Monday, August 21, 2017

Orphan Train

Author: Christina Baker Kline
Pages: 273
Rating: PG-13 at LEAST. The F-word occured about 10 times, on one occasion a couple is making out and the boy touches the girl's breasts under her shirt (the makeout session is not the real point of the scene, there's dialogue that is totally unrelated) and one character is sexually assaulted. The book is not FILLED with inappropriate conduct, but I did want to mention that those scenes are in there. Other than what I mentioned, it's really quite clean overall. Interestingly enough, there is another version of this book "Orphan Train Girl" that was adapted for a younger audience.

Summary:Between 1854 and 1929, so-called orphan trains ran regularly from the cities of the East Coast to the farmlands of the Midwest, carrying thousands of abandoned children whose fates would be determined by pure luck. Would they be adopted by a kind and loving family, or would they face a childhood and adolescence of hard labor and servitude? As a young Irish immigrant, Vivian Daly was one such child, sent by rail from New York City to an uncertain future a world away. Returning east later in life, Vivian leads a quiet, peaceful existence on the coast of Maine, the memories of her upbringing rendered a hazy blur. But in her attic, hidden in trunks, are vestiges of a turbulent past. Seventeen-year-old Molly Ayer knows that a community-service position helping an elderly widow clean out her attic is the only thing keeping her out of juvenile hall. But as Molly helps Vivian sort through her keepsakes and possessions, she discovers that she and Vivian aren’t as different as they appear. A Penobscot Indian who has spent her youth in and out of foster homes, Molly is also an outsider being raised by strangers, and she, too, has unanswered questions about the past. Moving between contemporary Maine and Depression-era Minnesota, Orphan Train is a powerful tale of upheaval and resilience, second chances, and unexpected friendship.

My Thoughts: I love historical fiction. Especially when the book is about a part of history that I'm unfamiliar with. I loved that this book connected the experiences of a girl who rode one of the orphan trains with a modern day story of a girl who had been in and out of foster homes most of her life. The stories were both so easy to connect with, and all the choices that each girl makes are so clear and easy to understand. I feel like I do this a lot lately, but I don't know what else to say about this book without giving too much away. Super interesting, worth the read. =)

Friday, August 4, 2017

Ender's Game

Author: Orson Scott Card
Pages: 368
Rating: PG, some mild language, some violence.

Summary:
In order to develop a secure defense against a hostile alien race's next attack, government agencies breed child geniuses and train them as soldiers. A brilliant young boy, Andrew "Ender" Wiggin lives with his kind but distant parents, his sadistic brother Peter, and the person he loves more than anyone else, his sister Valentine. Peter and Valentine were candidates for the soldier-training program but didn't make the cut--young Ender is the Wiggin drafted to the orbiting Battle School for rigorous military training.

Ender's skills make him a leader in school and respected in the Battle Room, where children play at mock battles in zero gravity. Yet growing up in an artificial community of young soldiers, Ender suffers greatly from isolation, rivalry from his peers, pressure from the adult teachers, and an unsettling fear of the alien invaders. His psychological battles include loneliness, fear that he is becoming like the cruel brother he remembers, and fanning the flames of devotion to his beloved sister.

Is Ender the general Earth needs? But Ender is not the only result of the genetic experiments. The war with the Buggers has been raging for a hundred years, and the quest for the perfect general has been underway for almost as long. Ender's two older siblings are every bit as unusual as he is, but in very different ways. Between the three of them lie the abilities to remake a world. If the world survives, that is.

My Thoughts: I have NOT seen the movie, but I know they changed it quite a bit. This is just my review of the book. I really enjoyed reading it. I got sucked in right away and wanted to know what was happening next and how everything connected. The only thing that was difficult for me was that Ender is supposed to be 6 at the beginning, and although he does age throughout the book, for most of it, he's still under the age of 12. He is supposed to be a child genius, but I still struggled imagining him and his companions that young. I mainly imagined teenagers. I guess just because child warfare is so difficult to imagine.

