidence of other groups in the wilderness, one decimated by the virus and the other with confusing, cutting-edge technology.  When Mark and his group see (and are almost killed by) some type of flying ship; they know its makers hold the key to survival on this new earth.

I found this story to be very bland.  It was just a straight narrative of a very confusing and diluted chain of events with characters I could care less about.  Just so-so.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Made Me So Angry!

Prodigy: A Legend Novel #2 by Marie Lu

Dystopian

I hated the ending of this book so badly that I literally threw it across the room.  It was awful!  I am not one of those readers who demand a happy, sappy ending full of 'happily-ever-afters', but this ending just seemed so pointless and out of character.  I felt cheated that I waded through almost 1,000 pages to get to it.  I didn't like the surprise Lu had in store for me and swore that I would never pick up another book with her name on it.

Then, I learned it wasn't the end of the series.  So, now I can come down on my ledge! 

June and Day escaped to the colonies with their lives, but is it any better than back home in the Republic?  The leader of the Republic dies and his son Elector Primo takes over.  Primo has a huge crush on June and the rebels decide to use this relationship to further their own political agenda.  The more time June spends with Primo, though, the more she starts to believe in his cause. 

I was expecting a more passionate growth in June and Day's relationship, but instead got a kind of boring political not-so-thriller.  I did like the romantic tension between Tess and Day, but it was undeveloped and led nowhere, like some other plots and subplots in the book.  Hopefully, book three in this series can salvage the ending.  I still did love here what I loved in the first book:  a story told in alternating viewpoints, with differing chapters by June and Day; and, the secondary characters are becoming as captivating as the main characters.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Best Book of the Year

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

Fantasy

This is, easily, the best book I've read this year, or perhaps any other.  It was beautiful, haunting, lyrical.  It was one of those books that make you sad that you've read it because it isn't still waiting to be read. I was in severe book hang-over for awhile--nothing else measured up.  I know it won the Printz Honor but I'm surprised it doesn't have a slew of gold and silver badges on the cover. 

The plot is so clever, so unique.  I guarantee you've read nothing like this.  Sean Kendrick is the island champion, for the past four years, of the local island horse race.  Sean has ridden and trained everyone of the champions, fairy horses that eat flesh and yearn to return to the ocean.  Puck is not a typical racer, mostly because she's a girl in this brutal, male-dominated sport.  But she's also desperate and willing to die for her family and her horse.

The story seems to exist on its own, without the words or the book.  It goes beyond merely, "I was transported" to this location.  I felt as if the salt spray of that ocean crusted my arms and my ears ached from the keening of the horses.  The setting is so integral to the story that it's as if Stiefvater was raised in those harsh isles.  It's as if the story existed regardless of the author or readers, a story so real and true it MUST have happened in some alternate universe and Stiefvater was just lucky enough to be there to record it. 

I have read Shiver by Stiefvater, but it didn't approach this level of genius.  Regardless, I did just go and buy every other book by her in hopeful anticipation I will find another gem!