Friday, February 28, 2014

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Leisel saw the first book she ever stole near her brother’s grave. She quickly grabbed it, hid it and continued on her way to Molching to her new foster parents and her new life. It was there with the help of her foster father, Hans Huberman, that she learned to understand the words and her thirst for more books only grew. It was also here in the middle of Nazi Germany that she was given two books by the Jewish man, Max, who came to hide in the Huberman’s basement in the midst of World War II. She would speak her stolen words to calm neighbors during bomb raids. She would share her stolen books with her friend in the basement. She would grow during this time of turbulence in Germany all while Death stood among her, among everyone, watching and waiting to capture another soul.
                This novel showed the life of a young girl during World War II, in a town she was not accustomed to, who found solace in books. But it is so much more than that. It’s a story about love, secrets, friendship, hate, war and Death. As a matter of fact, Death is the narrator for the story, which I found extremely interesting and it also gave the novel a certain whimsical but yet dark(er) quality to it. It’s his observations of her words and it’s compelling. The relationship Leisel formed with Hans was one based solely on love and trust. There was a bond there that couldn’t be broken and though she had a relationship with her foster mother, Rosa, it was Hans who held her heart. Max’s presence brought a new level of fear into the household but the family knew that they had to stand for something more than what the war was trying to make everyone: Nazis.  
                I really enjoyed The Book Thief. It wasn’t a difficult to read novel and it flowed smoothly. I thought using a character outside of the norm as a narrator allowed for an unexpected perspective. His movements through not only Molching but the world gave us a more informed view of what was happening during this time. I give this novel 4 out of 5 stars and recommend this book but be wary, this book focuses on the actions of a child but it definitely takes into perspective the actions of those around her during the war. Leisel is a smart character who is very observant and very aware of what’s going on and our narrator, Death, holds no punches. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Banned Books: 1984 by George Orwell

1984 by George Orwell

Winston Smith, age 39, lives in a world where every move he makes is monitored. The telescreens in his home, work, and in the streets not only broadcast news but relay information back to Big Brother who is constantly watching. Newspeak is continually removing words from the English language, in what has become a successful effort of narrowing the ideas of the population. The Ministry of Peace concerns itself with war. The Ministry of Plenty keeps the majority poor. The Ministry of Love is a place most fear. The Ministry of Truth, where Winston works, dispenses lie. Winston knows this because he remembers, even though he is forced to change the records in his line of work, a time when Oceania was at war with Eurasia not Eastasia. But to say such a thing could get him arrested by the Thought Police and thrown into the Ministry of Love where he may never be seen again. The world has changed drastically since Winston’s youth. Now you’re either for the Party, or against the Party. There is no in-between. And they are aware of everything you do, because Big Brother is watching you.
                1984 is a terrifying look at the future Orwell envisioned, where citizens are completely controlled and monitored by the government. Winston is the instrument Orwell uses to explore this view of the totalitarian government in London, which is part of the superpower Oceania. It is clear from the beginning of this novel that Winston’s character is unlike the majority of the characters in a very basic sense: he chooses to remember. Winston observes other people and realize how ready they are to accept the information they are being told without question. He knows that because Big Brother has said it, people believe it must be true even if it conflicts with information they have already been told. But he also begins to realize that Big Brother and the Party are ideals. Ideals that will never die because the majority choose to believe in them and keep them alive. Winston doesn’t know how to survive in this world when he is constantly trying to hide his memories, to conceal any emotion because of the fear Big Brother has placed in him. It is not enough to exist but Winston doesn’t know if it’s worth it to rebel when his life will inevitably end in torture and death.
                Orwell produced, yet again, an amazing novel that highlights our fears of a totalitarian government. It produces then abolishes all hope for change and revolution. It is an extremely eye-opening and unsettling picture of the future that I am sure people in the 1940’s weren’t very pleased with envisioning. The novel was banned in Russia because many thought it reflected the rule under Stalin. In Florida the novel was banned because people thought it encouraged communism and because of its sexual tone. This seems to be a case of people simply being afraid of the material being produced, especially so soon after World War II. I believe it’s a warning. The year 1984 has passed and we have more means of communicating and educating ourselves, which should serve as protection from being taken advantage. Novels like 1984 are the tools we need to keep us on our toes, to stand up and fight. To be vigilant again the tyranny Orwell foresaw.

