Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

"Every morning, until you dead in the ground, you gone have to make this decision . . . You gone have to ask yourself, Am I gone believe what them fools say about me today?"

Have you ever read one of those books that you thought, "I'm gonna have my kids read this when they're old enough. They need to know about this."

I have, plenty of times, and this book is one of those.

Okay, to be honest, I'm going to try to make my kids read every single book I halfway enjoyed growing up, because I want them to adore reading as much as I do. Still, this book made me think, "I want my future children to understand that this is the way things were and that it was wrong."

That's the way I felt about The Book Thief and that's the way I feel about The Help.

The Help is Kathryn Stockett's first novel, but one could never tell by looking at the masterful use of her words and the wonderful roundness each of her characters seems to possess. Published in 2009, it has already become a #1 New York Times Bestseller and had its movie adaptation hit the big screen (with some big name actresses, no less).

This book follows the path of three women, two colored and one white, during the early 1960s. Set in Jackson, Mississippi at a time when men and women were liable to get beaten for using the wrong bathroom or fraternizing with someone whose skin color was too different from their own. It's enough to make a person ill thinking about it. (I wrote a post about racial discrimination on my other blog inspired by my reading of this book. You can find it here: Less than Human)

Each of these women has their own lives and their own troubles to fight through. Skeeter is constantly being criticized by her mother and snubbed by the people who were supposed to be her friends. Minny's trying to find work in spite of a crazy white lady doing her best to get her run out of town, not to mention the fact that her husband is getting steadily more abusive as the story progresses. And Aibileen is trying to teach the white girl she nannies that colored people are only different on the outside as well as convincing the girl that just because her mother doesn't care much for her, that doesn't mean she isn't worthwhile.

When Skeeter, the aspiring journalist, realizes the treatment of the help in most white home is both disturbing and demeaning, she gets the idea to write a book. If she can get interviews from the women who have to deal with raising other women's children and cleaning their homes, while being treated like they're stupid and basically nothing more than well-trained animals; maybe people will see the errors of their ways. Skeeter realizes that maybe this book could make a difference in the lives of the colored women who are mistreated on a daily basis. But this venture is more dangerous than she ever could have realized and each of these women have to put themselves out on a very unsteady limb to do this. But maybe change is worth it and maybe they just might get the help that they need.

This book was a joy to read and, honestly, a must-read -- especially for those that think that racism isn't that big of a deal, a thing of the past, or something that happened a long time ago. This was a mere fifty years ago and, while we've come a long way in that time, we still have quite a ways to go.

Rating: ★★★★☆

"Wasn't that the point of the book? For women to realize, We are just two people. Not that much separates us. Not nearly as much as I'd thought."

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

"But I couldn't see it again, and it occurred to me that the voracious ambition of humans is never sated by dreams coming true, because there is always the thought that everything might be done better and again."

I've just finished reading The Fault in Our Stars by the amazingly talented John Green and, to be honest, I'm not sure what to say. I'm left in a sort of stunned speechlessness. There were so many beautiful, heart-wrenching moments and captivating scenes that I don't know how to put my awe into words.

I suppose I have to, though. Otherwise, we have no point in my writing this review.

The Fault in Our Stars is about Hazel and it's about Augustus: two teenagers who are grappling with mortality and meaning something in a world that is so quick to forget all but what is right in front of it.

You see, Hazel has cancer. She suffers from "lungs that suck at being lungs". It originally showed up in her thyroid and spread to her lungs. It's not a matter of saving her life, but lengthening it. The cancer will claim it one way or another.

Then she meets Augustus Waters, a handsome boy who is intelligent, wonderful, and a cancer survivor. He falls for everything about her and wants to sweep her off her feet, but Hazel is scared. She doesn't want to hurt anyone else. She knows she's going to leave this world and she doesn't want to scar anyone else with her absence.

That's what The Fault in Our Stars is about. It's about affecting the people we love, for better or worse. It's about coming of age in a world that seems to have turned against you. It's about learning to love, even when it's the scariest thing possible and doesn't seem at all practical.

