Tuesday, November 15, 2011
I can hear many of your thoughts. What. The. ? Why is she reviewing a self-help? For kids? Parents?
It is so simple. Otherwise, you may end up reducing your stress with a cocktail instead of - I don't know - playing Goth Barbies for the millionth time.
Actually, my sister showed me the book while we were, um, "visiting" at another relative's house (trying to protect the innocent here). With all of my imbibing, I finished reading it during trips to the loo.
I despise stars using ghost writers to push personal agendas, but this seems to have Goldie Hawn's sticky sweetness all over it. Is it the new wave of parenting or psychology? No, but it is a smart way to provide kids with the language to express their feelings. Eventually, it will help both the parent and child develop strategies to deal with those feelings in a zen-Buddhist reminiscent manner.
There are many other books that will help those with teens or to assist in the understanding of human brain development (as in, teenagers do not have functioning pre-frontal cortexes, so they just cannot help text-driving). This book lands on this like a butterfly sipping nectar but prefers to spread its showy wings to spread calm and beauty.
Hey, it might work.
3.5 out of 5.0 Healthy 2% Milks.
Kristin at Books for Breakfast.
Saturday, October 29, 2011
|Thorns = Go to hell - who knew?|
The Language of Flowers: A Novel
Victoria Jones earned the general last name through the bland child welfare system. She never knew her parents or their circumstances and only remembered disliking touch and her foster families. Until she met Elizabeth, a oak tree against Victoria's hurricanes of hate. Elizabeth began to teach Victoria about the old language of flowers, when gentlemen dared not send red roses to a lady friend.
This is where I will shoot a test tube of some purply vodka mix to avoid giving away the entire story. It is not happily ever after with Elizabeth. And, I wanted to take a horsewhip from my barn to Victoria. The characters behave how they should, however, based on their experiences.
Kudos to a beautiful debut from Vanessa Diffenbaugh, and I look forward to her next work.
4.25 out 5.0 Captain Morgan Silver Sodas.
Kristin at Books for Breakfast
Monday, October 17, 2011
This is one of those books that’s best read when it falls into your lap as a break from other books. One day you’re slogging your way through a tome of ungodly proportions, wondering how in God’s name this book ever got published, when a book like IASC falls into your lap and you pounce on it with the enthusiasm of a bobcat devouring a goat. Soon you find you must shirk all of your daily duties until the book is finished. This, people, is not only the mark of a good book, it is the mark of a good travel book. Even better is one that makes you want to visit Australia—which is remarkable when you consider Australia has more weird and horrible ways to kill you than pretty much any other place on earth. It’s the second most inhospitable climate on earth (the first is Antarctica). But all Antartica can do is kill you with its cold. Australia is home to fluffy caterpillars that can kill you, species of spiders that can kill you with just a pinprick of venom, and the world’s deadliest snake: the taipan. (Interesting fact: the taipan is fifty times more venomous than the world’s second deadliest snake, the cobra. You get bit by a taipan and it’s bye bye baby, goodbye.) (Little show tune humor there you’ll (hopefully) appreciate when you read the book.) Not to mention, there are sharks, poisonous jellyfish (“blueys”), and man-eating crocodiles. And desert. Lots and lots of unforgiving desert. While most Australians aren’t bothered by the rest of the lot, the crocodiles even scare them.
That said, Bryson makes Australia—a country, he notes, to which Americans pay little attention (Russell Crowe notwithstanding)—sound like the world’s friendliest and warmest place on planet Earth. Australians do sound like a very friendly and welcoming folk. That they managed to make a country at all is to their immense credit, though, according to Bryson, they’ll not thank you for mentioning that their country essentially started off as a penal colony. (The “criminals,” by the way, were not at all a bad lot; many were only there because of harsh sentences that were common for the lower classes in England at the time. If you stole five cucumbers, you could choose between your own hanging or … a move to Australia.)
There were many places in the book where Bryson made me burst out laughing. I tried to read a passage to a friend, but I could barely get it out because I was laughing too hard. And he’s not just good as a humorist, either. He’s great at the factual stuff. What otherwise might be dry and sleep-inducing comes alive in Bryson’s writing, and he kept me as riveted as any high-octane novelist. He truly is a delight to read, and I can’t wait to read more of his books. Highly recommended.
