Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

"The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not." - Erin Morgenstern

I have reached an age where my life is routined and my responsibilities give it its structure. I have left my childhood dreams behind and abandoned silly thoughts of magic and fantasy - that is until my son recommended The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. It kept me up many nights, and swept me to another place, where its fantastical world reminded me why it is so important to believe that if you can dream it, then it becomes real - even if only in your mind and your heart.

Erin Morgenstern is a beautiful storyteller. Her characters are so real, that by the end of her story, you have really known them. She has invited you in to share in their fates and in their struggles to choose their own futures. Her style of writing is poetic and romantic, as if time has frozen an era and brought it to us.

In her own words, she shares, "You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone's soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows what they might do because of it, because of your words. That is your role, your gift."

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Shadow Children Series by Margaret Peterson Haddix

I was at a used book sale recently, searching for little gems to add to my classroom library when a young women (barely out of her teens actually) found some books from the Shadow Children Series. She went on to tell me how much she had loved them in junior high when she'd read them. That was enough for me. When someone remembers the love they had for a book (or in this case, a series), I know that love of reading is something you can share. I ordered two sets.

Imagine a world where more than two children in a family is outlawed due to a population problem. The penalty for defying the law is death and the children are viewed as criminals, just for being born. They must go into hiding just to stay alive, fighting for their safety, for their freedom, and for each other. It certainly makes you appreciate the lives we have and the freedoms we take for granted every day.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Divergent by Veronica Roth

After the decline of the world as we know it, five factions are formed; Abnegation, Candor, Erudite, Amity and Dauntless. Each holds its values at the core of its belief system and its members are raised and governed in accordance. On the day of her Choosing Ceremony, Beatrice must select a faction for her future. Her aptitude test has left her confused about her place in the world and she must trust her heart to guide her.

Roth invites us to follow Beatrice in this fantastical adventure of choice, balance, and doubt as Beatrice learns to cope in a world which has left her vastly unprepared to think for herself. She takes the values her parents have instilled in her and adds a new variety of skills and beliefs to her rapidly expanding world.

Readers will be challenged to identify their own belief system and those of the families and society that have helped shape them into the citizens they have become. I found myself wondering what I would do given the circumstances these characters face. I learned early on in this book that everything matters and highly recommend it to readers who like to think as much as they like to be entertained with their reading.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Sarah's Key by Tatiana De Rosnay

10 year old Sarah has locked her brother into a secret closet hidden in the wall of their small apartment. The police has arrived to round up the French Jews in July of 1942. She intends to free him when they are released.  Little does she know her real destination is a concentration camp where she is not expected to survive.

Julia Jarmond is a journalist who is writing a commemorative article that will mark the 60th anniversary of this historic event in French history. As she digs deeper into the stories of the victims of the round up, she discovers evidence of Sarah's tragedy. Follow her as she pieces the story together and unearths the truth. The question many would ask is whether or not she should.

This book became very personal to me as I worked my way through it. The characters were so real and many of them seemed to parallel people in my own life. I was amazed to know that she was not living the events her heroine was enduring. They were so accurate that I believed them unquestioningly. I love a book that leaves me wanting to meet the character I have accompanied on her own journey.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Scorch Trials by James Dashner

The maze has been solved, our characters from the first book of the series (well, most of them) have now arrived to some sort of headquarters for the Creators' of WICKED. The survivors of the maze are brought to dorms where they are fed and rested. But right around the corner of their one-day reprieve, they will be submitted to the most gruelling challenges of their young lives. As the cover of the book tells us, The Maze was just the beginning.

Thomas and Teresa face new challenges in their friendship and in their evolving relationship and their forced separation makes them question what is real and what is orchestrated by the team at WICKED. As you work your way through this one, you will wonder which trials are the worst, the physical ones or the psychological ones.

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

Imagine waking up in a small box, surrounded by the grass covered walls of a maze. Your memory has been wiped clear and you have no idea who you are or how you came to be there. A group of boys your age bring you into the safety of the compound within the maze where the walls close and protect you from the dangers of the outside world. What now?