This is a book that will tear you apart and make you hope again, all in one beautiful story. I suggest running to the bookstore and getting this prize immediately.

Rating: ★★★★★

"I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity. I wouldn't trade it for the world. You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and I'm grateful."

Friday, January 20, 2012

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter, #7)

"Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living, and, above all, those who live without love."

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the final installment in the seven part book series by J.K. Rowling, brings us the conclusion of the tale of Harry Potter. Everything has been leading up to this. Every one of Harry's victories and every one of his losses -- all of them brought him to this point.

Opening upon the summer of the year that was meant to be Harry's final term at Hogwarts, we find the wizarding world in chaos. Voldemort has taken control of the Ministry of Magic, everyone that Harry loves is in danger, and Voldemort's bloodlust grows ever stronger.

On a mission to find the horcruxes (bits of Voldemort's soul) that keep said evil wizard alive, he is joined by Ron and Hermoine; but the mission is not as straightforward as it seems. Fraught with danger on all sides, the trio has to continue on what little information they have, leaning on the strength of their bonds to help them through the obstacles that wish to destroy them. Their friendship will be tested, their perseverance strained, and they will feel more pain than they have ever before experienced.

A darker and more perilous tale than any of its predecessors, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows will have the reader on the edge of their seat, praying for Harry's triumphant survival; but one doesn't always get all they wish.

In testament to having finished the series and having loved every single moment of it, I've decided to close out this post with a quote, not from the book, but from the movie from the book. One couldn't possibly put in better words the beauty of J.K. Rowlings work than Dumbledore himself when he says:

"Words are, in my not so humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic."

Rating: ★★★★★

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter, #6)

"Don't you see? Voldemort himself created his worst enemy, just as tyrants everywhere do! Have you any idea how much tyrants fear the people they oppress? All of them realize that, one day, amongst their many victims, there is sure to be the one who rises against them and strikes back!"

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the sixth book in J.K. Rowling's fantastically written Harry Potter series, has indeed followed its predecessors in stunning its readership with carefully thought-out plot twists, shocking revelations, and emotional heights and depths. It is a lovely addition to a series of which I can only speak well.

Beginning in the summer before Harry's sixth year at Hogwarts, The Half -Blood Prince opens not with Harry, but with Britain's prime minister. This is Rowling's first deviation from seeing things from Harry's general point of view and it is executed wonderfully. We see the Prime Minister in his dealings with the Minister of Magic and how those proceedings are affected upon the return of "He Who Must Not Be Named."

When we see Harry once more, we find him awaiting the arrival of Professor Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts, who has promised to retrieve Harry from the Dursley's house (home of his horrid aunt, uncle, and cousin) and take him to the Burrow (home to the Weasley's and Harry's second favorite place in the world; the first being Hogwarts itself).

But things are rapidly changing for Harry and his friends. Not only is there another new teacher at Hogwarts, but now there is a wedding to look forward to. Love is in the air, it seems, even in this hard time, and Harry is not the only one who seems to be feeling it.

There's more to worry about, though. Malfoy's up to something and Harry is diligent as ever to keep his eye out for his whatever his rival is planning. More importantly, Voldemort is continuing to amass his army. Harry believes the two are linked and he's convinced that he must figure out how before things get much worse.

All in all, J.K. Rowling has pumped out another fine work of fiction that has the reader flying through the pages, begging for more. It's hard to believe one person can possess such talent in the art of storytelling. I can hardly grasp it.

Now, you must forgive me. I simply have to get my hands on the conclusion and am off to do so immediately!

Rating: ★★★★★

[Click here for my review of book 7: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows]

"It was important, Dumbledore said, to fight, and fight again, and keep fighting, for only then could evil be kept at bay, though never quite eradicated ..."

Friday, January 13, 2012

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter, #5)

"There is nothing worse than death, Dumbledore!"

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling is yet another testament to her profound skill with a pen. She has manage to weave yet another story that draws the reader in and holds their attention throughout. It seems as though the reader finishes each new book of hers thinking, "This is her best yet!" only to be presently surprised as they tear into its sequel.

