Book Review: Nation by Terry Pratchett

nationNation by Sir Terry Pratchett 

Available on Amazon in Paperback and Kindle formats

As some of you may have heard, Sir Terry Pratchett has had to cancel an appearance at a UK  convention due to the embuggerance  catching up to him.  In 2007, Sir Pratchett was  diagnosed with an early form of Alzheimer. He made the announcement to his fan community on December 11th of that year.  In 2008, the Nation was released.  Over the course of his career, Sir Pratchett has published over 50 books, including his fantasy Discworld series.

Six years later, a helpful volunteer for the local library dropped off the paperback version at my school to spark the student’s interest. It was the end of the year by the time that noticed it sitting on a shelf. The  Nation‘s colorful cover drew me to it and I asked the teacher who had been gifted with the book if I could borrow it.  After all my years as a geek and book lover, I am a bit shy to admit that this is the first book of Sir Pratchett’s that I have read.  It did not disappoint in anyway.

The Nation tells the story of two young people who find themselves struggling to survive after a tsunami hits the South Pacific stranding them on the same island.  The bigger problem is that while Mau called the island home before the wave is that Daphane is a trouserman, an alien in his world.  As you might have guessed, they quickly form a bond that helps them transcend cultural and language differences.  It is then that the real action begins.  Throughout the novel, they will fight to protect the island and the people slowly begin to gather afterwards.

It is the novel’s approach to culture and how it explains both Daphane’s and Mau’s world, that really caught me. I knew that I could use this novel to teach culture and its intricacies in my classroom.  The potential for a love story would engage my classroom’s readers as well as its character’s logical approach to their world. The concepts of what it is to be adult and what defines community after  a disaster. Others have pointed out that this is a character driven story tackles themes of death and faith as well.   All of this is present in the novel and while that may should heavy, Sir Pratchetts’s narrative flows in a way that the reader absorbs the gravity of the situations faced by the characters, but is never overwhelmed by it.  It is as the Washington Post Book World said “A terrific thought provoking book.”

While this novel isn’t set his Discworld universe, it clearly demonstrates his gift for storytelling and why readers have been flocking to his books for years.

Book Review: My Psychic Eye Addiction

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Lethal Outlook by Victoria Laurie

Available in paperback and Kindle Formats on Amazon.

I love brain candy, but before you begin to think that Lethal Outlook by Victoria Laurie is a piece of fluff, let me give you my definition of brain candy.   My kind of brain candy is rich like Godiva chocolate.  Intense and absolutely delicious, something that keeps me coming back. A book where I am going along for the adventure and I don’t want it to end.

A book that keeps me up late into the night.

Lethal Outlook was as predicted an absolutely fabulous piece of brain candy. I didn’t want to put it down last night.  My brain wanted to continue, but my eyes finally closed on about 4 am.

After her last adventure, Abby aka Edgar, is slowly recovering from her injuries, a fracture pelvis.  She is determined to walk down the aisle without her cane.  Between physical therapy, running her business, dodging phone calls from sister who is obsessed with planning Abby the perfect wedding and her contractor, Dave,  she is in over her head as the book begins then she gets the case of a missing woman handed to her by a mystery woman.   A woman who is clearly in danger if anyone knew that she had come to happy for help.

Kendra Moreno, a young mother, has gone missing and investigators have no leads and suspect  her husband, Tristan, of doing away for his wife.  Abby and her partner Candice know they have  a case when Abby sees a picture of the missing woman and knows the she is dead. The only problem is that they don’t have a client.  When meetings with both the parents of the missing woman and her husband go wrong it doesn’t look like will be getting paid for their investigation.   The two persist and the action of books picks up and takes you in.

One of the best things about a Victorie Laurie mystery is that she weaves it so well that you won’t guess who the killer is until the end of the book. Her heroine is realistic and the rest of the cast of characters are genuine and lovable.

Lethal Outlook is the 10th book in the series.  Book 11 – Deadly Forecast is already out and I am happy to say downloaded onto my kindle.  The only reason that I am tearing into today is that I have work to do and I know if I get started I won’t stop.