Thursday, October 6, 2011
Sunday, September 25, 2011
Dr. Montague is looking for evidence of a true haunting, and in Hill House, he appears to have found it. If buildings have psychologies, Hill House is one of complete insanity. The house has a terrible reputation among the town's locals, so much so that they are hostile to anyone asking for directions to it. But along with two other assistants, Eleanor helps the good doctor collect evidence of paranormal activity.
This novel qualifies as a horror novel (in fact, it's considered one of the very best in the genre)—though there's no gore. The horror is all psychological, and Jackson is so skilled as a writer, all she needed to do was paint us a picture of Eleanor's loneliness to show how easily the house could play on it. The others have their moments, too, but it's clear that among them, Eleanor is the easiest target.
No matter how cliché the haunted house trope may be, I've not read anyone who's done it better than Shirley Jackson (nor anyone who does a better job of painting someone who is lost emotionally and psychologically). She's one of those writers who achieved being both a good storyteller and a good writer. Her writing is a study in economy on par with Hemingway's. And I think that's one of the reasons this novel is considered more "respectable" than most others in the horror genre. You really can't fault the writing, even if it's not your style. It's really too bad she didn't publish more before her death. Makes her work all that more a treasure.
Thursday, September 8, 2011
Saturday, September 3, 2011
Premise: in a near-ish future Earth, the most promising of child-geniuses are sent to train in the Battle School, where they learn to fly fighter spacecraft in preparation for a coming war with the Buggers, an insectoid alien race who nearly destroyed the earth 80 years ago. Ender Wiggins, a six-year-old boy, has been identified by government agents as special--a genius with the capability to become commander of the fighting fleet when the war comes. He leaves his family forever (no contact at all until a family visit that's allowed once the kids turn 12) to face the rigorous, often merciless training at fight school, where he is stalked and monitored and presented with challenges the other students are not.
Themes: The book's biggest questions have to do with the nature of humanity (do the aliens have less right to life?), goodness (is Ender a bad person, because he's been hardened by his teachers into taking life opportunistically? is his brother Peter a "bad seed" type?), and education (is it right to design children through such rigorous training? what about if that's the only way to save the world?).
My personal reaction: like I said, I'm really glad I read this book, because not I can be part of the conversations that include it. I hear it referred to pretty frequently. I can't say I loved it, although I enjoyed the story and found myself caught up in it. Certain elements feel dated. For example, outside of the Bugger-Earth conflict, humans are divided in violent political factions that probably felt more plausible during the height of the Cold War than they do now. I also liked Card's writing of the battle training sequences and student interactions better than I liked the more allegorical and discursive parts of the story (long "telling" passages about his sister back home and her clandestine political campaigns, or the highly metaphorical and, in my opinion, not always interesting video games Ender plays to decompress). I also wish the story hadn't been so forcefully gendered. The reader only meets one female student in the Battle School, and she ends up cracking under pressure at one point. The narrative blithely explains that women have evolved differently and aren't as likely to be suited to the Battle Academy way of life. I find that to be another element of the story that seems falsely anachronistic (like the Iron Curtain feeling). But anyway.
Overall take-home: glad I can say I've read it. Didn't love it. Would like to talk more about it.
Thursday, July 7, 2011
Where I got the book: from the library.
Tuesday, July 5, 2011
But the dead don't come back to life. They sit frozen in our minds, finally free, capable of everything and nothing in a paradise where they can do no wrong.
Add Everything Beautiful Began After to your goodreads shelf and enter to win one of 10 free copies! Click HERE for details.
"Love Is Like Life But Longer", short film written by Simon Van Booy, directed by Poppy de Villeneuve
Monday, July 4, 2011
A quick investigation of Jean M. Auel tells me that she began publishing her Earth's Children series in 1980, and I must have been introduced to the series in about 1985 when The Mammoth Hunters was published. So my impression that I've been reading this series since the dawn of time has some foundation.
Friday, June 24, 2011
Monday, June 13, 2011
Where I got the book: ARC from LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program. Its publication date is 6/28/11 according to Amazon.
Wednesday, June 8, 2011
Second, Moonrat previously reviewed ROCK PAPER TIGER for this blog, thereby saving me the need to write an in-depth plot summary. You can read that and her thoughts here.
