Month: November 2012

Nov 16

Confession Friday: I Talk in My Sleep

Confession Friday, Personal, Psychological 32

Happy Friday, Bookworms! It’s time for confessions! It’s no secret that I love to sleep. I’m convinced that I’m part bear and ought to hibernate through the winter. It doesn’t help that I mysteriously grow this pelt every year…

I only wish I was that cute… Sigh.

Sleep for me is an adventure. I have anxiety dreams practically every night. Sometimes I’m back in college and have missed all the classes but need to sit for an exam. Sometimes I start screaming at work and get fired for being insane (in reality, my job is TOTALLY COOL with me talking to myself all day long.) Sometimes I’m being chased by 15 simultaneous tornadoes. Most often I’m forced to go back to high school… They’ve nullified my diploma due to new state guidelines and I’m required to take hours and hours and hours of gym class to retroactively earn my diploma, but nobody in the front office will listen to me when I explain that I’ve already got a bachelor’s degree…

It’s kind of sad for Jim, because he’s a really light sleeper. He often wakes up to me thrashing and yelling “I was summa cum laude!” Then he wakes me, asks me what I was dreaming about, and reminds me that it wasn’t real. He’s a gem, you know, when he’s not farting in my general direction.

Last night I had back to back nightmares. The first involved me arguing with my sister over who got to sleep in which bedroom in my Grandma’s house. Now, in real life, whenever we stayed at Grandma’s, we had to share a bedroom, so it really made no sense. Also, in real life, the minute we got in the door at Grandma’s, my sister would locate and chase me around with the world’s most terrifying toy monkey…

I have custody of him now. He still frightens me…

Jim woke me up and asked what was wrong. I muttered “fighting with my sister,” rolled over, and went back to sleep. I mumbled and thrashed violently again a short time later. I really have no recollection of this second nightmare, but I do remember telling Jim a “punk kid” was to blame. Yep. I’m an old lady. The words “punk kid” left my semi-conscious lips. Jim claims I only have nightmares at approximately 5 am, but I’m not sure I believe him. As far as my subconscious is concerned, all of my sleeping hours are a jittery ride through Scooby Doo style amusement parks. (And I would’ve gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for you meddling punk kids!)

Now you know why I don’t read much Stephen King. My subconscious is jacked up enough WITHOUT filling it with images of evil clowns and child cults. I absolutely ADORE The Walking Dead, but you’d better believe I pay for it in the night time… Or, Jim pays for it in the night time… with braaaaains… My mind is CHAOS, people!

Have any of you had crazy dreams lately? Tell me about it! Don’t make me feel all alone in crazy town!

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Nov 15

My BFF and The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

Historical Fiction 16

Bookworms, let’s talk. You know how when you were in middle school you would occasionally tire of age appropriate fare and steal things from your parents’ bookshelves? No? I find that hard to believe. While you’re coming to terms with honesty, I’m going to tell you a story.

When I was in middle school I met my BFF. She’s my best friend to this day, so it’s not weird AT ALL that we refer to each other as “besties” or “BFF.” We’re entitled, we’ve put in the years, yo. Anyway. When I was in middle school, our language arts teachers encouraged us to read outside of assignments… By “encouraged,” I really mean “required,” but it was so much more fun than algebra I didn’t mind in the slightest. Anyhoodle, my BFF started reading The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. It is a fabulous book, but WILDLY inappropriate for 12-year-old girls. Really though, 12 is about the age you get away with reading Forever because it’s Judy Blume and your mom doesn’t realize it’s about S-E-X. So. No harm done. After several giggly slumber parties spent reading the scandalous bits of The Pillars of the Earth, my BFF finished the book and we continued on with our glittery eyelidded, lip smackery adolescence.

Me, BFF, and my “nephew” on my wedding day, nearly three years ago. I’m much too lazy to dig through shoe boxes to locate and scan photos of our 12-year-old selves.

Then came Oprah. Oprah added Pillars of the Earth to her book club in 2007, and I found it in my mom’s stack of books (a double copy, no less! Read more about my mom’s incessant double purchasing HERE.) It all came flooding back. The middle school scandal… My BFF’s assurance there was a great story underneath the smut… I’d discovered my love of historical fiction by this time, so I snagged Mom’s spare copy (and a few others) and was on my way.

The Pillars of The Earth takes place in the middle ages from 1123-1174. This book predates even the bubonic plague- it’s SUPER old school! The story is centered around the building of a cathedral in England and all the folks involved in the building, the town, the government, the clergy, and the scandal. It’s actually kind of rare to find a lot of historical fiction about “normal” people. It’s a lot more appealing to a mass audience to incorporate major historical figures into their fiction to grab a little extra recognition. (Note the PLETHORA of historical fiction starring the Tudors and Renaissance Florence…) Name recognition aside, life for the rank and file was pretty stinky, dirty, and hungry. However, I happen to want to know what it would have been like for ME to live way back when.

