Category Archives: Book Challenge

2016: What Would You Recommend…?

I’m seeing a lot of Year End Summary posts, and they’re really making my TBR explode with all the texts I now feel inclined to read! I thought about reviewing the best and worst reading experiences of 2016, but I feel that I need to exercise my recommendation muscles more urgently than I need to say what I liked and disliked.

I hear you asking me ,”Why?” As a future teacher, I understand that my likes and dislikes actually mean very little to teenage readers who, believe it or not, will not think I’m even moderately cool. It doesn’t matter whether I like or dislike a book; it just matters that students are exposed to as many texts as possible so that, among the masses, each kid can find something that appeals to his/her interests. One way to increase exposure to texts is through Book Talks; another way is to recommend a text based on that individual’s interests, not my own interests!

SO!! Today, we’re trying something new and I’m calling it a Challenge! My rules for myself are very simple: when recommending a book, you must do one of the following:

  • Recommend a book that you read in 2016.
  • If you know of a book that suits the reader but haven’t yet read it, hereby vow to read it in 2017.

The point is that, at least for me as a teacher, every year needs to be filled with diverse texts so that I am better equipped to make recommendations. If there is a category or type that I didn’t fulfill throughout all of 2016, that is a problem that I can easily fix in 2017! This makes me a more well-rounded member of society and a way better teacher of diverse little humans. Win-win! So, without further ado…

What Would You Recommend To:

Peter:
Age: 14.
Interests: Video games, technology, virtual reality, outer space, scifi, D&D
Books He LikedEnder’s Game, A Wizard of Earthsea, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
RecommendationReady Player One is the obvious option, although I feel like this kid would have found that one and devoured it already. I might also suggest Eragon. I, personally, didn’t care for it but it’s akin to Le Guinn’s work & gauging his reaction can help with future recommendations.

Matilda:
Age: 17.
Interests: Writing, reading, feminist culture, the arts, deep conversations about touchy issues.
Books She LikedWar and Peace, The Handmaid’s Tale, anything Jane Austen.
Recommendation: Definitely The Bell Jar. Definitely.

Alex:
Age: 21.
Interests: reading, creative writing, poetry, LGBTQ issues, social activism, gender anonymity, identity exploration, politics
Books She LikedThe Lord of the Rings Series, 1984, Fahrenheit 451, Ask the Passengers
Recommendation: Alex is exploring her own identity indiviually, meaning that it is a private experience into which I do not wish to intrude. Some Assembly Required would NOT be a book that I openly recommend, but rather would introduce through book talks, making it available but not overt.

Mike:
Age: 12
Interests: Adult cartoons (not like “adult” but just cartoons for adults), comic books, graphic novels, superheroes, origin stories, action, Star Wars
Books He Liked: all Marvel & DC comics, Archie comics, Percy Jackson books
Recommendation: This kid gets a graphic novel, for sure. Unfortunately, the only one I read in 2016 was Nimona, which I loved, but feels a little too on the nose. I got a copy of Gareth Hinds’ graphic novel of The Odyssey from my beautiful butterfly of a professor and I hereby add it to my list, since I’m hoping this will be the perfect segue from his existing interests into heavier mythology (always the ultimate goal!).

Taylor:
Age: 28
Interests: Series works, Scifi/Fantasy, outer space, environmental science, outdoor activities, non-fiction medical/scientific literature
Books He LikedA Game of Thrones Series, The Martian, Expanse Series, The Mechanical
Recommendation: This one is based on my husband; we’ve introduced each other to some great fandoms over the years and I think this one is next. I read Sleeping Giants this year in the midst of my X-Files mania and I think it’s right up his alley.

Adam:
Age: 17
Interests: team sports, chicks, weight lifting, writing, sports books & magazines, his yellow lab, college scholarship (sports and academics), reading
Books He Liked: Grasshopper Jungle, The Shining, Fight Club, the Dexter Series
Recommendation: My 2016 reading list was largely a product of my interests, so 2017 needs to involve a lot more of what I’m calling “dude-books.” Male protagonists, male problems, male thoughts, and the like. So far, I’m recommending Winger to this stereotypical teen and also to myself.

