Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Enchanting World We Live In: Life of Pi

Life of Pi by Yann Martel
Harcourt, 2001

Yes, I know that I was 14 years late to the party, but let's just be happy that I got there at all. Actually, a big part of me is grateful that it took me so long - I'm positive that had I read this book when I was younger, I wouldn't have fully appreciated it. So in that sense, this book was worth waiting for the right moment.

In this modern classic, Yann Martel crafts the story of Pi Patel, a man who may seem ordinary at first glance, but has actually lived an extraordinary life. Growing up in India where his family owned and operated a zoo, Pi was always a bit of an outsider. After all, how many people do you know who are Christian, Hindu, and Islamic all at once? Well, Pi is. He just loves God, simple as that. And all of Pi's faith is put to the test when a storm destroys the ship he and his family and their animals are traveling on to Canada. Somehow Pi makes it into a lifeboat, along with a fully grown Bengal tiger.

Martel's writing is rich and lush, and considering how much of this book revolves around discussions on religion and faith, I never found it to be preachy. It was conversational yet poetic prose, opening my mind and heart to a simultaneously eloquent and simple look at God, giving a much-needed boost to my personal beliefs. In the survival sections of the book, Pi's hallucinations, trials, and struggles are raw and gripping - even though the structure of the narrative meant as a reader, I knew things would turn out, I was still invested in Pi's safety and

If you are looking for a novel that will challenge you, that will you push you to look at the harsh world we live in through magical, loving, compassionate, and courageous eyes, then pick up Life of Pi if you haven't done so already. I know I'm glad I did.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Out of this World: The Martian

The Martian by Andy Weir
Crown, 2014

Imagine going to Mars. Now imagine being stranded on Mars. Welcome to what has just become reality for Ares III Astronaut Mark Watney. Six sols (Martian days) into what is supposed to be a month-long stay on the red planet, a freak storm requires the team to abort their mission and head back to Earth early. Only while they're evacuating, Mark gets hit with debris that knocks out the bio sensors in his suit. His crew mates think he's dead, so they're forced to leave him behind. Now he needs to figure out to tell NASA he's very much alive and how to survive long enough to get rescued, something that would take years.

And that, readers, is just the beginning.

What started out as a story posted by chapter by chapter on Weir's blog turned into a self-publishing and then traditional publishing phenomenon that has now taken even Hollywood by storm, These kinds of stats make me naturally skeptical, but in this case, there was absolutely no reason to be. This tale is Apollo 13 meets Cast Away, except Mark isn't exactly Tom Hanks. He is sarcastic. He swears. He thinks outside of the box and is flippant as much as he is brilliant. His is a journey that you are glad to be along for the ride. This book does a great job of balancing the science part of science fiction with the fact that most of its readers are not rocket scientists - things are explained, but you're not required to understand every little aspect of the mechanics to be engaged by this story.

This review is purposely vague because this is a book that to spoil any part of it feels criminal. I'll just say that I think this novel is properly deserving of the hype, and I've been suggesting it like crazy to teen and adult readers alike.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Keep On Keeping On: I Crawl Through It

I Crawl Through It by A.S. King
Little, Brown, 2015

*eARC provided by the publisher via NetGalley- thank you! This in no way impacted my opinions of this book.*

A.S. King is a writer who has never shied away from stories and structures that are a little more, shall we say, "out there." But if you've thought she pushed the envelope as far as it could go before, just wait until you read King's first surrealist novel.

In a town and a school under the thumb of bomb threats, never ending tests, ridiculous societal expectations, and the usual insurmountable mountain of the pressures that come with being an adolescent human merely trying to survive into adulthood, I Crawl Through It focuses on four teens in particular who cope with their various situations in a variety of ways. One girl wears a lab coat wherever she goes and dissects frogs (and other animals) as often as the science teacher will let her. One boy is building an invisible helicopter to escape. One girl has swallowed herself and is now inside out. Another girl can't stop lying (or doesn't want to) and her hair won't stop growing.

Sound a bit strange? I'm not going to lie - it is. Yet I consistently come back to King's novels. They push me outside my comfort zone. They challenge traditional ways of storytelling and thinking about people, places, and things and how they mold each other, a never ending cycle that can be kind when it's not busy being cruel. It took me a while to fully wrap my head around this book and these characters. No one really seems to question a girl who says she is inside out or a boy with an invisible aircraft, but then again they don't question the bomb drills or the myriad of tests, either. And really, is one set really that much stranger than the other? About halfway through, something must have clicked in my mind and I was able to suspend my reality for the one within the pages. I'm still not sure I was able to fully accept the reality of this book literal truth - it's not - but I was able to accept that it's hardly stranger than the world I live in where being a school teacher isn't just about teaching anymore, but also about being willing to sacrifice my life.

This book is not for everyone. It's weird, but I say that as a compliment, as high praise. A.S. King's books make me a better reader, and transitively, a better thinker and a better human. These lives we lead are beyond anything our ancestors could have ever imagined for us, and this world will only become more surreal for our descendants. Yet, day after day, I crawl through it.