Let’s face it, my current existence is not that of a high society lady. I have to scrub my own toilets and save up for things I want. I shop at Wal-Mart. So… If I were living in the 1100s, I would have been living in a one room hut snuggling the family sheep for warmth. Appealing, no? Whatever, the grit is where it’s at!

The Pillars of the Earth is way too long to give a play by play, but I will tell you it’s a whole lot of awesome. I highly recommend it to any historical fiction buffs out there! There is also a “sequel” which is amazing as well called World Without End but since it’s set a full 200 years after the end of Pillars of the Earth you won’t miss anything by only reading one or the other.

So, Bookworms, what do you think YOUR life would have been like “once upon a time”? Do you like to imagine yourself as old school royalty, or do you prefer to indulge in the lives of the regular folk? Tell me about it!

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Nov 13

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday 42

Hi Bookworms! Writing 4-5 book reviews a week is kind of intense. So! I decided to join a little tradition the ladies over at The Broke and the Bookish started known as Top Ten Tuesday. Every week there is a new category and book nerds like myself make top ten lists.

Today’s category is: Top Ten Books For I’d Want on a Deserted Island

I’m going to make a few assumptions here. First, I’m assuming that these books are primarily for entertainment value. I mean really, who wants to read a list of books that’s all local field guilds and raft building for dummies? Nobody, that’s who. So. Here goes.

  1. Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell. It’s a great story I could read over and over again. Plus, it’s really long. If I’m going to have THAT much time on my hands, I want something with substantial.
  2. Harry Potter by JK Rowling. Yes, I’m completely aware that this is TECHNICALLY 7 books. However, this is my imaginary island, so there is no reason I can’t be the proud owner of the world’s first single bound edition of the HP saga. Is explanation as to why even necessary? I mean, the only danger here is that I become even more fixated on the fact I can’t apparate. Still bitter.
  3. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. The whole friggin series, again. I am trying to max out my pages here, people. Jamie and Claire have pretty much the greatest love story of all time. Anthologies, people. Imagine with me!
  4. Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. I love historical fiction- the longer the better. Epic tales of medieval chaos? Yes please.
  5. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. I’ve discussed by limitations with Shakespeare, but I’m thinking that if I were stranded on a desert island. I could really get into the plays by putting on productions with coconuts. I’d totally carve a realistic coconut skull for Poor Yorrick to get my soliloquy on.
  6. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. It’s one of my favorites, and Jane is possibly the greatest heroine literature has ever known.
  7. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. This is another big long tome, all the better for having endless time on your hands. Bonus? I know the entire soundtrack to the musical, so I totally have a mental symphony going on while I read. Book, music, all in one. Winning!
  8. The Stand by Stephen King. Nice and long. Epic tale of good and evil. Reminder to watch out for sketchy characters like Randall Flagg.
  9. Can’t Wait To Get To Heaven by Fannie Flagg. Fannie Flagg is my happy place. I always feel uplifted and smiley when I finish one of her novels.
  10. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. The March girls’ trials and tribulations would put my “stuck on a deserted island” plight into perspective. Bwahahahha no it wouldn’t! But escapism is an under-rated diversion.

Wait, wait. Is Sawyer on my island? It’s cool, Jim. Enjoy Taylor Swift!

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Nov 12

Have a Little Faith in Me: Keeping Faith by Jodi Picoult

Book Club, Family, Religion 19

This month’s book club for Wine and Whining took place on election night. Our regular venue was inundated with political cocktail parties… Which was annoying. Our venue is normally a terrible open mike night we hide from in a back room while drinking wine and eating desserts. Plus, it’s not like anyone could DO anything except watch voter returns with like 2% of the vote in. See? Whining!

Anyway. The book we read for this month was Keeping Faith by Jodi Picoult (oh you like Jodi Picoult? Check out my review of Plain Truth HERE.) From what I could hear over the blare of the bad open mike night, the din of political schmoozing, and the chatter of impecibly coiffed political analysts, it seems that we all agreed on this book (a fairly rare occurrence, I assure you.)

It was great! The novel starts off with us following a somewhat neurotic stay-at-home-mom named Mariah. She builds dollhouses and tiny furniture in her spare time (which CLEARLY is not a pastime you’d expect out of a laid back sort of lady.) She’s married to a traveling salesman named Colin and they have a 7 year old daughter named Faith. Mariah has a history of depression (and really, who doesn’t?) so she copes by keeping her life in methodical order. Each day has its assigned duties, and everything is orderly. Everything is orderly, that is, until she and Faith arrive home during an unscheduled leotard emergency (seriously, is anything involving leotards NOT an emergency?) and catch Colin in a compromising position with another woman.

Mariah crumbles and calls her mom in for backup. Millie arrives and takes care of Faith while Mariah gets back on her meds and spends a week crying in bed. Colin initiates a quickie divorce and takes off to Vegas to marry his newly pregnant mistress. He’s not exactly the best person in the world. Things start to get a little hairy back on the home front when Faith develops a relationship with an imaginary friend she refers to as her “guard.” Mariah was raised Jewish, Colin was raised Christian, but Faith was raised without religion of any kind.

