Tag Archives: 4 STARS

L: FEELINGS ABOUND: “HP & the Cursed Child”

Don’t worry, this is not a review. No chance of spoilers. I’m really just wanting to get some feelings out there, because HOT DANG, are there a lot of feelings coursing through my body right now. I don’t want to do a review, though, and I’ll tell you why. Before reading Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, I knew very little about the subject, except that it takes place later and focuses on one of Harry’s kids. Truly, that was the extent of my knowledge. I could not be happier with that general lack of information, since every page contained surprises, mentions, cameos and more that gave me so much joy in each surprise.

 

I am a person who hates surprises, even good ones, for the most part. I want to be in the know, so much so that I made Hannah tell me who died in each HP book before I would read it. With each passing year, I think my brain ejects more and more of my memories in order make room for more emotions and feelings, much to my dismay. So, now, when confronted with a surprise, not only am I reminded of my lack of control of my life, but I also get really emotional about stupid things.

All this to say, I cried a great deal while reading this book. 90% of this is due to my obsession with the series and the unquantifiable amount of love that I feel for these characters, but also I think much of this can be attributed to my own memories of teen experiences and my worries for my future students. Life is hard for teens; relationships with parents can be… turbulent; now imagine being the son of The Boy Who Lived, and those difficulties understandably multiply. All in all, I’m so excited for me! I just read something I never thought would exist and it was every bit as powerful, progressive, mature, reminiscent, and individualized as I ever could have hoped it would be. But more than that, I truly cannot wait to put this into the hands of students. This book deals with some very relevant issues to which teens just seem to relate. Cursed Child does a great job of showing multiple perspectives, so maybe readers who relate to Albus Potter’s trials and tribs will gain perspective while reading Harry’s thoughts, and vice-versa.

Undoubtedly, this is a powerful read for adults and children, alike.

Now, let’s talk about the screenplay format. SO WHAT?! WHO CARES?! BE THANKFUL FOR WHAT YOU GET!! Okay, done talking about that.

IMG_20160731_240409297_HDRYes, miracle of miracles, I did stay awake long enough to relive my days of youth by going to the midnight release. I wasn’t going to originally. I pre-ordered the book so access to a copy was never an issue and Honey Girl is getting to the point where at 10:05… I’m OUT! However, when I thought about it, I realized that I never thought I’d would get to do a midnight release of HP ever again, so passing on it just because I’m emotionally elderly just seemed ill-conceived. If anything is worth a late night, it’s a Harry Potter release. So I went and there is photographic proof.

On a sidebar to that, I now need to give a quick shout out to my mother for being the best mom in the world. We lived over an hour away from the nearest release location back in the day, so not only would she let me stay up and attend a midnight release with the rabid masses, but she would drive for over an hour to get my butt there and then drive for an hour back home (in complete silence since I was reading and needed silence). I live like 8 miles from Avid Bookshop, so that distance and prolonged sleepiness wasn’t even a factor and, still, I was effectively zombified by 10:30. She is a true champ and book enabler and she deserves a cake and a lifetime of gratitude. She already has the gratitude, so now I need to make her a cake.

Anyway, appreciate your parents, read it, and PLEASE someone discuss with me!!!!

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L: Review of Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”

I think most people have at least one book, if not many, that have taken up permanent residence on the TBR shelf. Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is one of those books for me. It’s like when people move to a town for school/work/family thinking “oh I’ll just be here for a year or two” and then suddenly 10 years have gone by and you are registered to vote there. Handmaid was a registered voter on my TBR shelf, not because I was avoiding it, but mostly because there was always something higher on the list, more urgently in need of my attention. But nothing rearranges one’s TBR list like a school assignment, so Handmaid finally got her day in the sun!

Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now…

I’ve read a lot of dystopic literature; dystopias got really popular within the last few years, what with the recent revival (pun intended) of zombie lit. However, as scary as the idea of zombies can be, what’s scarier to me is the thought of things that could actually happen, like the downfall of society and the oppression of women back into subservient roles. In this way, The Handmaid’s Tale was a truly disturbing depiction of the possible demise of America and the freedom that we all take for granted today.

The book begins… slowly. Details are secreted away and gradually worked into the story through flashbacks and memories. Offred’s former life sounds as though it was pretty typical by today’s standards, but the power and oppression of the new government have changed her daily reality into a test of her possible contribution to society. She is one of the few women (after some radiation episode) who may still be fertile; she can either produce a child for the master of her household, or she will be sent away, likely to her death, since he has proven her lack of ability and worth.

I will not turn this post into a rant on women’s rights. Atwood’s ability far outreaches my own, so just read it yourself. Suffice it to say, however, that she manages to show how fragile our security in our freedom could be, and how it really only takes fear and violence to reduce people to a status that we currently think impossible. Atwood makes readers think about the dangers of blindly following orders, the risks in challenging those orders, and the necessity for basic human rights and freedom. As is to be expected, many of the characters are loathsome, while others are “reminiscent” of the freedom of speech and personality that people enjoy today. This was one of those books that had my emotions riding roller coasters; there were few moments of joy, but there was plenty of intrigue, fear, anger, manipulation, and mystery. By no means is this a “feel good book;” I doubt I’d even recommend it as a summer read, since the book just feels grey. However, the lack of bouncy playfulness does not equal a lack of meaning, so do yourself a favor and read it.

Now, it is worth noting that when reading a book of my own choosing, my rule of thumb is that there are far too many books to waste time on one I don’t like, so I give it 50 pages to snag me. I kid you not, this book did not interest me until page 134. After that, it was unexpected, thought-provoking, challenging, uncomfortable, hopeful, and profound. While the first 134 pages took me days of self-motivation and boredom, the remainder of the book took 1 day of utter fascination. It started on an express train towards 1 star and suddenly and surprisingly earned itself 4 stars. If you can make it through the first part, you’ll be rewarded with the second part.

Regardless, this is a valuable read. Not only is it a “classic,” but it is as relevant today as it has ever been, what with the upcoming electoral candidates. Yipes. This would be a great book for a student interested in feminism or politics, and might do well paired with other political dystopic texts, like 1984 or The Time Machine. I will absolutely have this one in my classroom!

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“Love This? Try This!” and Review – “Sleeping Giants”

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Poster: here; book: here

I wasn’t allowed to watch The X-Files when I was younger; you see, I was very impressionable. Still am. If you look back through the Shrews archives, you’ll see plenty of evidence of my ongoing problem with reverse-projection, or adopting the feelings of the characters in books/on TV. My parents assumed The X-Files would scare me, so I lived twenty-some odd years of my life sans-Mulder before my eyes were opened to the majesty of Fox and Dana, the Smoking Man, conspiracies aplenty, and the “I want to believe” poster. ***Sidebar: that new season?! Amazeness!!***

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel is The X-Files in book form.

A girl named Rose is riding her new bike near her home in Deadwood, South Dakota, when she falls through the earth. She wakes up at the bottom of a square hole, its walls glowing with intricate carvings. But the firemen who come to save her peer down upon something even stranger: a little girl in the palm of a giant metal hand.

Seventeen years later, the mystery of the bizarre artifact remains unsolved—its origins, architects, and purpose unknown. Its carbon dating defies belief; military reports are redacted; theories are floated, then rejected.

But some can never stop searching for answers.

Rose Franklin is now a highly trained physicist leading a top secret team to crack the hand’s code. And along with her colleagues, she is being interviewed by a nameless interrogator whose power and purview are as enigmatic as the provenance of the relic. What’s clear is that Rose and her compatriots are on the edge of unraveling history’s most perplexing discovery—and figuring out what it portends for humanity. But once the pieces of the puzzle are in place, will the result prove to be an instrument of lasting peace or a weapon of mass destruction?

