Friday, February 19, 2016

Nightfall by Jake Halpern and Peter Kujawinski

One of the most fun things we did at the Texas Book Festival last October was the nighttime trip to the state cemetery to hear ghost stories. Jake Halpern read to us from his new novel, Nightfall, which he wrote with Peter Kujawinski. He read to us about Line, Marin and Kana, three fourteen-year-olds who have been left behind on their island of Bliss as night approaches. On Bliss, they have fourteen years of Day followed by fourteen years of Night. As the sun sets, all the residents flee to an island further south to escape the darkness, cold and ice of Night. But is that all they are escaping? The adults won't discuss the reasoning behind all the traditions related to leaving the island and Marin especially finds this frustrating. She thinks it is all superstition, but before long she learns more than the adults ever knew.

When I listened to Halpern read this book, I immediately thought of my eleven-year-old son. It sounded like something he would really like. The whole time he was reading it, he kept telling me how good it was and how he couldn't wait to talk about it. I must say that with that kind of endorsement I was anxious to get my turn with the book. Unfortunately, I didn't connect with it as strongly as he did. I felt the storytelling was lacking in depth. At times the action would drag and then suddenly the author would jump ahead as if he had gotten tired of the previous scene. As a Middle Grade book, it was good, but I didn't love it. My eleven-year-old, however, thought it was amazing, so perhaps it is just what it should be.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion

Zombies are not my thing. I've never seen an episode of The Walking Dead, I couldn't tell you anything about any zombie movie ever made except for Warm Bodies. I watched it one day with a friend and I was so surprised to see how much I liked it. When I realized it was based on a book, Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion, of course I had to read it. Normally I prefer to read a book before seeing the movie adaptation, but in this instance it was a little backwards, and that was okay. The book added so much more information and I still really liked it.

Warm Bodies follows R, a zombie wandering an airport with no recollection whatsoever of his previous life or even his name. He thinks it started with an R and so he just goes by that initial. When he and his zombie friends are out on a hunting trip, something a little strange happens to R. As he feasts on the brain of a young man, he sees what the young man knew and realizes that the girl cowering in the corner is the young man's girlfriend, Julie. Overcome by the urge to protect her, R takes Julie back with him, alive, and hides her. As they begin to form some new strange kinship, R begins to change, to almost awaken. The story follows them as they attempt to understand the world around them and consider if it can be fixed.

I was surprised by the prose contained in the thoughts and descriptions in this book.

Julie looks at me like she's waiting for more, and I wonder if I've expressed anything at all with my halting, mumbled soliloquy. Are my words ever actually audible, or do they just echo in my head while people stare at me, waiting? I want to change my punctuation. I long for exclamation marks, but I'm drowning in ellipses.

I was also surprised at how deep this book gets at times. It examines humanity in a way one doesn't expect from a zombie book. When R says, "I've never thought of these other creatures walking around me as people. Human, yes, but not people." It hit that isn't that how we often see other people around us? Or don't see them, as the case may be? We wander through life, but do we really see the people around us? Most of us can't even name our neighbors. How can we know anything else about them? Marion seems to be questioning the loss of humanity in humans. Later in the story, a theory about the cause of the plague emerges:

"I think we crushed ourselves down over the centuries. Buried ourselves under greed and hate and whatever other sins we could find until our souls finally hit the bottom of the universe."

Is that what we are doing to ourselves? When the Boneys, the leaders of the Dead, educate the newly Dead they show them pictures of death, of the Living fighting back and killing the Dead. They show them horrible, gruesome pictures to teach them that the world is something awful and that they must hate it, fight it and kill it. I couldn't help but be reminded of some of the things we sometimes see on the news: the promotion of hate and fear in order to motivate the support of a philosophy of hate and fear. This ...thing... is different. First we fear it, then we hate it, finally, we kill it. It does sound familiar to me. Frighteningly familiar.

I really liked this book. I read it quickly and I think it's one I'll reread. Even if zombies aren't your thing either, I think you'll like it. Give it a try.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Lost and Found by Carolyn Parkhurst

Lost and Found by Carolyn Parkhurst was not what I expected it to be; it was much more. When I first picked up this book at the library book sale a few years ago I thought it was simply a mother- daughter story. Mother and daughter go on reality show in the hopes it will strengthen their bond. That is all I expected. What I actually found was a fun page turner that explores all the behind the scenes craziness of a fictional reality television show.

Laura and Cassie are the mother-daughter pairing. Cassie is seventeen-years-old and has just had a very challenging year; Laura has had some significant changes herself and so has missed some of Cassie's struggles. In typical teenage fashion, Laura annoys Cassie; and in typical mother-of-a-teenager fashion, Laura is trying so hard to hold on before her little girl flies the nest. But Laura and Cassie aren't the only interesting pairing on this show: first there are Wendy and Jillian, middle-aged flight attendants who actually aren't particularly interesting; Carl and Jeff, funny brothers; Justin and Abby, oh boy do they have a good story; Juliet and Dallas, former child stars; Riley and Trent, genius inventors; and Betsy and Jason, high-school sweethearts who are recently reunited. As in any reality show universe, these couples were picked for their stories and for the possibility of conflict.

The premise of the show, entitled Lost and Found, is that the contestants are on a scavenger hunt. They search for objects all over the world and then have to carry those objects for the remainder of the game. The host's question to each team as they are eliminated is "You've lost the game, but what have you found?" Sure, it's cheesy, but just the right about of cheese for a reality show. This book contains all of the sleazy, disgusting tactics that you would expect to happen behind the scenes on a reality show: they manipulate the players by planting things they know will upset the contestants in hopes they will have a mental break down and talk about something that will increase their ratings, they deprive them of sleep to weaken their resolve to not lose it on camera, and of course they give every indication that the editing will be done in such a way as to not show anyone in their best light. It is everything I hate about reality TV because you know it's happening, but you can't actually see it. In this case, the characters are mostly decent human beings, mostly, but you can see how the producers will spin it. The reader is given a chance to root against the show itself.

I really liked this book. It was captivating and I was never ready to put it down. There were characters I really cared about and others that I didn't particularly like at all. The interesting thing is that even the character I hated the most, there were times when I felt sorry for that character when he or she was being manipulated. I also loved reading about some of the locations the characters visited. I added several locations to my travel list, including this bridge between Sweden and Denmark:

How cool would it be to drive over that?!

This was a fun book and I hope you'll give it a try. It would be perfect to read as we head into vacation season. Maybe it will give you a little wanderlust of your own.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Birth House by Ami McKay

The Birth House by Ami McKay is set in Nova Scotia at the beginning of World War I. Dora Rare, the first Rare baby to be born a girl in generations, is seventeen-years-old and has fallen into an apprenticeship with the local midwife, Miss B. Dora never intended to be a midwife, but when Miss B. passes by on her way to a birth, she insists Dora come along. As Dora catches her first baby, she is filled with love for the tiny little child in her arms. It isn't long before she is learning everything Miss B. can teach her. Unfortunately, this isn't a time or a place where the people of their tiny town can appreciate a midwife's ministrations, at least not publicly. When a new doctor comes to town claiming medical science to be far superior to the witchery of midwifery, things only get worse for Dora and Miss B.

This book sounded so fascinating to me and the first half of the book seemed as if it was really going somewhere special. Sadly, the story seemed to stagnate and never made the kind of progress I had hoped it would. I was further thrown by the epilogue that is dated twenty-five years later. It is as if the author ran out of story and so just ended with "and they all lived happily ever after." I was disappointed, but I did enjoy some of the descriptions of midwifery. I'd like to find another book about it that is a little better written. Do you have one you'd like to recommend?