Monday, May 27, 2013

Happy Memorial Day!

In honor of our soldiers and veterans, here is a poem about how we often take their lives for granted: 

by Carl Sandburg

I have been watching the war map slammed up for advertising in front of the newspaper office.
Buttons-red and yellow buttons-blue and black buttons-are shoved back and forth across the map.

A laughing young man, sunny with freckles,
Climbs a ladder, yells a joke to somebody in the crowd,
And then fixes a yellow button one inch west
And follows the yellow button with a black button one inch west.

(Ten thousand men and boys twist on their bodies in a red soak along a river edge,
Gasping of wounds, calling for water, some rattling death in their throats.)
Who would guess what it cost to move two buttons one inch on the war map here in front of the  
         newspapter office where the freckle-faced young man is laughing to us?

Thursday, May 23, 2013

A Review: The Scorch Trials

The Scorch Trials by James Dashner
Genre: Dystopian, Adventure, YA
#2 in the Maze Runner Series

Summary: "Solving the Maze was supposed to be the end. No more puzzles. No more variables. And no more running. Thomas was sure that escape meant he and the Gladers would get their lives back. But no one really knew what sort of life they were going back to.

Burned by sun flares and baked by a new, brutal climate, the earth is a wasteland. Government has disintegrated-and with it, order-and now Cranks, people covered in festering wounds and driven to murderous insanity" (yum!) "by the infectious disease known as the Flare, roam the crumbling cities hunting for their next victim... and meal. The Gladers are far from done running. Instead of freedom, they find themselves faced with another trial. They must cross the Scorch, the most burned-out section of the world, and arrive at a safe haven in two weeks. And WICKED has made sure to adjust the variables and stack the odds against them."

Zombie-like creatures, silver death balls, super-hot lightning: this book will definitely keep you on your toes. I liked watching how Thomas and his friends responded to the crazy things that the organization known as WICKED threw at them, and the creativity in these things. I also enjoyed the flashbacks Thomas had; they helped clear some things up and were good pictures into his personality and how much he has changed.

But this novel was more violent and depressing than the first one. I also didn't like a particular plot twist in the middle of the novel and how it changed Thomas' relationship with one of the characters and thus, how the reader sees that character. And personally, I'm not much of a zombie person, and they creep into this novel, and are pretty creepy :) For these reasons among others, I give The Scorch Trials a 2 out of 5. Sorry, Mr. Dashner.

If you like action though, you should definitely try this novel, because there's plenty of it.

What I learned: People are not always what they appear and it might take a long time to know who they are. And the thought-provoking question: how far would you go to save someone's life? Would you go so far as to make them think you hate them?

Monday, May 20, 2013

A Review: The Maze Runner

The Maze Runner by James Dashner
Genre: Dystopian, Adventure, YA

Incerpt from the back of the novel: "When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his first name. He has no recollection of his parents, his home, or how he got where he is. His memory is empty. But he's not alone. When the lift's doors open,Thomas finds himself surrounded by kids who welcome him to the Glade, a large expanse enclosed by stone walls.

Just like Thomas, the Gladers don't know why or how they got to the Glade. All they know is that every morning, for as long as anyone can remember, the stone doors to the maze that surrounds them have opened. Every night, for just as long, they've closed tight. Every thirty days a new boy is delivered in the lift. And no one wants to be stuck in the Maze after dark.

The Gladers weren't expecting Thomas's arrival. But the next day, a girl is sent up-the first girl ever to arrive in the Glade. And more surprising yet is the message she delivers. The Gladers have always been convinced that if they can solve the maze that surrounds the Glade, they might find their way home... wherever that may be. But it's looking more and more as if the Maze is unsolvable. And something about the girl's arrival is starting to make Thomas feel different. Something is telling him that he just might have some answers-if he can only find  way to retrieve the dark secrets locked within his own mind."

So, I have been wanting to read this novel for a long time because it's dystopian, and for some reason, I really like end-of-the-world, not-everything-is-as-it seems books. And be forewarned, this novel is a series, and you have to keep reading them to understand everything. I liked how it pulls you into the world pretty quickly, and there is a lot of action to keep you hooked to the story.