The whole time I was reading this novel, I just could not get over how much it felt like The X-Files. It has science, government conspiracies, potential aliens, political intrigue, and a mysterious Puppet-Master; the only thing it’s missing is Mulder in 90’s jeans (YUM!).

But honestly, this was a very interesting read. Much akin to Illuminae, the format is a-typical, since the whole novel is told via interviews, journal entries, and military reports. This made it a very quick read but it also included a lot of scientific mumbo jumbo when interviewing certain characters, so I got bogged down a few times. Pierce Brown’s blurb likened it to Wier’s The Martian, which managed to subtly integrate science and math into an action packed sequence of events. Neuvel attempted to accomplish the same feat, but it wasn’t nearly as effortless and fluid. I ended up skimming over these parts instead of tolerating science long enough to subconsciously learn something.

Otherwise, I loved the format. I’d like to see more variance next time; about 90% of the story was told in interviews and I think more sources and more rotation would keep readers more interested. Illuminae did it best, but Secret Giants isn’t too far behind.

The main issue for me was that the characters were not particularly likable. This is partly due to the ways in which these characters were portrayed; some were cold and distant, some were psychopaths, some were pathetic, and the rest were entirely forgettable. Only one character was likable, but maybe that’s because I don’t often relate to the militaristic, emotionally damaged bossypants. The other possibility is that the unreliable narration did its job and I’m not sure whom I trust. This honestly may not be a problem for other readers, but it was a problem for me. I have a hard time committing, emotionally, to a book if I can’t forge a connection with any of the characters. Don’t believe me? Ask my review of The Girl on the Train.

Overall, 4 stars. It wasn’t a book that consumed my thoughts when I wasn’t able to read, but it was certainly an interesting and unique idea. It was moderately clean; minor sexual references; I don’t remember curse words… definitely a good choice for anyone interested in science, robotics, and/or aliens.

P.S. it’s the first in a series and the epilogue did a serious mic-drop DRAMA moment, so I’m jazzed to keep going!

I want to believe!!!

 

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L: Review of Noelle Stevenson’s “Nimona”

If I many be so bold, I’d like to commend myself for taking great strides towards being a more versatile, well-rounded reader within the last 6 months. If you take a quick trip down memory lane, back to some of my earliest posts, you’ll see that I found a number of ways to clearly indicate that my preferences leaned exclusively towards hard-copy versions of the classics. Nowadays, however, at least half (if not more) of my recreational literary conquests are YA, as well as the relatively unfamiliar (to me) genre of graphic novels, including my latest completion, Noelle Stevenson’s Nimona.

Nimona is an impulsive young shapeshifter with a knack for villainy. Lord Ballister Blackheart is a villain with a vendetta. As sidekick and supervillain, Nimona and Lord Blackheart are about to wreak some serious havoc. Their mission: prove to the kingdom that Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin and his buddies at the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics aren’t the heroes everyone thinks they are.

Nimona is considered to be a YA text, and I think it fits into that genre perfectly. The main character, Nimona’s, age is never specified, but her personality and behavior in situations of villainy make it easy to assume she is a young adult. Nimona’s character is complex, immature, consistently laugh-out-loud funny, and mysterious. Like many teens (and full-blown adults, like myself), Nimona uses humor and sarcasm to navigate serious situations and mask her feelings. Nimona is a product of her past and, although that past is a mystery to readers for most of the novel, her penchant for violence echos throughout her actions, calling into question her motivations for pairing up with Lord Ballister Blackheart, the kingdom villain.

Stevenson’s characters are complex, having hidden agendas, suppressed feelings, longstanding conflicts, and rich backstories. No character is defined by his/her title and, in fact, those titles (hero, villain, sidekick, etc.) are often called into question by his/her actions. Although readers get significantly fewer words with graphic novels, the pictures help to fill in the blanks and (literally) illustrate aspects of the characters and situations that take twice as much time to convey with standard novels. Also, the images were imaginative, descriptive, and utterly adorable. Just look at the emotion and attitude in her panels, as well as the humor (look at the little shark boobies! So unexpected and funny!). In those ways, I loved it!

