Showing posts with label Historical-Fiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Historical-Fiction. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Review: Middlesex

Middlesex cover

"Biology gives you a brain. Life turns it into a mind."
-Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex

Calliope Stephanides has an intricate and complex family history, traveling from Mount Olympus in Greece to Detroit during the prohibition. The key to Calliope's identity is hidden deep within their family history, a secret that leads to a genetic defect that causes Calliope to question her own identity. Told in alternating narratives between the past and the present, readers get the full scope of Calliope's family history, and a deeper understanding of her transformation into Cal.

This is a book that has been on my to-read list for a long time, mostly because I've always been interested in gender analysis, and this book does fascinating things with gender. While it took me a bit to get into the story, once I started to see how everything was connected I couldn't put it down. The story was intricate and detailed, the family history finally unfolding into everything in the very end.

Not only was Calliope's/Cal's story extremely fascinating, but Eugenides is able to accurately capture the various time periods as well. They're described in immense detail, immersing the reader completely in the time period and the story. This is one of those books that makes you keep thinking once it's finished, and it is a wonderfully crafted piece of literature.

4.5/5 stars

Monday, June 3, 2013

Wildthorn and Boy21

Wildthorn by Jane Eagland begins with Louisa Cosgrove, a 17-year-old girl living in 19th century England, arriving at Wildthorn Hall, where her world is completely turned around. She is told that her name is Lucy Childs, and that she is very sick. No matter how much Louisa tries to protest, the staff there believes that her ranting is because she is truly insane. However, Louisa knows the truth. Now she just has to figure out how to escape.

While this book is interesting, and presents an interesting look at a subject that isn't touched on very often In young adult literature, it just didn't keep my interest very well. While I think that the story line had potential, I found it to be fairly unorganized, and for this reason it lost my interest about halfway through. There was also something about Louisa that seemed off. For the most part, she was your typical 19th century rebel teenage girl, but the way she was written didn't make it seem very convincing to me. Since the story was told from her point of view, I thought more work could be done on the voice. If that fit better, I thought the story could have been more convincing. And would have made the story a little more captivating.

In Boy21, basketball has always been an escape for Finley. Living in Bellmont, a small run-down town run by drugs, violence, and the Irish mob, he doesn't have much going for him. He's always forced to take care of his disabled grandfather, and there isn't much time for him to enjoy life. On the other side, Russ just moved to Bellmont, his life upturned by tragedy. While he was once a basketball star, he will no longer pick up a basketball and will only answer to the name Boy21. In their senior year of high school, the two form an unlikely friendship. A friendship neither of them really knew they needed.

Picking up this book, I didn't really have high expectations, because it was a sports book about space. However, I was completely blown away. Once I started it, I couldn't put it down until I finished. Matthew Quick created a beautiful story with characters who were complex, believable, and characters that you really cared about by the end of the story. Plus, the story had twists and turns in it that I wasn't expecting. All in all, Boy21 basically had everything that would qualify it as a good book, and definitely one that I would highly recommend. Until next time, happy reading! :)

Monday, May 27, 2013

Postcards and Ghosts

Today was a day for reading, considering I finished two books. The weather wasn't very nice outside, and it was just a perfect day to stay inside, curled up with a good book or two.

Postcards From No Man's Land  by Aidan Chambers follows the story of Jacob Todd, a 17 year old boy who has traveled to Amsterdam to honor his grandfather, who passed away during World War II. However, he didn't realize that not only would he discover that there was more to his grandfather's story than he had previously believed (especially in the way of his caretaker, Geertrui), he also discovers a lot about himself, especially in the way of love and his sexuality. Told in alternating points of view between Geertrui and Jacob, Chambers spins a story that will keep readers engaged for the entire novel, always wondering what's going to happen next.

