Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Prophet of Yonwood by Jeanne DuPrau

The Prophet of Yonwood by Jeanne DuPrau is the third Book of Ember.  This installment is a prequel to The City of Ember.  When I read that, I thought it had a lot of potential.  I was sadly disappointed.  What is essentially wrapped up in the last chapter of this book provides all the information the reader is hoping to find.  The previous 281 pages were mostly a waste of time.  The point never seemed to be reached, the characters didn't seem to have much significance.  I kept reading hoping it would all fall together somehow, but really it all seemed like filler.  The final book rejoins Lina and Doon so I am looking forward to reading the resolution to this series.  If anyone were to ask me, I would say you could safely skip this one.  I hate to say that about a book when I am enjoying the series, but I feel like I owe it to you.

The People of Sparks by Jeanne DuPrau

The second book in the Book of Ember series is The People of Sparks by Jeanne DuPrau.  I actually had to steal this book away from my 9-year-old son.  He was reading it, but his interest had begun to wan and so he wasn't spending as much time reading it (we've all been there, haven't we?).  Once I finished The City of Ember  I didn't want to wait much longer for him to pass the book to me, so I stuck a little sticky note into his spot and took it over.  The first third of the book is a little slow, but it does pick up.  The whole time I was reading it, I kept telling him he really needed to get back into it.  Every time I would gasp or talk to the book (as I sometimes do.  What?  You don't?) he would ask what was going on.  I would just shake my head at him and tell him he would have to read it himself.  I'm a mean mom. 
In this book, Lina and Doon had discovered a new city above ground and over 400 of the residents of Ember have come with them.  These new people, the people of Sparks, are willing to help this large group of refugees, but are unsure what it will mean to their own livelihood.  Sparks is a settlement that has struggled for years and is finally enjoying a season of prosperity, but how can they feed and house so many more people?  A child reading this is unlikely to see the political parallels to our own world, but an adult would be hard-pressed not to see it.  This is an immigration story in miniature.  The people from Ember are escaping a dying world, they have skills that helped them in their previous home, but they are not good at many of the new jobs required of them in Sparks.  The people of Sparks begin to feel resentful of all the help they are required to give.  Tensions flare up on both sides with a leader from each group hoping to incite violence if that is what is necessary to gain the upper hand. 
There are lots of "learning moments" in this book.  I'll present you with just this one.  When one character is angered by the way he is treated by a stranger, his companion explains it to him this way:
"You turned that crazy old guy into an enemy in less than two minutes.  You did it.  You've done it over and over, I've seen you:  you approach people like an enemy and bam! they turn into one, whether they were to begin with or not."
On the brink of another war not unlike what destroyed the world in the first place, a solution must be found.  There is much here to be learned about what causes war and what actions can possibly, hopefully prevent it.  Forgive the spoiler, but I love the resolution at the end:
"The main thing is this: we will refuse to be each other's enemies. We will renounce violence, which is so easy to start but so hard to control.  We will build a place where we can all live in peace.  If we hold to that, everything is possible."
Idealistic?  Of course, but isn't that what fiction is supposed to create?  And yet if we can give our children a peek into what is possible, they just may turn it into reality in their lifetime.  So far I am really enjoying this series.  Read it and share it with your children.  I think you'll both like it.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers

This week I read Dark Triumph  by Robin LaFevers.  Remember when I said that Grave Mercy is listed as YA lit and really shouldn't be?  Well, Dark Triumph  really shouldn't be for young adults.  This was a great book and I couldn't put it down, but it goes so far into some dark subjects that I can't imagine my teenager reading.  In Grave Mercy  the main character is Ismae, but in Dark Triumph  we follow Sybella as the fight for the duchess continues.  Usually the second book in a trilogy is considered a "bridge book" where the author has to introduce more information and story building to get to the finale of the series.  I love that LaFevers chooses instead to explore other characters.  This keeps the reader engaged and still moves the story along. 
In this installment, we learn how Sybella came to be at the convent and the horrible life she has escaped.  Unfortunately for her, Sybella has been sent back to the very people who made the first fourteen years of her life such torture.  In this important household, she is able to convince her monstrous father that she is loyal to him all while watching and waiting for a sign that she may be the one to end his life.  Her frustration grows and her faith withers as the wait seems to never come to an end.  I truly wish I could tell you more, but it would ruin too much of the suspense that LaFevers has worked so hard to create.  The third and final book will be released Spring 2014 and I am anxiously awaiting more news.  If you need something to capture your imagination and if you enjoy books with strong female characters, these are just what you need.  Really.  No, really.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

I always cringe when I hear a parent say to his or her child, "There are no such thing as monsters."  I cringe because as adults in truth we know that there are monsters in the world.  They may not be hiding under our beds or in our closets, but there are monsters out there just the same.
In A Monster Calls  by Patrick Ness, Conor who is thirteen-years-old is being visited by a monster.  His monster is the yew tree behind his house come to life.  He is sure he must be dreaming when the monster calls his name, when it smashes a hole in the side of his house, when it tells him stories he doesn't understand.  He must be dreaming because monsters aren't real, right?
Conor's mother is sick.  She doesn't have a cold or a sore throat, she is the kind of sick that steals away her strength, her energy, and her hair.  Conor wants her to get better and he believes she will, but he is haunted by a nightmare that the author won't share with his readers until the very end.  His nightmare is where the real monster lives and Conor couldn't be more afraid.
It has been well established here that I am a crier, however today I am in real danger of dehydration. We know that a parent's illness is hard on a child, but this book explores what that must feel like to the child.  Children become afraid and telling them to be brave in a situation that even the adults don't have enough courage to face is unfair.  Children become angry and they should be allowed to express it.  Children feel isolated when the adults become too wrapped up in their own grief to help that child navigate so difficult a road.  Acting as if everything will be okay, as if there is nothing wrong is not helpful in the least.  In the end, it is the truth that helps Conor face his monster.
I'm not sure I can tell you who should read this book.  It is written for children, but I suppose as a parent I prefer to keep my children from knowing about the real monsters in the world, at least as long as I can.  Adults will benefit from the reading, if for nothing other than the reminder that children have feelings as complex as any adult.  A Monster Calls  is beautifully written and the illustrations are dark and a little scary, just as they should be.  Grief and loss are complicated topics and they are handled very well here.  I would love to hear if you read this one.  I would love to hear how it touches you.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

