Over Sea, Under Stone

For some reason I read the second book of the “Dark is Rising” series before I read the first one.  I didn’t realize I had done that until I discovered Over Sea, Under Stone and read that this was the first in a series.  The second book, Dark is Rising was very odd.  I couldn’t get into it and I struggled with the power to travel to alternate times that some of the characters had.  I had the opposite experience when it came to Over Sea, Under Stone

stoneOver Sea, Under Stone is a contemporary quest taken up by Jane, Simon, and Barnabas Drew during their summer in Cornwall. They stumble upon a map that leads them on a quest and into the paths of some very dark individuals. While I was looking for this to be a book I might teach for a fantasy genre unit I’m putting together, I don’t think the fantastical elements are prominent enough for the students to pick out.  Other than the fact that the kids are searching for a grail related to King Arthur there’s not much else that ties the book to the fantasy genre.

There’s a strong good-vs-evil motif driving everything and it’s all nearly tied up at the end, while giving room for sequels to follow. There’s lots of thrills and actions through this well-paced tome. Susan Cooper knows how to pace her plot to give us the right amount of thrill and catharsis. The children are irritatingly naive which gets them into so much trouble. They seem to forget clues or details they learned only the day before. It’s all made up for in the end with an acceptable conclusion.

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Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

When I began re-reading the Harry Potter series in May (clearly I didn’t make it very far), I remember wondering what I had committed myself to after finishing “Sorcerer’s Stone.”  Because my experience wasn’t as exciting as it had been previously, I think I didn’t put much stock into finishing “The Chamber of Secrets”.  Compared to my re-reading of “The Sorcerer’s Stone”, I liked “The Chamber of Secrets” a lot more than I thought I would.

chamberMaybe because the characters have all be established or they are a year older, I’m not sure. In book one I found Harry to be petulant, Ron to be naively thoughtless and Hermione was arrogant. In book they all seemed toned down. While Ron still is Harry’s hype man, he seems much less fly by the seat of his pants.  Harry isn’t quite so brash.  He seems to realize that not everything he says needs to be spoken.  Hermione has found a way to be ahead of the game, without telling everyone she is.  Her actions are speaking louder than her words.

The movie adaptation of “Chamber of Secrets” is my least favorite out of the bunch. I find that the battle in the chamber is too dramatic and takes away from the idea the book is developing. As I arrived at this point in the book I realized that the fight between Harry and the basilisk only takes two paragraphs. I think downplaying the action keeps the reader focused on the main struggle between Harry and Voldemort and Harry making peace with what he considers as his “dark side”. The entire book is about abilities versus choices, which Dumbledore makes clear in the end. This is an important lesson for all of us.

The Princess and the Goblin

princessI had decided this summer to re-tool my sophomore English class and teach genres that don’t always get taught in small, private schools.  One of those genres, and one of my favorites, is Fantasy.  So I’ve been trying to read as much YA Fantasy as I can, looking for contemporary and classic works.  One of the classics that I’ve stumbled across is George MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin. Interestingly, C.S. Lewis saw Mr. MacDonald as an inspiration for writing.

Mr. MacDonald’s style is very Victorian and the story is way too juvenile for high school Sophomores.  Not only are the characters not even in their teens but they act very childish.  This seems very much like a contemporary of Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan. The story reads very quickly, which helps it not wear on my patience.  I shocked at how fast I tore threw it.

This is a simple story of a princess who makes friends with a young miner (apparently there’s no child labor laws in this kingdom). The young miner, Curdie, ends up spoiling a plot by the goblins who live under the mountain to capture the princess, Irene and marry her to the goblin prince. There’s a fairly god-mother figure who aids Irene and Curdie. Some of the lessons she teaches them are interpreted by some to be the author’s Christian philosophy, but this is a superficial interpretation at best.  For parents who read to their kids at night, this would be a book I would highly recommend.  Even though there’s chapters, the plots not too complex that if you only read several chapters a night, kids won’t loose the thread of the story.

The Buried Giant

My experience with Kazuo Ishiguro has only been Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go.  The more I’ve read of Mr. Ishiguro’s, the more I enjoy his style.  He begins his narratives very subtly developing conflicts and characters and builds towards endings that pack a punch. The Buried Giant departs from his usual content, while he tackles re-imagining British mythology.

