Monday, June 29, 2015

A Link To A New World

Fantasy novels always take longer to finish and completely understand. Most of the time the authors take you to these worlds that are elaborate, some having their own languages and codes, and as a result the reader needs to take their time.  
Myst by Rand and Robin Miller and David Wingrove begins with Atrus, a young boy who was abandoned by his father, and resides in the desert with his grandmother. Anna teaches Atrus about the ways of the D'ni society that once existed years before. They survive: Atrus learns to write in the old language, and all seems right with the world. As he grows, his curiosity blossoms and soon Atrus finds himself performing experiments to help with the life style the two are encased in.
The day Gehn, Atrus's father, returns the world begins to change. Atrus is forced to accompany his father on a new journey, and as a result he must leave his familiar world forever. On the journey, the young boy discovers his father creates worlds, almost like a God. Using blank books, Gehn weaves a story into each and in turn they become Ages that can be visited and inhabited. All of the Ages have distinct differences, and the more the young boy sees, the more amazed he is. Gehn's plan is to teach Atrus the powers of writing and creating Ages so the two can become and remain powerful beings.
However, the more time Atrus spends with his father, the more he begins to realize things are not as they seem. Gehn's need to remain in "power" shows Atrus there is evil, but with his kind heart, he will try to find a way to make things right.
The concept to the novel was very well done. The author created a world...where the character creates worlds! It's mind blowing. But you can see the good vs. evil tendencies that always ring through in a fantasy themed novel.
Gehn's character, from when we first see him in the prologue, is a jerk. He's selfish, and the more you read the more you absolutely hate him. Sure, he's no Sauron (haha nerd reference), but Gehn proves to be the perfect antagonist. So perfect, in fact, that each scene he was in- I couldn't help but say "jerk" under my breath. Yes yes, I do sometimes talk out loud while I am reading. :p
You have to love Atrus's character because he embodies good. He has a kind soul, a curious demeanor, and all throughout the story you see his desire to do "good" and see the good in everything. And the minute he realizes his father is being unreasonable and a horrible human being, the "protagonist" instinct takes over.
The book was well written, and the more you read, the more you realize this is such an original concept for a novel. I mean where do we ever see a character creating anything let alone whole worlds? It's a good read, but it is one you do need to spend time with. Much like most fantasy novels, the concepts are complex, so it is important to be patient and let the story unravel. It's worth it! Stick with it, and check out the rest in the trilogy.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Every Night I Drown and Every Morning I Wake Up Struggling to Breathe

I finished The Forest of Hands and Teeth series by Carrie Ryan almost four years ago, but I felt myself drawn to it once again.

We all know the story, or at the very least you can go back in the tags and check my original posting. I have only finished rereading the first in the series, but in my last entry regarding the novels, I left out a few important pieces to Mary's story.

Mary, Gabry, and Annah are all strong female characters with choices to make, and each of them are trapped in a world with the diseased, the Unconsecrated, the living dead. Of course the story begins with Mary- her village is breached by the zombie hoards, so she and her small group escape with hopes of another world on the outside. However, I could not help but get frustrated with Mary.

Her mother chose the Unconsecrated in order to be reunited with her father. Immediately upon returning to the house, Mary's brother, Jed, refuses to welcome her back into their home partly because his wife has just miscarried, but also because he blames Mary for their mother's death. Mary is tossed into the life of the Sisterhood because no one claims her. She experiences rejection from all sides; the love of her life, Travis: who has claimed her best friend, her mother: who chose death and the unliving rather than her own daughter, and now her brother. The reader can't help but feel such sorrow for this young woman. She is forced into the Sisterhood, where she does not belong, but this is the only choice she can make for herself.

Travis is then hurt, barely alive, so he stays with the Sisters until he heals. Mary goes to his bedside each night, and her love for him intensifies. Even better, Travis believes in the ocean and the world Mary longs for. He feels it too. When he heals, there is more rejection for Mary when Travis is not the one to come back and claim her, but his brother Harry.
The story continues as the Unconsecrated breach the fence, their village is all taken by the undead, and Mary is forced down the forest path with Harry, Travis, her best friend Cass, a young boy, Jacob, and her brother and his wife. The more rejection the reader feels in Mary's heart, the more she retaliates. Her personality is fierce, unflinching, and this is what makes her a strong heroine.