Assassin nuns.  Yep, that's the phrase that caught my attention.  And how could it not?  Grave Mercy  by Robin LaFevers is the first in the His Fair Assassin trilogy.  A young girl, Ismae, is forced to marry a brute by her abusive father, but when her groom realizes he has been tricked into the marriage, he beats her and leaves her for dead.  Ismae is rescued by nuns, but not the kind of nuns you would expect.  This is Brittany in 1485 and while the Catholic church is building a larger presence, the people still worship the old saints that have been in their traditions for hundreds of years.  Ismae is taken to the convent of St. Mortain, also known as the god of Death.  The sisters in the convent serve Death by killing those he wishes dead.  Ismae is then trained in all the ways to kill a man including weapons, hand to hand combat and poisons.  She is also trained in all that she will need to know to do the Saint's bidding covertly.
I sprinted through this book.  The intrigue was fantastic and while I was able to see down the road a little bit, it continued to twist and turn.  I have to admit that I was shocked to find out that this is classified as YA.  While reading this novel, it never occurred to me that it was intended for a teen audience.  The writing was complex and the subject matter not necessarily something I would encourage my teenager to read, but still I enjoyed it.  The second book is waiting for me on the library reserve shelf and I'm picking it up tomorrow!  Rather than a traditional sequel, the second book follows another of the assassins trained at the convent. 
I will leave you with one small quote from Grave Mercy:
Ismae is telling a story to the duchess' young sister and in it she says, "For death is not scary or evil or even unmerciful; it is simply death."

Monday, October 7, 2013

The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

The City of Ember  by Jeanne DuPrau was a book that I had found while looking for a book for my 9-year-old son.  He has never been a big reader, but he needed a fiction book for a school project and I was hoping he would enjoy this one.  I was thrilled when I found him in his room engrossed in it a few days later.  He would tell me little bits about the story, but kept most of it secret because he was determined that I would enjoy it and should read it myself.  He is now halfway through the second installment in the series and it seems to have sparked something in him.  Yesterday when we were in the car for a long time, he left his iPod at home and brought his book!  GASP!  I was so excited, but I tried not to make a big deal about it.  It is a wonderful thing when a child finally discovers all the joys of reading.
But, back to The City of Ember .  I really liked it.  Lena and Doon are twelve-years-old, have finished with their education and assigned their own jobs.  Lena is a messenger who runs from one side of their city to the other, delivering spoken-word messages from person to person.  Doon works in the Pipeworks repairing the pipes that deliver water and power to the city.  Ember is a city, but it is also the entire world.  The lights come on in the morning and at night when they turn off, the entire world is black.  There is no fire and no "moveable light" so they have no way to explore the "unknown regions" outside of the reach of the large floodlights.  The excitement comes when Lena discovers a set of instructions that have been locked away in a box for longer than anyone can remember.  She suspects that they are a guide to the way out of Ember, not that she has any idea what that would mean. 
My children are far from being ready for books like The Hunger Games  or anything similar, but The City of Ember  gives just a taste of a dystopian world that isn't too scary, but it also expands their imagination about what could happen in the world.  I thought this was a fun book to read and it ended with such a wonderful cliffhanger that I can't wait for my son to finish the second book so that I can read it.  It's also really fun for me to be in a tiny book club of sorts with one of my children.  I highly recommend that!

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

I can't remember how long ago I read The Color Purple  by Alice Walker, but it was a really long time ago.  I remember enjoying the book, but I probably would have never read it again if it weren't this month's book club pick.  When I first opened the book, I read a few paragraphs and put it down again.  I really didn't want to read it because this book begins so very painfully.  It starts with Celie talking to God about being raped by her father and about losing her children and about her mother's sickness and anger.  It's awful and I just didn't want to let that in so I left it on the counter for a day or two.  But you know how I am about book club- I have to read the book.  And so I pushed through and I'm glad I did.
This book is full of darkness and sadness and of things that would make me want to give up on life, but it's also full of lightness and kindness and people who overcome the evil in their lives.  Since the book has been in publication for over thirty years, I won't worry that you haven't read it.  I love the development of the characters throughout the story arc.  Mr._____ is a horrible monster at the beginning of the book and by the end he becomes Celie's dear friend.  To me that seems so unlikely, but Ms. Walker writes it in a way that is believable.  People are complicated complex creatures and I feel like Ms. Walker lets us see that.
I have talked to people who have loved this book for decades.  I even have a dear friend who met the author and was able to get an autographed copy of this American classic.  How do you feel about it?  Is it one of your favorites?  Is it too dark for you?  When is the last time you read it?