Since I feel like I'm behind the 8-ball in reading this book, I don't know what else to say about it, only that it was original and different, and I think the argument was there for allowing children to be children, no matter how brilliant they may be. 

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Continuous Conversion

Author: Brad Wilcox
Pages: 216
Rating: Awesome - in all seriousness, I feel it's odd to give a faith based book a movie type rating, so I'm not going to.

Summary: (From the Author)
I wrote this book because I know too many people who are giving up! One discouraged friend said, I can't do this Mormon thing. I've tried, and the expectations are just way too high. ... I know returned missionaries who spent their entire missions teaching about the Atonement, but now they have made some mistakes and feel like the Atonement won't work for them. I know people who have gone to the temple to be sealed and then never returned. I know others who are feeling burned out in their callings. Too many Latter-day Saints feel like they will never measure up.

I wanted to write something that will provide hope and motivation next time we or those we love are tempted to toss in the towel. I wanted to write something that would remind people why we do what we do and that it's worth it--not because of all we are earning, but because of all we are learning. Instead of just going through the motions, I wanted people to read this book and once again feel the emotions of discipleship. That's what they are missing. Whether the challenge is getting more out of the temple endowment or dealing with callings or juggling the many aspects of our lives and feeling like we are dropping too many balls, I wanted to provide a shot in the arm.

I started writing The Continuous Atonement when I was serving as the bishop of a young single adult ward.... I realized that there was an aspect of the Atonement they didn't get. They knew about how the Atonement could cleanse and console us, but they didn't grasp how it can transform us and how Christ offers us His enabling power however long that transformation process takes--even continuously. This book picks up that same theme and answers the question, How?;How do I apply the Atonement and feel it's transforming power on a continuous basis?; True conversion is not a onetime event, but a process that takes time. Most people accept that in theory, but we still beat ourselves up when we fall short. My message is; Be patient. You are doing better than you realize. Hang in there! We are not paying our way into heaven. We're practicing for it!

My Thoughts: I LOVED this book. Seriously, now that I've finished it I actually intend to read the entire thing again, immediately! But this time, writing down thoughts and impressions I have. It was really that good. Our perspectives really need a change sometimes. I loved the chapter that talks about callings in the church - it's not a ladder that we climb, it's more of a train track that we just move around on. When you go from being Primary President to nursery leader, it's not a "step down" because callings are not placed on a ladder! It's just a move to a different place, a different opportunity for growth and development. It's just a new place on the train track.

I also appreciated the final chapter that talks about how difficult it can be to juggle all of our responsibilities, commitments, and service opportunities. We are constantly being told to simplify, prioritize, and give more attention to the most important things. But even when we've cut unnecessary things out of our lives, it can still feel overwhelming. Wilcox suggests that we make our relationship with Christ our number one priority, and then after that, the Spirit will help us know what to put second. And what comes second will change depending on the day, the hour, even the minute. Family history work may be something I need to prioritize this week, but next week another matter may take precedence, and that's ok! As long as we are letting the spirit dictate what we spend our time on, it will all work out and we should not feel any guilt for the things that we did not do.

Anyway, this book is highly recommended!

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Inner Game of Music

Author: Barry Green with W. Timothy Gallwey
Pages: 221
Rating: Non-fiction - G

Summary:
The Inner Game of Music is that which takes place in the mind, played against such elusive opponents as nervousness, self-doubt, and fear of failure. Using the same principles of “natural learning” Timothy Gallwey developed so successfully for tennis, golf and skiing and applying them to his own field, noted musician Barry Green shows how to acknowledge and overcome these internal obstacles in order to bring a new quality to the experience and learning of music. And for those who don’t play an instrument but who feel their appreciation of music will be enhanced if they understand more about the process of playing, this book is ideal.