Opening one month into the summer preceding his sixth year at Hogwarts, we find Harry having quite a miserable time. As per usual, the Dursleys are treating him like filth and all too ready to get him out from under their roof. But when Harry and his cousin, Dudley, are attacked by Dementors (foul creatures that Harry has faced before) in the middle of a Muggle (non-magic folk) neighborhood- they nearly get their wish.

Now Harry has to be tried in court for underage use of magic outside the school and is facing expulsion from the very school that has made him happier than anything in his life; the school that has been more of a home to him than anything he's ever experienced before. His only solace is that he is moved from the Dursleys' care for the rest of summer break and able to live with his friends and the members of the Order of the Phoenix.

With the Dark Lord having returned and all the world denying it, Harry has more than enough on his plate. New foes will be faced and new battles will be fought; Harry won't come away unscathed.

Order of the Phoenix was one of my favorite movies in the series (challenged only by Deathly Hallows 2), so I assumed I would enjoy this book more than it's predecessors. What I didn't realize was how correct that assumption was. Everything about this book shined. The story leapt from the pages and sucked me into a world even better than I could ever have expected.

I cannot wait to dive headfirst into its sequel, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince.

Rating: ~★★★★★~

[Click here to see my reviews of book 6: Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince & book 7: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows]

"Indeed, your failure to understand that there are things much worse than death has always been your greatest weakness."

Monday, January 9, 2012

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter, #4)

"Understanding is the first step to acceptance, and only with acceptance can there be recovery."

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was written by J.K. Rowling. As most would know, it's the fourth in a series of seven books all penned by this brilliant woman.

In these books, she tells the story of Harry Potter, a wizard whose parents were killed when he was a child. Because of this, he is forced to live with his terrible aunt and uncle, along with their detestable son. He is unaware, in fact, of his wizarding heritage until the day Hagrid- a large, giant of a man- visits on the day of his birthday to congratulate him on his acceptance into Hogwarts, school of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

In this particular book, we open upon Harry's fourth year at school. Before classes commence, he attends the Quidditch World Cup (Quidditch is a wizarding sport of which Harry is both rather fond and quite good at) with his best friends, Hermoine and Ron, and most of Ron's family. When all havoc breaks loose, they are caught in the middle of it. This sets the stage for an unforgettable year in Harry's history- one that will have him facing more challenges, dilemmas, and heartache than ever before.

Rowling's masterful storytelling paints an intoxicating tale of one boy's struggle through immense challenges that threaten to destroy him. The classic Good vs. Evil story has never been more compelling. This story draws you into the lives of Harry and his friends as they stand up for everything that is good in their world.

My "goblet" is raised to Mrs. Rowling in her beautiful writing and the excellent weaving of this tale. I eagerly look forward to reading her next book.

Rating: ★★★★☆

"You fail to recognize that it matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be."

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

"Imagine smiling after a slap in the face. Then think of doing it twenty-four hours a day.
That was the business of hiding a Jew."

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is a hauntingly beautiful portrait of Germany during World War II. In a country ruled by the Führer, a young girl learns the power of words. It's a power so raw and so great that it led her country to war. They have the power to comfort, to heal, to offer hope; as well as the ability to destroy, mutilate, and excuse cruelty.

On the front cover of this book, New York Times has been quoted as saying, "BRILLIANT and hugely ambitious . . . It's the kind of book that can be LIFE CHANGING." (Emphasis not mine.) That might actually be an understatement.

Written from the perspective of Death (a quite risky, yet fantastic move on the part of the author), the book is rife with deep imagery. Each new chapter, each new page, pulls you in with new fervency. In it's pages, you see things in a way you never expected to. Death weary of his job's hateful morbidity, Rudy's longing for Liesel, Liesel's longing for words and the care of those she loves.

Each new heartbreak for Liesel provides the same heartbreak for the reader. Packed with intensely beautiful imagery and scenes that could bring even the most cold-hearted to their knees, I can't tout the worth of The Book Thief enough. I believe that many parts of this story will stick with me for the rest of my life. I think I have another new favorite.