Now, let's begin.
This book follows Ellie Cooper, a 26-year-old American Iraqi war vet, as she grows up. Yes, grows up. Ellie may be smart (she's learning Chinese quickly) and tough (or is it numb?) from her time in the military, but when we meet her she's a woman who rarely takes action in her life--she merely reacts, if she does anything at all.
This inertia contrasts with her wry observations and likable personality. She's fun to be around, when she's not struggling with her PTSD. And while she may not realize it, she's a strong person. When she tells one character he's "an asshole" you will want to reach through the book and give her a high five.
Ellie finds herself stumbling and limping through China, pursued by various guys in dark suits. Some are from the government while others work for independent organizations and those are often scarier. Despite her best efforts to disappear, she's suddenly getting a lot of attention. The pace quickens, and everything builds towards what I expected to be a crazy, government-conspiracy type climax.
But that is not quite what you get. And, honestly, it was disappointing. I think as long as you go in knowing that, however, then you can still really enjoy this book. Just remember that (in my opinion, anyway), this book is about Ellie's internal journey, more so than it's about her external journey through China. She is not a badass heroinne in this book. She's got potential, but she's also got PTSD and a tendency to mix beer with percocet. The end of this book is only the beginning for Ellie. In fact, I would welcome a sequel!
Bonus factor: China. You've heard it before, I'm sure: China China China. But, it's true. As corny as it sounds, I really felt like I'd been to China for days after I read this book. A tough, sometimes fragile China that's a work in progress.
Much like Ellie.
Tuesday, June 7, 2011
Young Adult Contemporary
This book surprised me. In a good way.
From the back cover:
Sometimes at night, I wake up and stare at the heart for hours. I think of how I collected each piece from the beach, how I glued it all together into one big sculpture. I wonder if Connor realizes what it means, that he'll always have a piece of me no matter what happens. Each piece of glass is another piece of myself that I gave to him.
It's too bad I didn't keep any pieces for myself.
This is not your typical "abusive relationship" story, although it very well could have been, had the author not decided to tell it backwards.
That's right. Backwards. The entire novel is a string of flashbacks. Unfortunately, this is the very same reason why I struggled through the first 50 or so pages. The timeline takes some getting used to. But I'm so glad I stuck with it.
We start with Ann in a very bad place, made clear by the very first sentence: I lie in pieces on the floor. Then we are shown the events that led up to this pivotal moment. Every so often, the story jumps back (ahead?) to the opening scene.
Which, in my opinion, is crucial. If we hadn't kept going back/forward to that moment, the character arc would have collapsed by the end. Because the end is really the beginning, so by that point we already know everything that happened/is going to happen. In any good story, the main character has to make a tough decision at the end. Ann does just that in the final flash forward.
And that was the scene in which I completely lost all my composure, followed quickly after by the final-final scene, the day Ann and Connor meet, and, being already in a state of sobbery from the scene before it, it was just too much to take--all the innocence of that first meeting coupled with the knowledge of the downward spiral that follows...
I pretty much died at the end of this book. It's that good.
But let's go back to the heart of glass in the blurb and on the cover for a minute. I love when stories have an object of value (to the main character) tying everything together. Every time this heart was mentioned in a scene I felt a little closer to Ann, understood her a little more. It starts out broken, as does her figurative heart, and then as we travel backwards through time we see how she put it all together while Connor progressively crushed her heart.
It's an amazing parallel to the story of Ann and Connor's relationship. So fragile, yet sharp-edged like broken glass. And at one time, it was beautiful. But now it's shattered.
The thing I liked even more than the parallel of the glass heart and the brilliance of telling the story backwards, however, was the presentation of the characters. In a book like this it's easy to make the abuser flat. One dimensional. But Connor isn't, and that's one of the main things that kept me turning pages. It's also easy to make the victim unsympathetic. You get to a certain point in a story like this, and you just want to shake her, saying, "Get away from him! Why don't you just leave already?!"
Ann gives the simply-stated-yet-not-simply-understood answer in the title: But I Love Him. A situation like this is never black and white.
If this is subject matter you normally shy away from because you feel the story has already been told in every possible way, then I highly recommend reading this book. It might just surprise you in the good way it did me. 5 of 5 stars, and a contender for my Best Read of 2011.