In precise, easy to understand language, Green and Gallwey explain how natural skills can be nurtured and enhanced, and through a series of special exercises they demonstrate the ways in which musicians can achieve exact intonation, artistic phrasing, and improved technique.

There are also chapters on ensemble playing, improvisation, composition and creativity. All of these along with listening skills – an essential part of the Inner Game – are discussed throughout.
A methodology with a proven track record, The Inner Game of Music will be invaluable to anyone seriously interested in music, whether professional or amateur, composer, performer, or simply an appreciative listener.

My Thoughts: I found this book to be fascinating, both as a musician and a music teacher. It's been around for about 30 years so as I was reading it, I recognized several of the ideas and suggestions as things I've heard before in music lessons and ensembles, which was awesome! Reading this book also helped me realize WHY I hated my flute teacher so much. I started with him, then went to several other teachers, and when my mom sent me back to him, I bawled for like an hour. The reason? He was no fun at ALL! I didn't enjoy my lessons, I didn't understand what was wrong with how I played something, only that he would make me play it again and again until I "got it right" even though I still never could tell the difference. This book reminds us that first and foremost, music should be enjoyable, and there are lots of things you can do to make it more fun. Also, teaching works best when the student is led to their own discoveries, instead of being told "Do this, do that, that was wrong, that was right."

I particularly enjoyed the way the book encourages you to let feeling come into your music, to kind of let go and let your body take over, shove your mind to the side. I definitely need improvement in that area. There were so many awesome ideas on how to overcome nervousness, difficult musical challenges, etc. There's too much to even summarize!

There is one quote I really loved. In a chapter on improving the quality of musical experience, the author discusses the difficult of getting stuck in a rehearsal that is not challenging you. This has happened to most of us at one time or another. Here's what he said "I can always choose to find challenge in what would otherwise seem boring circumstances." For example, if your part is not interesting, memorize it, listen more carefully to the other parts and how yours fits in, etc. 

If you are a musician or music teacher, I highly recommend picking up this book and giving it a glance-through. You may learn something!

Monday, May 22, 2017

Moloka'i

Author: Alan Brennert
Pages: 384
Rating: PG-13 (There is no foul language, but there is some sex. The descriptions, however, are very short and sweet, usually only lasting a few sentences.)

Summary:
This richly imagined novel, set in Hawai'i more than a century ago, is an extraordinary epic of a little-known time and place---and a deeply moving testament to the resiliency of the human spirit.
Rachel Kalama, a spirited seven-year-old Hawaiian girl, dreams of visiting far-off lands like her father, a merchant seaman. Then one day a rose-colored mark appears on her skin, and those dreams are stolen from her. Taken from her home and family, Rachel is sent to Kalaupapa, the quarantined leprosy settlement on the island of Moloka'i. Here her life is supposed to end---but instead she discovers it is only just beginning.

My Thoughts: I thoroughly enjoyed this book. A good historical fiction novel is written in such a way that you forget the characters aren't actually real people, and this book certainly fit the bill.I just love that you can imagine that someone just like Rachel really did exist and a lot of those same things probably happened to someone. The book basically covers Rachel's entire life. I feel like I can't accurately describe it without giving too much away. All I guess I can say is that there really was a leprosy colony on the island of Moloka'i during the late 19th century and into the 20th. I was fascinated to learn about it and also a little of the history of Hawaii and their relationship with the US as well. I found Rachel's life to be an amazing reflection of the thought "Bloom where you're planted" and after I read the book I did a bit of research about Kalaupapa and found that the people there truly had a spirit of kindness and family. In their exile, they made a paradise. This book is definitely worth reading at least once in your life.

Monday, May 1, 2017

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World

Author: Shannon and Dean Hale
Pages:  324
Rating: PG - there's no language but there is some violence, mostly against robots, and two baby kidnappings.

