Blogger Template by Blogcrowds.

I know this isn’t a new book - in fact it's 21 years old - but it’s certainly newly in the public eye what with the upcoming movie (due to be released in theaters August 15), so I thought it was a good time to revisit it.

I first encountered The Giver when I had to teach it for a high school class in Japan. I had never heard of it before, and based on the cover I wasn't too optimistic (yes, I judge books by their covers). An old bearded guy in black and white and the silhouette of trees at twilight just wasn’t as inspiring as some of the other books in my to-read-to-teach pile. (Later, I loved finding out the story of the man on the cover which Lowry explains in her beautiful Newbery acceptance speech here.)

I'm so glad I decided to eventually read (and teach) this book, because The Giver is fantastic. 

Dystopia has become a very popular theme in YA lit recently, but Lowry did it in 1993, so I think she got the jump on the trend.

I was able to hear Lois Lowry speak last year at the Brooklyn Book Festival. She said that she didn't deliberately set out to tell a dystopian story, it just developed that way. I think this comes through in the book where the focus is really on memory and emotion and how they inform our individual personalities and give us wisdom.

"The worst part of holding the memories is not the pain. It's the loneliness of it. Memories need to be shared."
For those who aren't familiar with the book, it takes place in a society where sameness and conformity are valued and it is impolite to point out differences. One's role in life is assigned at the age of 12 by the Elders and is based on where the child's talents seemed to lie. Later in life, their spouses and even children will also be assigned to them.

The book follows a young boy named Jonas who is just turning 12.  At his assignment he is given the role of "Receiver" - a role which is only assigned to one person per generation. Jonas is not allowed to talk to anyone else about what his assignment entails, but he discovers that he must receive the collected memories of his society from "the Giver." For the first time he is exposed to things like weather, pain, joy, music, and the idea that there is history beyond what he has seen and experienced. He learns from the Giver that memories of the past were removed from society in order to remove people's desire to choose one thing over the other and to avoid negative emotions and feelings such as jealousy and pain.
The Giver alone holds these memories and uses them to advise the council in times when they are unsure how to act. As Jonas's eyes are gradually opened to all the joy and pain that nobody else in society can experience he starts to realize the wrongness of it all and finds himself ultimately faced with a difficult decision of what to do with his knowledge. I won't spoil it totally. If you haven't read it, go read it.

I loved Jonas's gradual discover of color and the fact that when he finally could see colors he could no longer un-see them or go back to the way he used to see things. It's a great picture of what memories do to us - once we experience something it stays with us forever and shapes how we view the world.

It was very interesting to hear my students' takes on this book. Japanese society highly values conformity. US society values independent action and looks down on conformity. In our class discussions it came out that my students didn't react as strongly against the idea of sameness as I had when I read the book. They saw many aspects of the society in The Giver as positive, though they all agreed that completely taking away freedom of choice was a negative thing. Japan is hardly a dystopia, so it was through provoking to hear  how for many sameness = safety and comfort. It made it easier to sympathize with a society which had started out simply trying to protect its citizens from what was negative and painful.

I am certainly looking forward to the spin the movie will put on it. I have read some interviews with Lois Lowry and she seems pretty chill about the changes, so hopefully even if it's not 100% accurate, it will still be an awesome movie.

The Monkey Island games:  an exemplary series featuring pirate shenanigans of all sorts, not to mention demonic talking skulls, voodoo ladies, and ships of the damned - as any respectable pirate tale ought.
I was so pleased to be able to read an advanced reader copy of Hook's Revenge which will be out in stores on September 16 this year (just in time for International Talk Like a Pirate Day on the 19th). I love adventure books – ever since reading books like King Solomon’s Mines, The Lost World and The Twenty One Balloons as a younger person I’ve had a desire to go off and discover mysterious lands and strange people (off to Zanzibar, to meet the Zanzibarbarians!).

I also love pirate stories. Treasure Island is one of my favorite books of all time. There really aren’t enough quality pirate books out there (though there are some excellent pirate computer games), so finding a fun, adventurous book which was also about pirates really made my day (thanks husband!)

 Anyway, on to the book. Hook’s Revenge follows the adventures of young Jocelyn Hook – daughter of the infamous Captain Hook (who she has never met). Jocelyn takes after her pirate father in that she causes chaos and destruction wherever she goes, despite being only twelve. In an attempt by her grandfather to civilize her, she is sent away to finishing school where Miss Eliza Crumb-Biddlecomb does all she can to whip her into shape. This goes as one might expect, with frustration and disastrous results for all. That is until Jocelyn is whisked off to Neverland after receiving a message from her recently dead father (composed before his death, of course. This isn’t that sort of book) setting her the task of taking revenge on the Neverland crocodile in whose jaws he met his demise.

I won’t spoil the plot, but it’s a great adventure with some very likable and some very dislikable characters all very well brought to life. The fact that Jocelyn does have moments where she fails or doesn't know what to do next makes her solid and someone you truly want to root for.

The storytelling moves at a good pace with lots of action and just the right amount of humor - perfect for both middle grade and older audiences alike. The narrator is one of the highlights of the book. He (?) is a rather cranky pirate who dislikes children and is only begrudgingly telling us the story because he’s getting older and the story ought to be told to someone. He isn’t ever-present, but he pops back in at regular intervals to remind us that we really are very annoying.

My only dislike of this book was the representation of Peter Pan, strangely enough. He is a very minor character, but he SO annoying. I would much have preferred that he not appear at all rather than have him be represented as a little dictator and such an ass. It is certainly a new take on a classic character, but I think it kind of ruins him for readers who might potentially go on to read Peter Pan for the first time. Of course, Peter was never completely likeable, even in his own book (“Oh the cleverness of me!”) but then again he was an archetype of boyhood, so who can blame him?

