Thursday, April 30, 2015

Poetry Fun

Not all poetry is deep, about a soul-mate or what it feels like to suffer the death of a loved one. And thank goodness, or we'd all be crying our hearts out each time we wanted to read something more lyrical. Here's a poem about the silliness of the English language to end the month of April on a light note (or rhyme ;).

Foolish Questions
American Folk Rhyme adapted by William Cole

Where can a man buy a cap for his knee? 
Or a key for the lock of his hair? 
And can his eyes be called a school? 
I would think-there are pupils there!
What jewels are found in the crown of his head,
And who walks on the bridge of his nose? 
Can he use, in building the roof of his mouth, 
The nails on the ends of his toes? 
Can the crook of his elbow be sent to jail-
If it can, well, then,what did it do? 
And how does he sharpen his shoulder blades? 
I'll be hanged if I know-do you? 
Can he sit in the shade of the palm of his hand, 
And beat time with the drum in his ear? 
Can the calf of his leg eat the corn on his toe? 

There's somthin' pretty strange around here!

Monday, April 27, 2015

Machines and Monsters, Oh My!

By Scott Westerfeld
Genre: YA Steam Punk
#1 in the Leviathan Series

Choose your Weapon: Beastie or Clanker

"Alek is a prince without a throne. On the run from his own people, he has only a fighting machine and a small band of men.

"Deryn is a girl disguised as a guy in the British Air Service. She must fight for her cause-and protect her secret-at all costs.

"Alek and Deryn are thrown together aboard the mighty airship Leviathan. Though fighting side by side, their worlds are far apart. British fabricated beasts versus German steam-powered war machines. They are enemies with everything to lose, yet somehow destined to be together."

This book was nothing like I've ever read before. In a good way, don't worry. First of all, it's steam punk. I've never read anything in that genre before, nor ever desired to, so I have nothing to compare this to, but it blew me away. The way that Westerfeld used facts from World War I and brought in highly imaginative creatures was so creative. I enjoyed the blurring of the lines of past and future, so that this novel truly could have taken place at any time. He always kept me on my toes, and I never knew what to expect.

The way Westerfeld used science and Darwinism was fascinating. I mean, animals that are made up of lots of other animals and can fly? So cool! Also, this book is laced with beautiful drawings that bring the reader into this unique world and help explain the machines and creatures Westerfeld invented for this tale. Without the drawings I might have been more frustrated and confused about what the creatures specifically looked like or how they worked, but since there were drawings, I could easily imagine these strange inventions in my head and didn't feel left out of the world.

This book was as different from the other novels I've read by Westerfeld, Uglies, Pretties, Specials, as a zebra is from a squirrel. I think that shows great talent on his part. But like in those books, I like how he creates new words for his characters to use, and I might have used one of them out loud at one point... And the characters! They're so funny, especially Deryn. I love her snarky humor and 'no-nonsense' attitude; she just pulls you right along with her and keeps everything fresh and funny.

The only thing I didn't particularly like about this novel was that the boy, Alek, seemed a bit 'weak' at the end. For being a Prince and a male character, I expected to pull more of his weight toward the end of the novel, especially when Deryn's soaring down ropes and threatening people. It was kind-of like Inheritance by Christopher Paolini all over again. But there's still hope! There's two more books in the series: Behemoth and Goliath. I do want to finish the series, but I'm not necessarily dying to.

I give Leviathan a 3.5 for all of the above and recommend it for 12 year olds and up.

What I learned: Oftentimes you have to take risks to grow, to change. Difficulties shape us into who we are.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Oh, Tennyson

Another poet spotlight today (because, remember, it's national poetry month!), and today it is the very talented Tennyson. As I'm sure you've noticed, all of the poets I've chosen are dead. This is mainly because those are the ones we (mostly) studied in college, so I'm not very familiar with contemporary poets. And they've lasted all of this time for a reason, right?

I've found Tennyson's poetry romantic (not in a boy-girl way), imagistic, and deep. If you haven't tasted any of his delicious poems, view this as your invitation. You won't be sorry.