Which is why it gets pretty crazy when her “guard” turns out to be “God.” Faith starts spontaneously healing people and suffering from stigmata. Yep. Stigmata. The literal manifestation of the wounds of Christ. I googled an image of Stigmata, but they were all really disturbing, so I’m saving you some gore here. Also, most of the Stigmata sufferers in google images are Catholic priests and nuns. But Faith? She is a little kid who has ZERO concept of the story of the crucifixion, resurrection, saints, martyrs, or any of the trappings of a Judeo-Christian up-bringing. This fact actually works to her advantage in helping her doctors and therapists  believe the unbelievable. A child from a highly religious household quoting bible verses isn’t really cause for concern… From a kid who’s never SEEN a bible, it’s a bit different. It’s a lot less likely to be a mental disorder and more likely to be… Real.

Enter Ian Fletcher. Ian is a sort of reverse televangelist. He’s like… Mythbusters on religious happenings… Otherwise known as a total buzz kill for the faithful. Colin eventually returns from Vegas and realizes there’s a media circus surrounding his daughter. He decides to sue for custody. I’ve read four Picoult novels now, and every one of them involves a court battle. If you have a violent hatred of lawyers or despise Law & Order, you might want to steer clear of her work. Just a little public service announcement.

Jamie and Adam can sniff out phonies. With science!

I don’t want to be the queen of spoilers, but I will tell you that by the end of the book Faith’s visions seem to have abandoned her. I’m certainly no expert in religious phenomena, but, you know, every reasonably knowledgeable Catholic-raised human knows a few stories of saintly happenings. The Virgin Mary is particularly fond of appearing to children and giving them messages. Unfortunately, celestial visions typically are a short term thing. It’s not like the kids from Fatima got to hang out with Mary every day for the rest of their lives. It’s really up to the reader to interpret Faith’s experiences. Was she really being guided by God? Was she faking it all? Was some other explanation of the events plausible? I myself felt pretty darned warm and fuzzy at the end of this book. The way the story played out gave me a little boost in “faith.”

So Bookworms, let’s be all controversial-like. When presented with the latest instance of Jesus appearing in toast crust or spontaneous healings, are you more the pilgrim type or the skeptic type? Let’s discuss!

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Nov 09

Confession Friday: I'm a Kitchen Klutz

Confession Friday, Personal 31

I’m a terrible cook. Okay, that’s not entirely true, but it sure as heck does not come naturally to me. I’m two left feet and all thumbs in the kitchen. The minute I try to stray from a recipe or improvise a little, everything goes to pot. And sometimes the pot goes into the trash because I’ve burned something onto it and it won’t come off.

Last year I made Thanksgiving dinner and by some miracle, I pulled it off. No, I didn’t make any elaborate Food Network meal, but I made a turkey. I made gravy. I did up the side dishes. Nobody got salmonella. Victory!

This was technically my practice turkey, but the Thanksgiving one turned out similar. It may not have a suntan, but that was a juicy bird. Proof that if I pay close attention, I don’t ALWAYS ruin food.

I’m cooking again this year, but I’m beginning to a get a little nervous. I mean, I’m thrilled that my family is making the trip to have dinner at the Gingerbread House, but… Last week I destroyed a pan of rice crispy treats. Who does that?! I mean, seriously, who can’t melt marshmallows and butter and stir in cereal? Me, apparently. Those suckers came out hard as a rock.

Jim likes nothing so much as teasing me about my kitchen ineptitude. His reaction to my failed dessert? “Call my mom.” My mother-in-law is a fabulous cook. (And wonderfully encouraging when I ruin things!) She’s not afraid to step outside the recipe! Do you know why her rice crispy treats are so delicious? Double up on marshmallows! Ooey gooey delicious. My second batch? Perfection. It’s not just the rice crispy treats though.

Not only would it crack your jaw, it came out of the pan in one giant lump!

Katie’s Top Five Cooking Fails:

  1. Served Chrissy nearly raw chicken by accident. (I thought the frozen chicken breasts were pre-cooked or something and that a jaunt in the microwave was all they needed. I don’t know. I was like 18. I’m so glad I didn’t kill you, Chrissy!)
  2. Attempted fudge. Made fudge sauce, because I didn’t measure the evaporated milk. Jim ate it with spoon while mocking me.
  3. Attempted caramels. Twice. First, I used too much whipping cream and ended up with a buttery caramel sauce. Second? Pull your fillings out, rock hard, caramel flavored cement. Eventually? I got it, thanks to a tutorial from Aunt Sue, a recipe revision, and a digital candy thermometer.
  4. Taffy Apple Salad. Epic Fail. Egg in the sauce? WTF? Resulted in a huge mess in the kitchen and a Waldorf salad from my local deli. Jim brings this up EVERY TIME I screw up in the kitchen. Weasels have disturbingly long memories.
  5. Destroyed a batch of beer cheese soup by burning the garlic and stubbornly carrying on with the recipe instead of admitting defeat. It. Was. Awful.