However,  finally Mary gets her wish. She and Travis are trapped together, while the others are safe on the platforms of another village. Although trapped, and Travis's leg makes it impossible for him to follow quickly, Mary and Travis are together in a house where they can be alone. This is what she wanted; she wanted him to choose her, yet there is something missing. The ocean, her escape, is always on her mind. Maybe it's just me, but I can't help but think why can't he be enough? Was the rejection he caused her too much? Or was he just never going to be enough for her? At the beginning she longed for him, waiting for him, saw a life with him; yet she finally gets that chance and it's lost on her ultimate goal.
Even at the end of the story (be advised this is a spoiler)- she loses everything. Travis is dead, Harry/Cass/ and Jacob have taken a separate path, and her brother also falls to her dreams of the ocean. In the end she makes it, but at what cost?

I think this frustrated me the most about Mary because it was difficult to understand her reasoning. Was the constant rejection the reason for her desire to push away? Travis and Harry both had such intense loves for her, and I understand her holding back with Harry, but she had Travis- this was what she wanted. But even in the end Travis asked "Would you ever give up the ocean for me?" It's almost like he knew he would never be enough. 
Again, I have not revisited the other two novels, but I found Mary's constant hope and desire for something better frustrating. Maybe it's because of the three main characters, I can't really connect emotionally to Mary's story. Sure she went through stages of rejection, but when things began to work her way, she still could not see that as enough. She put people in danger, but worst of all, it seems she broke a few people's hearts because they knew she had an untamed soul that love and family could not calm. Maybe that frustrated me more; knowing that she could have a happy life where she could have everything she wanted, but it was never going to be enough to make her fully happy.
In the end, I fell back in love with the series and find myself going head first into the post apocalyptic world Ryan has created. This is one of the best series I have come across- her writing is lyrical and weaves a fantastic tale, but the story itself provides raw emotion, survival, and love that all three females are so desperate to find.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Sometime, I Feel like my Whole Life is Lived in this Twilight Space Between Sunshine and Darkness

I read Angelfall by Susan Ee a few months ago based on one of my student's recommendations. I, of course, fell in love. I quickly read the second, had an altercation with the incompetent library staff over some business of spilled ink (which believe me I still have no clue about), and I sat patiently awaiting the third in the series. FINALLY! Just a for your info...if you have NOT read the first or second of the series, you should know that this will probably contain spoilers.

Penryn's journey through this post apocalyptic world is coming towards an end with End of Days. As she and Raffe are reunited, it seems the stakes are getting higher. Uriel is out for blood and wants to remain the only Messenger of God, and his plan is to destroy the human race. Raffe is still searching for a doctor to transplant his angel wings, and Penryn is just hoping her sister's condition can be helped.
The more time the two spend together, Penryn realizes her feelings for Raffe go beyond just a normal crush, but both know this feeling is wrong. They are of two different kinds, and angels cannot get involved with Daughters of Man.
As their journey continues, the two face hellions, fall and escape from the Pit, and realize that now is their time to fight for their own side. Raffe needs to take his place with the others in order to ensure he can become the new Messenger. Penryn must return back to her family and her people to ensure their safety and care. Both know very well where they need to be, but when time comes, will they be able to accept they are fighting on opposite sides with opposite goals.

I have to say there wasn't a dull book in the series. Sure, the second one takes a second because everyone just wants to see Raffe again. I mean...duh. But knowing the two of them are acknowledging their feelings is of course the deep sigh of relief moment for readers. Penryn is not a normal teenage heroine; she has a schizophrenic mother which caused her to do a lot of growing up on her own. As a result, she is one tough lady. I think this topped with the post apocalyptic feel really makes it an interesting trilogy.
This last one had a lot of different things. Things seemed too convenient, and yes having to believe that all of the sudden Penryn alone must now concoct a plan that saves her people is a little difficult. But, I do like the story. And with these type of novels you are just hoping for some kind of common ground and a happy ending. Or at least the happiest you can get.

I would say sit back and enjoy it. It's a nice new spin on angels (nothing like the Hush Hush disaster), and it gives you a strong heroine with a sexy angel to drool over. Easy read, quick series, but ultimately I felt positive and happy when I finished this one off. Just enough romance, nothing Twlightish, and lots of crazy monsters, demons, hellions that create a whole new meaning to survival.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

You can’t go back to how things were. How you thought they were. All you really have . . . is now

I read Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher years ago, but I had an urge to revisit it. Honestly, it still held the same impact.

Hannah Baker commits suicide, and only a few weeks later Clay Jensen receives a package in the mail. This shoe box full of tapes will soon reveal the full story Hannah has left behind, and these tapes will change his life.

