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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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

An Author to Check Out

The Lonely Mile by Allan Leverone

Mystery/Thriller

Based on the Kindle purchase price, I wasn't expecting much of a story.  Usually, when I pay so little--I get so little.  What a surprise this was!  I was glad to be wrong.

Bill Ferguson is no one's idea of a hero, least of all his own. He's a quiet, unassuming man still reeling from his divorce years earlier.  He just wants to be a good father and lick his wounds.  While at a rest stop, Bill thwarts a kidnapping attempt by a serial killer.  The killer escapes, vowing to get revenge on the man who broke his pattern and robbed him of his latest victim.  Fortunately for the killer, Bill's daughter fits his pattern of victim.  What happens when you get in the way of a serial killer and he targets your own daughter as his next victim?

I loved that the main character was a regular guy, a plain Joe, just trying to do his best.  He has no special detective skills, no years of training in police procedures, so super-human abilities.  He's just a regular guy in an irregular situation.  It was so relatable!  I really liked the multiple perspectives of the story.  It gave it depth and really heightened the suspense to know what the killer was thinking and planning.  I found myself yelling at Bill, to warn him, many times.  The book grabbed me at the beginning and didn't let go until the last page.  It was so realistic and timely and it just begs the reader to answer the question, "What would you do?"  The story will definitely keep you guessing all the way through. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Noir Vampire/Zombie

Joe Pitt #1:  Already Dead by Charlie Huston

Paranormal

This was one of my least favorite zombie/vampire books.

Joe is a vampire whose job is to find and destroy shamblers (zombies) and it's one that he's good at because he really hates those things.  Joe is kind of like a private detective working for vampyre clans (a seedy, dark-world, underbelly mob of paranormals) to stop the zombie vyrus from spreading.  Joe has been hired by uptown socialite Marilee Horde to look for her runaway daughter.  The Horde family is a scourge of corruption and despair and Joe has a little more than he can handle with this case.  Joe appears to be kind of in love with a barmaid but refuses to let the romance become physical.  That might have brought some humanity to the character.  The fact that Joe was a bit of a rogue was his only redeeming quality.

The whole mood of the book just seemed so hopeless and dark.  The book left me feeling tired and tired of reading about vampires. I just couldn't wait for it to be over.  It's hard to like a main character who doesn't like himself.  It was extremely gruesome, even for a vampire novel. This was definitely not an author I would read again. I could see this as a movie, one with a R+ rating. 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Worst One Yet

Infinity Ring #3:  The Trap Door by Lisa McMann

Time Travel/Fantasy

This one is the worst yet in the series.  The jokes and dialogue are goofy and ridiculous and the 'secret clues' are just so bad.  I am officially giving up on this series.

The topic of slavery is so somber and important, yet is so trite here.  There is hardly anything realistic about it. The writing in this one felt boring and formulaic; the characters like cardboard--like a journaling assignment gone on for too long.  This is a mixed media book.  I wonder how successful they are.  Kids in my class don't seem to be rushing for the books, even though they have the element of a video game tied to it.  I've never played the online game.  Please, to those of you who have, has this made the reading experience better?  I wouldn't play the game but I would like to know if this is the reason why the books seem to be lacking in something.  Does it enhance the story?

Dak, Serah and Riq land right in the middle of slavery in the south in this installment.  That's a problem since Riq is black, and (according to a past cover) Serah appears to be biracial.  I am guessing at some of the problems since the author didn't really spell anything out.  Riq takes off on his own.  For this first time he becomes something like a real character, but very stereotypical.  Paradoxically, Dak and Serah seemed like stock characters, losing their personalities and becoming more artificial as the pages went on. 

My one favorite character (and the one who I thought might just save the whole series), the Viking giant dog, didn't make much of an appearance. The story desperately needed him!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Haddix never disappoints

The Missing #3:  Sabotaged by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Time Travel

I love the new covers for this series.  It is so much more appealing, especially to the younger crowd.