Baking soda is for the casually bad cook. We keep the kitchen stocked with fire extinguishers. Safety first. Shame second.

Seriously, anybody with cooking karma to spare, send it my way. I beg of you. I need to stop being on the brink of kitchen disaster at all times. Yes, I know. Practice is the only way to learn. Yes, I’ve learned how to make rice crispy treats, fudge, and caramel from my mistakes. I now know better than to be a purveyor of food poisoning. But I hate having to make mistakes to learn things! Sigh. My kitchen journey was not meant to be an easy one.

And so I persist… With many, many takeout options on speed dial… Just in case.

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Nov 08

Here Comes the Son: Son by Lois Lowry

Children's Fiction, Coming of Age, Dystopian, Family, Fantasy, Women's Studies, Young Adult Fiction 19

Hidey Ho, Bookworms!

We have reached the final leg of our Giver journey! Who’s excited? I can practically hear you hooting and hollering through the internet. Love the enthusiasm!

Son is the fourth and final offering in Lois Lowry’s Giver quartet. Son starts off with a bang by returning us to the scene of the crime- the original community! We’re back in the land of overscheduled, colorless, emotionless lives. But the bicycles are especially jaunty, you have to give them that.

We are introduced to a new character, Claire. Claire is a 14-year-old birthmother. Remember birthmothers? The girls in the community who weren’t fit for other occupation? Yeah. Those birthmothers. Claire is one of them. She’s 14. And pregnant! Oh, community, seriously?! You can fix the weather but you can’t figure out that young girls’ bodies, while capable of producing a healthy child, are not mature enough to do so reliably? I don’t remember what the ideal childbearing age is biologically speaking, but it sure as sugar snap peas isn’t 14!

Claire is busy chilling in the birthmother dorm hanging around the other birthmothers reflecting that it was kind of weird that she had no idea how human reproduction worked, what with the swelling of bellies and all. Then she goes into labor. She’s wheeled into a room and put into a leather mask (that sounds like nothing so much as accoutrements of Fifty Shades’ Red Room of Pain.) Unfortunately something goes wrong (I mean, it’s not like she’s a 14-year-old girl giving birth or anything!) and Claire has to have a c-section to release the “product.” Claire is given some time to recover and is then re-assigned to work in the fish hatchery. The community doesn’t like c-sections, apparently, so she’s kicked out of birthmother-ing.

The powers that be made two mistakes. First, someone mentioned to Claire that her “product” was a male and gives her his birth number. Second, the community is so dang flustered at their screw up with Claire’s assignment that they forget to give her the pills! (The PILLS! The ones that make you sterile and steal your emotions. Egads, the girl has FEELINGS now!)

It’s a party mix! Saddest thing about the pills? Even if they were fun colors, nobody in the community could see them. Sad trombone.

In case you hadn’t guessed this already, Claire’s baby is Gabe. While Gabe is spending his nights with Jonas and his family, Claire is volunteering at the nursery to spend time with her baby boy. She begins to get attached (not allowed) and is devastated to hear from Jonas’s father that Gabe isn’t bound to be assigned, but released. (Released=Euthanasia, remember?) Claire is distraught and desperate to save her baby. Later that night alarms sound, because Jonas has escaped with Gabe. Claire hops onto a supply ship hoping to track them down…And then she’s shipwrecked!

Dun dun dun! Claire washes up on the shore of yet another society. This village is hemmed in by cliffs on one side and the ocean on the other, so it’s completely isolated. It’s not entirely unpleasant though. Actually, it’s the most normal of the places we’ve seen in this series of novels. It’s pretty much what you’d expect out of an isolated town, like 150 years ago. They don’t abandon their sick and injured to die in fields… Claire starts out with amnesia but soon remembers Gabe and her quest. She meets a disabled shepherd who is willing to train her on how to scale the cliff of doom (I added the “of doom” part. Creative license. Sue me.)

After an irrationally long (sorry Ms. Lowry, it was a bit drawn out…) sequence describing Claire’s physical training regime and her highly detailed climb, Claire escapes the village. But who awaits her at the top? Her Mr. Miyagi Shepherd buddy warned her about (dun dun duuuuuuun!) the Trademaster! Yes! The wicked fellow ruining lives in Jonas’s village is waiting for Claire! He demands a trade, and Claire knows she must accept, otherwise he’ll cut off half her feet the way he did Miyagi (jerk.) So. The Trademaster tells Claire he’ll get her to Gabe… In exchange for her youth. (Are you sensing more fantasy coming on?) Claire is turned from a young woman into a hunched, old, arthritic geezer. Sad! But, she is taken into Jonas’s village and gets to watch Gabe grow up from afar.