It was a little frustrating, however, that there are so many things that the characters, and thus, the reader, doesn't know. I spent most of the book asking what was happening, just like Thomas. But there are some answers toward the end, although only enough for the reader to feel a little satisfied, and nothing is fully answered in this first novel.

The plot reminds me a lot of The Hunger Games because other people are playing with the characters' lives, except that these characters know nothing about what's going on. I felt sorry for them because such horrible things were happening to them and they didn't know why, but it's amazing how tough they are and how much they long to survive. I give it a 3 and recommend it to highschool age and up and for anyone who likes action and dystopian novels.

And check out James Dashner's website. It's really cool.

What I learned: Humans have a strong sense of survival, and true loyalty and love is being willing to lay down your life for a friend (which sounds a lot like what Jesus did).

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A Review: The Sanctuary

The Sanctuary by Ted Dekker
Genre: Thriller, Suspense, Mystery, Christian

Incerpt from the inside cover: "The Sanctuary is the gripping story of vigilante priest Danny Hansen, who is now serving a fifty-year prison term in California for the murder of two abusive men. Filled with remorse, Danny is determined to live out his days by a code of nonviolence and maneuvers deftly within a deadly prison system.

But when Renee Gilmore, the woman he loves, recieves a box containing a bloody finger and draconian demands from a mysterious enemy on the outside, Danny must find a way to protect Renee while at the same time Renee enacts a plan to free Danny from incarceration.

They are both drawn into a terrifying game of life and death. If Renee fails, the priest will die; if Danny fails, Renee will die. And the body count will not stop at two."

So, sometimes I think I'm crazy and morbid for reading Dekker's thrillers books since they are about someone wanting to kill someone else, and there is always some kind of violence or torture involved that I don't enjoy reading about. But I think the reason I like them is that Dekker uses killers and their prey to explore the deep recesses of the mind and the beliefs that people hold to motivate them to act the way they do.

The Sanctuary was a very intense ride and difficult at times to read because of the things that happen in the prison known as the sanctuary and what the characters are forced through. But I love the themes that Dekker explores in this novel: violence/non violence and justice/injustice and, in all of his novels, love. I also like how he points to God without saying it very explicitly. All of his novels also end happily/hopefully, which is awesome after all they have gone through!

I believe The Sanctuary is the sequel to The Priest's Graveyard, which I didn't read before I read this novel. I could still understand what was going on and had a clear image of the characters, even though I read this one second.

Overall, I give this novel a 3.75 out of 5 (and yes, decimals are allowed!) because it wasn't as good as some of his other thrillers, like Boneman's Daughers or Three, and because it tended to be didactic in places. Be warned, there is some torture and killing, and rape is hinted at. I recommend it to 18 yr olds and older.

What I learned: Love/mercy triumphs and is more powerful than punishment. And prisoners often come out of prisons more tough and dangerous than they entered because they had to toughen up in order to survive prison.

P.S. If you didn't notice, I like to review all different kinds of novels. So if you don't like a specific genre I've reviewed, stick around and it'll likely switch soon. Also, I'm going to try to write more about writing fiction itself, but it'll probably be random ramblings since I'm learning more about that all the time. Thanks for visiting, and I hope you have a lovely day!

Monday, May 13, 2013

A Review: The Help

The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Genre: Historical Fiction

Incerpt from inside cover: "Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.

Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeeth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. Sh is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken.

Minny, Aibileen's best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody's business, but she can't mind her tongue, so she's lost to yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to now her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own.

Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed."

Whew! That was a mighty long book summary. So, I saw the movie, The Help, before I read the book, and it intrigued me enough to want to read it. And I'm so glad I did! Most books are better than movies, but there was so much more depth and personality to the book and the characters in it than in the movie.The book is from all three women's perspectives (Skeeter, Aibileen, Minny), which I really enjoyed. It added so much to the story, especially in giving each of their perspectives and motivations.

The content is also just very unique and interesting to me. I haven't read any other stories that dealt with black maids and white people uniting, and the story kept my attention throughout its entirety. Mrs. Stockett also put real historical events in the novel, which brought me even more into the tale. I laughed out loud and cried in this story; the author did an excellent job of making the characters real. They felt like a family to me, and I was sad to leave them at the end. I give this book a 4 and will definitely return to this story because it's so rich and so many different kinds of people are involved. There is some cussing, which is fine, but the author probably could have taken some of it out while still keeping some for the effect. But I have no other critiques of this book; it was very well written.