This book starts just where the first two left off.  Jonah and Katherine are helping another lost 'baby'.  This one is Andrea and she is a teen with a chip on her shoulder who doesn't want to be saved.  Their job is to restore Andrea to history.  Andrea is apparently the historical lost child Virginia dare, one of the most fascinating stories/mysteries of history.  Andrea is resistant until she meets her grandfather, Captain John White.  Will an accident rip her grandfather from her life just when she found him?  Jonah is distrustful of everyone around him. He doesn't know or or what to believe.  He often can't even trust what he sees.  The problem is that Jonah and Katherine don't exactly know what to do or how to do it.  And, one mistake could be disastrous for history--so disastrous, it might cause them to cease to exist.

Roanoke Island and the mystery surrounding the disappearance, is one of my favorite stories.  So much so that I have even traveled there to see it.  Naturally, I was excited to read what might have happened.  And, Haddix never disappoints.  You cannot read these books out of order and it is helpful if you know something about the history depicted in each one.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Loved It!

Cinder:  The Lunar Chronicles #1 by Marissa Meyer

Fairy-Retelling/Dystopian

I didn't expect to love this book as much as I did.  When I finished it, I rushed to get the next one in the series but it wasn't out yet!  I yelled loudly!  How in the world could I wait to see what happens next?!?!

This book is so unique.  It has a dystopian setting combined with steampunk elements and a fairy tale retelling.  A lot going on but it works so well.  This is a futuristic world where there are Earthlings and Lunar people and if you leg doesn't work, you can just replace it with a robotic one.  But, of course, future Earth isn't a paradise.  Humans are still humans after all, with prejudices and failures.

The main character, Cinder, is a cyborg mechanic living as a slave to her stepmother and stepsisters, considered less than human because of her robotic parts.  She is working in her shop when Prince Kai comes along and the two strike up a friendship--with sparks!

Naturally, there is danger, intrigue, and romance, more than rival Disney's retelling of the classic tale.  The character of Cinder is captivating and, even though you know the fairy tale twists, you will find yourself crying out at the unfairness of it all.

This was definitely one of my favorite reads of the year.  There were surprises at every turn.  I loved that Cinder was a cyborg, and yet she was so approachable and real.  I could see myself totally hanging out with her.  This plot line is a cliff-hanger and this is NOT a story that comes close to ending on the last page.  Once you start this series, you'll have to finish it.  This is a great way to introduce those dated fairy tales to our modern techno-readers.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Not-So-Great

Dork Diaries:  Tales From a Not-So-Popular Party Girl by Rachel Renee Russell

Adolescent Chic Lit

This book is for adolescent girls only, grades 4-6.  I can't see it having any appeal beyond this very limited range.  Except I certainly couldn't recommended it for girls of any age.

Nikki is going along in her middle-school life--with her two best friends, Chloe and Zoe; crushing on Brandon; and trying to avoid the wrath of her arch-nemesis Mackenzie.  In this installment, Nikki has to juggle going to two separate parties with three different groups of people without them learning about it.  Somehow, Nikki has to entertain her sister's party guests while on a date with Brandon and simultaneously hanging out with friends and defeating Mackenzie.  Why this is so secretive is not clearly explained.

There are so many things I really dislike about the character of Nikki.  She doesn't learn from her mistakes.  She is repeating the same stupid antics that she did in the first book as if she is clueless what might happen.  She is turning into a really bad friend, one that lies, deliberately misleads her friends, and chooses her own ambitions over their feelings.  She also gives up on her dreams way too often.  I hope young girls wouldn't see this as a coping strategy--it's very destructive.  I'm pretty sure I wouldn't want to be friends with Nikki and, if she doesn't change her selfish, self-absorbed ways, no one else will either.

I do have to give it some props, though.  The illustrations are cute and the style of the book is perfect for reluctant readers.  There's lots of white space on the page and the narrator talks directly to the reader.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A New Look at Blindness

Blindsided by Priscilla Cummings

Adolescent Fiction

This was an extremely unique story.  I've never read a book about the main character gradually going blind.  The story was very accessible to young people, its targeted audience.  It includes realistic thoughts and concerns of a young girl without being overly dramatic or too depressing.  It's a very realistic story.

Natalie is 14-years old and has just learned that her bad eyesight is actually her going blind due to a disease.  Her doctor has recommended that she go to a blind school to learn how to cope.  She resists at first, insisting she doesn't need to, but an accident forces her to confront the truth.  Natalie goes away to the school and learns how to use Braille and a cane, convinced she'll never need it.  Natalie continues to hold out for a miracle--that her eyesight will be restored against all odds. 