Katie:
Age: 14
Interests: Grey’s Anatomy, Gossip Girl, love stories, scifi/fantasy, mythical/magical creatures, magazines, writing fan fiction, pop culture
Books She Liked: The Selection Series, the Twilight Series, Cinder, the Divergent Series
Recommendation: I can fully support a bit of brain floss, but I think the best recommendation for this impressionable young woman would be SWEET. Increase independence, self-confidence, and expectations for a healthy relationship, decrease celebrity obsessions.

Daniel:
Age: 18
Interests: social and political justice activism, urban art, spoken word poetry, basketball, soccer, live music concerts
Books He LikedBooked, Between the World and Me, I am Malala,
Recommendation: Add this to my 2017 promises! Recommending All American Boys for this imaginary kid and myself!

Silas:
Age: 18
Interests: Hunting (!!), the great outdoors, fishing, baseball, adventure.
Books He Liked: The Hunger Games Series, The Maze RunnerThe Lord of the Flies
Recommendation: OBVIOUSLY!!! No, but seriously, this is based on a real former student and I made him promise to read this book and then come talk about it with me.

Lynn:
Age: 45
Interests: Gardening, animals, family time, reading, bird-watching, outdoor activities, country life
Books He Liked: The Secret Garden, A Christmas Carol, Little House on the Prairie
Recommendation: So, this one is loosely based on my mom; she always asks for recommendations and I never know what to say! We have different likes and dislikes, so I don’t think my recommendations can be trusted! I’m making her read the Harry Potter Series (obvs!), but otherwise…?? She has a gentle soul and doesn’t like for her books to cause her stress. HELP, follow readers!!

Please keep in mind that I’m making up these profiles based on my imagination embellishing actual readers in my life. I am still striving to read outside of my preferred genre so I can recommend books to those with interests different from my own, but I welcome suggestions, feedback, and others picking up this post and doing their own version. If you do so, please link back to this post so I can see your selections! When it comes to exposure to diverse texts, I can never get enough!

Don’t forget to follow me on Goodreads to make sure I uphold my promises (LindsayC-T). Happy New Year, everyone, and best of luck in your 2017 reads!

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L: Silmarillion Review

Back in college (I’m feeling exceptionally old after saying that), I studied Homer’s The Iliad epic for a critical analysis paper. I hardly remember anything about it, except that it had to do with lineage and influence, and because I am a visual learner, I took it upon myself to draw out a family tree with as many characters, details, and connections as I could fit. I found this method to be tremendously helpful in terms of reigning in a work with a ridiculous number of humans and gods, all of whom have aliases, relations, allegiances, and special powers or influences. I knew that Tolkien’s The Silmarillion was going to have the same ability to overwhelm readers by the sheer number of characters, so I turned to my trusty friend, the family tree. The book came with three or four family trees already laid out for me in the back of the book, and although that was often useful, I wanted to avoid saying “okay, now who is that?” and holding my place while I flip to the back of the book to see how Tuor fits into the story. My tree stayed right next to me while it grew and spread and branched into what, I must say, is a really bangin’ family tree.

Somehow this makes things more and less complicated at the same time

Somehow this makes things more and less complicated at the same time

So, clearly, The Silmarillion requires a bit more “reader assistance” than your average book. My version had a map, three family trees, and an appendix listing all the characters and places, just in case there were a couple hundred pages in between mentions of Eonwe and you may have forgotten who he was. Having said that, though, I thought this book was great! The Silmarillion is meant to preface his other Middle-Earth-related works and tells the story of the creation of the Elves, the creation of Middle-Earth (Arda), the banishment of most Elf races to Arda and the fight of Elves, Men, and Dwarves against Morgoth (Sauron’s predecessor) and the many evils of Arda. Tolkien has been credited with a tendency to seem long-winded and overly descriptive; while I think this is cockamamie, I can agree that he takes explanation and description very seriously. When describing Iluvatar’s (the “God” of Tolkien’s story) creation of Arda, he explains which of the Valar (Elf gods) controlled each earthly contribution, such as wind, water, elements, the moon, etc. It remains similar to The Iliad in that the Valar show preferences for certain Elves, Men, and Dwarves, and they often intervene in the many conflicts of Arda. You find yourself pulling for certain characters and I, personally, love knowing the stories that so heavily influence The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Although I’m very fond of this book, I can’t say that I suggest it to just anyone. I can see that, based on reader preferences, it could seem like overkill or hard to follow; however, it is exactly my favorite type of book and I would suggest it to anyone who loved The Iliad or anything mythology-related.

