Review: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

tumblr_nu2gor8S001ta4uato1_1280[1].jpgBook: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry
Author: Mildred D. Taylor
Rating: 5 Stars

Basic plot: The Logan family must deal with the ugliness of prejudice in their Mississippi hometown during the height of the Great Depression. They are the only black family to own their land, and there are plenty of people who aren’t happy about that. But the family is determined to stick together to keep the land and persevere.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) Cassie is a wonderful narrator. She’s such a spunky character! (Although, in many ways, I see this book really as the story of her brother, Stacey.)

2) Which brings me to Stacey… What an insightful character. You can see him struggle to grasp the world around him. I love how he takes the blame for T.J. during the cheating episode. Although, he’s not all goody-two-shoes about it. He exacts his revenge (but learns a HUGE lesson in all of that).

3) And then there’s Jeremy. He’s really the only good white character in the book. I love how he stands up against the bigotry of his own father. I love the scene where Stacey’s own father warns Stacey about Jeremy and how he will one day turn on Stacey. Somehow I (and I think Stacey felt it as well) think that Stacey’s father is wrong on this one… that Jeremy would not fulfill this prophecy. I think Jeremy is different. And I think Stacey knew it.

4) But, wait! There’s more characters to love. I just love the whole Logan family. From Big Ma down to Little Man. (Why is Little Man called “Little Man”? Doesn’t matter. It works.) Papa. Mama. Even Mr. Morrison, who is not really a family member, but is living with them.

5) I love how Uncle Hammer [*SPOILER] gives up his beloved car for the family. It’s horrible that he has to do it, but it such a wonder portrayal of sacrifice on his part. [*END SPOILER] He does it for the family.

6) Oh, T.J.! This character wanted to make me cry. In so many ways, he is so despicable. Especially with what happens to Mrs. Logan. And while I hated this character, Taylor was able to make me also feel extreme pity for him. Yes, by the end of the book, I wanted to reach out to him and help him to get back on the road to redemption.

7) [*SPOILER] The fire at the end of the book was a great climax. Even better is the discovery of how the fire was set. However, even though this is a spoiler, I will not make this into a super-spoiler by revealing the answer to that question. [*END SPOILER]

8) And finally… The poem (referenced in the title of the book) is amazing. It makes me want to cry and fume and change the world all in one.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) Come on! I gave this book 5 stars! I rarely give out 5 stars, but this book gets it.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 5 stars (out of 5) – I can’t believe I haven’t read this book before now. It’s been on my list for awhile. It’s a wonderful, but sad, look into the past. And as history has a tendency to do, we see glimpses of our present world. A world that could use a whole lot more kindness. Thank-you Mildred D. Taylor for giving us this book!

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Black and White Challenge #1

I’ve been intrigued this black and white challenge that’s been going around the internet. You know the one? “Seven Black and White photos of your life. No people. No pets. No explanations. Challenge someone new each day.” Except I don’t challenge anybody, unless they want to do it. And I’ve also decided that I’m going to do it weekly, on Saturdays.

So, here’s Number 1…

20171114ma_5285

What Shall I Call Thee?

20170824ma_4747
Growing up, one of my best friends would often refer to our favourite authors by their first names. (In fact, she still does it today.) And, by extension, any book by said author. So an L.M. Montgomery book would become a “Lucy Maud” … As in “Have you read this Lucy Maud?” (Later she’d shortened it to simply “Lucy”.)

And I’ve noticed that this with other people as well, typically regarding women writers. Louisa May Alcott and Laura Ingalls Wilder are “Louisa” and “Laura”. Jane Austen fans even have their own special designation as “Janeites”.

But why do we call authors by their first name? Is it because it makes these authors feel more like our friends? Well, that’s my guess.

But, I’m different. For me, it’s important to use the author’s name under which they published. So “Lucy Maud Montgomery” is written or spoken of as “L.M. Montgomery”. And thereafter, in the same conversation or article, just as “Montgomery”.  (Which becomes a slight problem if we’re talking about the Brontes!)