Summary:
WHO RUNS THE WORLD? SQUIRRELS! Fourteen-year-old Doreen Green moved from sunny California to the suburbs of New Jersey. She must start at a new school, make new friends, and continue to hide her tail. Yep, Doreen has the powers of . . . a squirrel! After failing at several attempts to find her new BFF, Doreen feels lonely and trapped, liked a caged animal. Then one day Doreen uses her extraordinary powers to stop a group of troublemakers from causing mischief in the neighborhood, and her whole life changes. Everyone at school is talking about it! Doreen contemplates becoming a full-fledged Super Hero. And thus, Squirrel Girl is born! She saves cats from trees, keeps the sidewalks clean, and dissuades vandalism. All is well until a real-life Super Villain steps out of the shadows and declares Squirrel Girl his archenemy. Can Doreen balance being a teenager and a Super Hero? Or will she go . . . NUTS?

My Thoughts: This book is geared toward late elementary/early middle schoolers, but it was sure a fun little read. Doreen is hilarious - she not only has squirrel powers, but she's hyperactive and thinks/speaks a mile a minute, like I imagine squirrels do. If you like squirrels, you'll enjoy this book immensely, that's all I'm saying! It's so random - you wouldn't think squirrel powers would be the base of a super hero, but here ya go! One of my favorite parts is when someone says "squirrel-proof bird feeder" and all the squirrels just bust up laughing cuz that's one of their favorite jokes. Ha!

The one thing I had an issue with in this book is when squirrel girl saves a baby from a car that's been stolen. The way that whole scene is written, Squirrel Girl is playing peek-a-boo with the baby (about 6 months old) through the front windshield which makes no sense because everyone knows a baby that little shouldn't be facing forward. But that's just me being annoyed about a technicality.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Room



Author:Emma Donoghue
Pages: 321
Rating: PG (although the subject matter is quite mature, since it is told through Jack's eyes, there's an innocence to it. There is no language, and the only mentions of sex are when Jack tells you he counts the bed squeaks when Old Nick comes in.)

Summary: To five-year-old-Jack, Room is the world. . . . It's where he was born, it's where he and his Ma eat and sleep and play and learn. At night, his Ma shuts him safely in the wardrobe, where he is meant to be asleep when Old Nick visits.

Room is home to Jack, but to Ma it's the prison where she has been held for seven years. Through her fierce love for her son, she has created a life for him in this eleven-by-eleven-foot space. But with Jack's curiosity building alongside her own desperation, she knows that Room cannot contain either much longer.

Room is a tale at once shocking, riveting, exhilarating--a story of unconquerable love in harrowing circumstances, and of the diamond-hard bond between a mother and her child.

My Thoughts: I found this book to be completely riveting. I read it in 2 days! I think the fact that this book is written from Jack's perspective is genius. It manages to soften the entire thing so a scaredy cat person like me can read it without getting nightmares.

So the book begins with Jack just describing what life is like in Room. He and Ma have a very close relationship - they usually sleep together in the bed, and although he is 5 years old, Jack is still breastfeeding. Later in the book Ma explains that there was just really no reason to stop, which makes sense. Although they do have a TV in Room, Ma tries hard to make sure that Jack doesn't watch too much of it. She makes up a million other activities for them to do together to keep his brain working and his body active.

Jack believes that Room is the only place that exists. He knows that Old Nick comes from outside, but he has no concept of what outside is like. He thinks that everything he sees on TV is just made up. Other people don't exist, animals aren't real, etc.

Eventually Ma decides it's time to escape. The second half of the book deals with their adjustment to the outside world. It is just so fascinating and interesting. I highly recommend this book!
It was so interesting to me how Jack and Ma react differently to being on the outside. Everyone seems to expect Jack to be happy and excited, but he just wants to go back to Room because it's all he knows. For him it wasn't a harrowing nightmare, it was just life, and he was happy.

 I also love Jack's observation towards the end of the book that a lot of the parents don't seem to like their children. They take a picture when they do something cute but most of the time they're more interested in their friends or their phones. How true is that?