On another note, I don’t know about you, but I am just flat-out tired of that book challenge. It was interesting at first, but the questions for the second half of the challenge are boring. Feel free to review the other questions and ask me if you truly want to know, or you can let us know any of your own answers, as we’re always glad to hear from our readers. Hannah recently gave our profile a makeover, so check out the Book Reviews tab and our new and improved Reading Lists. We’re starting with The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith once my copy comes in at the library. Yay, libraries! Anyway, we will keep you all posted on our progress and we’d love for any of you to follow along or just comment. Have a great weekend!

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L: Book Challenge Days 14-16 and The Pros/Cons of Book Films

Days 14-16 of the book challenge remind me of an ongoing battle I have regarding books being turned into films or tv shows. I’ve harped on it before, yes, but I think this time it’s different. I’m not making a case for reading a book instead of seeing the film. Go ahead, do both. See if I care. And for that matter, you should do both. It makes you more “universal” and shows you discrepancies that allow you to pick a favorite. Let me use the book challenge to show you what I mean.

Day 14: Book turned movie and completely desecrated – Easy peasy lemon squeasy. “Troy” was the movie based on Homer’s The Iliad. Boy howdy did they butcher that epic! I get that a lot of the main elements of the book would be hard to translate to film, such as the intervention of the gods. The storyline would be moving right along in a certain direction that seemed to leave the characters with no escape plan, then BOOM, deus ex machina shows Athena or whomever literally reaching down and moving her favorite mortals into more strategic places. Each time this left the story sort of like a TomTom; it spent time “recalculating” these changes into a revised course of events. Film can’t show Aphrodite reaching down to pluck Paris out of a battle he would’ve lost, so the film has to change the story a bit in order to redesign Paris’s escape. “Troy” takes too many liberties, though. About halfway through, they killed a main character who lives long after that point in the epic, and I could not even believe what had just happened! Plus, they make Menelaus and Agamemnon super ugly and brutish and dumb so that they seem like the bad guys, when that clearly isn’t the way of things. I’m obviously partial to the original epic, so I’m not surprised that it let me down, but I didn’t expect it to be SO bad.

Hector is no hero, abduction is not love, Agamemnon need not be so ugly.

Hector is no hero, abduction is not love, Agamemnon need not be so ugly.

Day 15: Favorite male character – Also easy; Frankenstein’s monster from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Frankenstein’s monster is the star of the show. Everyone else is irritating and needy and proud, but surprisingly the monster is the one with the most mild and relatable demeanor. Shelley uses her book as an example of the strife of the solitary creation, being very little understood, painfully lonely, and uncertain as to the purpose of its existence. A lot of her novel can be compared to the story of God creating mankind, but in Shelley’s interpretation, the monster is able to confront his creator, question his motives, and demand the only element of human equality he can possibly get, a partner. The monster has a monologue at one point that is so eloquent and meaningful, including thoughts way more introspective than any of the human characters ever have. I love this character. This clearly is not reflected in most films or anything Frankenstein-related even. He is always depicted as a mumbling, stumbling, jumbo-sized mental patient. Few features even bother showing the enlightened version of the monster, but prefer to show the zipper-necked dummy society has come to expect. Whatever.

Day 16: Favorite female character – This one is less easy; I love Hermione from the Harry Potter series, as well as Arya from the Song of Ice and Fire series. They are both strong-minded, capable and intelligent. It’s too common for women to be shown as dependant on some male character for one reason or another. To create an independently acting and thinking woman who needs no man’s help to get what she wants is refreshing and very welcome in the midst of all the Twilight-like books. Young, impressionable female readers need a couple of good female role models, and Hermione & Arya are perfect candidates for that job, not just in the books but also in the movies/tv show. Harry Potter has made eight movies following Hermione’s growth in maturity, strength, and intelligence. I admire her character as much in the movies as in the books and Emma Watson is perfect in the role; both beautiful and strong. Arya is the only narrating character in every one of Martin’s books (so far) and she’s in nearly every episode of HBO’s “A Game of Thrones” series. She’s best described as fierce and her tv character, played by Maisie Williams, is a perfect portrayal of her book self. She goes through so many of the most intense experiences, and repeatedly comes out stronger than before. I love seeing these characters translated into film/tv, and think that this time, they hit the nail right on the head with these roles.