 

 

Book Review: Dusk and Summer

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Dusk and Summer by Joseph A. Pinto

Available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats.

The first time I read this book, it held me captive, curled beneath my comforter until it was done with me.  Recently, it was released under a new publisher and with a new cover. Dusk and Summer kept me prisoner for a second time this afternoon.

The novella published by Pinto in 2008 is a deeply personal metaphysical journey that we are guests on.  The beginning of the novella brought out the English teacher in me;  I wanted to make some corrections.  It seemed to me like he was using to many words when fewer would have allowed the tale to flow more evenly. Don’t allow the rocky beginning to turn you off.  It has a purpose and if you let it, it will take a hold of you.  Pinto is a gifted storyteller knowing which elements of the story to share and which to hold back.

If you are tempted in novels to skip the forward and go straight to the meat of the book; don’t.  You will miss some much needed information about the author and how this book was birthed as well as the love behind it.  All books in one form or another are born of an author’s heart.  This one came from a love grown and nurtured over decades between a father and a son. It is also about letting go and following the wishes of a love one.

There is a villain, one that I have had personal experience with, cancer.  It claws and rakes families with misery.  Some survive, and others goes through what the Pinto family did.  They sit day after day with their love ones doing everything they can to make it though the next day, hour or minute with their sanity in tacked.   Hoping and praying for miracles that never come.  Searching for meaning.

This is a book about one man’s search for meaning; about a son looking for a way to fulfill his father’s last wish and finding strength in his father’s life and death.

For more information on the author please visit: www.josephpinto.wordpress.com

Book Review: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

9780061972652_p0_v9_s260x420The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

with Illustrations by Dave McKean

Available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle Formats.

When young Nobody Owens was just a baby, a very bad man broke into his house and killed his family. The young tot escaped by making his way into a graveyard where he came under the protection of the spirits who reside there.  Bod has he comes to be called inhabits the graveyard walking in and through places that only the dead know.  Raised by loving and well meaning ghost, Nobody has little contact with the living save those who come into his twilight world. Most don’t even notice him.  When one does, it begins the first friendship Bod has with a living soul. Outside the graveyard, the world has forgotten about his parent’s murder and everyone except the murder who is waiting to finish the job.

Gaiman’s prose combined with the illustrations by Dave McKean give the book a unique feel not quite macabre, but definitely dark and twisted in a way that draws readers in. Basically, everything we love about Halloween except the candy.  The only thing that I would have liked to have seen more of were the illustrations. Thankfully, Gaiman with the assistance of another illustrator took care of that with the creation of a two volume  The Graveyard Book Graphic Novel.

Something I am officially putting on my wish list.

 

 

Book Review: I Will Hold My Death Close

10502254_592407747547506_7740250097570509581_nI Will Hold My Death Close by Stant Litore

Available for pre-order on Amazon for your Kindle

Circa 1120 BC – Israel –

The story is based loosely on the events of Judges 11 where Jephthah (Yeptha) promises to sacrifice the first thing he sees upon his return home for victory over his enemies.  The first thing, he sees his daughter and only child.

So one might expect that the story to be told from the father’s perspective and involve his internal struggle keeping such a horrible promise.  This is however an installment of the Zombie Bible and Stant Litore has a way of turning the story you know into something beautifully different. Something powerful.

Jephthah’s daughter is marked for death and flees to the hills where she has to fight for her life from the unburied dead (zombies).    She fights off the dead knowing that at any moment, her father could appear with his stone blade in hand to take her life on the sacrificial alter.   Through the course of her struggles, she remembers the songs of her mother and how she stood again the unburied dead with only a stick.  She fights to keep her death close and her own.

The centuries to come will not remember her name. But generations of young women will climb the hills to remember her.

Litore once again proves that he is a master storyteller.  This story didn’t let me go for a moment and literally left me grasping for breath at end.  He has taken the story of Jephthah’s daughter and elevated beyond the scanty lines in Judges 11 to something incredibly powerful.  No matter what your faith or spiritual path, there is something that you will find to love in this book.  I really am in awe of Litore at this moment and can’t wait to see what he writes next.