I think this may stem from this realization… Authors are people that have private lives. For example, “Lucy Maud” was never really called “Lucy” (her grandmother’s name) in her lifetime. Her family and friends called her “Maud”. And for most of her published life, she was “Mrs. Macdonald”. And yet, she published under the name “L.M. Montgomery”.

For me, that knowledge is enough. “L.M. Montgomery” she would be.

So, while C.S. Lewis was “Jack” to his friends, he was “C.S. Lewis” to me because that’s how I knew him.

And then there’s Jane Austen. I’m definitely a fan, but for some reason, I cannot (and will not) call myself a “Janeite”. I will not call her “Jane”.

I think, for me, it’s a respect thing. Respecting the work of the author. Respecting the boundaries between an author and the reader. Although, when my friend does the opposite? I find it endearing. It’s like Jane Austen really is her friend!

So, what’s that say about me? Hmm…

P.S. I don’t think there’s really a right or wrong side to this. But it interests me to find out where other people stand. What do you tend to do?

P.S. 2 – If you’re curious to know… The photo above is of a statue of “Lucy Maud” at the L.M. Montgomery Museum in Leaskdale, Ontario.

Review: The Losers Club

losersclubBook: The Losers Club
Author: Andrew Clements
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic plot: Alec loves to read. This year, he has to stay in the after-school program and so he starts a reading club… which he calls it the Losers Club, so that everybody will just leave him alone to read. But then other kids start joining the Losers Club, including his former-friend-turned-bully.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) Alec loves to read. Hello? I’m hooked.

2) I love all (or at least most) of the books Alec loves. I completely understand his desire to just sit and read. To get lost in a book. When we were in grade 6, my friends and I would have fit right in with this club!

3) The younger brother, Luke, was a neat character. I like his Yoda impersonations. I also like how Clements connects the two brothers story-wise through the bully, Kent: The Losers and the Mini-Losers.

4) I love WHY Alec lets the younger Lily join the club. Especially what he says to her about how she identifies herself as a loser. (But I won’t spoil it here.)

5) Lots of wonderful reading quotes in this book. For example this passage about the value of old books:

Nina looked at the book. “It’s really old—actually, a lot of your books are old, practically antiques. Like that copy of Treasure Island in your backpack? That book is ancient.”

“So what?” he said. “And anyway, books aren’t like that. A book is either good or not. And if it’s good, it never gets old.”

6) Kent’s character arc was well-done. He doesn’t seem quite like the caricature of the school bully. He’s a little more complex.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) A bully named Kent?? Really? This seemed very strange to me.

2) While I like the brother Luke’s Yoda impersonation, I thought it was a little weird to have the mom do it. Why have two characters have the same quirk?

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – This has become one of my favourite Andrew Clement books. Probably because of all the reading that is done in the book.

Quick Pick Reviews #2

I’m on a bit of a non-fiction kick at present. Below are three non-fiction books (for adults) that I finished recently.

Note: Quick Pick books are always recommendations. (If I don’t recommend the book, it’s not a Quick Pick!)

51VgMgGUWCL._SY346_Book: When Books Went to War
Author: Molly Guptill Manning

My Thoughts: If you are a book lover, than you’re in luck. If you are also a lover of history (particularly of the World War II variety), then this is the book for you! This book tells the story behind how the U.S. used books to help bolster the troops during the Second World War. I really enjoyed this book. I also love A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and finding out that that book was one of the most sought-after books by the soldiers… well, Bonus! My heart is happy when I hear how books play an important part in people’s lives. 🙂


51XOMTe3NCL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Book: Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void
Author: Mary Roach

My Thoughts: This is a book full of fun-filled facts about all things space. I particularly liked the historic parts that dealt with the Space Race, from the Russian cosmonauts to the Mercury and Apollo astronauts. But the modern stuff is also good. Like the origami-folding tests given to Japanese astronaut hopefuls! Origami? Really?! (How interesting!) Roach also asks questions that most people would be too afraid to ask (like detailing the challenges of using the bathroom in space). I particularly like the story she tells of her own experience to try to “pass the test” to become an astronaut. She’s told she’s going to get a phone call from Europe. The call comes in at something like 3:00 in the morning and she’s quite grumpy at being woken up from a sound sleep. But it’s only later that she realizes that that was part of the test. Oops. Obviously she’s not cut out to be an astronaut!