I am Woman, hear me speak when I'm talking to you.

I am Woman, hear me speak when I’m talking to you.

Hannah’s turn, once she finds time! We’re busy bees. Let us know what you think and stay tuned for a Silmarillion review.

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L: Book Challenge, Day 9

It’s hard to think of a book I thought I wouldn’t like but ended up liking; it’s usually the other way around. I think my surprise book would have to be Dragonwyck by Anya Seton. My full review is here, but to briefly review, it was a coming-of-age story written in the 1940’s about the 1840’s. I knew nothing about it when I adopted it from my grandfather (except that the title sounded promising and I love a musky, old hard cover), but I was completely surprised with how well this book kept my attention and told a great story. The subject matter was racy by today’s standards, and would’ve been much more so when it was written. I was impressed with Seton’s bravery, not only because of the taboos, but also because she develops a powerful, albeit naive, female character. Independent women were few and far between in the 1940’s, so I was glad to see a character striving for lofty goals. Like I said, there’s drama, but there is also mystery, fear, and romance. It’s an oldie but a goodie and I will definitely recommend it to everyone and read it again one day.

Now, because I already wrote a full review of Dragonwyck and hope you all will find it worth re-reading, I didn’t feel the need to include too awful much info for Day 9. Thus, I am going to go ahead and answer Day 10, as well. Day 10 wants to know about a book that reminds me of home. That could be about a million things, though, since just about everything reminds me of home. I’d have to say How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss, though, is the most homey. Make no bones about it, my sister and I have read every Dr. Seuss masterpiece about a million times, and The Grinch is no exception. It is by far one of the Doctor’s best works. Our family tradition, however, is that we all watch the cartoon version of The Grinch on Christmas Eve. We know all the words; we have designated our favorite parts; we have it on DVD as well as Tivo. Honestly, nothing feels more like Christmas to me than watching that movie with my family. We even got Bob, our own resident Grinch, to watch it with us this year (which he has refused to do up until this year, miracle of miracles). Oh, and Kitty, too, who did not just sit with us while we watched TV, but literally watched it while we laughed at him. This tradition is one of my favorites and look forward to passing it on to new generations.

Kitty is captivated

Give us your answers and let us know what you think!

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H: Book Challenge – Day 9

A couple of years ago I went through a huge book-series reading phase. After reading A Song of Ice & Fire books, I decided to read another series. So I picked Dragon Tattoo – and I LOVED IT! I was surprised that I did like it at all, especially as much as I did.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is a thriller-mystery (and of course, now a feature film) about a computer hacker in Sweden, Lisbeth, who is recruited by a disgraced journalist to solve a murder. The other books, The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets Nest, are just are great. The other novels in the series focus more on Lisbeth’s past and the mysteries surrounding her family. I will admit, sometimes Larsson goes off on completely unrelated tangents that could have been edited out, but even with those chapters I still loved the novels.

The movie is just as great – but then again, who doesn’t want to stare at Daniel Craig for 2 hours?! No human on this Earth.

Stay tuned for Day 10!
-H

 

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Resolution-Schmesolution!!

It’s New Year’s Resolution time and people all over the world are buying soy products and gym memberships. I don’t really buy into the whole resolution thing, and I know there are “inspirational speakers” everywhere who puff out their chests and prattle on about how we should spend every day trying to improve ourselves, not just each January. Agreed, I guess. But that’s easier said than done. I like to spend each day trying to be a better Lindsay than I was the day before; but some days I decidedly do not wish to excel and want to sit around and be plain. Nothing wrong with that every now and then, methinks. However, people often get carried away with resolutions and set their aim unrealistically high, and therein, I believe, lies the problem. Setting the goal realistically (i.e. “I think I’ll try to lose some weight”) is so much smarter than getting all pumped up and resolving to lose 100 lbs. Even if you succeed in losing 50 lbs and maintaining a healthier lifestyle, it still seems like you fell short of your resolution goal. Don’t vow to walk 10 miles a week if you don’t already walk 5. Don’t promise to be a master pianist if you can barely play chopsticks.