James Dashner puts you into this situation with Thomas, his lead character, and allows you to figure things out with him. The plot thickens, clues are revealed as the story unfolds and the questions throbbing in your brain are continuous. You may as well be there with him because you are living it and finding the creators of his living hell become your priority as his reader. This one will keep you up late at night, unable to stop midway through.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Liar by Justine Larbelestier

Micah Wilkins spins tales like a spider spins a web. She is so constant with her lies that no one knows what is true and what is not. Her boyfriend is dead, savagely attacked and the student body of her progressive high school is brimming with speculation about her involvement. As the story unfolds, the truth, or some strange version of it emerges to bring light to the mysteries in her life.

Despite the range of bizarre events which occur throughout the jigsaw puzzle style telling of this tale, the very real themes of identity and school social hierarchies come to light in a very real and relatable way for all readers. By the end of her story, you will still be wondering whether or not you have been lied to.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Devil's Arithmetic by Jane Yolen

Your parents are big on preserving the culture and the history of their people and they will not let you forget it. Hannah is tired of hearing the stories of the struggles and challenges her family faced at the eight of Nazi Germany's reign over the masses. That is, until she is swept back in time to discover their harsh and unforgettable reality of their experience first hand.

The Devil's Arithmetic reveals the atrocities of war and the cruel and inhumane treatment of an entire race through the eyes of a child swept up in the thick of these circumstances, powerless, despite her knowledge of the future, to stop them. Yolen weaves an educational story which will indeed allow the memory of the plight of the Jewish people to be remembered forever.

I was caught up in the fear and the hopelessness of Hannah's situation and it was easy to learn, as she did, the importance of preserving my own heritage, which is lost far too easily unless I fight to keep it alive.

Miracle's Boys by Jacqueline Woodson

Being a teenager is tough. Being a teenager without parents is tougher.

After the death of their parents, Ty'ree, Charlie, and Lafayette are left to fend for themselves in a world that is determined to see them fail. The boys are faced with buried truths surrounding the deaths of their parents and need to come together in order to survive one of the most challenging times of their lives.

Following the point of view of the youngest of these boys, Lafayette, the reader is invited into his world for the brief time where he will make it or break it in his transition to independence. The importance of family, support and understanding ring loud and clear as the brothers discover there is no survival without it.

Woodson has a gift of creating characters who are endearing to her readers. You feel like you know them and what they have been through as they attempt to make sense of the unfair hand they have been dealt in life. I was determined to stick with them in the hope that I would bear witness to their success as a family, reduced though it may be.

Shattering Glass by Gail Giles

Simon Glass is a typical nerd. He is socially inept, dresses like he has never heard of fashion, and seems oblivious to the desperation of his situation. Popular Rob Haynes is determined to change all that. Dragging his friends along on his mission to transform Simon into a high school icon, Rob sets his plan in motion. It all seems well intentioned until it all goes very wrong.

Giles reveals the ending in the first line of the book. "Simon Glass was easy to hate. I guess, really, we each hated him for a different reason, but we didn't realize it until the day we killed him." Needless to say, your curiosity will kick in as the story unfolds to reveal the chain of events which lead to the untimely demise of Simon Glass. This one will keep you thinking long after you have finished reading.

Twisted (Pretty Little Liars #9) by Sara Shepard

The first four books of this collection take you on an adventure to discover how the four main characters (Spencer, Aria, Hanna, and Emily) are involved in the mysterious circumstances which connect them to a dead girl from their past. Each chapter follows a different character until they are thrust together by the building events that allow the ugly truth to be revealed.

The next four books embark on a similar journey with a new antagonist to stir things up a little. The four seemingly innocent girls have their dirty laundry aired and are forced to face the consequences of their choices. Things come to an explosive conclusion by the end of the eighth book and things are set right - or as right as they can be until they come up with new choices which will make them the targets of a new conniving stalker.

