Friday, May 30, 2014

Shannon Hale is Dangerous

Dangerous by Shannon Hale
Genre: YA Sci-Fi

         How far would you go to save the world? Probably not as far as Maisie Danger Brown...

"When Maisie Danger Brown nabbed a spot at a NASA-like summer boot camp, she never expected to uncover a conspiracy that would change her life forever. And she definitely didn't plan to fall in love.

"But now there's no going back-Maisie's the only thing standing between the Earth and annihilation. She must become the hero the world needs. The only problem is: How does a regular girl from Salt Lake City do that, exactly? It's not as though there's a handbook for this sort of thing. It's up to Maisie to come up with a plan-and to find the courage to carry it out-before she loses her heart...and her life."

Wow, you impressed me, Mrs. Shannon Hale. I heard a lot about this book from her blog, about how she's writing another genre-hopping book (sci-fi in a contemporary world and a superhero novel, instead of a comic) and writing a minority character who also has one arm. And Hale didn't let me down. Sure, I like some of her other books better (The Goose Girl series and Princess Academy to be precise), but there is so much to love in this novel:
                 1. Maisie Danger Brown: I mean, with a nickname like that, you can do anything, right? I loved that she was half-Paraguayan (so unique) and had one arm, with a prosthesis that had a hilarious, always-changing name.
                 2. The Plot: It was more creative than other science fiction stories I have read. Yes, there are aliens, but they aren't the main focus of the story.
                 3. The Humor: Maisie's dad makes pretty hilarious puns throughout the book, and Maisie is funny in her nerdiness.
                 4. The Poetry: What? Poetry in a science-fiction book, where all the characters are obsessed with science and technology? I know, right?! This might just be the English major in me, but I loved that Hale laced the story with real poems, adding another layer of depth and beauty. It shows that literature and science might be able to live side-by-side after all.
                  5. The Similes: Hale always writes so beautifully and eloquently and peppers her novels with similes, which are so clear and creative.

There were other things about the book that I enjoyed, but I don't want to give away too much. There were just a few things that I thought could be improved upon. The first part of the book, when the characters are at the camp, seem to go too fast, and I would have liked more information/detail about the fireteam training. Since I'm a highly visual person, a few more details about what the characters looked like would have helped; I had a hard time seeing them in my head. And I was confused about what the havoc armor looked like exactly.

Overall, though, this book was excellent, and Hale did what she wanted to do: write a thrilling sci-fi superhero story, and about a girl, no less! I give it a 4 out of 5 and recommend it for 15 year olds and up.

What I learned: Don't judge people too harshly until you understand their motivations. An elevator that goes up to space=awesome. Love is not made up of attraction, infatuation and consternation; there's more to it than just tingly feelings.

How I do wish I could have understood more clearly all the sciency words she used in the novel...

My Favorite Quote: "Life is precious because it's finite."

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Orwell and the End of the World

1984 by George Orwell
Genre: Classic, Dystopian 

"1984 is still the great modern classic of 'Negative Utopia' -a startingly original and haunting novel that creates an imaginary world that is completely convincing, from the first sentence to the last four words."

This is one of those books. Yes. One of those books. The kind of book with an ending that makes you want to bash your head against the rocks. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

This novel is about Winston Smith who lives in a country called Oceania, which is run by the Party. Posters of their president/god, Big Brother, are everywhere, and everything the members of the party do or say and even think are watched. No rebellion or even thought of rebellion goes unnoticed and unpunished.

Winston dislikes the lack of privacy and lack of living in this controlled world, but he has known nothing else. He does not know what is true or not, and any kind of rebellion is impossible. Or so he thinks until he meets another member of the party, a woman named Julia. Will they be able to stay alive and rebel against the party? Will their love survive in this clenched-up place?

I found the world of this book intriguing and yes, horrible. The ideals are so opposite of what makes someone a human, that I wanted to know how the members of this society would react and how they could live in such a horrible place so long without doing anything about it. I was rooting the entire time for the main character to overthrow the government or in some way show them that he was still a human inside.

However, the end of the book ruined it for me. I will not give you any details, of course, but after suffering with Winston through his trials, I was sorely disappointed by the place Orwell left us. And I'm sure he did it for a reason, but...ugh! I do appreciate what Orwell was doing; how he showed the importance of truth, love, and living.

This book was similar to The Hunger Games in several ways, but different in many more. If you liked that book or the dystopian genre, I do recommend you reading this book. But beware of the disappointing/depressing ending.

I give this novel a 2 out of 5 and recommend it for 17 year olds and older because of some gruesome and pysical scenes.

What I learned: There is truth and one reality. War is not peace, nor is slavery freedom. A person can live without actually living, and then is he really a human being anymore?

*If you've already read this book, I'd love to hear your thoughts on it, or on any other dystopian novel. Why do people enjoy reading them so much?

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Do Not Go Gentle

Do Not Go Gentle Into that Good Night
by Dylan Thomas 

Do not go gentle into that good night, 
Old age should burn and rave at close of day; 
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. 

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night. 

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay, 
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. 

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight, 
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way, 
Do not go gentle into that good night. 

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay, 
Rage, rage, against the dying of the light. 

And you, my father, there on the sad height, 
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray. 
Do not go gentle into that good night. 
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. 

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Don't Close Your Eyes...

Monster by Frank Peretti 
Genre: Suspense 

Something's Out There...

"Reed Shelton organized this survival weekend. Hired the best guide in the region. Meticulously trained, studied, and packed while encouraging his wife, Beck, to do the same. But little did they know that surviving the elements would become the least of their worries. 