The Dying Swan 
By Alfred Lord Tennyson

The plain was grassy, wild and bare, 
wide, wild, and open to the air,
which had built up everywhere
an under-roof of doleful grey. 
With an inner voice the river ran,
adown it floated a dying swan,
and loudly did lament. 
It was the middle of the day. 
Ever the weary wind went on, 
and took the reed-tops as it went. 

Some blue peaks in the distance rose, 
and white against the cold-white sky, 
shone out their crowning snows. 
One willow over the river wept, 
and shook the wave as the wind did sigh; 
above in the wind was the swallow,
chasing itself at its own wild will,
and far through the marish green and still
the tangled water-courses slept, 
shot over with purple, green, and yellow. 

The wild swan's death-hymn took the soul
of that waste place with joy
hidden in sorrow: at first to the ear
the warble was low, and full and clear; 
and floating about the under-sky,
prevailing in weakness, the coronach stole 
sometimes afar, and sometimes anear; 
but anon her awful jubilant voice,
with a music strange and manifold, 
flowed forth on a carol free and bold; 
as when a mighty people rejoice
 with shawms, and with cymbals, and harps of gold, 
and the tumult of their acclaim is rolled 
through the open gates of the city afar,
to the shepherd who watcheth the evening star. 
And the creeping mosses and clambering weeds, 
and the willow-branches hoar and dank, 
and the wavy smell of the soughing reeds, 
and the wave-worn horns of the echoing bank,
and the silvery marish-flowers that throng
the desolate creeks and pools among, 
were flooded over with eddying song. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Nearly as Beautiful

And the Mountains Echoed 
By Khaled Hosseini
Genre: Adult Fiction 

"It begins with the heartbreaking, unparalleled bond between two motherless siblings in an Afghan village. To three-year-old Pari, big brother Abdullah is more mother than brother. To ten-year-old Abdullah, little Pari is his everything. What happens to them-and the large and small manners in which it echoes through the lives of so many other people-is proof of the moral complexity of life."

First, the likes. If you have read Hosseini's other novels, A Thousand Splendid Suns or The Kite Runner, you know something of Hosseini's beautiful, eloquent writing. His subtle similes, his vivid descriptions, and how he paints characters so that you can see and feel all of their life-joys and sorrows.

Despite that this novel was told from so many different perspectives, I got to know the characters intimately and each one seemed unique, with their own personalities.

I liked that Hosseini didn't dive into politics or religion (Islam) in this book, and splatter or even whisper his opinions to the reader, which would have been easy to do. Instead, he looks at relationships, stretches them, breaks them, and, in the end, makes them shine and sparkle even amidst pain and turmoil. This novel is primarily about what it means to be a human, to love, and to be separated from those you love. It is a beautiful book.

However, I believed And the Mountains Echoed was nearly, not quite, as beautiful as Hosseini's other novels. As I mentioned, this book is written from many different perspectives. This made the whole tale a bit disjointing and confusing. As you got to know one character/story well, Hosseini dragged you out of their head and into another character's head, who might not even know the previous character. So even though I was able to clearly picture the characters, I didn't really empathize with any of them, since I left them fairly quickly, and oftentimes didn't get to see how their story ended.

Also, this novel will definitely jerk on your heart strings. That's not a bad thing (if you like to cry), but it overall seemed too depressing to me. One of the themes seemed to be aging and death, which I don't like to swallow in large qualities. The ending was sad, but had some glimmers of hope. I didn't find it as hopeful as the endings in The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, although those books weren't oozing joy at the end either. The characters in this book just seemed to make less honorable/good choices, even though they weren't necessarily 'bad' choices. I just expected more of the characters, or for them to change more for the good.

For the above reasons, I give this book a 3 out of 5 and recommend it for 17 year olds and up due to its deep subject matter. It does have less grisly, violent scenes than the other two novels, so that was nice.

And, I have to say, I did enjoy visiting Afghanistan again. If you're longing to take experience another country without leaving the country, try this book. Also, I recommend reading either A Thousand Splendid Suns or The Kite Runner before reading And the Mountains Echoed, as it's easier to read.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

April Showers Bring... Death?

This week's poem spotlight is on Christina Rossetti, one of my favorite poets, whom I discovered in my British Literature class in college. Rossetti was born in London on December 5th, 1830 to a father who as an Italian in exile. She was a Christian highly influenced by the Oxford Movement. One of her most famous poems is Goblin Market, which I highly recommend, but which I haven't put on here because it's much too long.