Friday, March 10, 2017

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics

Author: Daniel James Brown
Pages: 370
Rating: G - no language or sex.

Summary:
It was an unlikely quest from the start. With a team composed of the sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers, the University of Washington’s eight-oar crew team was never expected to defeat the elite teams of the East Coast and Great Britain, yet they did, going on to shock the world by defeating the German team rowing for Adolf Hitler. The emotional heart of the tale lies with Joe Rantz, a teenager without family or prospects, who rows not only to regain his shattered self-regard but also to find a real place for himself in the world. Drawing on the boys’ own journals and vivid memories of a once-in-a-lifetime shared dream, Brown has created an unforgettable portrait of an era, a celebration of a remarkable achievement, and a chronicle of one extraordinary young man’s personal quest.

My Thoughts: I have to be honest, I think I would have enjoyed this a lot more if I actually liked rowing as a sport. That being said, this book is written in a way that by the end of it, you totally DO care about rowing! Not that I would probably watch it on purpose but I definitely cared about these boys from Washington and how things were going for them. I loved that this book mainly focuses on Joe Rantz, and the difficulties he had to go through growing up, and how that translated into his rowing success. I think it's amazing to read books like these because Americans today mostly don't have that stamina. They aren't willing to work so hard. There was a lot of background history in the book too on the Depression and what was going on in Germany at the time. I find history to be very interesting, so I found this book fascinating because of the history aspect, and I was never bored. It's a true underdog story too, so that's always fun. By the time the boys got to their gold medal race, even though as a reader you already know the outcome, you find yourself wondering how in the world they manage to pull this off? It seems highly unlikely given the circumstances they boys find themselves in by race time. Give this one a read. It's educational, interesting, and inspiring.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Author: J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, Jack Thorne
Pages: 308
Rating: PG

Summary:
It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children.
While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places."

My Thoughts: I'm a huge Harry Potter fan, and it took me entirely too long to get around to reading this. But I'm glad I finally picked it up. I thought it was actually pretty good. I'm not a huge fan of reading plays, since plays are meant to be watched, not read, so you don't really get the same thing out of it when you just read it. I definitely think I would have enjoyed it more if I was actually watching it. I felt like some of it was kind of unrealistic and far-fetched, but I was still entertained and wanted to continue reading. As an HP fan, I was excited to read more about that world and the familiar characters I love so much. In case you haven't read it yet, this book centers around Harry's son Albus, who gets sorted into Slytherin house and becomes best friends with Draco Malfoy's son, Scorpius. Desperate to prove himself to the world, Albus decides to use a stolen time turner to go back in time and prevent the death of Cedric Diggory. The results are disastrous. If you enjoy a good time-traveling story, you'll like this play. If it were to ever come to town, I'd probably want to go see it.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Series: The Tapestry

Author: Henry H. Neff
Rating: PG - some violent moments and some scary moments

 Book 1 - The Hound of Rowan - 414 pages: Max McDaniels lives a quiet life in the suburbs of Chicago until the day he stumbles upon a mysterious Celtic tapestry. Many strange people are interested in Max and his tapestry, and his discovery will lead him to Rowan Academy, a secret school where great things await him.

But dark things are waiting, too. When Max learns that priceless artworks and other gifted children are disappearing from around the globe, he finds himself in the crossfire of an ancient struggle between good and evil.

Book 2 - The Second Siege - 476 pages: In this second book of the series, grave forces are converging to seize control of the Book of Thoth, a hidden artifact whose pages hold the key to creating—or unraveling—the very threads of existence. Max McDaniels and David Menlo embark on a quest to protect the book from the demon Astaroth, who would exploit its secrets with dire consequence. And with Astaroth free after centuries of imprisonment, the world outside Rowan’s gates has already become hostile.