"During their first night of camping, an unearthly wail pierces the calm of the forest. Then someone-no, something-emerges from the dense woods and begins pursuing them. Everything that follows is a blur to Reed-except for the unforgettable image of a huge creature carrying his wife into the darkness.

"Dependent on the efforts of a small town and band of friends, Reed knows they have little time to find Beck. Even more important, he soon realizes that they aren't the only ones doing the hunting. Something much faster, more relentless-and definitely not human-has begun to hunt them." 

Ooh, now doesn't that sound enticing? Monsters and missing people. Don't worry, it's not that scary, especially if you are used to Peretti's spiritual-darkness books, like This Present Darkness, or if you have read any of Ted Dekker's thrillers involving serial killers. There is enough fiction in this story to make it not frightening; in fact, I expected it to be more so. Of course, if I had read it while sleeping in a tent, I would have found it more terrifying (so you might not want to do that). I expected this book to be more like The Oath, where the monster symbolized something specific, but that didn't work for this novel, which turned out to be a good thing. 

This novel is full of excitement and edge-of-your-seat reading. It took me until about halfway to get hooked to the plot, but once I did, I didn't want to put the book down. When you are subbing a class full of crazy nose-picking second-graders, though, it's kind-of necessary. 

There were not as many plot twists as I expected in the story, and the perspectives changed too much for me to get very close to any character. There were maps at the end of each chapter that recorded all the events up to that point, which I found helpful and fascinating, particularly since I am a visual person, and so much occurs. I was a bit confused at several points how Reed knew some of the characters in the story and seemed to be friends with them, since Peretti didn't explain that. And I also wondered where Reed and Beck lived in comparison to the place of all the action. 

Overall, I highly enjoyed this novel and what it had to say about what a real monster is. I give it a 4 out of 5 and recommend it for 17 year olds and up because of graphic descriptions/violence. 

What I learned: There are no 'good' mutations in nature (so, what does that say about evolution?). The wildness and rawness of nature can change people. 

Click here to visit Frank Peretti's website to see what other books he has published. 

*What book(s) are you reading right now? 

Friday, May 2, 2014

Living in Afghanistan

In the Land of Blue Burqas 
by Kate McCord (a protective pseudonym)
Genre: Non-Fiction

"The gray-bearded and black-bearded man in the back of the rickshaw eyed me. The gray-bearded man asked me, 'Are you a Muslim?'

"For him, the word Muslim had a very clear definition. He did not just mean 'Are you submitted to God?' To which I could have said, 'Yes, of course.' He meant something much more precise: 'Do you submit to the laws of the Prophet Mohammed as recorded in the Holy Quran and Hadith and as taught by the mullahs?' Whatever true response I could give would not be welcome.

"Still, I could give a true response. I answered the gray-bearded man's question softly without arrogance or apology, 'No, I am not a Muslim. I am a follower of the Honorable Jesus Messiah.'

"The black-bearded man scowled, his brows furrowed. He leaned too close to my face and glared directly into my averted eyes. His words came out as a command, short and abrupt: 'You should become a Muslim. It would be better for you in this life and the next.'"

I cannot imagine living through many of the situations that this woman found herself in. For five years, this single American woman lived in a hostile country among people completely different to her, with beliefs on the other side of a chasm from hers. But thankfully, God can cross any chasm, no matter the length.

This book was exceptionally written. I felt close to the author, like I was sipping tea across from her as she told me about her adventures and conversations in this harsh, yet beautiful land. These conversations are very clear and poignant. I did not return from the land of this book the same; I have a greater sympathy for Afghans, understood a little more where their worldview originates from, and the world they live in. I liked how Kate (yes, we're even on a first-name basis, though that's not her real name), didn't just say that Afghans are really like us, and all people are the same. She recognized how different their livelihoods and beliefs are from ours, respected those differences, and tried to understand them; she didn't shy away from difference.

It was really amazing, and such a God-thing, that this woman was able to live for so long with her Afghan neighbors in relative safety. I respected how she tried to follow their rules and enter their culture. She was very cautious about everything, all the time, and always attempted to live in a way that respected their culture. Kate also talked about Jesus in a way they would understand, and often shared the stories he told with her Afghan friends to explain a difficult concept. It convicted me, because not often do I share Christ's teachings with those around me, nor am I so delighted to listen to them as the Afghans were.

At first, I was a bit confused/lost in the structure of this book, because it is built on different themes, not a plot. But it only took the first two chapters to get it. I also wished that Kate went into more detail about all that she did in Afghanistan and more about her personally, but I understand how careful she must be with these stories.

One more thing that I had a problem with this book was that I didn't like how Kate kind-of downplayed the gospel. Not Jesus, but the great story of how we need Him. She focused, at least in this novel, on people hearing Jesus's teachings and changing their mindsets based on that. I definitely think this can happen, but I believe only true, lasting peace and change can come from fully embracing Christ. I'm sure she shared the gospel, and she had to be careful if/when she did. I just wished she would have included these encounters more, if possible.

This novel gave me a love for the Afghans and also a greater appreciation for Christ as I saw him laid next to another culture's god. This woman's story is an awesome picture of Christ's love and humility, and I want to strive to be more like her.

I give this book a 4.5 out of 5 and recommend it for 16 year-olds and up because of the depth of the content.

What I learned: Where to begin? To many Muslims, the idea that God is love/loving is strange and new. Pausing before responding to someone is an excellent strategy. The sun, light, and warmth is an excellent picture of the Trinity. Why, you ask? You must read the book to find out!