I have chosen another of her poems, which is perfect for this season of flowers, rain, and yes, death.

Sweet Death
By Christina Rossetti

The sweetest blossoms die. 
And so it was that, going day by day
unto the church to praise and pray, 
and crossing the green churchyard thoughtfully, 
I saw how on the graves the flowers
shed their fresh leaves in showers, 
and how their perfume rose up to the sky
before it passed away. 

The youngest blossoms die. 
They die and fall and nourish the rich earth 
from which they lately had their birth; 
sweet life, but sweeter death that passeth by
and is as though it had not been:-
all colours turn to green; 
the bright hues vanish and the odours fly,
the grass hath lasting worth. 

And youth and beauty die. 
So be it, O my God, Thou God of truth: 
better than beauty and than truth 
are Saints and Angels, a glad company;
and thou, O Lord, our Rest and Ease, 
art better than these. 
Why should we shrink from our full harvest? Why 
prefer to glean with Ruth? 

Monday, April 13, 2015

Flying with Peter

Peter Pan
by J.M. Barrie
Genre: Fantasy (Middle-Grade)

"As he flies through the skies of London, Peter Pan spies the Darling children in their nursery. Curious, he sneaks into their house, but is almost caught. In his hurry to escape, Peter leaves his shadow behind. 

"When he returns to reclaim it, he meets Wendy Darling and her brothers, John and Michael. Soon he convinces them to fly off with him and his not-very-polite fairy to the magical Neverland, the island where he lives as captain of the lost boys. But a war is raging between the lost boys and pirates, and the evil Captain Hook wants to rid the island of the boys for good, especially the cocky Peter. Will he succeed?" 

(We probably all know the story of Peter Pan, but I included the synopsis in case it's been a while since you watched the different movie variations.)

I've always adored the tale of Peter Pan and have seen all of the movies several times. The story of a boy who can fly and never grows up draws me like a bee to nectar. And, of course, there are mermaids, which (nearly) always help any story. I can't believe that it took me this long to read this book, but I'm glad I did. And I probably appreciate it more that I'm older, because although it's written for children, there are some literary aspects, humor, and British sayings that my older self appreciated. 

Yet, reading this book took me back to my childhood and live it all over again. I, too, was a child flying freely with Peter Pan, reading stories to the lost boys, and fighting the pirates without fear. 

There are differences in this book compared to the movies, of course, but they didn't bother me because I was wholly in the world that Barrie created. And what a fascinating, fun world it is! 

One thing, however, did bother me. The author doesn't bring you very close to the characters. Sure, you hear their thoughts and feel some of their feelings, but you're always bobbing about, first to this person, then to this one, and you're never taken to the core of who the person is. In fact, I felt closer to the narrator than any of the characters because he was so effervescent. 

Usually I don't like it when the narrators pops his/her head up and talks to the reader, disturbing her from the story. But in this book, for some unknown reason, I didn't mind it. Possibly because the narrator was talkative from the beginning, and the reader felt slightly apart from the characters the entire time. I do have to say, though, that the narrator did annoy me a few times, especially when he gave his opinions on the characters and children in general. Why couldn't he let us come up with our own? 

To sum up all of this blathering, this novel is an easy, light, fun read that's sure to take you back to a younger, more imaginative you. I give it a 3.5 out of 5 and recommend it for about 9 year olds and up. 

What I learned: Everyone grows up (I'm still trying to reconcile myself to this fact...). However, it's not something to be dreaded, but greeted, like a friend. 

My favorite quote: "To die will be an awfully big adventure." 

*What about you? Have you read this book before? What are your thoughts on interactive narrators? 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Did You Know?

Did you know that April is National Poetry Month? That's right: yay poetry! Since poetry is so beautiful and is often the neglected, forgotten younger sibling of novels, I'm going to highlight a poem each week during this month. If I was a better poet, I would include my own works, but alas, novels consume all of my creative spark at the moment.

I will give two poems today since I missed last week. Our first poet will be the famous J.R.R. Tolkien. Did you know that besides writing the wonderfully-crafted world of Lord of the Rings he also wrote poetry? There's some poetry in his novels, of course (such a sneaky way of publishing poems), but I didn't know for the longest time that he also had written a few stand-alone poems. So, without further ado, I give you two marvelously written poems by the fantasy king, J.R.R. Tolkien.