Once you get sucked into this novel, it's really difficult to put it down. Not only is Chambers an absolutely beautiful writer, he has spun a story that is unlike anything I have ever read, with characters who are intriguing, interesting, and always keep you guessing. Chambers also created such a beautiful and interesting picture of Amsterdam, which makes me want to go and visit all the more. I also wouldn't mind reading another one of his novels, if they are all as beautifully written as this one.

The Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson is the second book in the Shades of London series, which follows the story of a girl named Rory, who has moved to London from the United States to attend boarding school. However, while in London, she gains a unique ability that allows her to see ghosts. After the ordeal she went through in the first novel, Rory must now readjust back to her old life. But, with other murders happening around her school, it might be more difficult than she first thought.

This book I couldn't put down. I bought it today, started reading it, and finished it in about 2 and a half hours. And of course, Johnson ended with a cliff hanger, which means we will be left in suspense until the next one comes out, which is never fun. But well worth it. Johnson has created such a unique story, and paints such a beautiful picture of London, that I think a lot of people will have difficulty putting this book down. Not to mention, Rory is an awesome, strong, female main character that doesn't need a boy to complete here, which doesn't seem to happen often in young adult fiction. If you're interested, the first book in the series is The Name of the Star, and I would highly recommend reading it.

Until next time, happy reading! :)

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Multicultural Children's Literature

Multicultural children's literature is gaining more and more attention in our present society. While this is true, this field is still severely lacking when it's compared to the amount of literature that is available for young while children, especially young white males. I believe it's important not only for children to have their own life reflected in the books that they read, but to be able to use those books as windows to see what other cultures and lifestyles are like. Now, this isn't really my idea, as it can be cited in many different academic journals and such. But it's an idea that I've come to really believe in, especially after working so  much with children's literature with LGBTQ themes the last year. While parents think that sheltering their kids from everything that's out there is a good thing, children can handle more than their parents think they can. It's important to expose children to things, especially other cultures, at a young age because it will make them more accepting of these cultures when they grow up. If they aren't exposed to the culture, how are they supposed to react when interact with this culture?

This rant was inspired by the fact that we're on our multicultural literature unit in my children's literature class, and for this unit, we read The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis. The plot line is fairly simple in this book; it follows the Watsons, an African-American family who live in Flint, Michigan, as they prepare to go on a vacation to Birmingham, Alabama. Their family encounters are quite comical, and I think that children would really enjoy this book, most likely being able to relate to the protagonist, Kenny, who's 10 years old at the time. It also would be useful to teach about the civil rights movement, especially in elementary school, because the Watsons encounter somethings while their in Birmingham that could be useful to spark conversation in a classroom setting.

In class, we had been talking about the difference between culturally generic and culturally specific books. In culturally generic books, it doesn't really matter the race or culture of the main character, the things happening in them could happen to anyone. In culturally specific books, the race or culture is the center of the story, and they're usually specifically used to teach children about that specific culture. Both styles of books have their advantages and disadvantages. Watsons would probably be a culturally generic book for the most part, since what happens to the family in the majority of the book could happen to any family in the United States. Once they enter Birmingham, however, it turns into a culturally specific book, specifically reflecting what was happening racially during the 1960s. It could be used in a civil rights unit, and would be helpful in showing this complicated time period from a child's point of view. I think this is what makes this book so valuable. The children can relate to Kenny and his family for most of the book, and when they see what happens to them, they're probably shocked. They won't be able to believe that people would want to hurt this innocent family. And this would be the opportune time to teach about civil rights and race relations, or at least give an introduction. It would create a wonderful "teachable moment."

Next I will be reading Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley, which was the Printz award winner this year. Should be a good read!

Friday, December 30, 2011

A Different Spin on World War I

I finished Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld a few days ago, but I haven't had  much time to actually get on and write about it, with Christmas and all. But here we are! Behemoth is the sequel to Leviathan, and even though I was a bit worried about reading it so far apart from Leviathan, I found that I didn't have much trouble catching up on what happened in the first. While there wasn't exactly that much summary in the beginning, the events are loosely based on the events of WWI, and I think that helped. But the weapons used in these books are completely different.