Going blind is very tough for Natalie, both emotionally and physically, and the author cuts her no breaks.  The reader struggles right along with Natalie's fear and frustration as she learns to read Braille, use a cane and take a self-defense class--all of which are important to the plot.  Natalie is a very 'real' character.  She's not just the 'blind' girl, but comes across very clearly as a young woman with friend problems, family drama, goat issues and who just happens to be going blind.

I really liked the story overall, but there were a few places where it lagged a little.  Reading about how a blind school functions and how it teaches the students to adapt to a sightless world was fascinating.  It is for young adults and I think my female students will really like this book.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Childhood Classic

The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling

Classic

Most people probably think of the cute animated Mowgli from Disney when they think of The Jungle Book, but the story of Mowgli is just one-half of the book. These stories are nothing like the Disney version. This is actually a collection of many stories and songs--14 in all including: "Mowgli's Brothers", "Hunting--Song of the Seeonee Pack", "Kaa's Hunting", "Road Sonf of the Bandar Log", "The White Seal", "Lukannon", "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi", "Darsee's Chaunt", "Toomai of the Elephants", "Shiv and the Grasshopper", "Her Majesty's Servants", and "Parade Song of the Camp Animals".

It's important to note that Kipling wrote these stories for an audience, his six-year old daughter who died quite young.  They were probably meant to be read aloud, and perhaps as a bedtime story.  I imagine they would be better read out loud and much more fun.  The story of Mowgli almost gets lost in a silent read.  For today's young people, it might be considered an adventure story, but adults will see the racism and imperialism present during the time of Britain's rule of India.

My favorite story, by far, was "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi".  This was one of my favorite childhood television animated specials, a no-frills cartoon that came on once per year and captured the playful personality of the mongoose and the suffocating evil of the cobra perfectly.  Rikki is equally delightful in print and it almost makes me want to have a mongoose of my own.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Tears of a Clown

Last Words by George Carlin and Tony Hedra

Biography

In the words of Carlin, this is a 'sortabiography'.  There aren't many funny moments in this book. It is more a cross between a biography and autobiography, or a memoir with some flashes of humor.  There's also a lot of name-dropping in this book, if that is your thing.  It was surprising to see how little of this Carlin writes.  It seems to be mostly told to and written by Hedra.

I've often heard that comedy gets its roots from the deepest pain and that seems to be true in the case of Carlin.  Such tragedy and heartbreak, and most of it brought about through his own making.  Carlin is very honest about the mistakes he made in his life, which caused my respect for him as a person to really grow.  I especially appreciated that he took the total blame for causing a mess in his daughter's life and his wife's life and then stood steadfastly by them as they battled these demons.  Much of the book is him battling his own demons as well, and his story is told with no apologies or excuses and with total honesty.  He fessed up to his mistakes--how many stars do that today?

I love George Carlin's humor.  He is biting, brutal, funny and always current even when his jokes are decades old.  His humor is timeless, which is a great quality for a comic to have.  It was interesting to see how one individual turned such pain into happiness and laughter for others.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

An Adult Carnival

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Romance

This book reminded me of the movie, "Benjamin Button".  The format of an old man looking back at his life was reminiscent of the regretful and poignant tone in the movie.

The story is told by Jacob, half about his life now as a 90-year old man, forgotten by his family in a nursing home.  The other half is about Jacob's life as a young man in the circus.  Jacob runs off to join the circus, literally, when he is just about to graduate from college.  Devastated by the loss of his family and fortune, he turns to the only thing he knows and loves--the one connection he has to his veterinarian father--the animals.  Jacob gets a job 'watering the elephants', and one grouchy elephant in particular, as he works as the circus animal veterinarian.  Jacob also has the really dumb luck of falling for Marlena, a trick horse rider.  Marlena just happens to be married to the circus boss, a sadistic man who beats her and the elephants.  The whole situation is a powder keg waiting to explode.

Interspersed with this is the story of present-day Jacob and his longing, so tender and sad, that pulls on the heartstrings.  It is a sweet, tragic romance. 

I loved the parts that explained how the traveling carnivals worked.  It was so fascinating knowing that many incidents were based on real, actual events.  A heavy book with lots of good ingredients that will leave you satisfied.