Sunday, May 29, 2011
So. My bad. I totally thought I wrote a review here for BREAK, Hannah's debut, which I was going to link in this review... aaaand I didn't. If you follow my blog, though, or follow me on goodreads, you already know I loved BREAK. It was a (well-deserved) 2010 ALA Popular Paperback for Teens, and I highly recommend it for reluctant readers. Easy to read and get sucked into. Quick pace and a brilliant concept. Get on it.
Now for the actual review of said novel in the post title.
Invincible Summer by Hannah Moskowitz
Young Adult Contemporary
Simon Pulse, 2011
First edition, paperback
First, a word from Hannah. Because she highlights some things in this video that I think are important. One: this novel is difficult to summarize. And two: it's about family. No, really. It's about FAMILY. Just with some sex and the occasional F-word sprinkled in for good measure.
This is probably one of the most difficult reviews I've ever had to write. There is so much about this novel that I want to talk about, but a good majority of it will come off as spoiler-y if I get into it. Yet, at the same time, if I don't, there isn't much to say without coming off as rambly and disinteresting. (I'm getting red squiggly lines under both of those words. Whatever. You know what I mean.)
Let's start with the viewpoint character, Chase. At the beginning of the story he is 14 going on 15. At the end he is nearing his 18th birthday. So that's four years. Or rather, four summers. The presentation of the story solely through the summers spent at the family's beach house is just... amazing. The stuff that happens elsewhere really doesn't matter, and that's a difficult thing to pull off. It includes all of Chase's high school experiences, which in most YA lit is a defining quality, but not so with this novel. The definement (another red squiggly line, wtf? I swear I'm using real words) of Chase's self-perception comes through his summer experiences.
Hence the title, Invincible Summer. It's perfect. Also perfect? Is the cover. This story is told through summers, and I believe the cover presents summer in all its wondrous glory. It's clean and bright. It gets up close and personal with a hot chick in a bikini. That's summer, yes? But for some reason it has been the source of much debate among book bloggers and readers. So there's a girl in a bikini on the cover. Everyone assumes, then, that the love interest (or rather, the sex interest) is the main plot. It SO isn't. The disaster that is Melinda certainly has influence on the events of the story and the realizations of the MC about life--his life--but she, herself, is not the plot. The fact that Chase and his older brother Noah are both "involved" with her is NOT the plot. It's just one element of a much bigger concept.
And that concept is -- family relationships. In my goodreads review I mentioned that this novel is just as much Noah's story as it is Chase's. The perception of Noah through Chase's eyes is yet another item that goes under the "reasons why this book is brilliant" column. Chase calls him "my brother the flight risk", and if that isn't enough to get you interested in the relationship between these two brothers, then maybe this will be: they're both doing the girl next door, and they both know they're both doing the girl next door, and they both continue doing the girl next door in light of this knowledge. It's all very weird and gritty and makes you want to powerwash your brain. Or dry heave. Sorry, but I had a hard time stomaching the idea of so obviously sharing a girl. This didn't stop me from reading, though, and I still love the book enough to recommend it.
But again, that is just one element of the big picture.
Noah is a huge part of the story. He has real issues. Issues I can relate to, and I think that's why I fell for him so hard while reading this. We also have Chase's younger brother, Gideon. Oh God... where do I even start with Gideon. Well, he's only six years old at the beginning. And he's deaf. And stinking adorable. And wildly intelligent. I can't even... seriously, I can't even talk about Gideon without getting teary-eyed. How Hannah managed to portray such a deeply layered character through the eyes of someone else still has me reeling.
Then there's Claudia, Chase's younger sister, who is eleven years old at the beginning. She is, in a word, adventurous. Totally love her. The parents? Mom is pregnant during the first summer. So, another kid is added to this already large family. You'd think the parents just can't get enough of each other, right? Wrong. Hannah added huge parental issues to the mix. Again, brilliant.
The story is just one dynamite layer after another after another after another... until it all explodes.
I can't get into the minor issue I had with the ending without giving anything away, so I'll add one final remark on the Melinda thing. She was raped when she went to college -- I don't think saying that here will ruin your enjoyment of the book. It's made pretty obvious early on in the story.