Before Hannah dies, she records herself reflecting on the thirteen reasons that lead to her inevitable downfall. Each tape has two stories, each story targets a different person and their actions, and each story is just a small piece that leads to her ultimate death.
Clay continues to listen to Hannah's stories, and he continues to wonder where he fits into this puzzle. He had a crush on her, he wanted to be with her, so how can he possibly be a reason leading to her demise? But the more he listens, the more he realizes that each person mentioned on the tape had something to hide, and each one of them should be utterly ashamed for their actions. However, not one of them realized their misstep would be piling up into the dark depths of Hannah's life.
Hannah's story goes through awful rumors, horrible jokes, and ghastly experiences that built up to such a boiling point, Hannah saw no way out. The more Clay listens, the more he realizes the signs were there, but everyone failed her. The tapes are reminders to him and every person who was sent this box of cassettes, that even the smallest actions have consequences; some that you are unable to see.
This novel truly sticks with you. Hannah's voice is so prominent throughout, and you almost feel like you want to try to help her too. But when everyone lets her down, her depression seems to worsen. It goes to show that even a tiny action, positive or negative, has an affect on people. Sometimes, it has a deeper affect than we would like to know.At the end of the novel, we as readers are hopeful that things will change. Clay reaches out to a fellow classmate, and we can assume this is how the tapes will leave their positive influence.

Hannah's story is not much different than a lot of students in the world today; and I think that was what left the biggest impact on me. We don't realize the impact of words, and we don't realize that everyone's "bad day" is different. I recommend this one to all my students because it is important, especially in today's society, that they be aware that every thing they do has an impact of some kind. It could be small, but even a tiny good deed always means something to someone. If Hannah's tragedy teaches readers anything, it is to always find the good because sometimes that good really can bring change and acceptance.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

We'll Pull Out These Memories...and They'll Make Us Feel Safe

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson expresses a fresh take on a common mental illness. Most of Anderson's novels reflect realistic issues; this one, however, drives away from direct teenager problem and the focus is how mental illness affects life as a whole.

Hayley and her father have been on the road for years. After he returned from the war, her father was deeply affected with post traumatic stress; therefore driving from state to state and desperately trying trying to find enough money to pay for food became a way of life. However, senior year was when Hayley's father chose to settle in his mother's old house. Despite Hayley's attempts to get them on track, her father continues to go in and out of an alcoholic state, and the adjustment to public school is not an easy road.

As her story continues, Hayley is affected by the memory of her childhood; her father's absence, her step mother's alcoholism, her grandmother's loving touch and care. Her father slowly begins to spin further out of control; between his alcoholism, recreational drug use, and inconsistent temper its no wonder her life is a complete tornado.
When Hayley meets Finn, a charming swimmer from school, she tries to put a wall up to avoid anyone getting too close to her. The more time she spends with him, however, the more she realizes the two aren't so different. But her happiness seems to be a sham because she realizes her life will never be the picture perfect dream she could ever hope for.

The concept of Anderson's novels usually reflect a teen who needs to find their way. Her father's mental illness continues to affect Hayley to a point where she cannot even consider her own future without worrying she'll be leaving her father in a state of depression and despair. Her past troubles resurface, but it isn't until she begins to accept and move forward that she realizes life is hers to live.
This novel goes inside the brain of a past veteran, but also shows how one can accept and live with the memories too painful to forget. Finn's character provides comic relief, but he also serves as an anchor that Hayey desperately needs. His life is no happily ever after either, and the more she finds out, the more she is able to open up and take down the wall she has surrounding her.

I honestly believe this book will give readers, especially young adults, a new view on post traumatic stress. It's something heard about, but never truly understood. And although the veterans are the ones who suffer internally, the impact it has on a family, however broken they are, is devastating.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The End of Innocence

I should be ashamed because I had never fully read Lord of the Flies by William Golding. I also don't teacher British Literature, so I never had to return to this classic novel. Recently, a few co workers and I took a field trip with a handful of kids to see Lord of the Flies being performed by high school students. After that, I had to read it.

The story starts with a group of boys ending up on a deserted island after experiencing a plane crash. All the boys find each other, and soon, because they're English, which implies apparently they are best at everything according to Jack Merridew, they decide to set up rules and elect a chief in charge of the rules and affairs; at least until they are rescued.