Cliff climbing. Like so. Only without the rope thingie and all the safety precautions. I may or may not have had a mild bout of vertigo reading this section…

Sidebar- Jonas and Kira totally get married and have babies, so yay for them. Unfortunately, Gabe is being a moody teenager and wants to find his “real” family. Claire is prematurely super old and is on her deathbed before she reveals her secret to Jonas. Gabe has a little bit of superpower about him and is able to pop into people’s heads and feel their feelings and stuff. It’s kind of vague, but somehow he is able to track down the Trademaster, get inside his head and destroy him. Then Claire is magically young again and they all live happily ever after. Yay?

When I look at this series as a whole, I’ve got to admit that for me nothing really lived up to The Giver. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy each of the books in their own way, I just felt that the messages in The Giver resonated with me in a way the others didn’t. Honestly, I would have preferred to hear about how the original community evolved after Jonas’s departure than have the story branch out into so many other little societies, but alas, wasn’t in the cards. I also wasn’t thrilled with the turn the series took into full on fantasy either… I mean, fantasy is great, I just prefer it to carry it all throughout a series than to have it presented halfway through. I found Son a little bit predictable, too. But! I’m not a complete sourpuss! Overall, this series is a great example of young adult fiction. There are all sorts of good lessons to learn, and I appreciate a happy ending, no matter how it comes about. Give it a shot and decide for yourself!

Have any of you Bookworms made it all the way through the series? Are you pleased with the way Lowry wrapped up the story? Do you still have unanswered questions? Let’s talk about it!

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Nov 07

Don't Kill The Messenger! (Messenger by Lois Lowry)

Children's Fiction, Coming of Age, Dystopian, Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction 5

Happy Wednesday, Bookworms!

I know what you’re thinking! “Messenger had better link up The Giver and Gathering Blue or I’m going to be one angry bookworm!” I know that’s what I was thinking. Well it wasn’t exactly that vitriolic, but I was pleased when I started this and recognized the characters.

We start off this story with Matty. Remember Matt from Gathering Blue? In Kira and Matty’s community they earn syllables to tack onto their names as they age. So Matt became Matty. Which is funny because, in traditional English naming convention, the addition of a Y actually makes the name sound YOUNGER. Like, your full name is Matthew but when you’re a little kid you’re Matty, and when you hit 8 you refuse to answer to the baby name and insist on Matt? In this society, you’d start out as Matt, go to Matty, then Matty-Saurus-Rex. You know. The usual progression.

Messenger takes a turn for the allegorical in this novel. We depart from the sci-fi realm and move a little more into fantasy territory. Remember how Kira’s dad showed up to see her in his blue shirt? And how Matty was the one who found him? We finally find out that this mysterious village that takes in the disabled is where Jonas and Gabe ended up!!! Cliffhanger resolved! Jonas and Gabe didn’t die, the lights they sledded to in the midst of that blizzard was this village.

A dude and an evil forest. Oooooh.

At the end of Gathering Blue, Matty decides to stay in the village with Kira’s dad, but he still visits Kira from time to time. He’s got a talent for traveling back and forth through the woods without having the trees turn on him and attack him Wizard of Oz style. Now the village in which the outcasts resides is pretty serene. They don’t euthanize their misfits or leave their injured in a field to die.

Unfortunately, things are starting to get a little weird in the village. The village starts having regular “Trade Marts” which is sort of like a marketplace, with a twist. There’s a weird peddler dude (who calls himself “Trademaster”) who is coming to the village and making “trades” for his goods. The uncorrupted village population soon begins trading the best parts of their personality for gaming machines and vanity items. The villagers’ temperment begins to change and they decide to close their borders. Since things are starting to get a little dicey, Kira decides it’s time to hurry up and join her father in the village before the borders close. (As you recall, Kira opted to stay in her home society to help them change for the better. It’s implied that she manages to make progress, but Lowry doesn’t go into much detail there. )

Matty goes into the angry forest to fetch Kira and bring her to the village safely. Along the journey, Matty begins to be rejected by the forest that once favored him. He gets stung by insects, tangled by vines, and attacked by underbrush. Are you ready to embrace allegory? Okay. Kira has a gift for weaving. We’ve covered that. Jonas has a gift, which is part of what made him attractive to become the Giver. His gift manifests itself by occasional psychic episodes. Matty also has a gift , of sorts.

Yeah, like I needed ANOTHER reason to avoid the great outdoors. Forest attacks? Clearly I won’t be camping… Ever.

Matty plays the sacrificial lamb. While in the forest, he sacrifices himself to whatever evil spirits are jacking things up. He restores the forest to a normal state, and his death chases the influence of the Trademaster from the village.