I couldn't agree more with the way Death phrases it in one of the last pages of his narrative,

"I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and its words and stories so damning and brilliant."

Rating: ~★★★★★~

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Stop What You're Doing and Read This!

"And imaginary though it was -- a world invented by poets and novelists -- it was as real to her as the world from which she was escaping. In fact, the books were less a wall than a ladder. By reading them, and learning from them, and then flourishing academically at school, she climbed up and away to freedom." -Blake Morrison

Stop What You're Doing and Read This! is an wonderfully composed collection of essays on the importance of reading. Ten intriguing literary minds each hash out what exactly is so great about reading, why we need stories, and why literature is such a great foundation for a healthy society.

Crafting their ideas with a literary expertise I found both stunning and intellectually stimulating, each of these writers gives explicit reasoning on why reading is such a great opportunity and why, in a world rife with technology, it's sometimes better to just sit down and read a book for a few hours.

As an avid reader and aspiring author, I found each new essay truly inspiring. Never have I been so excited not only to read, but to write as well. I've known, for as long as I can remember, that reading was important. It's always been a huge part of my life and the way I live it, but I have never heard it explained quite so eloquently as each of these essays did.

I would recommend it to anyone who values reading or wants to realize its full value. You should absolutely Stop What You're Doing and Read This!

Rating: ★★★☆☆

"Reading is primarily a symptom. Of a healthy imagination, of our interest in this and other worlds, of our ability to be still and quiet, of our ability to dream during daylight." -Mark Haddon

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

2012 Book List

In follow-up to my last post, I've decided to post which books I'll be reading in 2012. I am eagerly awaiting the stories each has to tell or the knowledge each is ready to impart. I can hardly decide what order they should go in.
These are books currently on my shelves, just waiting to be read and reviewed.

  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  • Inheritance by Christopher Paolini
  • Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick
  • The Help by Kathryn Stockett
  • Dear Bully (70+ author compilation)
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  • Inkheart by Cornelia Funke
  • Hawkes Harbor by S.E. Hinton
These are just the beginning. I frequent my local bookstore with a consistency that ought to have the salespeople asking about my family each week. I also hope to be able to reread some of my favorites of last year, such as Paper Towns and possibly the Hunger Games trilogy.
In addition, I'll be borrowing books from my brother soon enough as well. He is currently the owner of my home's only copies of the Harry Potter series (I still have to read books four through seven) and the Lord of the Rings trilogy (let's not forget the Hobbit, as well).
I can't wait to find the adventures awaiting me!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

One Year: Fifty-Five Books

My goal for the year 2011 was to read fifty books. I reached fifty-five. [insert happy dance here]

Anyway, I decided I would fill you in on which books those were, in case you wanted to read them as well. Most of these I would recommend for a good read, unless I note otherwise.

