Archive | July, 2015

I Could Teach A History / English Lit Class From Just This Book

30 Jul

US_cover_of_Go_Set_a_WatchmanGo Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers, New York, NY
Publication Date: July 2015

I have not read To Kill A Mockingbird in over thirty years.  I read it once and liked it and moved on.  And, in anticipation of Harper Lee’s sequel, I decided not to reread but to see how the new book would stand on its own.  I did not order it in advance but got a library copy.  I did however read many, many reviews and comments.  Honestly, unless you live under a rock, you couldn’t avoid it.

The book had me from the line “It’s like Fenimore Cooper writin’ the  Waverly Novels.” (pg. 22 large print edition).  I GOT IT.  And then I thought how would I explain it to my middle school students.  Would my middle school teachers even get all of the references?  No.  I pulled out my phone and did internet searches on so many things that I either did not know or thought I recognized.  I had no idea what “Childe Roland” meant but I was determined to find out.  (Robert Browning poem “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came”.)  When Scout, now known as Jean Louise, argues with her father, do you know your Constitutional amendments to keep up?

The story is simple, Jean Louise Finch comes home to Maycomb, Alabama for her annual two week visit.  She sets the stage explaining the community, the expectations of the society and her boyfriend, and then crashes into a horrible understanding of her father.  I’ve read many criticisms on Atticus being a racist.  For me, it was less about his reality than the reaction of Jean Louise.

“…she may have discovered that all her life she had been with a visual defect which had gone unnoticed and neglected by herself and by those closest to her: she was born color blind.”  (pg. 147 large edition)

I still try to imagine Ms. Lee writing this book.  Then being told to write one about Scout’s childhood and doing that.  I will reread To Kill a Mockingbird now.  And, I’ll do it knowing that the author already knew Atticus Finch was a racist.

Recommended:  Grades 7 & up
By the way, I will be buying my own copy now.  I’ve still got references to look up.


Snarky AI Steals the Show

26 Jul

  The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow
Published by Margaret K. McElderry Books, New York, NY
Publication Date: September 2015

It’s 400+ years in the future and an AI rules the world.  The AI is all about controlling war and does so by taking the children of the world leaders as hostages.  It guarantees compliance – if a world ruler declares war, then the Child of Peace, their own flesh and blood, is killed.  It’s a fairly strong incentive. Not perfect but it tends to work.  Usually.

Greta Gustafsen Stuart, Duchess of Halifax and Crown Princess of the Pan Polar Confederacy had been a hostage since she was 5.  When her mother became Queen, Greta became a Child of Peace, raised on a special farm, learning the history of war and how to do the manual labor of a farm with the other children hostages.

At the beginning, Greta lives with her constant fear that her mother will declare war and she will die.  Death comes, but goes to another boy. Then the replacement hostage arrives.  And slowly, slowly, Greta begins to wake from her daily studies and notice the things around her.  She notices that some children are tortured. And she notices love.

The book starts slow. But as the society is described, it starts to take off.  The AI is not the computer sounding master but sounds annoyingly human with vast, unlimited power.  In fact, he is a perfect foil for Greta, who is a perfect Princess.  Once things take off, they do so at a rapid rate with more surprising switches then you can possibly anticipate.  Yes, the set up is for a sequel and yes, I wish to read it now.

Also, the book casually deals with homosexual love, not affronting, but naturally.  In fact, it’s reasonable to say it deals with teenage love. And love is what helps us survive.

Recommended: Grades 8 & up

E-Reading vs. Audio Books: Make Me

18 Jul

  Make Me by Lee Child
Book 20 in the Series
Published by Delacorte Press
Publication Release: September 8, 2015

Thanks to the folks at NetGalley, I had an opportunity to read the 20th book in the Jack Reacher series, Make Me. What is particularly cool about this opportunity is that I have never read a Jack Reacher book.  Instead, I listen to them.

Several years ago when I switched jobs, I started commuting about 45 min. one way.  I decided to seriously try audio books to make the trip more enjoyable.  I read a great deal of young adult books and made the second decision that I would start with an adult mystery that I had never read.  The Killing Floor is the first of the Jack Reacher series by Lee Child.  The voice of Dick Hill brings Reacher to life and believe me, Reacher is larger than life.  Reacher is a man who spent most of his life in the military, having been born there.  He is big, strong and very, very smart.  He has a perfect memory and perfect discipline.

In Make Me, Reacher stops in another small town (Mother’s Rest) to learn its name.  Curiosity and the freedom to have nothing but time on his hands lets him meet a woman and take on the mystery of the her missing partner.  Really, there’s nothing here but it just doesn’t add up.  In this book, Reacher travels by plane more than he ever has.  He collects a gun, loses the gun to travel, gets another, etc.  The ex-FBI woman, Michelle Chang, is fairly competetant too.  But it’s Reacher’s magic of putting pieces together that lead them back to the town of Mother’s Rest.