Now things are brewing anew as Sara Shepard introduces the next chapter (Books 9-12) of the trials and dilemmas of the Pretty Little Liars. One might think that they just don't learn, but the tension Shepard builds from chapter to chapter will keep you immersed in the twisted storyline like the inability you might have to look away when passing a horrific crash site on the highway.  

Flip by Martyn Bedford

When I dove into this one, the first thing I thought I would be reading was another version of the story Freaky Friday. A body-swapping-how-do-you-make-things-right type of book. If you read this book, you will go much deeper than that. Martyn Bedford has created a character "Alex" who is faced with all sorts of dilemnas as he searches for the truth about his unique circumstances. Unpopular and reserved, he wakes up in the body of a boy 200 miles away, Flip, who seems to be his complete opposite. Not only does he need to try and fit into a life that is nothing like his own, he also needs to find a way back to his own life. And contrary to the Freaky Friday version, he is stuck in Flip's body much longer than one day.

This novel deals with several themes teens are faced with today. From the question of identity to the choices we make to the actions which define us, Flip will encourage you to dig into your own psyche and do a little soul searching of your own. You will remember Alex and the struggle he faces for his own true identity long after you have turned the last page.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

God Sleeps in Rwanda by Joseph Sebarenzi with Laura Ann Mullane

God Sleeps in Rwanda has been an interesting journey for me as a reader. I do not read a lot of non-fiction and know even less about what's going on in the world around me. I know, I know...

Raised in Rwanda in a large family, Sebarenzi has survived threats of violence and discrimination in a community where its residents are encouraged to embrace divisions of ethnicity. Hatred is taught and resistance toward the top down belief of what the few dictate is severely frowned upon.

Joseph Sebarenzi's experience has opened my eyes to the incredible circumstances that exist on the outskirts of my sheltered world.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Uglies Series by Scott Westerfeld

You are born into a world where you are surrounded by wonder. Raised as a "littlie" by your parents, life is as normal as can be. At the age of 12, you are transferred to Ugly Town, where you live and learn until the day of your 16th birthday. And then, everything changes. Your surgery will transform you into the person you have always dreamed of becoming - someone pretty. Does it really matter that your bones may be shattered and reshaped to give you the required height and weight? So your skin will be regrown to eliminate any trace of the substandard you. It's all in the name of beauty after all.

Tally Youngblood is about to turn 16. She anxiously awaits the day where she will join the "beautiful people" in Pretty Town. She has waited all her life for this, but something is about to shake her to her senses. What is the true price of this beauty she covets?

Scott Westerfeld creates a world where the reader indulges in fantasy about these dreams coming true. He allows you to imagine the possibility of having it all. Is beauty all it's cracked up to be? You will question many of the things you have believed all your life as you follow Tally on her own voyage of discovery in this futuristic world where everything is possible. In the end, you will have to decide whether or not it should be.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore

Life is difficult enough as a teen, but add to that the fact that you are hiding out on Earth, developing special powers (alien puberty, I suppose) and that the fate of your planet rests on your shoulders, you have the ultimate teen action adventure! John Smith (how original, eh?) is 15 years old and is moving yet again to remain hidden from alien invaders seeking to destroy the last remaining survivors of his planet, Lorien.

Pittacus Lore (a pseudonym for James Frey and Jobie Hughes) spins a web of world histories and coming of age in its most creative form. He invites you in and by the end of this book, you will feel you have as much at stake as John and his Cêpan, Henri. I found myself holding my breath in parts, running and fighting with these characters who had everything to lose. I am anxious to see what the filmmakers have created. I hope they do it justice.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Lizard - by Dennis Covington

Upon the recommendation of another reader, I borrowed and read the book Lizard by Dennis Covington. I knew the basis of the story; that a young adolescent, believed to be retarded (but from his thoughts, we are convinced otherwise), is sent to live in a home for retarded boys. A mysterious man comes to claim him as his son and takes him away to act in a production of a Shakespeare play.

Although there are moments of wonder and mystery (who his real parents are, the importance of a silver bowl that could change the life of a friend he meets along his travels), I kept waiting for something to happen that would make the story worth reading.