Ralph is elected, and although all seemed well, it isn't as easy as it seems. The littluns, or small kids, find it hard to follow the rules because their attention spans are small, but also they are too weak to build shelter and hunt for food. Meanwhile Jack and his group of hunters are obsessed with finding the pigs on the island to hunt, stab, and kill so they can claim their prize and prove their strength. Boys start to wander away, others lose interest in Ralph and Piggy's wise words, but the two try desperately to keep everyone together and civilized.

Slowly, Jack and his hunters become more and more obsessed with revenge and power, which leads into their savage ways. Ralph attempts to pull them back, but then the struggle begins. Jack and Ralph are at odds on who the proper chief should be, Piggy and the rest of the boys choose their sides and are then separated, on top of this- the boys claim they have seen a beast on the island, which could lead to their demise. 

The novel shows human nature at its finest. We are prone to become savage especially when it comes to control, power, and survival. We panic when there are no "rules", but even when there are not everyone follows and agrees. And it seems someone will always be jealous of the power some hold. It is truly the loss of innocence. The best intentions often lead to a disaster, and it is no different here. It goes to show how much faith Golding had in the human race, but also how quickly we can go from being civilized to becoming savage and full of raw emotion.

Great classic novel, and it is probably the ONLY reason I would want to teach British Lit. in the future. Definitely worth a read if you "missed" this one in high school. Worth it to see the journey of these young boys, how they do fair at surviving, but it's truly interesting to witness how they become too far gone that it is hard to come back.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

I Realize Now that Dying is Easy. Living is Hard...

It has been a while, but crappy freshmen essays seemed to be holding me back from reading. *Gasp* I know, an English teacher who has too many essays to grade. Crazy.

This was one of those independent reading books that all the girls read and loved, so of course, it was my turn. And luckily, I didn't get swept up in the movie craze so I was able to read the book first. I have to admit If I Stay by Gayle Forman took me a while simply because of how sad it was. I was going through an emotional period of time, and I knew that if I read this book at a steady pace, I would be bawling.  

Mia Hall is a senior in high school with a loving family, a wonderful and supportive boyfriend, and a promising future. She applied to the Julliard music program for the cello, and all signs point to acceptance. Her boyfriend, Adam, has a band that is just beginning to take off, and her family is picture perfect. Then tragedy strikes. Mia and her family are in a car accident; She finds herself watching the events to follow from the sidelines, literally, and realizes she is at the in-between stage. She isn't dead yet; this is the choice she must make.

This novel is full of flash backs of Mia's past, her worries about the future with Adam and her choice to attend the music school in New York, and her family. Mia has lost her family, this much she knows, but her decision to stay on earth with whatever she has left is a struggle. Everything tells her to give in and let go, but there are still things she is desperately trying to hold onto.

The novel gives a new meaning to the idea of strength. Mia is a teenager who has lost everything she knew, yet she has to make the decision to hang on in hopes of being strong, or to let go in hopes that she and the rest of her friends and family can move on.

Every turn of the page was full of emotion. Forman made so many references to music- classical, rock, punk- so it made it even more interesting. I mean who doesn't like a Nirvana "Something in the Way" reference?
This was a great read; sad and very emotional, but worth it. Mia's strength, her character, and everything that surrounds her makes her choice harder, but she shows us that choice is exactly what everyone has.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

There Is No Peace for the Wicked

Columbine by Dave Cullen was one of those books I was told educator's needed to read. I am usually not too crazy into non-fiction, which I feel I mentioned once before, but this one seemed different. I began my new job in a high school in CT in 2012, the same year the Sandy Hook Tragedy occurred.

School shootings have always been a hot topic, even before the tragedy in Columbine, but this was the one that shook the world. I remember being in middle school and being scared; this was the first time we as kids realized school was no longer a safe place. It took a part of our childhoods away because this was real, and we had to face that. I think that is why this shooting had such a huge impact. In reality, the Virgina Tech Shooting in 2007 took more lives and for more reasons unknown, but this one, Columbine, seemed to hit a nerve. After reading Cullen's book, I understand why.

Cullen takes the reader through the events of the shooting and all the way to ten years later. The parts regarding the shooting were expected: disturbing, sick, and hard to swallow. But, it also shows these two boys on another scale. The media, the police force, and the FBI were unsure how to handle this tragedy, so a lot of mistakes were made.