However, I’m not sure that I got the chance to connect with these characters. Reading a graphic novel, for me, is like watching a TV show; I’m just a spectator. I get fewer asides, monologues, and inner thoughts. I see things at face value, exactly as the author intended, so there is little room for creative interpretation or personalization. Also, I finished Nimona in one afternoon, and a busy afternoon at that. It was an effortlessly quick read, meaning that I didn’t linger with these characters for days at a time. We met, we faced trials, we resolved those trials, and now they’re gone and I don’t miss them. Why would I? I hardly knew them. I wonder if I would think differently had it been a standard novel? I wonder if this concern has occurred to others, or if I’m alone in my distance?

Like I said before, with the exception of the Maus books, I’m extremely new to graphic novels. However, my experience with them has proven them to be delightful deviations from the standard novel format. I see many advantages to the graphic novels format, as well as disadvantages. Regardless, putting this book into the right students’ hands could give fresh insight into really current and relevant problems. It was a fun and meaningful read!

SIDEBAR: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is coming! I pre-ordered my copy and July cannot get here soon enough!

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L: Review of Tim Wynne-Jones’s “The Emperor of Any Place”

My strategy of picking books based on interesting covers has led me in the right direction, again. This book called to me from the shelf, with the yellow map lines, the island in a churning sea, the solitary silhouette, the Japanese symbol, and the very peeved, Einstein-haired bird watching over it all. The whole thing was a giant question mark to me so, upon reading the dust jacket synopsis and finding out it was about WWII, I welcomed it into the family that is my TBR collection.

When Evan’s father dies, Evan finds a hand-bound yellow book on his desk—a book his father had been reading when he passed away. It is the diary of a Japanese soldier stranded on a small Pacific island in WWII. Why was his father reading it? Who was the American soldier also stranded there? And what could this possibly mean for Evan?

Aside from the interest piqued by the cover and synopsis, I had no expectations going into this novel. I’ve never read anything by Wynne-Jones, so I wasn’t sure what to expect from him, either. I was pleasantly surprised, though!

This book was a rare treasure: a book about a book. About 1/3 of the book takes place in the present day and 2/3 of the book are the journal entries of a Japanese soldier and an American soldier who find themselves enemies allied in order to survive on a deserted island, self-named Kokoro-Jima. The present day events are tied to the journal entries and, as Evan reads along, we share his surprise as he gains information as to how his own life is tied to the two inhabitants of Kokoro-Jima.

The writing was some of the most fluid and effortless language I’ve ever read. I truly felt as though I was tangled up in the thought process of a teenage boy. The main character, Evan, is a seventeen-year-old who just lost his father and is dealing with the mysterious nature of the book found on his father’s desk, the calls from the author’s son, and the appearance of his hitherto unknown grandfather, as if the overwhelming loss of his father and best friend wasn’t enough. The emotions are raw and real, sometimes surfacing at unwanted times and other times being choked down (as is often the case in real life), while the characters were relatable, pitiable, witty, and sometimes loathsome. All of the main characters were male and the story within the story was about war, an often male-dominated topic, but I didn’t feel overwhelmed by man-stuff, adrift in a sea of testosterone. As a female reader, I was just as interested and impacted as any male reader.

The novel does take unexpected turns towards the paranormal, a fact which other readers have found irritating, according to other reviews. I rarely consider the fantastical to be irritating, an in the context of this book, I actually thought it was brave. War is such a difficult topic, as is the idea of being stranded without hope of rescue. Some may think that the including spirits and monsters makes light of a serious situation, but I disagree. I think the paranormal aspects made the soldiers more relatable, in terms of their reactions to the unfamiliar. And even if it did make light of war, so what? When faced with the unknown, is the known still relevant? When stranded on an island, is the enemy still your enemy? When faced with a REAL monster, is the “monster” inside your enemy still fearsome?