Comments welcome, and as always, happy reading.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Keep Creativity Coming: Big Magic

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
Riverhead, 2015

*ARC provided by the publisher - thank you! This in no way impacted my opinions of this book.*

Creativity can be a fickle thing. On the one hand, people can appreciate amazing things when they see them. Works of art. Powerful stories. Music that can move the soul. However, they can be less appreciative of the work that goes into creating such works, and, therefore, the people who aim to do the creating. It can be as daunting as it is liberating to live a creative life.

But never fear because Liz Gilbert is here. Best known for her memoir Eat, Pray, Love, Gilbert's latest book explores the nature of creativity: Where does it come from? How does it shape us? How can we harness it (if we can at all)? And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Gilbert has clearly put a lot of thought into this topic - she's done two TED talks on the subject. This book is a unique blend of nonfiction in that it is part opinions, part theories, part anecdotal, and part motivational. Her voice is clear and authentic. She shares from her many and varied experiences from throughout her own creative life, and it was refreshing to have an author, who despite having just poured herself into a book, is the first to admit that she doesn't know everything, that she could be completely wrong. But that's exactly why she brings in the opinions and experiences of so many other people - she very consciously tries to cover as many of the bases as she can.

As someone who likes to consider herself a creative person, or at least aiming to live a creative life, I found this book to be great. I'm currently in between projects and exploring a handful of different creative outlets, searching the one that fits me in this moment. As a result, this was a case of reading the right book at the right time. I'm still exploring my options, but I'm so much happier in my uncertainty. So, thanks Liz. Keep doing what you're doing, and I'll keep trying what I'm trying.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Elizabeth Gilbert's Website
Elizabeth Gilbert on Twitter

Sunday, September 13, 2015

I'm Still Here!

Hello! Readers! Are you still there?

I know, I know. I've been bad about updating. REALLY BAD. I've been so bad, I haven't even posting links to my many video reviews that I've done over the past few months.

To say life has been a whirlwind lately has been an understatement. I got a new job at a new school, and my library life has to come before the blog. However, I'm still reading and I still have lots of thoughts about what I'm reading, I promise. It's just that with work and life happening, the blog has slid further and further down the to-do list.

But I'm working on it. It's coming back up.

So, dear readers, if you're still with me, I appreciate it. Bear with me as I get reorganized and start with more semi-regular posting and reviews (baby steps). In the mean time, please check out my account on Goodreads to see what I've been reading (for some reason I was much better about posting mini-reviews there this summer) and head over to my YouTube channel to see and hear my thoughts.



Friday, July 17, 2015

Video Review - Royal Wedding

It’s wedding season, so what better book to read than Meg Cabot's Royal Wedding? That’s right, everyone’s favorite fictional princess is back!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Lost and Found: Emmy & Oliver

Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway
Harper Teen, 2015

*ARC provided by the author - Thank You! This in no way impacted my opinions of this book.*

Emmy and Oliver weren't just next door neighbors when they were kids, they were best friends. But everything changed when they were seven years old and Oliver's father kidnapped him. Overnight their sleepy little town went on high alert, and no one more so than Emmy's parents. But Emmy never forgot her friend - she couldn't even if she wanted to. While the search parties eventually dwindled, their worry didn't. Ten years later, the incredibly early curfews and expectation that she'll attend community college so she'll still live at home have pushed Emmy into secret applications and surfing behind their backs. But then everything changes again when Oliver is found, comes home, and doesn't really remember the girl next door at all, but she's exactly who he needs.

While I've only read one other of Benway's books (her debut, Audrey, Wait!), I completely loved it and was jumping at the chance to get to read this. From the summary alone, I could tell it would be something I'd enjoy: guy and girl friendships, childhood friends, growing pains, finding your own voice - and it was all here. Emmy is a smart girl but she's not perfect, and neither are her life-long friends Caro and Drew. It was refreshing to see what I felt like was a realistic look at teens - in my experience, many of them really are good kids, but that doesn't mean they're perfect. The Triangle (as they call themselves) felt fully formed. Two of my favorite scenes were when Emmy declares "what's wrong with being like other girls?" and when the trio is genuinely trying to understand a directive from their parents but can't follow the muddled grown-up logic at all.

And of course, there's Oliver, another good kid without whom this story wouldn't happen. Benway does a good job letting the audience get to know this boy well before he actually comes back into the picture, and then redefining him again since readers, like Emmy, haven't known the person he's become in the past ten years. While it's understandable that he plays his cards close to his chest, I would have liked to have known a bit more what was going on in his head a la Heather Demetrios' Josh in I'll Meet You There. At times, the story felt a bit rushed or that there was the potential to go a little deeper, however, the story still worked really well. I sympathized with this character and all he's been through, constantly having to be the one to pay the price for something he never asked for.

All in all, this was a solid contemporary story taking on an issue that happens far too often but is rarely discussed, especially in young adult literature. I can especially see this book being a big hit in the hands of Sarah Dessen fans or any reader who likes books that take on a bad situation but can also find the silver lining.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Robin Benway's Website
Robin Benway on Twitter