When I get the audio book, it takes me 2 1/2  weeks to listen to the whole thing.  I don’t listen on every drive and only during the commute, but listening takes a long time.  Still I associate the voice of Dick Hill with Jack Reacher’s voice and enjoy it tremendously.  When I’m reading, it only takes a fraction of the time.  I read the book on my iPad in about 3 hours.  Strangely, I didn’t “hear” Jack Reacher’s voice until we got to the repeating line in the book.  Every Reacher novel has one.  Once, the line was “And Reacher said nothing.”  It must have been repeated 50 times in that story.  It was an intimidating tack.  This also has a repeating line and it’s a little different than usual “..the Moynahan who had gotten hit in the head and his gun taken.”  Since Reacher takes guns all the time, I’m not sure why this line matters so much.

The other oddity in the story is when Reacher decides to get some guns and cash.  Rather than explain that he wants guns and cash, or explain to his partner, Ms. Chang, what he is doing, he just does it with her help.  And she does all the right things.  I feel like I missed a step here.  How does she know just what to do? Being ex-FBI doesn’t mean you collect money Reacher’s way.  It’s odd, like Mr. Child forgot to fill in some details.

Reacher doesn’t forget anything and he follows the mystery to its destructive ending.  The series reigns on because Reacher is a man who understands people and the world around him.  He’s honorable.  And he’s more than willing to act as an Avenging Angel.

I don’t read every word when I’m reading but I hear every word in the audio book.  I enjoyed the book but I wonder if I’ll enjoy the audio book more.  I’ll find out when it becomes available.

Recommended: Adults.

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

9 Jul

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

Published: June, 2015
Publisher: Crown Publishing, New York

Carolyn was an American once, before becoming a Librarian.  The twelve children each learn one of the twelve catalogs that make up the Library and become experts in their areas.   Now Father is missing, the Library is unaccessible.
The battle is terrible.  But the prize is control of the universe.  Is Carolyn up to the task?  Is anyone?

Random House was kind enough to send me an ARC of this book and unfortunately it arrived as school was ending and it got tossed on the TBR shelf.  But my college-aged daughter was looking for something different to read and snatched it off the shelf.  She told me later that she doesn’t like YA novels.  (This isn’t one.)  She’s not really into dark fantasy. (Dark, for sure!)  But this book was completely weird and compellingly good.  (She’s right.)

This is Scott Hawkins’ first book.  I can’t imagine there won’t be many more.  His imagination is weird, compelling, and twisted.  Every time I thought I had a handle on what was going on, I was wrong.  What if the gods were really that capricious?  We all need the coal of our heart to keep us human.

Recommended: Grades 11 & up, Adult.

Firefight by Brandon Sanderson

3 Jul

Cover_of_Brandon_Sanderson's_book_-Firefight-Firefight by Brandon Sanderson

Publisher: Delacorte Press
Copyright: 2015

Book Two of The Reckoners series

The first book in this series is Steelheart, a heroic adventure in a world where Calamity has come and given super powers to some ordinary citizens.  And those ordinary citizens become Epics.  The Epics take over cities, kill thousands of people and become rulers of their own areas.  Chicago is gone and Newcago has risen.  In such a world, a group of Reckoners appear.  These are the every day people without talents who fight the Epics.  If it sounds straightforward, then you haven’t been reading Brandon Sanderson lately.  Not all Epics are evil and not all Reckoners are ordinary.  The first book is highly recommended.  (Steelheart is a Georgia Peach Book Honors Winner 2014-15.)

In Firefight, David goes with the Prof to what used to be called Manhattan.  David misses Megan, known as the Epic Firefight.  She was an Epic, infiltrating the Prof’s group of Reckoners.  Is she evil, trying to infiltrate and destroy the Reckoners?  Or something else?  Whatever else she is, Megan is in the city too.   David has shown he can kill Epics in cold-blood.  But at the same time, he starts to question what he knows of Epics, their weaknesses, and their loyalties.  And just what is Calamity? A new star on the horizon or something different?   In the submerged city of Babylon Restored, David faces his fears of water.  But what will happen to the city when he learns the truth about the Epic ruler Regalia?

Since I normally assume that book two in a trilogy is a boring, data-filled book, I did not rush this to the top of my To Be Read shelf.  But I found time to start the book and could not put it down.  I could not put it down.  The bummer is that I have to wait til 2016 for the next book.

Recommended: Grades 7 & up