In this World War, the battle is between the Clankers and the Darwinists. The Clankers use all sorts of machines to do their fighting and such, and the Darwinists use fabricated beasts to do the same. In Leviathan, Prince Alek's parents have just been assassinated (the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, sound familiar?) and he is in hiding from the people responsible. In come the Darwinists, on their ship the Leviathan. When they crash, it's up to Prince Alek and his allies to save them. The events continue in Behemoth, where we can definitely see the war escalating. This time, the Leviathan (the Darwinist ship) is on a mission to make sure the town Constanipole (I think I spelled that correctly...) doesn't fall to the Clanker side. But once they arrive there, they find out that they may be too late...

One interesting aspect of this story is that it's told in two points of view, Prince Alek and Deryn Sharp. Deryn is a midshipman on the Leviathan, with a major secret. She's actually a girl disguised as a boy, and she's constantly hoping that no one finds out, because it would mean death. Even though Westerfeld doesn't indicate in the chapter titles who's speaking, you can always tell when it's Deryn because everyone else calls her Dylan, but when she's speaking, she's referred to as Deryn in the text. This makes it easy to tell the two apart, which I appreciate. And getting the two different points of view, especially since the two are from two different sides of the war, really gives the reader a great perspective of what's going on in the war.

What I really like about these books are all the crazy things that Westerfeld comes up with. He's designed all these different creatures and machines that are absolutely amazing. And not only does he describe these creations, there are also drawings to accompany them, done by Keith Thompson. And these drawings are breathtakingly detailed. Since all these things that Westerfeld is describing are completely fabricated, it helps to see pictures of them. I really think that they add to the text. Without them, I very well would have been lost in all the details of the machines and creatures and forgotten to actually pay attention to the story. Which would be a disappointment, because it also is a great story.

That's all I have to say about that. The next book I'll be reading is Inheritance by Christopher Paolini. And since it's 860 pages, it may take me a little bit to read this one...

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Help's been a while since I wrote a post, for two main reasons. One, I've had a lot of homework and such to do in the past few weeks, so I haven't had much time to actually sit down and read. Two, I decided to participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), which, for those of you that don't know, means that I have to write a 50,000 word novel in a month.If you want more information on NaNoWriMo, feel free to click on the link. So that has taken up most of my time. But last night I finally finished The Help by Kathryn Stockett. And it was well worth it.

Set in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960s, The Help tells the story of three women, Aibileen, Minny, and Skeeter, who try to make Jackson a better place for African American maids. Aibileen and Minny are both African American maids that have worked for white families their whole lives, while Skeeter is a young woman who just returned to Jackson after attending college, with big dreams of becoming a writer. When Hilly Holbrook, the woman everyone in Jackson looks up to and the nemesis of the three main characters, starts the "Home Help Sanitation Initiative," a law requiring white families to have different bathrooms for their colored maids, Skeeter becomes angry. So, with Aibileen's help, she begins writing a book from the perspective of the colored maids in Jackson. The Help follows their journey in creating this book, showing all the challenges and road blocks they meet along the way.

The thing that I really liked about this book was how you could tell when the character telling the story shifted in the novel because each of their voices were so unique. Each character, Aibileen, Minny, and Skeeter, had a distinct style that I came to appreciate by the end of the novel. It was almost like I could hear them talking, like they were there telling me the story instead of me reading it from the book. It takes a really skilled writer to do that, and I think Kathryn Stockett really pulled it off well. She also did a good job depicting life in the South in the early 1960s. You could almost feel the tension between blacks and whites radiating from the novel, and you got a good sense of how people really thought back then, especially with the "Home Help Sanitation Initiative." Something like this may seem completely ridiculous to us today, but in the 1960s, when race was such a huge issue, it didn't seem as ridiculous, at least to the white people. I think Kathryn Stockett does a really good job show casing the fact that people did really think this way at some point, and some may even still think this way today. Maybe not with race so much any more, but I think it can be seen in how LGBTQ individuals are treated, especially in schools. People are uncomfortable around things that are different from their own lifestyle. And that can be seen well in the South in the 1960s. The white people were so afraid of the blacks that they wanted them to have their own bathrooms. The fact that people actually thought like this blows my mind.