Although it wasn't horrible, it certainly isn't a book I would recommend as a must read. I'm not sure if I just set too high an expectation for it, but I was gravely disappointed.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

White Man's Cotton - by R.W. Somerton

Randy Somerton was not a writer. He worked for the Canadian Revenue Agency where he was inspired to write about inequality among races. In White Man's Cotton, his first novel, he takes what we know about the history of racism and turns it upside down and inside out, giving us fodder for thought.

In this novel, a group of elite African-Americans select white men who are deserving of a lesson in a glimpse of what it's like to be on the receiving end of hatred and cruelty. They are forced to work as slaves to do the black man's bidding - whatever it may be.

I found myself understanding their reasons, yet torn about their methods. I have often thought that men (or women) who do evil would be better served to get a taste of their own medicine. But when I see the street justice that is handed out (far from any streets), I am left in a mixed-emotion state about what is right and what is just. The content is mature and disturbing but a worthwhile read. It was thought provoking and conversation worthy from start to finish. I would love to see this one on a high-school or university-level required reading list. 

The Returners - by Gemma Malley

I just finished The Returners tonight and I am anxious to hear what you think about it. I am already a fan of Gemma Malley as I have read The Declaration and The Resistance. I am also looking forward to the third of that series, The Legacy, due out December 21st of this year.

As a bit of a "teaser", this book is about a group of people who have the misfortune of returning to the world again and again throughout history to be a part of some of the crucial moments that have made the world what it is today. What would happen if its prescribed destiny met an unwilling participant? Would this be enough to spin humanity off into a different direction? How necessary is human suffering in shaping the world, anyway?

I found The Returners to be a very original concept. It frustrated me at times with some of the views of humanity. I am not sure if this is because it was such an honest perception of the world or a pessimistic one that I do not want to share. In any case, it sure gave me a lot to think about. How responsible are we for the evils of the world? For me, the most burning question this book left me with was, "Can people change?"

The Legacy - by Gemma Malley

Imagine a world where there is no disease. People do not get sick, they do not age and they do not die - all thanks to the wonderdrug "Longevity". This kind of immortality comes at a pretty steep price, however, as it would cause a pretty serious population problem. The Declaration introduces the solution to this problem. Those who stretch out their days indefinitely agree to not have children.

So, generations later, when the drug no longer offers the benefits it once promised, the population of the world faces the threat of extinction. Is it too late to save humanity?

Well, those of you who have read The Declaration and The Resistance by Gemma Malley will be glad to know that the third and final book of the series was released in December of 2010. The book begins with a glimpse of the scene that introduced Longevity to the world and takes you right to the moment of truth where we must all decide what the meaning of "Life" really is.

It was a page turner from the minute I cracked the spine until the back cover made me stop reading. Readers everywhere will weigh the pros and cons of such options in life and will wonder if we are headed in the right direction.

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Knife of Never Letting Go - by Patrick Ness

What would you do if everyone near you knew what you were thinking at all times? If your plans and dreams, however flitting and temporary, were known to all around you? No privacy, no secrets, no silence - ever. In Prentisstown, a town composed only of men (and boys), thoughts are shared, though not by choice. An event is about to occur that will be the catalyst to a rebellion that will turn Todd Hewitt's world upside down and inside out.

Kept in the dark his whole life (for his own protection), Todd must learn the truth about the history of the town and of his own worth. In the events that unfold, every choice and every action contributes to the essence of his character as he defines what it means to become a man.

Patrick Ness introduces his reader to a unique style of writing by launching them into a world that makes them leave the comfort of their own and imagine what life would be like if no thought was private. Situations are thought-provoking, heart-wrenching and woven in with the human element that exists despite extreme adversity. I was riveted from the memorable and unique opening scene to the cliffhanging ending which left me wanting to start the second book of the trilogy immediately.

Welcome to my Blog

I am thrilled to welcome you to this blog where we can share loved books and writing. I look forward to receiving comments from you and perhaps launching a discussion or two on themes we find mutually interesting.