Now, I appreciate that this book gave me some closure to Jonas’s story. I was downright giddy that Jonas and Kira were woven into the same plot. However. I wasn’t crazy about the turn we took from relatively realistic science fiction to full on fantasy. In The Giver everything seemed to have a scientific explanation. In order to have a peaceful society, you have to take away certain aspects of humanity. No place for passion in a place where there is no fighting, no sexual competition, no need for individualism. Gathering Blue had hints of fantasy, but mainly felt like a society that had gone back in time after a cataclysm in the world we know. The animated evil forest and the Trademaster took me on a journey I wasn’t anticipating. I won’t say it was a terrible place to go, but I would have preferred sticking to the realistic feel of the first two books.

Does it bother anyone else when a book takes an unexpected turn? I’m not talking a plot twist, I’m talking a genre shift. Am I the only person who isn’t crazy about this?

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Nov 06

Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry: The Giver, Part 2. Only not.

Children's Fiction, Coming of Age, Dystopian, Friendship, Historical Fiction 14

Hello Again Bookworms! I bet you’re all dying to know what happened to Jonas and Gabe, aren’t you? Well… Too damn bad! This book doesn’t mention them at all!

Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry is the second in The Giver series. It takes place in another dystopian society, but this one is NOTHING like the one Jonas and Gabe came from.

Our heroine is a girl named Kira. She lives during the same time period as Jonas, but in a society very different from the one we met in The Giver. Kira’s society is brutal. They lack modern conveniences and live in squalor. The society is ruled by the passionate voice of the people…No pills in to keep the masses in check. Everything that is ugly about humanity is shown in a harsh light. Kira was born with a twisted leg, which requires her to walk with a cane. In this harsh society, people who have deformities or are in any way incapable of working are abandoned in a field to die. The sick aren’t cared for- they’re sent to the field. After Kira’s mother passes away, her neighbors try to confiscate her home and send her to the field as well. An orphaned girl with a disability doesn’t have a place in this society. In an attempt to prove her worth to the society’s ruling body, Kira presents herself and her weaving to the Council of Eddifice. The Council recognizes Kira’s talent for weaving and gives her new lodging within their headquarters.

Kira is given a single task. She is set to mend the beautiful cloak that the Singer wears once a year. The Singer’s sole responsibility is to sing the story of human civilization at the annual festival. Though this book doesn’t really touch on religion, the Singer’s significance seems holy in nature. It’s the glue that binds the society together. Being put in charge of the robe is an honor and quite a responsibility for Kira, but the council tries to make it worth her while, so to speak. (Really though, it’s not like she could leave. Her only other option is to try to go home and face the angry mob that wants her in the field…)

I imagine the Singer’s cloak to look a lot like the one displayed in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic musical, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. I like musical theater. Hush.

Life in headquarters is very different than what Kira has grown up with. She’s got electricity, running water, and plentiful meals. She is no longer subject to the cruel tribal life she is used to. She meets another resident there, a boy named Thomas. Thomas is gifted in wood carving and has been given the task of carving the story of human civilization into the singer’s staff. As Kira runs low on thread, she’s introduced to an old woman who lives in the woods. The woman becomes her mentor and teaches Kira how to dye thread to make the colors she needs to continue mending the cloak. The most difficult color to come by is blue, but unfortunately there is nothing they can grow in their gardens that will produce a blue dye. (I found it interesting that Lowry chose the color blue as the missing link, because I’ve read a few historical fictions that also focus on the difficulty of cultivating blue dye. Lapis lazuli was the best source of the color, and because it is a gemstone/mineral as opposed to a plant, it was often prohibitively expensive. Just a little nugget for your brain banks.)

It’s such a pretty color! But hard to find. Yay for chemicals so we can have blue dye! (And old ladies can have blue hair. Don’t hate on the blue hair.)

As time goes by, Kira becomes more and more suspicious of her surroundings. Kira begins to hear wailing at night. When she and Thomas discover the source, they find a very small little girl named Jo, who is little more than a toddler. She is being kept there in training to take over the duties of the Singer when the time comes. Jo has a gift for singing, but is tiny and frightened. Kira and Thomas try to ease her fears, but they’re beginning to see that their new lives are rather unusual. During the ceremony that year, as Kira admires the work she’s done on the Singer’s robe, she notices that the Singer’s ankles are chained. He is a prisoner. It occurs to her that she, Thomas, and Jo are prisoners as well.

Kira has one friend from her old life, a little boy named Matt. When Kira explains her problems with the blue thread, Matt tells Kira that he’s come across a village in the woods that HAS blue. Blue cloth everywhere. When Matt returns from his mission with more than just blue cloth for Kira to use… He returns with the father she thought was dead. As it turns out, though he was left in the field to die (after being attacked by his own people, no less) and was rescued by a group of people from this mysterious village. Kira’s father offers to take her to the village in which he lives, but Kira declines (at least temporarily) to help improve the society she lives in.