51+aO13QmWL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_Book: Dead Presidents: An American Adventure into the Strange Deaths and Surprising Afterlives of Our Nation’s Leaders
Author: Brady Carlson

My Thoughts: Carlson takes us on a journey through history with a focus on the various the Presidents of the United States… but it’s all about their deaths. And considering the topic, oddly enough, his voice is quite chipper! In other words, this isn’t a morose read. It’s interesting. One of the more fascinating stories for me was of President Garfield’s death. After he was shot, the doctors couldn’t find the bullet! But they kept poking their unsanitized fingers around his wound; in fact, making him a whole lot worse. Actually, according to the book his death was not due so much to the assassin’s bullet, but due to the care given to him by his medical team! (Poor Garfield. He wasn’t even in office that long. He probably never knew that one of his greatest legacies was to have a cat named after him!)

Review: The Warden’s Daughter

w204Book: The Warden’s Daughter
Author: Jerry Spinelli
Rating: 3.5 Stars

Basic plot: Cammie is the Warden’s daughter at a prison. Her mom is dead and she is desperately seeking a mother-figure. She latches on to Eloda Pupko, a trustee housekeeper (i.e. she’s a prisoner). But Eloda isn’t quite cooperating with all of Cammie’s demands…

WHAT’S COOL…

1) Cammie was a difficult character to like. I can only compare her Mary Lennox in The Secret Garden. BUT… I felt that she did grow on me.

2) I liked the bit about the toothbrush and the birthday party. Yes, well done, Mr. Spinelli! (BTW, I was with Cammie on this one, not the simpering toothbrush-girl. Although, she could have handle the situation a bit better.)

3) Reggie drove me crazy! She is obsessed with the prison’s most notorious inmate (a murderer) and wants his autograph… just ’cause he’s famous. Yet I like the arc with her character. And she works well as a foil to Cammie, making Cammie seem not quite so bratty. Especially when Cammie finally stands up to her and shows Reggie the mother of the murdered child, which puts the prisoners in perspective for Reggie.

4) I like the revelation at the end with regards to Eloda Pupko. But I won’t spoil it here. 😉

5) And Boo Boo. What a complex character!

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) At times it was really, really hard to like Cammie. I understand that this is part of the book (and it gets better near the end), but it’s still takes a toll on the reader.

2) At other times, I wanted to yell at Cammie’s father. Like why [*SPOILER] did he give her the key to the women’s exercise yard? [END SPOILER] I felt he allowed Cammie way too much freedom. She even bossed him around!

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3.5 Stars (out of 5) – I was certainly drawn into the story. I found that I didn’t like Cammie for most of the book, which is hard on the reader. We want to root for the protagonist. But in the end, I liked how everything turned out. (Which is why I tagged on the 0.5 star.)

Pet Peeves: We are Not Amused

20170928ma_4871.jpgThis post is about a pet peeve of mine. It often comes up in fantasy novels or historical fiction. These are the stories where we are most likely to have a King or Queen.

So, what’s the pet peeve?

It’s when a king or queen is addressed incorrectly.

Never call a Queen “Highness” or even “Your Highness”. That’s what you call a Princess. Please don’t call her “milady” or “My Lady” (I’m pretty sure that’s only a Lady, as in the wife of a Knight).

The proper way to speak to a King (or Queen) is to say: “Your Majesty”. And “Sire” is okay. (If it’s a Queen, you may call her “Madam”, I believe.)

Don’t call a King “Your Grace” (I think that’s a duke) or “Your Excellency” (a bishop?).

I’m definitely not an expert in this, but I know enough to know this much. And it drives me crazy when some fictional kingdom breaks these rules of etiquette. Not because the author is doing in intentionally (I’d be okay with that if there was a good reason, like the ignorance of one of the characters).

No, mostly it’s because these authors just don’t know.