The thing I want to comment on is that even though she was raped, and subsequently fell into a depression (which is expected), she didn't shy away from sex after that horrible experience. To me, this came across as REALISTIC. Yes, many girls who are raped can't stand the thought of going near a guy for a long, long time, after much, much therapy. But. That isn't always the case. Some girls then use sex as a way of staying in control. They had an "out of control" sexual experience, so they put themselves in situations where they are "in control of" the sexual experience. And that's exactly what Melinda does with Noah and Chase.
And I just want to personally thank Hannah for going that route, when most novels that include this touchy subject go the obvious route of the girl completely withdrawing from all forms of sex. It was refreshing to see something different, yet still real.
Okay, I think I've blabbered on long enough (no red squiggly line under "blabbered"? I give up). All that's left to say is READ THIS BOOK. 4 out of 5 stars.
Saturday, May 28, 2011
Where I got the book: from the library. It's been on my TBR list for a while, but when Holly Tucker started a history and science readalong on Goodreads, I knew its moment had come.
"It's not often that Khalid can look at his life from a distance. But, instantly, he can see himself clearly for once. He's another meaningless bent orange shape dropped into some weird world game, the sun fixing him here on this lump of tarmac like a dart in his back. He's nothing but an orange heap for soldiers to toss around because they think he's a terrorist who wants to blow up cites. Think he hates the West, even though he lives there and doesn't know anything about weapons of mass destruction or bombs or buildings crashing to the ground in New York."
There’s nothing unusual about 15 year old Khalid. He’d much rather be playing a computer game than polishing his school shoes. He hasn’t got a clue how to flirt with girls, and there is no way he’s leaving England to visit his father’s boring family in Pakistan. Especially when his football team is so close to being promoted.
Unfortunately for him Khalid’s parents disagree, and they soon arrive in the bustling Pakistani city of Karachi. What Khalid finds there is far from boring. The streets are filled with whispers of U.S troops and terrorist informers, and Khalid’s worst fears are horribly realised when he’s kidnapped and detained for questioning by U.S troops.
Surely they’ll quickly realise he’s innocent and release him? They can’t possibly send a 15 year old to Guantanamo Bay. Can they?
This book combines that chilling mixture of everyday normality and unimaginable horror. It’s the kind of story that really haunts you because it depicts a horribe situation that could so easily be true. As the author notes, ‘although Guantanamo Boy is a work of fiction, it is inspired by real events. It remains a fact that children have been abducted and abused and held without charge in the name of justice in Guantanamo Bay and many other secret prisons around the world.’
I certainly couldn’t put this down. I can’t say it was always an enjoyable read, but it was definitely immersive and thought provoking. Whilst this book carries a strong and valuable political message, the overriding sentiments are that of love and the support of family and friends. Khalid is well drawn and Anna Perera does a brilliant job of persuading even the most indifferent of readers to truly care about his wellbeing. She does this subtly over the course of the story, and I found my affection for him building slowly whilst my full attention remained centred on his inhumane treatment.
Unlike many other novels dealing with similar stories of abuse, the narrative of Guantanamo Boy is lightened by lifelike humour and small acts of kindness. This contrast allows the darker moments to retain their sharpness, and it allowed me to keep reading for long periods of time without feeling emotionally drained.
Anna Perera has highlighted the importance of human kindness in a truly remarkable setting. This book needs to be in every school library.
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
In a brutal and archaic punishment a beautiful young Lady is locked away in a rat-infested tower for 7 years. Her father imprisons her after refusing a favoured Lord's hand in marriage. The only one brave, or perhaps foolish, enough to accompany her to this prison is her faithful maid Dashti.
Dashti and Lady Saren live in a mystical land overseen by distant pagan gods who rule through the privileged gentry. Stripped of her family, Dashti has never known luxury and has faced a daily battle to stay alive. In contrast, Saren is a pampered princess to whom the squalor of the tower is a brutal shock.
Despite their differences the girls slowly build a routine and begin to fashion a home for themselves. At times their readiness to accept their situation felt slightly offbeat. However, it soon becomes clear that for both girls the prison develops elements of a sanctuary from the outer world as Dashti begins to suspect that Saren's extreme fear of her rejected suitor is far from natural.
Dashti is a mucker, a peasant class known for singing songs of healing. Her talent and empathy for healing the pain of others renders her blind to her own feelings and she soon becomes unwillingly entangled in a web of deceit and mistaken identities. Think Twelfth night meets Emma with a touch of Brothers Grimm.