Overall, The Help was definitely worth reading. It makes you think, it makes you laugh, it makes you cry, all great qualities for a book. And I've heard the movie is just as good. Let's hope so. I'm not sure what I'll be reading next, but Thanksgiving break is coming up soon, so hopefully I'll have some time to do some reading then. If not, I probably won't be writing again until winter break. So until then, happy reading!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Morality and Race

I know it's odd that I never read this book in high school, because most people do. It's a pretty standard piece of literature that's read it schools. Because I never did read it, I decided since I was an English major, I should probably read it at some point. So why not now? And I'm glad I did, it was a very good read. I wish I would have read it in high school, instead of some other books (cough, cough, The Chosen, cough, cough).

So what's To Kill a Mockingbird about? I figure most people know what it's about, but I'll summarize it anyway, in case it's too difficult for you to recall. It follows the story of Scout Finch, her brother Jem, and their father Atticus in the small southern town of Maycomb, Alabama. Atticus is called to defend Tom Robinson, a negro, in a very racially divided town. The trial forces the town to show it's ugly side, and Scout and Jem are caught up in events that they don't understand. Through the trial, Scout and Jem learn what it means to stand up for themselves, in a time where being different isn't necessarily a good thing.

Now that we're all kind of on the same page, we'll get down to business. Harper Lee was obviously trying to make a statement with this novel, especially when you consider the fact that it was published in the 1960s, when the Civil Rights movement was just getting rolling. Lee is obviously commenting on the fact that racism is morally wrong, and even children can see that. At least, that's what I got from the novel, among other things. Though I don't think that this was necessarily the most important aspect of the novel. More generally, I think Lee was exploring whether human beings are essentially good or essentially evil. The conclusion I come to, through the novel, is that everyone has good and bad aspects, some have more of some than the other. Scout can see this through her father, who understands this fact about people. Atticus understands that people have good and bad qualities, and he tries to make sure that his children understand this too. He constantly stresses that they see things from other people's shoes and not to judge them right away based on their actions. Atticus is the moral center of this novel, and it's from him that Scout is able to build her own moral center.

I have to admit, I didn't realize Scout was a girl at first. It took me a little bit, and I think it's probably because I wasn't paying that close of attention at the beginning. Lee might have done that on purpose, making Scout a kind of social outcast because she won't conform to the "normal" ways of women. I liked Scout for that, I liked the fact that she was different. She wasn't afraid to be who she was, and I found that very admirable. Right from the beginning, you can tell that Scout is this way because of the way Atticus has raised her. He encouraged her to be herself, which makes her a strong young girl who will eventually become a strong women. And we all know we could use more strong women in literature :)

Well I could probably go on about this book forever, so I will stop there. Though the themes in this novel remind me of the themes in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which I just read for my Intro to Literary Analysis class. Another excellent read, if you're looking for something that's funny and sad and has a good message. But next I will be reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson which I have heard very good things about. We'll see if my opinions match!

Monday, July 18, 2011

A Different Way to Tell a Story

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick is different in the fact that it is told in both words and pictures. Amazing pictures at that. Brian Selznick draws all the pictures in the book himself, and the drawings are absolutely fantastic. Now, this book doesn't come out until September (a perk of being in BBYA), but it is definitely something for you to look forward to. It may be a thick book, but it is a very, very quick read. I attribute that to the fact that it's told in mostly pictures.