Okay. So that’s a story right? I didn’t like this book as much as I liked The Giver, but it wasn’t bad at all. I’ve got a weakness for historical fiction anyway, and the way Kira’s society lived felt very much like a bygone era as opposed to a future time. I didn’t even mind the long descriptions of thread dyeing- I like to read about how things were done once upon a time. I never actually want to have to DO things the old fashioned way, but you know. If there’s a zombie apocalypse, I figure I can make a living being an herbalist and dying thread or something. I don’t know. I just like learning things. So there. I know what you’re thinking though. WHAT IN TARNATION DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH JONAS AND GABE?!?!?!

You are just going to have to wait for book 3, now aren’t you? Yep. This is the sequel that’s not a sequel at all. Have any of you read Gathering Blue? What are your thoughts on Kira’s society?

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Nov 05

My Name is Jonas: The Giver by Lois Lowry

Children's Fiction, Coming of Age, Dystopian, Frightening, Psychological 21

Hello there, Bookworms!

I hope you’re all well rested after “falling back” this weekend. For those of you who don’t live in areas where Daylight Savings Time is observed, I hope you got extra sleep anyway. Sleep is wonderful.

This week I’m going to focus on The Giver by Lois Lowry. Why does one book need a whole week of attention? It doesn’t! But there are sequels! And I’ve read them all. Now you shall be subjected to my opinions on them. I know you’re excited!

The cover of this book scared me a bit as a child. Who was that? Why did the Santa look alike look so sad? Who ripped the cover? What’s going on?!

The first time I “read” The Giver was in the fifth grade. I say “read” because I didn’t actually read it, the teacher read it to us a chapter at a time… Earlier this year I was craving some more dystopia (seriously, I have a problem. I only want to read about screwy alternate realities…) I decided I needed to read The Giver again since it was creeping up on 20 years since I’d heard it the first time (I’m getting old, dammit.) Number The Stars was one of my favorite books as a kid, so I figured anything Lois Lowry wrote would probably be pretty good, even from an adult perspective.

Okay, so here’s the basic premise. We’re introduced to a 12 year old boy named Jonas and we learn about his home. His community is very orderly and prescribed. There are no cars- everyone rides bicycles (how lovely for the environment!) Children work volunteer hours around town and everyone seems to be quite pleasant… It sounds pretty Thomas More Utopian, right? Then little things start to seem… wrong.

There are no animals, except the fish in the hatchery (and thanks to Kurt Cobain, we know “it’s okay to eat fish ’cause they don’t have any feelings…” What? I’ve already TOLD YOU about my grunge phase. Expect a Nirvana reference from time to time, y’all.) The children are assigned their future jobs at a special ceremony when they turn 12. Color doesn’t exist. Emotions like love seem to be non existent. Everyone is perfectly pleasant, but in being pleasant, they’re missing a lot of the best parts of being human. (This book came out way before Pleasantville was released, but I cannot help but draw comparisons. The nice but slightly off community? The lack of color? The lack of passion? The only thing The Giver is lacking is Don Knotts… May he rest in peace. He lacked the gravity to have played The Giver anyway.)

Reese Witherspoon and I share a birthday. Obviously people born on March 22 are destined for fabulousness.

Jonas is clearly different. He seems to question things a little more than his friends do. His eye “color” is light rather than dark. While his friends seem to have clear ideas of where their future careers will lie, Jonas is only confused. I has no idea what the future has in store for him, and in such an orderly society, that’s highly unusual. During their 12 year ceremony, the powers that be SKIP OVER Jonas. That’s enough to freak everyone out. Everyone assumes it was an oversight, but oversights DON’T HAPPEN in the community. Just as the 12 year ceremony is about to conclude, the council doubles back and points out Jonas. Jonas has been chosen for a special job. He’s to apprentice with the mysterious Giver. Nobody in the community seems to know exactly what the Giver does, but they know it’s an important position. Jonas is… terrified.

As it turns out, The Giver is responsible for remembering all the bits of human history that might make the community unpleasant. Every citizen of pubescent age and older is prescribed “pills.” It’s never explained what the pills do exactly, but it seems to me that they’re a mix of sexual suppression and sedative. Actually, they seem a bit like Huxley’s soma, plus the addition of the no sex thing. There is NO SEX in the community. The babies come from “birth mothers” who are kept in a secluded area. The whole idea of the birth mothers confuses me a little… Girls chosen to become birth mothers are typically picked because they show no aptitude to do anything else. They’re taken to this dormitory type area and pampered until they’ve given birth three times. They’re then released to do manual labor. But… If this community is so flipping smart, wouldn’t it be counterproductive to use the less than brilliant girls as breeding stock? I mean, genetically speaking. I suppose they could be using donor eggs (except we learn in the 4th book that they aren’t using donor eggs.) Also, where do they get the sperm since the men are all on pills to make them have no sexual desire? None of this is probably appropriate for the age group this book was written for, so I suppose I shouldn’t dwell. But, Ms. Lowry? Could you throw a girl a bone here?