Dashti's stubborn respect for the gentry verges on irritating and her patience with the pathetic Lady Saren is beyond understanding. This does make for an interesting take on the corruptability of religious belief but it did feel overdone at times.
That being said, Shannon Hale's engaging and humorous style kept me turning the pages and the book definitely lightens up in the second half. It's a sweet story with slightly gothic moments and a few twists and turns. Would recommend if you've got a weakness for fantasy teen romance
Monday, May 16, 2011
Fourteen-year-old Karl Stern has never thought of himself as a Jew. But to the bullies at his school in Naziera Berlin, it doesn't matter that Karl has never set foot in a synagogue or that his family doesn't practice religion. Demoralized by relentless attacks on a heritage he doesn't accept as his own, Karl longs to prove his worth to everyone around him.
So when Max Schmeling, champion boxer and German national hero, makes a deal with Karl's father to give Karl boxing lessons, Karl sees it as the perfect chance to reinvent himself. A skilled cartoonist, Karl has never had an interest in boxing, but as Max becomes the mentor Karl never had, Karl soon finds both his boxing skills and his art flourishing.
But when Nazi violence against Jews escalates, Karl must take on a new role: protector of his family. Karl longs to ask his new mentor for help, but with Max's fame growing, he is forced to associate with Hitler and other Nazi elites, leaving Karl to wonder where his hero's sympathies truly lie. Can Karl balance his dream of boxing greatness with his obligation to keep his family out of harm's way?
Tuesday, May 3, 2011
Where I got the book: won a free copy from the author's blog.
Friday, April 29, 2011
Even at night, the wrecks glowed with work. The torch lights flickered, bobbing and moving. Sledge noise rang across the water. Comforting sounds of work and activity, the air tanged with the coal reek of smelters and the salt fresh breeze coming off the water. It was beautiful.
In America's Gulf Coast region, where grounded oil tankers are being broken down for parts, Nailer, a teenage boy, works the light crew, scavenging copper wiring just to make quota--and hopefully live to see another day. But when, by luck or chance, he discovers an exquisite clipper ship beached during a recent hurricane, Nailer faces the most important decision of life: Strip the ship for all it's worth or rescue a lone survivor, a beautiful and wealthy girl who could lead him to a better life....
This is not a cupcake read, people. It is DEEP and DARK.
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Where I got the book: by winning an author giveaway. Release date is June 7, 2011.
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
The action in Children of God picks up where The Sparrow left off:
Emilio Sandoz has done his big reveal before the Jesuit inquiry into the disastrous mission to the planet Rakhat years before. Sandoz remains a proud but broken (and lonely) man, his faith in God shredded by all that he's been through. The same characters are in place around Sandoz: Jesuits Father General Vincenzo Giuliani, Brother Ed Behr and priest John Candotti, and the others participating in the inquiry and Sandoz's subsequent care and recovery. Sandoz continues to sleep poorly -- as who wouldn't, after having his hands maimed so horribly, to say nothing of years of gang rape by the Rakhati poet-singer Hlavin Kitheri and his carnivorous friends?
As in The Sparrow, Children of God's structure swings back and forth between events on Earth and events on Rakhat (and en route). Chapter headings continue to require both "where" and "when" details. And the "when" bits? Still stretched out over decades, thanks to the strange effects of Sandoz's near-light-speed travel to and back from the distant planet.
But these threads of continuity lead to a very different book.
Remember the surprise -- the shock -- from the first book, the discovery of how different things were on Rakhat than anyone had anticipated? (Alien, indeed.) Those surprises continue in the sequel; in many cases they overturn the surprising conclusions which themselves overturned our expectations while reading the first book. For in this book we spend proportionately much greater time in the lives and minds of the Rakhati themselves.
Particularly, Russell places us for long stretches in the company of the "villains" of The Sparrow. We learn what happens to Supaari VaGayjur, the ambitious merchant who delivered Sandoz to Hlavin Kitheri in exchange for social advancement. And long passages explore the everyday life and motivations of Kitheri himself. We learn a lot more about both the gentle Runa and the predatory Jana'ata, and why Rakhati society has evolved the way it has, and why it's stayed that way.