What I learned: Obviously what it was like to be black and white (as much as possible from a white author) in the 1960s in the South. I also learned how much the black maids truly impacted the white children they raised and how important the job of a mother is, as well as many other things.

Click here to find out more about this wonderful book and author.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

A Review: The Fortelling

The Fortelling by Alice Hoffman
Genre: Young Adult Historical Fiction (kind-of)
"Rain is a girl with a certain destiny, living in an ancient time of blood, raised on mares' milk, nurtured with the strength of a thousand Amazon sisters. A girl of power, stronger than fifty men, she rides her white horse as fierce as a demon. Rain-Dream Rider, born warrior, and queen-to-be. But then there is the fortelling. The black horse. In truth, Rain tastes a different future in her dreams. She is touched by the stirrings of emotions unknown. She begins to see beyond a life of war... and wonders about the forbidden. And about the words that are never used... mercy, men, love, peace."
I love the uniqueness of this book. It has a dream-like feel to it, and the rare dialogue is in italics. It also has a unique subject matter; tribal women warriors who fight for freedom and do not like men. But don't worry, men are regarded as slightly better later in the book. It is just interesting that there could have been women who lived and thought this way early in the history of the world. The culture, especially how it revolves around horses, made me think of Mongolia, which was pleasant for me personally.
There is a little homosexuality in this novel, but it isn't a main focus, and the society is much different than ours. This novel is written in a beautiful way, especially with all of the nature and dream imagery. It has good themes and the characters are intriguing. I wish Mrs. Hoffman would have elongated the story (it's a super short read), and I would have liked to have seen more of two of the characters, who disappear at the end. This novel was like a taste (a good one), but now I want a meal. I didn't like it as much as one of her other YA novels, Aquamarine, but that could just be because I'm obsessed with mermaids. Overall, I enjoyed this short read and give it a 3 out of 5. Visit Alice Hoffman's website to learn more about this talented author and other novels she has written (she writes adult books as well, but as yet I have not read any of them).
What I learned: People must see more than sorrow in others and the world, or there will be lasting repercussions on themselves and others. A woman must be filled with peace and mercy as well as strength if she wants to lead others well.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

A Review: Shards and Ashes

Shards and Ashes
Edited by Melissa Marr and Kelley Armstrong
An Anthology of Dystopian Short Stories
Genre: Dystopian, Fantasy, Sci-Fi (Young Adult)
"The world is gone, destroyed by human, ecological, or supernatural causes. Suvivors dodge chemical warfare and cruel gods; they travel the reaches of space and inhabit underground caverns. Their enemies are disease, corrupt corporations, an one another; their resources are few and their courage is tested."
I have a weak spot for dystopian stories, especially ones that are exceptionally creative and offer some hope at the end. Dystopian stories are about the end of the world, so most of these stories were depressing, but nearly all of them offered a glimmer of hope at the end. I also liked the deep issues these stories tackled, and the exciting way in which they did so. My favorite stories were "Branded" by Kelley Armstrong, "Necklace of Raindrops" by Margaret Stohl, "Dogsbody" by Rachel Caine, and "Love is a Choice" by Beth Revis, although I'm not sure if I like how that one ended or not. Some of the stories could be elaborated on, and some were just downright strange/creepy, like "Pale Rider" by Nancy Holder. I also grew tired of the similarities in some of the stories, so it might be good to read other things in-between them. But overall, the characters and plots were intriguing and well thought out. This is the first anthology I have read for fun, so I have nothing to compare it to. I give the whole thing a 3 out of 5.
All of the writers who contributed to this anthology were: Veronica Roth (author of the Divergent Series which I have yet to read), Kelley Armstrong, Margaret Stohl, Rachel Caine, Nancy Holder, Melissa Marr, Kami Garcia, Beth Revis and Carrie Ryan (author of the The Forest of Hands and Teeth series). I recommend this anthology obviously to anyone who enjoys dystopian novels, and anyone who likes reading about unique worlds and creatures and darker subjects.
What I learned from this anthology: Even in the darkest of times, there is hope. Love and life is always worth fighting for, family impacts who a person is and behaves, and when fighting zombie-like creatures, it's always good to have a teammate to bail you out of trouble!