Oh man I’m rambling today. The Giver! Yes. So Jonas starts his training, and The Giver starts “giving” him memories. Some of them are nice, like colors and music. Some of them are horrifying like war and death. The community doesn’t discuss death. At a certain age all citizens are “released” to a non specific “elsewhere.” Jonas eventually learns that being “released” is a euphemism for being euthanized. Yep. Once people are pass their usefulness, they’re killed. Seedy underbelly, much? As if this wasn’t enough for a 12 year old kid to take on, his father has been bringing home a child (his dad works in the nursery) who is failing to thrive. The kid, Gabe, appears soothed by Jonas. He’s also got Jonas’s strange light colored eyes as well. After Gabe has lived with the family for a while and still failed to present himself as an untroubled citizen, it’s deemed that he will be released.

Jonas, realizing what being released means is horrified. He’s begun to see all the cracks in his seemingly perfect society and the death of Gabe solidifies his resolve. Jonas decides to LEAVE. Jonas packs up Gabe and some supplies and takes off past the limits of his community. As it turns out, whatever scientific bubble the community has used to make the weather perfectly pleasant and conducive to their lifestyle doesn’t extend forever. The book ends with Gabe and Jonas on the verge of hypothermia sledding down a snowy hill during a blizzard toward some (likely hallucinatory) lights. (As an adult, all this scene makes me think of is Orson Well muttering “Rosebud!” Citizen Kane. The weasel made me watch it. You should too.)

That’s Rosebud. In a black and white movie. Full circle.

I got a whole heck of a lot MORE out of this book as an adult than I did as a 10-year-old. The biggest thing I remembered from when I was a kid was wondering how scientists managed to take color out of the world and being convinced that Jonas and Gabe died at the end. As you probably presumed from the fact that there are sequels to this story, that’s not exactly the case. This book is great. Sure, I have unanswered questions, but I think it’s a great story that really gets the brain juices flowing. If you like dystopias and you haven’t read this, you should. If you read it as a kid, you should read it as an adult. If you resent me for giving spoilers all over the place… I’m not really sorry. Okay, maybe a little sorry.

Have any of the bookworms out there read The Giver? What did you think? Were you even aware that there were sequels? (Because I wasn’t, until Amazon told me. I love you, Amazon!)

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Nov 02

The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver

Contemporary Fiction, Family, Psychological 28

Hi Bookworms! Today we’re going to talk about The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver.

Barbara Kingsolver also wrote The Poisonwood Bible which is amazing and I totally suggest you read it if you have any interest… But if it’s too long or too missionary-ish for you, I won’t blame you if you can’t finish it. I’m not an elitist book snob or anything, read what you like. (Okay, maybe I’m a little bit of an elitist book snob, but only a little.)

All of that is beside the point, other than the fact that Barbara Kingsolver wrote The Bean Trees. A high school friend of mine (I used to call her “Pants Pie” and she still talks to me) who is kind enough to read my blog (Hi Megan!) told me that I needed to read this, so I did. I take suggestions seriously, I swear.

This book was a lot different than I expected. I mean. I don’t know what I expected… But a girl from Appalachia who takes great pains not to end up pregnant like a large portion of her graduating class who leaves town only to be saddled with a Cherokee toddler to raise REALLY wasn’t what I expected.

The girl from Kentucky and the foundling from Oklahoma find their home in Tuscon, Arizona.

Did you get all that? Our heroine Taylor (whose real name is Marietta) decides to get the heck out of Kentucky. She’s got a POS car that’s held together with duct tape and chewing gum and she breaks down on tribal lands in Oklahoma. Oh you’re not familiar with US History? So, what happened was, the US government was unbelievably horrible to the Native Americans. European settlers showed up and were all mean and stuff, and eventually pushed the Native Americans out of their homes and shipped them all off on the Trail of Tears. The Trail of Tears was this brutal march to the middle of nowhere (AKA Oklahoma) and there the Cherokee nation resides to this day. Actually, it was several tribes subjected to relocation, but this book focused on the Cherokee, and so shall we.

So while Taylor is stranded in Oklahoma, some crazed woman deposits a sexually assaulted toddler in the backseat of her car. Taylor has no idea what to do. In the end, she decides the kid is better off with her than where she came from (OBVIOUSLY) so she takes the little one with her on her journey to Arizona.

What follows is a beautiful story of family. It’s not always about the family you’re born into, but the family you make for yourself. When Taylor finds herself in Tuscon, she’s utterly alone. A series of fortunate coincidences help Taylor create a new life and a new family for herself and her daughter. Sure, her psychologically damaged foster child speaks exclusively of produce- but that’s okay. Taylor holds out hope that “tomato” and “bean” eventually turn into “mom” and “love.” The random roommate she found in the classified section turns out to be her best friend. Taylor’s boss at the tire shop is a mechanic by day and immigration activist by night. She becomes more than just Taylor’s boss- she becomes her inspiration. Life throws Taylor and her “family” a jacked up set of curve balls and they muddle through it the best they can, and their life? It’s beautiful.

Family comes in all shapes and sizes. Do any of you bookworms have a non-biological family you’ve built?

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