Far from home, cut off behind enemy lines, Max and his allies must journey across Europe, descend into the fabled Frankfurt Workshop, brave the tangled corners of the Black Forest . . . and cross beyond the veils of our very world.

Book 3 - The Fiend and the Forge
Rowan has lost the war, and while the Academy works to rebuild, outside its protected walls everything has changed. Astaroth, using the Book of Thoth, has created a world where demons rule, chaos reigns, and humans toil like slaves . . . and worse.

Outraged by Rowan's seeming complacency with the new order and reeling from personal tragedy, Max McDaniels sets out on his own for escape, for information, and for revenge.

In his travels, he will be forced to become many things: prisoner, gladiator, assassin. But can he become the one thing mankind needs most—a hero?

Book 4 - The Maelstrom:  The world is at the brink of ruin . . . or is it salvation? Astaroth has been weakened, and the demon Prusias is taking full advantage of the situation to create an empire of his own. His formidable armies are on the move, and Rowan is in their sights.

Rowan must rely on Max McDaniels and David Menlo and hope that their combined powers can stop Prusias's war machine before it's too late.

But even as perils loom, danger stalks their every move. Someone has marked Max for death and no one is above suspicion. Should the assassins succeed, Rowan's fate may depend on little Mina whose abilities are prodigious but largely untested.

And where is Astaroth? Has he fled this world or is he biding his time, awaiting his next opportunity?

Book 5 - The Red Winter: Rowan has won a battle, but not the war. With proper allies, Rowan’s armies could storm the demon stronghold, capture its ruler, and end the reign of demonkind. But while nations clash, a greater struggle lies elsewhere. In his desperate pursuit of Astaroth, Elias Bram scours the world for clues to the fiend’s true origins, identity, and purpose. His horrifying discoveries hint that not only is humanity at risk, but the earth itself. Its fate may depend upon three children. With their unmatchable skills, it’s up to Max McDaniels, David Menlo, and little Mina to tip the balance!

My Thoughts: If you're on goodreads, you'll notice nearly every review of this series is comparing it to Harry Potter. And I would have to agree. It is very reminiscent of HP. Young boy finds out he has magical powers, gets to go to a special, secret school to learn more about them, learns he is extra special, more so than his peers, there's a dark force out there that was defeated years ago but may still be alive...it's all so familiar. HOWEVER, it was different enough that I still enjoyed it, still wanted to see what would happen, etc. I think children who loved Harry Potter would be enthralled with this story. My only complaint was how quickly so many things were glossed over. For example, they never really delve deep into many of the classes Max takes at his school, or what exactly he is learning. Suddenly he just knows how to do things and you're left wondering when he learned it! I'm interested to see where this goes!  Just a tip, the books are loosely based on the old Irish legend of Cuchulain, which is briefly summarized in the first book, but I felt like the author did a terrible job of his summary. I didn't really understand it, and I didn't understand how it related to Max. I ended up looking it up on the internet, and found an easier to understand summary and now I feel much less confused. I would recommend you do the same.

Book 2 is where this series takes a sharp turn from the Harry Potter comparison. Harry Potter gradually gets darker and more intense with each book. This series jumps straight for intensity and darkness. If you want to continue the comparison, I would compare the first book with HP 4 and the second book with HP 7 in terms of intensity and action. I honestly would be wary of reading these books with too young of a child, I think middle school is honestly the earliest a kid could handle it. They are very dark. Max and his friends are fighting a very huge evil and it basically seems like they can't win, they can't get ahead. Oh, and a LOT of people die. I'm still intrigued enough to find out what happens in the next books though. 

When I went to start book 3, I got a few chapters in and decided to give this one up. So no, I did not actually end up finishing the series. I thought it was intriguing and interesting, but overall so incredibly dark and depressing and just so much evil, that I didn't really enjoy reading it. I would rather read something a bit more uplifting. So, I would say if you think this series sounds interesting go ahead and give it a try, it just wasn't for me.