I also would have liked to have found that the hateful little girls at the finishing school eventually got their comeuppance, but perhaps that's something for the next book.

Altogether, I thoroughly enjoyed Hook's Revenge, but reading an advanced copy comes with the downside that I’ll have to wait even longer than everyone else for the second in the series.

For more about Heidi Schulz visit her piratey website. To pre-order Hook's Revenge visit Barnes and Noble, or order it to your local independent book store.

New York City has not been the same since terrorists attacked Times Square with a dirty bomb. Since the attack, the city has been in a downward spiral of violence and crime where only the rich are safe - behind heavily guarded doors. Both rich and poor have become addicted to a new type of drug – virtual reality simulations where they “tap in” to a whole other world, sometimes for days at a time.

This is the setting of Adam Sternbergh's novel, Shovel Ready, which immediately gripped me. The book is written in first person from the perspective of Spademan, a garbage man turned hired killer. Although the voice in which the novel is written annoyed me at first, I eventually found Spademan’s matter-of-fact descriptions and deliberately emotionless narration served to bring the bleak and hopeless world to more vivid life. I was compelled to read on as the world sprang to life in my imagination. I’m not sure if the setting was easier for me because I work in New York City, and thus personally connected with the references to the various locations, or if it was simply because any city turned to chaos by fear and apathy never seems too far fetched.

Spademan is a quintessential antihero; morally depraved, emotionally absent, not even driven by a desire for revenge for a past wrong (though it is hinted that he may develop that desire in the next book). He is not very likable... in fact, none of the characters in the book are likable, and they all do horrible things, yet still they are compelling. I was reminded of American Hustle  in that none of the characters were good guys, but I still wanted the worse ones to lose.

For all of Sternbergh's vivid world-building and engaging plot, the book had its flaws. I found the main issue to be the lack of character depth. A few of the main characters have back stories, the rest just exist in the story alone, but there is little to inform motives for anyone’s actions. Even Spademan can’t explain why he decides to get involved in the life of one of his targets (the decision that drives the plot). This would be fine if it was revisited and examined as his relationship with her was built, but it was never satisfactorily developed. And while history has proved that a character doesn't need motive to be a fantastically evil villain (look at Shakespeare’s Iago), the shallow motives for the antagonists’ actions really left me feeling like a lot was missing. Overall the last quarter of the book seemed rushed, and this was the section that had the most potential for really digging deeper (see what I did there?).

This book is not one I would normally have picked up to read. While I enjoy dystopias and post-apocalyptic settings, I tend to steer away from crime novels, so I am glad that it was on the Blogging for Books list and I decided to branch out. Despite the novel's drawbacks the plot was compelling and I am looking forward to Sternbergh’s next Spademan novel.

For more info on the book or to purchase it, visit the RandomHouse website.

*I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review.

I am back, and that is all, and I will endeavor to be a good blogger and not forget about my blog again.

I have just finished reading (listening to) The Man Upstairs, and Other Stories by P.G. Wodehouse. I won’t  review it other than to say that the stories were good in a classic Wodehouse way. If you don’t know what that way is, I recommend reading at least one Wodehouse in your life. The plots tend to be similar but that doesn't matter because the brilliance of Wodehouse is in his descriptions. He can turn a humorous phrase like no other.

But that’s not what I am reviewing, I am reviewing another book I recently finished – The Girl who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two by Catherynne M. Valente.

I have been a fan of Valente ever since my husband bought me The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (the titles are a mouthful) for Valentine’s Day in place of flowers because, well, books are made of paper, and paper comes from trees, so it’s really basically the same thing as flowers…. ?

The Fairyland books follow the adventures of a young girl, September, as she travels through fairyland finding a new adventure each time she visits. TGWSOFACTMIT (the abbreviation isn't any better, is it?) is the third in the series and just as with the other two does not disappoint in the area of fantastical landscapes, vibrant descriptions and creatures of all sorts. September’s character development is great to see – she does not remain the same girl we met in book 1 but continues to learn and develop and in this particular book, even start to become adult (oh no!).

One of the things that first attracted me to Valente’s writing is the way she almost poetically weaves in statements of truth – sometimes profound, and sometimes just very well put. I constantly find myself reading along, and suddenly stopping and going back to reread a section. I almost wish I had a notebook with me sometimes to write down some of these bits.

"It's saying no. That's your first hint that something's alive. It says no. That's how you know a baby is starting to turn into a person. They run around saying no all day, throwing their aliveness at everything to see what it'll stick to. You can't say no if you don't have desires and opinions and wants of your own. You wouldn't even want to. No is the heart of thinking."

I do feel that in book 3 some of the characters and landscapes are thrown in just because Valente liked the idea of them rather than because they were important to the plot. When more text is spent describing a character than on their actual involvement in the plot, things become a little unbalanced. I found myself more than once having to flip back because I couldn't remember how a scene ended or *why* they met the people made of paper, or how September ended up in a new place when I’d just got my head around the previous location. The Fairyland books are Alice in Wonderland-style adventures where the plot is moved along by each new location or character, but I felt that book three was a little too fragmented and may have been improved by a little more plot and a little less description.

All-in-all it was still a great read and I do look forward to the next book. I’m also currently reading Valente’s short story collection The Bread We Eat In Dreams and enjoying it very much.

You can also buy Wodehouse, but if you like listening, you can do that for free via LibriVox.

Newer Posts Older Posts Home