The world of the story is post-Arthurian where the Britons and the Saxons are living agiantmongst each other, slowly building the cultural milieu we now call, British.  Mr. Ishiguro alludes to Beowulf and King Arthur throughout the novel, and it’s understandable.  How can you not allude to the most famous British mythological tales?  With these foundational details taken care of, the plot becomes a quest narrative with Axl and Beatrice trying to make their way to their son’s village.  They are Britons and have to stop over at a Saxon village on their way.  They end up having two Saxons join them for the remainder of the trip.  Along the way they run into Sir Gawain (King Arthur’s nephew) who helps them complete their mission while also completely a secret mission of his own.

This was going to be a 3 star rating until I reached the ending. Such sharp, intense writing that leaves a strong impression on a reader. That deserves recognition. The plot doesn’t have much meaning to it which was why I was thinking it had earned 3 stars. I was excited by the “Beowulf” reference and the Sir Gawain character, but other than these allusions I’m still lost as to the what the point of the story is.

The Count of Monte Cristo

countOne of my students just read The Count of Monte Cristo last year and has been on my case about reading it.  I couldn’t help chuckling when the Cannonball Book Club decided to read it.  It’s like karma’s trying to tell me something!  While I knew that this was going to be a long read, I was looking forward to it.  I’ve seen Wishbone’s and Jim Caviezel’s versions of The Count so I knew the basic plot of the novel.  I didn’t know how the ending is waaaaay different than the movie versions.

This read was quite the experience. One of the longest books I’ve read, there were moments I thought I’d give up. I’m glad I didn’t not just for the bragging rights of having read it, but for the vast landscape the book presents. I haven’t read much of French literature and the post-Napoleonic era is intriguing. I enjoyed a look at the French culture of the era.  I’m more familiar of the British culture at this era, so it was a good contrast.  I have to admit I think the French were a lot more interesting.

The base plot of the novel is very Dickensian, a dash of Agatha Christie thrown in, spiced with Shakespearean drama. There were moments I couldn’t wait to find out what the resolution would be and other moments I needed all the drama to stop. For example, why does each character threaten to kill his or her self whenever the going gets rough? It seems like they all feel like that’s a respectable out.

The Great Divorce

I thought I had read or knew about C.S. Lewis’s works, but The Great Divorce slipped my notice until one of my co workers mentioned it.  I’ll be honest and admit that I’ve avoided Lewis’s non-fiction work.  Granted, I typically don’t a lot of non-fiction to begin with, but I prefer Lewis’s fictional works. As luck would have it, The Great Divorce is a fictional piece although it reads like non-fiction.  This combination makes it an interesting read, nothing like I’ve read before.  There was a lot to think about, but because it was short, all of the ideas weren’t overwhelming.

divorceImagining what it would be like to visit heaven and hell, Lewis gives us a glimpse into heaven as seen by visiting residents of hell. The book opens with a narrator (we’re never given a name) waiting in line at a bus stop for a bus to take the residents of “hell” to visit heaven for the afternoon.  The idea is that if the visitors decide to and are prepared to live a life in heaven, they can stay.

Throughout the short novella, there’s several vignette’s of different types of people you and I have met here on Earth. It’s almost a way of showing why some people, who appear “good” may not make it into heaven. Mostly it’s because they’re selfish in different ways. This book functions better as a discussion piece to be read in small segments than it does in one sitting. I’m glad I read it because it gave me a lot to think on. The ending, however, leaves a lot to be desired.

Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet, Book 1

Since “Captain American: Civil War” I’ve been intrigued by the Black Panther Character.  I like that there’s a character who’s not supernatural (Captain America, Thor, Spiderman, etc.), but has skills similar to Black Widow and Hawkeye, which are my favorite types of super heroes.  It’s about time that a person of color is going to be featured as a superhero and not just as Iron Man’s sidekick. 

pantherI like to read the back stories on the superheroes in the movies, I’ve been wanting to catch up on Black Panther and thought this graphic novel would be a good start. I was wrong. While this is part of Marvel’s reboot of their classic heroes, this story starts in media res but without explaining to new readers what has happened to set up the plot of this book.  The only sequence literally clues the reader in that there’s been a political catastrophe in Wakanda (Black Panther’s home nation).  Yet, this even isn’t developed in this volume, volume 1.  Which tells me that there’s another volume I need to read in order to have context for this volume.