In terms of YA readers, this book would be a great supplemental text when learning about WWII (or any war, really). It challenges the idea of “enemy” in a way that is digestible but still potent for young readers. It would also be a good read for kids dealing with the death of a close friend or family member, or someone who might be estranged from extended family. Despite the YA title, the novel felt mature. Despite the serious issues it addresses, it still felt light and fun. Wynne-Jones is undoubtedly a talented writer, whose work I will continue to seek out in the future.

 

 

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L: Review of Kathy Kacer’s “Stones on a Grave”

Sometimes, I just need some “brain floss.” I adore a book or series in which I can completely lose myself to obsession (see my review of Golden Son for examples of my obsession capabilities), but sometimes all I want is to read something simple, something that doesn’t make me think too hard. I want something with easy characters and plot points, and is it too much to ask for a book to be under 250 pages? Quick & dirty, in and out; I pick it up & BAM, I’m already finished, without a tear in sight.

Stones on a Grave by Kathy Kacer was sort of that book for me. But first:

Sara has never been out of the tiny town of Hope, Ontario, where she has been in an orphanage all her life. After a fire destroys the orphanage, clues about her parentage—a medical certificate and a Star of David—lead her to Germany. Despite her fears—she doesn’t speak the language, she knows no one in Germany, and she’s never been on an airplane—Sara arrives in Germany determined to explore her newly discovered Jewish heritage and solve the mystery of her parentage. What she encounters is a country still dealing with the aftermath of the Holocaust. With the help of a handsome, English-speaking German boy, she discovers the sad facts of her mother’s brief existence and faces the horrible truth about her father. Ultimately, the knowledge she gains opens up her world and leads her to a deeper understanding of herself.

Kathy Kacer’s novel (novella?) is one of seven books in what is called the “Secrets Bundle,” a grouping of short, interconnected YA novels that can be read as a group or individually. I read Stones on a Grave without having read any of the other “Secrets,” and I feel completely whole in spite of that. The novel works beautifully as a stand alone, as I’m sure it would within the group, as well.

Now, as I was saying before, Stones on a Grave was about 90% the brain floss that I needed. The writing was fluid and easy, although a bit shallow and underdeveloped. I sympathized with the main character, Sara, as she endured the tragic loss of her orphanage home and the realization that her life was about to take a huge turn. At times, things felt a bit forced, like the relationship with the good-for-nothing boyfriend; it was infrequent, insincere moments like these that wrenched me out of the easy, breezy mindset. I think, with a bit more effort and backstory, these issues could have been resolved easily to be as effortless as the rest of the book.

That was the other issue I had with the book; it was so short! Remember just a few paragraphs ago when I pleaded for a book under 250 pages? Now I know why I so rarely read books that fit this qualification. They’re unsatisfying. Maybe it truly takes 400-ish pages to include the backstory needed in order for me to feel complete. Stones on a Grave was so short that it felt rushed. I was literally about 40 pages away from the end when all the pieces started falling into place and I was truly worried that I was going to be left with one heck of a cliffhanger. Kacer managed to tie up the loose ends, but it felt forced, as though she hadn’t dedicated the same amount of time to that last 40 pages as she had dedicated to the first 180.

On a positive note, wanting more from this book is a good problem to have, I think. The characters were realistic and relatable, the issues were compelling and interesting, the plot twist was entirely unexpected, and the ending, while rushed, was satisfying. I almost hesitate to call this book “brain floss,” since it deals with the Holocaust, and that subject is rarely considered “light reading.” Kacer managed to deal with a very real and serious matter, however, in a way that would be thought-provoking and enlightening to YA readers, while keeping it light enough not to induce tears. Despite the difficult subject matter, it felt flossy to me!