Let me spin you a story: I haven’t done resolutions for many moons, but last year GoodReads.com had a reading challenge. They encouraged their members to set a goal for how many books they wanted to read in a year, and by updating your account, GoodReads would keep track of your progress. At the time of this promotion, my job was slow and steady, Hannah and I had just started this blog and were all jazzed about our reading schedules, and I was single with lots of spare time. I set my reading goal at 40 books. Generally, that sounds attainable, but still rather lofty. To make a long story short, I got a promotion and a whole new work load, a gym membership, a kickboxing class membership, and a great boyfriend; 2013 was very good to me and I’m in a much happier place now than I was a year ago! And yet, I fell short of my book resolution and am a failure. Learn from me: be realistic and anticipate changes in your future that might affect your goals so that, at the end of each day, you can be proud of what you’ve accomplished. I’ve pledged myself to another year of reading, but my number is far more probable this year. Go try it for yourself!

We’re still doing the Book Challenge, and I’m on Day 8 (since I incorrectly labeled my “Day 7” as 6 last time). Day 8 asks for a book I think is overrated. I’d have to say that I think Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games. I read it after all the Hollywood hype and after seeing the movie. Plus, I worked at the library at the time, so I experienced first-hand how popular the book had become and how difficult it would be to reserve a copy. Everybody was yapping about it and thus I anticipated greatness. I think it achieved “goodness,” though. Greatness is a stretch for me. I definitely think that has to do with all the hub-bub, but I definitely think it was a good enough book that a bit too much credit.

Let us know your resolutions (both the successful and not-so-much) and don’t forget to comment on the challenge! Happy 2014, everyone! Stay tuned!

Book Challenge

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L: Day 6 and Opinion of “The Hobbit” Film

I don’t apologize for my absence. Christmas is a hectic time for everyone and I’m going to proceed with my opinions of things as if I never missed a beat.

First and foremost, the second film in Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit” trilogy came out a week or two ago, and I have a few things to say about it. No, I’m not disappointed. No, I’m not pleased with it, either. It was what I expected. I went in with low expectations, and it met them. This sounds harsh, but I promise I do not mean for it to come across this way. I enjoyed it; it took a lot of artistic license, strayed from the original storyline quite a bit, and thus had even me wondering what was going to happen. Let me reveal a few things (none of which are spoilers, btw) to those of you who have seen the film but have not read the book: Thorin is NOT a sexy Dwarf, nor are Kili & Fili; that whole episode with the melting of the gold & gilding of Samug didn’t happen in the book; Tauriel doesn’t exist and Legolas is not even slightly mentioned; Kili isn’t shot by a poisoned arrow; this whole “Necromancer” fascination is just in there to tie it to the LOTR series, not because it actually happens; and most importantly, they totally missed the mark with Beorn. Beorn is one of the coolest characters ever written. He is not all somber and introspective like in the movie. Beorn is jolly and semi-magical, enormous in size and personality, friendly, and deadly. He is so complex and so wonderful. Jackson killed me with this, but I digress.

Like I said (and showed you with the examples above), the ways that Jackson strayed from the storyline are technically fine with me, because even I didn’t know what would happen at times, and because who cares, right?! SO WHAT if it isn’t exactly like the story?! I own four copies of the book so if I want to know what really happened, I’ll go read it. If I want to enjoy a film mostly based on the greatest story ever told, I need to be reasonable and understand that riding down the river, hanging half out of barrels, fighting orcs alongside attractive elves is way more appealing than 13 angry and seasick dwarves stuffed in barrels with apples. I get it. And anything that brings attention to this story is a-okay in my book!

 

Now, for my Day 6 book. A book that makes me laugh is Stephen Colbert’s I Am America, and So Can You. That book is fantastic. I got it on audiobook for one of those long drives home for a holiday, and that ride went by so much quicker than usual. He addresses so many current topics and issues, but with his usual sense of sarcasm. You have to enjoy his sense of humor to get it, obviously, but the fact that he narrated it himself made the audiobook so much more appealing to me. I recommend it to anyone and everyone for a jolly good laugh!

What about you? What book makes you laugh?

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