The warning signs were there for a year before the tragedy, the boys both had files on them, but no one even filed the reports. These two boys were troubled, but it was amazing how the media twisted the story into a fight against bullying, music, television, and anything else they seemed would fit. The boys were painted as loners, when in reality they were well liked; the fact that they were involved in this was a shock for their immediate family and friends. They warped details of what happened in the library to Cassie Bernall because it fit into the church's agenda and it was a better story than what the truth showed. The educator who was killed had a chance to live; the SWAT team took their time entering the building and despite the written warning out the science lab window, they still didn't get him out in time.

So many "facts" that were presented that April 20th were too quickly released; and once released it was next to impossible to pull them back. I think that's why I found this book so interesting; it made me mad to realize we, as a nation, were duped. We were led to believe this incident happened because of outlying issues, we were made to believe in heroes that did not entirely exist, and lives could have easily been saved if they were better prepared.

Cullen's piece weaves a story of the killers: two troubled boys who you can't help but feel a little sorry for. They murdered 13 people that day and this is a tragedy, but another tragedy is why they chose this as an out. Their families were left behind to pick up the pieces and dodge the hateful stares that often come along with being related to the killers. Cullen also expressed actual interviews and inspirational stories of the survivors. Most of these students, teachers, families are strong and remained strong throughout the entire tragic event. It was heartwarming to hear that these kids, the ones who went through this tragedy, might be the ones who are the most forgiving.

Columbine is an eye opening, to say the least. It shows the carelessness of the law enforcement, and it also shows how important it is to report incidents as they come. Although, files could go "missing" depending on the efficiency of the police. This story truly made me sad and angry. Sad because this hits close to home, being an educator. I can see anger and hate in my students, but never to that degree. I know I would try to keep them safe; to tell them I loved them, just like their Principal. I was angry because it could have been prevented. The boys had histories of violence, anger, and arrests; why was no one paying attention? Why did 13 people have to die that day?

I do recommend the book, and I do understand why educators should be aware of it too. We are in a profession that now is dangerous. Now, we see schools as a place where we need to try our best to stay safe because they aren't safe havens any longer. If this tragedy taught us anything, it is that we need to be more cautious. More laws are in place, police are better trained for these situations, and teachers are more aware. I know I always have a plan b in case locking down doesn't seem like an accurate means of escape.

It will break your heart, make you cry, but it will show there is some goodness; even if that goodness only lies in those most affected.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

All Those Who Wander Are Not Lost...

I am an English teacher and never fully was able to finish the Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R Tolkien. I know, I am a disgrace.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies was coming out in theaters and because I am a huge fan of the movies, I decided this was as good a time as any to pick up the series again. I started with The Hobbit years ago, but I was not fully convinced. To be fair, I did not give it much of a chance. Once the movie craze came out, I knew I had to reconsider. There is no way the movies could be so amazing the books were not.

So the journey from the Shire to Mordor began. Everyone knows the story; there is one ring to rule them all, Bilbo passes the ring to Frodo, his nephew, who now has to go on this journey to destroy it. Frodo's journey takes him out of the comforts of the Shire and into the deep unknown. Frodo and his fellow hobbits (Pippin, Merry, and Sam) encounter the Elves in Rivendale and are joined by Aragorn, Boromir, Gandalf the Grey, Gimli, and Legolas. They are dubbed "The Fellowship" and all nine begin their perilous journey to the depths of disaster. The goal is to destroy the ring so Sauron's power ends so his armies are stopped, and all of Middle Earth is at peace again.

Tolkien is arguably the best fantasy writer of all time. He created a world, not just an idea. This world is filled with different species, languages, geographical regions, and everything just fits so perfectly together. He weaves a story of adventure, survival, and courage.

Although I am not fond of Frodo's character, the rest of his company make up for his incompetence. Sam is one of the best friends anyone could ask for. Not only does he force himself on this journey because he longs to support his best friend, Sam proves his own bravery when all else fails. All of the characters find their own piece of courage, and yet some are tainted and overcome by the ring's force. Once "The Fellowship" disbands at the end of the first novel, the fight for Middle Earth truly begins, and it's filled with death, strength, fear, and love.
The novel does take time to go through, so this is by no means a quick read. His story and description take time and are meant to engross the reader into his world. I think that's why it took a while for me to get back into these novels. But, when you are having a rough day, these books are the perfect way to step in a realm of magic.
And yes, despite Hollywood forgetting to include certain pieces of the novels into the movies, they are extremely well done. And I truly think that Tolkien would be impressed with their masterpiece and the amount of joy they bring to viewers. I can honestly say whenever I am sad, I immediately turn to these movies for comfort. Worth the read, worth watching, and definitely a masterpiece all around.