Book Review: The Fault in Our Stars

bookcoverThe Fault in Our Stars by John Green 

Available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats.

As a reader, I am rather picky when it comes to reading books that others recommend.  It took me about five years before I picked up any of the Harry Potter books and that was the result of being stranded in an airport pre-Kindle.  Mainly, because everyone I talked to about the series loved it like crack and I don’t do drugs.  So as I was reading the Fault in Our Stars and ran across the quote below,  it was easy to fall in love with the book and its two protagonists, Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters.

“Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book. ” (pg  33)

This was the type of zeal that I have been running from most of my life in making my reading selections.  And Hazel Grace understood it and put it into words that make sense to others. Because let’s be honest, telling people that the book they love is crack and you don’t do drugs is a metaphor that most find difficult to comprehend, which leads me another thing that helped me to fall in love with the book.  The metaphors.

Augustus Waters, the male protagonist, loves them.  His favorite is placing an unlit cigarette between his lips and never lights it. He doesn’t give it the power to kill him. A metaphor like the sad swing set that resides in Esther’s backyard that has never been used.

The antagonist in the book is cancer, non-discriminating cancer.  Cancer that takes the lives of children as well as adults.  Yet, it is cancer that brings Hazel and Augustus together.  They met at a cancer kid support group that Hazel’s mom makes her go to in order to help her deal with her depression, a side effect of as Hazel would say dying.  Did you expect me to say cancer? Sorry, no, the book is quite direct when it tells you that Hazel Grace Lancaster is dying.  She will never be cancer free. It is also quite direct when it comes to the reality that cancer kids experience.

It is Hazel Grace’s love of a book entitled Imperial Affliction that leads the two on their greatest adventure, a trip to Amsterdam to meet with the author.  The book is about a young woman like herself who has cancer and it ends in mid-sentence.  The implication being that the book’s protagonist, Anna, has surcome to her cancer.  Now, both Hazel Grace and Augustus want answers to their questions about happens to the characters after the book ends.  Did the Dutch Tulip man marry Anna’s mother? Was he really a con-artist? And what about the hamster?  Unfortunately, for the two of them, the author one, Peter Von Houten, is a miserable drunk who only cares to dwell in his own misanthropy.  There are no answers in Amsterdam.

There is however love to be kindled and passion to be set on fire.  This is where Hazel Grace falls in love with Augustus.  You knew it was going to happen, but Green lets the love affair between these two build slow so you connect to them.  You want them to have their happily ever after.  But, cancer, our ever present antagonist, doesn’t care.  You will and you may end up crying. As another reviewer put it, this book will break your heart. It won’t do it in the way that you think it will which is why this book made the New York Times Bestseller list.

While I can appreciate that an emotional book like John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars isn’t for everyone, I cannot appreciate some of the critiques of it. Do we really have to criticize because it involves deeper emotions in order to promote other books?

Yes, there are other YA authors out there that people will enjoy and there are a ton of books that don’t get the attention they deserve. Bashing one book in order to promote another or more importantly bashing people’s genuine reaction to the book just seems wrong to me. And a little like bullying. There is nothing wrong with crying. I think it actually speaks to John Green’s talent as a writer that he invokes just deep responses in readers. I love books that help me escape my day to day, but books also have the power to do other things like make us think, feel and sometimes, cry.

 

 

Book Review: This Star Won’t Go Out!

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Esther Earl

This Star Won’t Go Out

By  Esther Earl, Lori Earl & Wayne Earl with John Green

Available on Amazon in both hardback and Kindle formats.

 

A while back, my friend, Kevin, gave me a formula to use for reviews.  It goes something like this one-third summary, one-third what others have thought of it and one-third positive or negative critique.  He told me not to be afraid to criticize the books I read. It makes the review more authentic. You can’t like every book you read or everything about a book. Except, there is nothing I didn’t like about this book. Even when it made me cry. And it did. Several times.