A less skilled author might communicate all this in long, dry expository passages, as in a history or geography textbook (with big swatches of text excerpted from psychological journals). Russell doesn't do that. She uses characters -- familiar and new ones -- as vessels of history and personality; the context soaks into our awareness gradually rather than being injected forcibly.
(On the other hand, she also continues her practice from The Sparrow, as I mentioned in the earlier review, of telling us about her characters' states of mind rather than revealing them through behavior. It's more understandable here, maybe; after all, we have no built-in inner compass to help us map Rakhati behavior to psychology. But at times it did require -- for me -- long patience.)
Children of God introduces us to new human characters, too, and these additions lead to further upheavals in Sandoz's assumptions about what God might or might not have planned for him. For Emilio Sandoz returns to Rakhat, and there faces the aftermath of his first visit. I loved this about Children of God: a common theme of science fiction is how human culture might be remade by a first visit from extraterrestrials, but we seldom get to see it from the other side. And as we might imagine with Earth's first unexpected contact, so with Rakhat's: many, many things are turned upside-down.
(Remember that Sandoz has made two near-light-speed journeys between Rakhat and Earth since leaving the former: one outbound and, now, one returning. Planetary time stretches out, so in what Sandoz perceives as months, over a decade passes back on both his home planet and on Rakhat.)
Finally, early on in Children of God we learn what we -- what I -- never suspected: Sandoz was not the only one to survive the earlier mission. What that survivor experiences among the Runa and Jana'ata races lies at the heart of what Sandoz comes to understand, not just about his two visits to Rakhat but about his entire life.
In a "reader's guide" section which the publisher added to the end of Children of God, Russell says she was surprised that its popularity seemed to exceed that of The Sparrow. I myself would not choose to take Children of God with me as reading material on an interstellar journey (although The Sparrow might make the trip). Much of the pleasure of the earlier title came from seeing the characters interact with one another. Those characters were not just fresh to me, but innocent of what they would find on Rakhat. Children of God is a book which must fight its way back from despair and terror, which makes it a book of a wholly different, a darker character. The narrative here spends much more time in the minds of institutions -- the Jesuits and the larger Roman Catholic Church, the Runa and Jana'ata cultures. Furthermore, The Sparrow's tone benefited from much light-hearted conversation and flirtation between men and women; in Children of God, you'll find almost none of that.
I also must mention that I found the passages focusing on Hlavin Kitheri... well, repellent. Even after coming to appreciate, objectively, how his mind worked and why it worked that way -- even after he goes a long way towards redeeming not just himself, but the whole of Jana'ata culture -- I still hated the character. (I did admire Russell's skill at bringing him to life.) It was like watching George C. Scott in Patton: I kept thinking, y'know, You monster. You S.O.B. Don't even try to justify what you're up to.
So, recommended or not? I gave The Sparrow 95 out of 100; Children of God, I'd probably place around 85. Still very happy to have read it, I hope to look into Russell's more recent work. (She didn't stick to science fiction; her latest is about Wyatt Earp's friend, Doc Holliday!)
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Where I got the book: won from LibraryThing as an Early Reviewers giveaway.
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Meet Brooke: Popular, powerful and hating every minute of it, she’s the “It” girl at Douglas High in Lake Champion, Minnesota. Her real ambition? Using her operatic mezzo as a ticket back to NYC, where her family lived before her dad ran off with an up and coming male movie star.
Now meet Kathryn: An overachieving soprano with an underachieving savings account, she’s been a leper ever since Brooke punched her at a party junior year. For Kath, music is the key to a much-needed college scholarship.
The stage is set for a high-stakes duet between the two seniors as they prepare for the prestigious Blackmore competition. Brooke and Kathryn work toward the Blackmore with eyes not just on first prize but on one another, each still stinging from a past that started with friendship and ended in betrayal. With competition day nearing, Brooke dreams of escaping the in-crowd for life as a professional singer, but her scheming BFF Chloe has other plans. And when Kathryn gets an unlikely invitation to Homecoming, she suspects Brooke of trying to sabotage her with one last public humiliation.
As pressures mount, Brooke starts to sense that the person she hates most might just be the best friend she ever had. But Kathryn has a decision to make. Can she forgive? Or are some rivalries for life?