One problem I have with comics today is that there’s so many reboots it’s hard to know where to start and with what reboot. Clearly this volume of Black Panther is the beginning of a new series, but it’s trying to link up with the series ahead of it.  What I think these franchises need to do is create a list or a resource for readers to go to in order to get an idea of where to start and how the super hero has developed over time. Without a reference like this I feel that new readers are left with so many questions and undeveloped plot lines.

A Christmas Carol

Would you judge me if I said I hadn’t read A Christmas Carol until this December?  And I’m an English teacher!   Luckily the student-lead book club at my school decided they wanted to make sure they had read this Christmas classic before they went off to college.  I’m glad they made this selection because it was certainly time for me to get my feet wet with this classic.

carolThis review is hard to write. What’s there really to say about one of the most well-known and adapted Christmas tales? The curious thing I found while I was read was how quickly Scrooge reacts emotionally.  As soon as the ghost of Christmas took Scrooge to his boy-hood school Scrooge almost immediately breaks down into tears.  In most of the movie versions (which is my only experience with this tale) Scrooge doesn’t seem to react emotionally until he revisits Fuzzywig’s party. 

I don’t know if it’s because Scrooge has had such a horrible childhood and revisiting it is like a trigger, unleashing what’s really been gnawing at him making him so horrible to people. Or maybe it’s that by going back, he knows what’s to come or is on to the ghosts’ mission.  I personally think that it’s a dream sequence and Scrooge is reacting so emotionally because his subconscious is finally able to process what has lead to his current state.

What remains in my mind is that Dickens is able to get at the heart of Christmas without being overly religious or falling into the schmaltzy Santa Claus fluff.

The Stone Diaries

Carol Shields’s Swan was the first of her oevre that I encountered in a Women’s Literature course in grad school.  I enjoyed her prose and engrossing plots and her knack for point-of-views that are unique and refreshing.  I read The Stone Diaries for my bookclub’s December pick and it was…interesting.

stoneThe plot is the story of Daisy Goodwill, which begins in Manitoba, Canada pre-WWI.  The narrator sounds like Daisy herself telling the story of how her parents met and she was conceived. Daisy spends most of her childhood in Canada before moving with her father to Bloomington, Indiana.  She then comes into adulthood and moves to Ottawa where she meets her husband and spends the rest of her adulthood.  Upon retirement she moves to Florida and spends the rest of her life their.

It sounds mundane, but that’s where the story becomes intriguing. While it seems a superficial accounting of a woman’s life, it really becomes more about how we account for our lives.  What does it mean to tell someone’s life story?  Is it the the telling of our parents’ lives and how that past influences our own lives?  Is it what others would say about the events in our lives?  Or maybe it’s what we say through our journals, emails, blogs, Twitter feeds, and Facebook posts?  These are the questions that Ms. Shields discusses with the reader through Daisy’s life.

This is an engrossing read that gives the reader thought as to what would our life’s story look like in narrative form. There’s a mixing of points-of-view as well as genres that relate the story of Daisy Goodwill. It makes me wonder is there any one good way to tell someone’s story? Are we too complex to be boiled down to a narrative? This book has a lot of food for thought even while the ending becomes a bit stale.

Bridge to Terebithia

The Bridge to Terebithia is another book I’ve never read before. And while it’s a YA book, and a young YA novel at that, it was still an all around good story.

Terebithia.jpgA girl moves in next door to a family that’s struggling to make ends me rural Maryland/Virginia.  The girl and her family are wealthy but are looking to get away from the rat-race of D.C.

The boy and girl soon become friends, although the boy was reluctant to be her friend because they’re at THAT age where boys can’t be friends with girls without being accused of “liking” them or being soft.  Luckily, Jesse doesn’t let all of this machismo business bother him and sees that Leslie, apart from her gender, is a good person and a friend worth having.

Leslie introduces Jesse to the world of Terebithia, a land she makes up but uses her imagination to recreate in their backyard.  Soon Leslie and Jesse develop a strong bond and show readers the power of friendship and the boundless fun you can have when you embrace your imagination.

One concern I had was the way Jesse’s female teacher takes him to a museum in D.C. by herself without consulting with his parents.  I feel like this might be an anachronism, showing a good teacher trying to give a curious student a taste of the outside world and the education that waits.  However, as a teacher in today’s environment, this good-meaning teacher would probably have  a lawsuit on her hands.

Paterson draws the readers into Jesse and Leslie’s friendship and then makes you feel all of the feelings when THE incident happens. An enjoyable read that shares the power of a good story and the impacts of good friends.