1) The Rescue by Nicholas Sparks.
2) Elyon by Ted Dekker & Kaci Hil.
3) Pearl in the Sand by Tessa Afshar.
4) DragonKnight by Donita K. Paul.
5) The Slave Across the Street by Theresa L. Flores.
6) What He Must Be by Voddie Baucham.
7) DragonFire by Donita K. Paul.
8) DragonLight by Donita K. Paul.
9) Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling.
10) Love Comes Softly by Janette Oke.
11) And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie.
12) Love's Enduring Promise by Janette Oke.
13) Comma Sense by Richard Lederer & John Shore.
14) Death in the Clouds by Agatha Christie.
15) The Doctor Trap by Simon Messingham. (This is one of those Doctor Who spin-offs, so if you don't watch the show, it's probably not worth reading.)
16) Love's Long Journey by Janette Oke.
17) The Beach Street Knitting Society and Yarn Club by Gil McNeil.
18) Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis.
19) Kiss by Ted Dekker.
20) Starlighter by Bryan Davis.
21) Forgotten by Cat Patrick.
22) Eragon by Christopher Paolini.
23) Eldest by Christopher Paolini.
24) The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.
25) Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins.
26) Looking for Alaska by John Green.
27) Brisingr by Christopher Paolini.
28) Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins.
29) Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín. (This one wasn't very good at all. It wasn't bad either, but it was pretty boring.)
30) The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh.
31) Paper Towns by John Green. (This is easily one of my new favorite books. John Green really outdid himself with this one.)
32) After the Wreck, I Picked Myself Up, Spread My Wings, and Flew Away by Joyce Carol Oates.
33) A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith.
34) Brother/Sister by Sean Olin. (This book was really good, but creepy. . . and it may have ruined the Wonder Twins for me. Haha.)
35) Soft Spots by Clint Van Winkle.
36) Purge by Sofi Oksanen. (I didn't really enjoy this one. It was interesting, to say the least, but not my type of good reading.)
37) Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling.
38) The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton.
39) Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling.
40) Rumble Fish by S.E. Hinton.
41) That Was Then, This Is Now by S.E. Hinton.
42) Tex by S.E. Hinton.
43) Stop Pretending by Sonya Sones.
44) Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson.
45) Brutal by Michael Harmon.
46) He's Just Not That Into You by Greg Behrendt & Liz Tuccillo. (Only decided to read this book because it was $2 at Helping Hands. It ended up being surprisingly good.)
47) Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer.
48) Dark Water by Laura McNeal. (Not that great.)
49) Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green & David Levithan.
50) An Abundance of Katherines by John Green. (Almost as good as Paper Towns. Definitely worth reading more than once.)
51) The Last Exit to Normal by Michael Harmon.
52) The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
53) Hero by Mike Lupica.
54) Taming the Star Runner by S.E. Hinton.
55) The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.

I'll try to write reviews on a couple of the more recent ones when I get the chance. In the meantime, here's a good list where you can find some books for the New Year. Hopefully, you're resolutions have something to do with reading more, because it's definitely worth it.

I'm going to read 75 books this year. Hopefully, you'll come along for the ride in at least reading the reviews of each.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Don't ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.

I heard a lot of fuss about The Catcher in the Rye before I ever picked up the book. Generally read in high school sophomore English classes, I somehow dodged the bullet and never had to read it. Yet, because of all the hype people keep making about it, I decided to read it on my own time, convinced it was necessary that I read such a classic novel.

Written from the perspective of a teenage boy, Holden Caulfield, who has just gotten himself kicked out of another prep school he had been attending, he feels no remorse or regret about it, only worry that his parents will be upset with him for flunking out. Instead of heading straight home, he decides to drag his feet, letting us in on his inner (and outer) dialogue as he wanders through the city and ponders what his life has become and where it might be headed.

While I'm usually quite the fan of introspective coming of age novels, I only found the book satisfactory. While I loved the writing style and the abundant symbolism, the main character himself was irritating to the point where I just wanted to finish the book so I wouldn't have to hear his every complaint and issue with everything under the sun. He hates everything, he's not kidding about anything, he thinks everyone's a phony and doesn't realize that he is a phony himself. It's meant to make him the narrator you can see through, the sort that's both reliable and unreliable, but it seems only to serve the purpose of driving the reader up a wall.

I did enjoy seeing the character grow, though. It was natural and realistic. The ending wasn't some life-altering revelation, but you could see that Holden was growing into his breeches, so to speak. He was getting there.

So though the main character is quite an irritating kid and uses the word goddamn so many times that you'll be dying for him to choose a new adjective, I'm glad I read it. The style in itself was one I definitely enjoyed experiencing.

Would I read it a second time, though? Probably. I've heard it's a thousand times better the second time around, that it's much more gratifying and Holden reminds the reader of oneself, so that  you're both irritated and understanding. However, I'm going to have to get over my current annoyance with him before I can give him that second reading.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

"Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody's around - nobody big, I mean - except me. And I'm standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff - I mean if they're running and they don't look where they're going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That's all I do all day. I'd just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it's crazy, but that's the only thing I'd really like to be."