I can’t tell you how many times this pet peeve of mine creeps into books I read. Sometimes it’s enough to make me want to quit reading the book. (Although, if the story and characters are good enough, I’ll grit my teeth and finish it.)

Authors! All I have to say is this: If you have royalty in your story, please address them properly.

We are not amused.

P.S. The photo I’ve included was taken at the Prop Warehouse at the Stratford Festival in Stratford, Ontario, Canada. I was trying to think of a photo to go with this post and I remembered this throne. I thought, What’s more royal than a throne? And especially a throne like this one?!

 

The Magic of Half Magic

20171007ma_5029The magic of Edward Eager’s Half Magic isn’t always the actual magic in the book. Yes, there’s a charm that grants wishes (or, to be more accurate, half-wishes!). What’s really magical about the book, is Eager’s way of putting things. Usually, it’s some little aside. Something quick.

And then there is this delightful passage. It happens when the four children (Jane, Mark, Katherine, and Martha) first meet Mr. Smith, a new grown-up that has entered their lives…

The four children generally divided all grown ups into four classes. There were the ones like Miss Bick and Uncle Edwin and Aunt Grace and Mrs. Hudson whofrankly, and cruel as it might be to say itjust weren’t good with children at all. There was nothing to do about these, the four children felt, except be as polite as possible and hope they would go away soon.

Then there were the ones like Miss Mamie King, whowhen they were with childrenalways seemed to want to pretend they were children, too. This was no doubt kindly meant, but often ended with the four children’s feeling embarrassed for them.

Somewhat better were the opposite ones who went around treating children as though the children were as grown-up as they were themselves. This was flattering, but sometimes a strain to live up to. Many of the four children’s school teachers fell into this class.

Last and best and rarest of all were the ones who seemed to feel that children were children and grown ups were grown ups and that was that, and yet at the same time there wasn’t any reason why they couldn’t get along perfectly well and naturally together, and even occasionally communicate, without changing that fact.

Mr. Smith turned out to one of these.

Half Magic, by Edward Eager (Chapter 6)

This is why I love to read (and re-read) books by Edward Eager! It’s the magic of his words. 🙂

Fascination with Scary

20140212_billw_0148At this time of year, you’re bound to see a lot of blog posts and articles with such titles as: “What’s the Scariest Read of All Time?” or “Top 10 Horror Movies of the Last Decade” or “Halloween Book Countdown”.

And this isn’t just for the days leading up to October 31st. All year long, even the happiest place on earth (i.e. Disney) celebrates their Haunted Mansion… since 1969. (Disney even makes “scary” seem cute. Like one of Walt Disney’s first animated shorts that featured dancing skeletons.)

It just shows that we have a fascination for “all things scary.”

Personally, I’m not a huge fan of “scary”. And certainly not anything labelled under the horror genre.

I don’t mind the odd scary and/or heart-pounding scene, but I wouldn’t exactly categorize that with “horror”. I like a well-written gothic novel, whether it’s parodied like in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, or done supremely well in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre.

So, why do we have this fascination with all things scary?

And this fascination can manifest itself in three ways:

  1. It works as an outlet to ignore something that makes us uncomfortable.
  2. It becomes an obsession (sometimes to the point of excluding all other things).
  3. It can also act as a jumping off point to think things through.

Of these three points, the final one is the probably the healthiest. For me… while I don’t actively seek out horror books or movies, I do not completely banish scary topics/things outright. Because I know scary things exist. It reminds me of this G.K. Chesterton quote: “Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”

Yes, “dragons” do exist in real life. (Maybe not of the Smaug variety, but they do exist.) To explore such “dragons” in books, movies, and other pop culture is, I think, actually a healthy thing.

To become completely obsessed is not so healthy. (As in ALL you ever read/watch/think is horror, blood, murder, anger… yikes.)

But it is a healthy thing to bring things that frighten us out in the open. Popular culture (including books and movies) allows us to get a handle on our own fears, especially about our own mortality… To handle the scariness of Death.

How we treat our “dragons” (including the dragon called Death) is going to affect how we treat Life. This gives an outlet for us to explore “all things scary” in a safe way.