There was a man who dwelt alone, 
as day and night went past 
he sat as still as carven stone, 
and yet no shadow cast. 
The white owls perched upon his head
beneath the winter moon; 
they wiped their beaks and thought him dead
under the stars of June. 

There came a lady clad in grey
in the twilight shining: 
one moment she would stand and say,
her hair with flowers entwining. 
He woke, as had he sprung of stone, 
and broke the spell that bound him; 
he clasped her fast, both flesh and bone, 
and wrapped her shadow round him. 

There never more she walks her ways
by sun or moon or star; 
she dwells below where neither days
nor any nights there are. 
But once a year when caverns yawn 
and hidden things awake, 
they dance together then till dawn
and a single shadow make. 


Grey as a mouse,
Big as a house, 
nose like a snake, 
I make the earth shake, 
As I tramp through the grass;
Trees crack as I pass. 
With horns in my mouth 
I walk in the South, 
Flapping big ears. 
Beyond count of years
I stump round and round, 
Never lie on the ground, 
Not even to die. 
Oliphant am I,
Biggest of all, 
Huge, old, and tall. 
If ever you'd met me, 
You wouldn't forget me. 
If you never do, 
You won't think I'm true;
But old Oliphaunt am I, 
And I never lie. 

Saturday, April 4, 2015


Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli 
Genre: YA Realistic Fiction 

"Stargirl. From the day she arrives at quiet Mica High, the hallways hum with the murmur of 'Stargirl, Stargirl.' She captures Leo Borlock's heart with just one smile. She sparks a school-spirit revolution with just one cheer. The students of Mica High are enchanted. At first.

"Then they turn on her. Stargirl is suddenly shunned for everything that makes her different, and Leo, desperate with love, urges her to become the very thing that can destroy her: normal."

What I Liked: 
I loved the character, Stargirl. She's sarcastic, sweet, and bizarre. Sometimes she seems a little too good to be true, but then she says something funny or dreams something impossible, and she floats back to the earth for a time. We all could probably be more like her.

This novel is spun from some great, deep themes that every human has faced at some point-popularity, and what does it mean to be different and if that identity is worth it. Spinelli also does a good job of portraying the reality of what all humans desire, not just high-schoolers: to fit in and be included. The author also does a good job of outlining the different reactions to people (or things) that are different and the progression that it can make. Also, there are some lovely metaphors and images in this work. I love when authors take the time to make their words beautiful.

What I Didn't Care For: 
The main character/narrator, Leo. Yes, I liked him at times and understood him, but at the end of the novel, I was saying to him out loud, "Stop being a dummie! Man up, Leo!" He seemed weak and didn't change at the end as much as I had hoped, which was a slight disappointment. Because if characters in novels can't change, where's the hope for the rest of us?

Another thing that irked me about this novel was that there was so much summary. Spinelli sums up a lot of things that took place, and some of that is understandable because the novel would be much too long if Spinelli wrote out in scene-form everything that happens. But still. He could have written out a few more of the events that took place. The summary acted like a wall to the reader, separating me from the characters and the world in the novel.

I give this novel a 3 and recommend it for about ten year olds and up.

My favorite quote: "She was bendable light. She shone around every corner of my day."

What I learned: I'm so selfish! I need to care about others and serve them more than myself.

P.S. This novel has a sequel, Love, Stargirl. I haven't read it yet, nor do I have a great desire to read it, although I probably will sometime in the future.

*What books have you guys read lately? Any character traits you want to steal from the main characters? Have a lovely Easter!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

A New Address

To keep my mind from spinning completely off into space, I have created a separate blog for my Wycliffe ministry. Please visit (I know, it's a mouthful; I might fix that later...) to continue reading stories and posts about Wycliffe, Papua New Guinea, and Bible translation.

This blog will continue to remain a place for my reviews on books, ramblings on writing, and outbursts of poetry. Thank you so much for continuing to visit this blog, and yes, the beautiful cliffs of Ireland. And have a happy Easter! What are you doing to celebrate the celebration of Christ this weekend?