The story follows two different deaf children from two different time periods. One was born deaf and one became deaf after being struck by lightning. Rose's (the child born deaf) story was told in the pictures and Ben's story was told in words. It made it easy to tell who was talking and who wasn't, and I quite enjoyed it. I also thought how Brian Selznick intertwined their two stories was very clever. After reading it, you realize that it was kind of obvious from the beginning, but you don't realize that the first time through. It is a fantastic piece of writing....and drawing.

The drawings are what really put this book over the edge, at least in my opinion. Here's one example of a fantastic drawing from Wonderstruck:
This book is absolutely filled with these drawings, and they're all just as amazing as the others. I loved seeing all the details in the pictures, Brian Selznick really put a lot of effort into each and every picture. This is what I loved about his other book as well, The Invention of Hugo Cabret. The pictures in that novel are absolutely amazing as well. I wish that I could draw nearly as well as him. It takes a lot of practice to get that good, and I admire him for telling a story through these pictures. The Invention of Hugo Cabret is also being made into a movie, I saw a preview for it before the Harry Potter movie. It's called Hugo and it looks like a pretty good movie. At least from the preview...I thought that about Eragon and look how that movie turned out.

Well I guess that's all I have to say about Wonderstruck. What will I be reading next? Sidekicks by Jack D. Ferraiolo.

Thursday, June 9, 2011


So instead of reading the sequel to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, I read the book Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford. I read it for a book club, and it was an enjoyable read. Probably something that I wouldn't generally pick up to read, but something that I don't regret reading. It's also on a topic that I don't know much about (more on that in a minute), probably because it's something that's just grazed over in schools because it's an embarrassing part of United States history. But more on that later too. For now, I bet you're dying to know what this book is about!

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is about a Chinese man, Henry, whose wife has just recently passed away. He walks by the Panama Hotel, which was part of Japantown when he was growing up in Seattle, and finds that they have found the belongings of Japanese families that were sent to internment camps during WWII. This sends Henry on a journey, one he hadn't planned on. The story alternates between the present and the past, giving a beautiful story between Henry and a Japanese girl he falls in love with, Keiko. Their story is a sad one, giving that Henry's parents were very against the Japanese, as was the rest of the United States at the time (for obvious reasons). But it is a happy one at the same time, and one that I very much enjoyed reading.

What I find interesting is, thinking about my own education, when we get to this part of history in our history classes, Japanese internment camps are glazed over. They are mentioned, and then we move onto the next thing. I think this is because as a country, we are ashamed of how we treated the Japanese, as we very well should be. We were basically treating them like the Nazis were treated the Jewish people...though the Japanese had much better conditions. Treating people a certain way just because of what they look like or who they are isn't right, and it's something that's happened a lot in history and is still happening today. People like to turn a blind eye to it, but it is still happening. I think one of the biggest examples is the treatment of LGBTQ individuals. While these particular people have come a long way, they still have quite a ways to go. This is something that I learned when I was working on my research project last semester (it was about LGBTQ issues in the elementary classroom, and I will be continuing that research next semester with my partner Jaime Coon). It will take a long time for people to become accepting of everyone, and I'm not entirely convinced that it will ever happen. There will still be the people that will be stuck in their old beliefs, unwilling to change. Which is sad. Everyone has the right to be treated equally (especially here) and if they can't see that, that's even sadder.

Well that's a rant I hadn't expected to write...but it does apply to the book, in a way. The Japanese internment camps show how far we've come in accepting others, but the LGBTQ individuals show that we have an even farther way to go. I hope someday people will see that.

Oh, I also think that the title of this book was very fitting. I found that this book was very bittersweet...there were parts that almost made me cry (I don't cry often in books) and parts that made me very, very joyful. It's a good representation of life. In life, there are moments that will make you cry, and moments that will make you burst with joy. and those are the moments worth living for.

What will I be reading next? Water for Elephants  by Sara Gruen. This one is for another book club as well :)