This book makes me wish there were sub-star rating levels. Technically, I’d like to give it 4 stars, since it was light, easy, and likable, but 4 stars makes it on par with Red Rising, which is was NOT. But then 3 stars seems harsh. How about 4 stars by “books for my classroom” standards and 3 by “Lindsay-rating” standards?

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L: Review of Pierce Brown’s “Red Rising”

I finished Pierce Brown’s Red Rising last night and then proceeded to mourn its absence in my life. I had to lie there for a few minutes, assembling my thoughts and opinions and, after seeing a pained expression on my face, the spousal unit asked what was wrong. I pitifully responded that I missed my character friends. I got so invested and then it just ended. This book has me all befuddled; I tried to immediately start another book (The Maze Runner is short…), but my mind kept returning to Red Rising, the [no doubt intentionally] unsatisfying ending, the characters lost, the characters redeemed. I’m bewitched by this book, for all too many reasons. More on that shortly, but first:

Click here for Goodreads

Click here for Goodreads

Darrow is a Red, a member of the lowest caste in the color-coded society of the future. Like his fellow Reds, he works all day, believing that he and his people are making the surface of Mars livable for future generations.

Yet he spends his life willingly, knowing that his blood and sweat will one day result in a better world for his children.

But Darrow and his kind have been betrayed. Soon he discovers that humanity already reached the surface generations ago. Vast cities and sprawling parks spread across the planet. Darrow—and Reds like him—are nothing more than slaves to a decadent ruling class.

Inspired by a longing for justice, and driven by the memory of lost love, Darrow sacrifices everything to infiltrate the legendary Institute, a proving ground for the dominant Gold caste, where the next generation of humanity’s overlords struggle for power. He will be forced to compete for his life and the very future of civilization against the best and most brutal of Society’s ruling class. There, he will stop at nothing to bring down his enemies… even if it means he has to become one of them to do so.

I’d like to say that I loved every minute of it, but I didn’t, and I feel as though I should warn you, since no one warned me. The first 50ish pages are a total snooze-fest. I was bored senseless and avoided the book, which is why it took 2 days more than it should have taken to read it. The beginning of the book is wasted on the main character, Darrow’s, unfortunate life. Misfortune strikes, and it feels like I will never compel myself to pick up this book again, and then WHAM BAM BOOM, things go from 0 to 60, boring to “I think my eyes are bleeding but I refuse to put down this book.”

However, if you manage to muck through the boring bits, you’ll be well rewarded. The writing is effortless. It felt as though I stepped out of my life and into the life of Darrow. His character’s progression, in both experience and perspective, is tremendous and deeply meaningful. Darrow endures tragedy and relishes in triumph in ways that challenge him, and challenge readers, to ask what motivates us. What makes an enemy an enemy? Can an enemy also be a friend? Does social status truly define us? The relationships are profound and thought-provoking. I constantly forgot that this was technically a Young Adult work, and that the majority of characters were teenagers. The language, attitudes, events, actions, and topics addressed in Red Rising are mature beyond the typical realistic lifestyle of today’s teens, but it is not beyond their comprehension and it is not so mature that they shouldn’t read it. Important issues are addressed, issues like social class & hierarchy, morality, slavery, life vs death, friendship, love, family, etc. Although I hope that none of my students ever experience a life like Darrow’s, I see a lot of parallels that can be drawn to real life, and thereby lessons that can be learned.

This novel was amazing. It is appealing for adults, teens, men, women, everyone! It is often compared to The Hunger Games and I totally see that now. I also picked up hints of A Song of Ice and Fire. I reduced it to 4 stars only because the beginning was painful, and because the ending wasn’t what I wanted to happen. But again, I understand that that was probably Brown’s intention. He’s got to pull me in to the second book, right? As if there was any question as to whether I’d be continuing this series. I am DYING to talk to someone about this book, so PLEASE go read it & then let’s chat. Also, I can’t wait for it to be made into a movie, as is inevitable. It is fantastic. Read it!!

 

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