There were days when I was reading this book that I didn’t pick it up because I knew I would cry.  There is no denying the emotional impact of its pages.  I can’t imagine anyone reading this and not falling in love with Esther Grace Earl.  One would have to be heartless not to cry or at the very least tear up at her lost.  And the book makes no bones about it. This book is about a young woman who lost her battle with cancer.

Esther Grace Earl died on August, 25th, 2010.

So why should you read a book that is guaranteed to make you cry? Why should you read a book about someone who dies ? Who lost her battle with cancer?

Because this is a book that needs to be read.

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John Green and Esther Earl

You need to read this book because it brings both reality and humanity back to cancer. It reminds us that even the brave die. Even good people die.  It doesn’t make Esther out to be a saint, although if anyone deserves to be one, she does. It does put a face on cancer.  A real and imperfect face, though  a compilation of Esther’s journals, letters, photographs and v-blogs, Esther comes to life and enters your heart.  Her words are aided with entries from her family’s blog  and more personal reflections from friends and her siblings.

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One of Esther’s drawing. Her cat, Blueberry, relaxing.

The introduction is written by John Green, author of the Fault in Our Stars. Green makes it quite clear that his now famous book was not written about Esther or her life.  She inspired it, but it isn’t about her. After Esther’s death, Green began to write and write.  As a writer, I know that sometimes an idea is sparked by an event and what follows becomes its own. So when Green tells us that his book turned movie isn’t about Esther, I believe him. Are their similarities? Yes, but they are few and far in between. Esther Grace Earl and Hazel Grace Lancaster are two different people who will steal your hearts. One real and one fictional.  Both powerful.

After reading this book, it is easy to see how Esther could have inspired someone to write a book. She certainly inspired me and I never met her. I just read about her, but somehow through the book I felt like I was laughing along with her. She inspired so many because she was a genuine person who honestly cared about others.  She was real with herself and others.  When she was brave, she wasn’t trying to be brave she just was. She went through depression and normal teenage things like wondering when her first kiss would happen if ever.

The book is a compilation of Esther’s journals, letters, photographs and v-blogs. Along with entries from her family’s Caringbridge blog (Please note this is a link to site not the family’s blog ) and more personal reflections.  It is well organized and the color coding is brilliant, it lets you know which are entries of her diaries, letters to her folks and the aforementioned Caringbridge entries.

My favorite part of the book was when Esther received her wish from the Make a Foundation. Something that Esther took her time in choosing. She didn’t want Disney or to meet a celebrity.  She felt for much of her life that she had want she needed.  When she finally did choose something, it was as unique as her. Something what allowed her to touch the lives of others. (Sorry, no spoilers.)

Towards the end of the book when I realized that we were getting to the end of Esther’s life,  I thought that they didn’t give us enough, but then I got to the final section – Esther’s own fiction. It was beautiful and amazing.  She wrote about her own cancer, bullying and the last romantic piece.  This is not to diminish contribute of all of Esther’s friends and family.  They were truly amazing and helped round off the book.

Since her death, her family and friends have begun an organization entitled The Stars Won’t Go Out foundation which is dedicated to helping relief the financial pressures for families who children have cancer. They help families to focus on their child’s treatment by providing funds to take care of bills or cover travel expenses. It began the day after her funeral when a young man stopped by her parent’s home with a note and five dollars.  The note read as follows:

In my experience, in times of need, every bit helps. Although I don’t have much, I still would like to donate $5 to the Friends of Esther Fund. Esther was an inspiration to many. And no matter what adversity she was faced with, she always maintained a happy outlook on life. She never forgot to be awesome. She will be remembered forever. – Nerdfighter Jarid from Braintree

Another mandate of the TSWGO is to give funds towards other causes and projects that Esther would have supported.  If you are curious as to what a nerdfighter is or want to learn more about TSWGO check out the links below or read the book.

More Link

Esther’s YouTube

Caring Bridge 

Wayne’s blog 

Nerdfighters 

NPR Interview with the Earl’s