Banned Books awareness: 1984 by R. Wolf Baldassarro (July 17,2011) 

Friday, February 21, 2014

A Train in Winter: An Extraordinary Story of Women, Friendship and Resistance in Occupied France by Caroline Moorehead

A Train In Winter: An Extraordinary Story of Women, Friendship, and Resistance in Occupied France by Caroline Moorehead

A Train In Winter tells the story of the many women who were part of the resistance in France during the German occupation. Each woman has a different story, whether they transported Jews across the demarcation line, were writers in underground newspapers, or messengers, they each took part in resisting those who were controlling their country. They took a stand and 230 women were arrested, placed in jail and transported to extermination camps. Only 49 of those women would make it through the war and find their way home to fight a new battle of recovery where nightmare ravaged their sleep and the horrors they saw never left them. Many would testify against the Nazi’s and the conditions that encountered at Auschwitz during their imprisonment. Many were now widowed, having lost their husbands to the war in extermination camps or jail. Some would remarry and have children. Others were reunited with the children they were forced to leave behind. Those who survived believed it was a mix of luck and their bond of friendship that brought them through the war, to live another day.

                A Train In Winter was a story mostly of courage. These women banded together through their loses and not only took care of each other but loved and cherished each other. They would hide their sick and share their rations amongst each other. They stole clothing and medicine for one another. They sang songs to each other to try to keep their spirit and hope alive. They watched their friend die in the cold weather, or from sickness. They willed each other to stay alive and make it through. They remembered their fallen and try to live day by day through the loss, the horror, the pain. 
              Moorehead produced a well-researched, compassionate and honest account of these women’s lives during World War II. This novel isn’t for the faint of heart.  The cruelty mentioned is enough to bring readers to tears but the strength of these women can provide everyone with hope. I give this novel 4 out of 5 stars and recommend this nonfiction book for those who have an interest in World War II. The detailed stories of the women before, during and after the war are extremely informative and relevant.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Banned Books: Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

                What is the measure of insanity? You’re insane if you fly a plane dropping bombs on people, while the enemy shoots counter fire at you. You’re sane the moment you refuse to fly because you fear for your own safety. It’s a Catch-22. In fact it is the Catch-22 that Captain Yossarian, the bombardier, has found himself stuck in during World War II, when he asks to be sent home and refuses to fly any more missions. Yossarian thinks everyone else is insane because they continue to fly without any concern for their own safety. Here they are, stuck on the island of Pianosa, because the Colonel in charge keeps raising the amount of missions required to return to the states. After watching planes being shot down, friends lose their life and having to escape some close calls of his own, Yossarian has had enough, but the country or at least his Colonel still wants more.
                Catch-22 was a hilarious novel, filled with wit, sarcasm and amazing wordplay that follows a year in the life of U.S. Captain Yossarian and his comrades near the end of World War II. It humorously observes the day to day life of all characters involved from trips to whore houses, to dangerous missions, even time in the Officer’s lounge. It downplays the significance of ranks, pokes holes in leadership roles and questions the sanity of all involved in the military world. Yossarian’s experiences throughout the book causes a wide range of emotions from bitterness, shock, outrage, fear and relief. I found it to be a fascinating, but not very encouraging, twist on life in the military.
                This novel was brilliant in delivery, written with a heavy hand in humor and sarcasm. Heller’s use of comedy and surrealism, along with his timing of events throughout the novel made it a well-paced adventure through the time. I’m finding it hard to describe how Heller managed to play on words and situations of his characters in a way that emphasized but joked with its severity. I was amused by the humor he put in each situation and the ease at which I was able to stay “in” on the joke. The American Library Association explains that the bans put on this book were because of its derogatory references to women. There are plenty of references in Catch-22 of whores, prostitutes, sex, brothels and even some of rape. I can admit that some of the casual references to some of these sexual acts can be a off-putting but censoring these references in the form of banning a book doesn't take away from the presence of these things in society. It simply stops you from experiencing what can be considered an amazing novel. The incredible writing in Catch-22 makes up for the crude and reckless behavior sometimes exhibited. It is an all around great and recommendable read. 


Friday, February 14, 2014

Allegiant by Veronica Roth

Allegiant by Veronica Roth

I am not one to disclose spoilers so if you have not read Divergent or Insurgent I suggest doing so before continuing with this review.

        Insurgent left us at the end of a rebellion. The Factionless and Dauntless have attacked the Erudite headquarters to destroy the technology causing the simulations and Jeanine, the Erudite leader, is now dead. Evelyn now has complete leadership after disarming the Dauntless and disbanding the factions. And thanks to Tris and Marcus’ effort, the truth Jeanine was trying so hard to conceal has been released: there are others that live outside of the walls of the city. People chose to begin a new within this city, leaving their memories and other lives behind to try and heal the problems with mankind or more precisely human nature. But now is the time for the isolation to end with the emergence of more and more Divergent. Allegiant begins after this revelation. Tris and many others are awaiting trial. Tobias is playing the role of his mothers right hand.  The factions are forced to mix. The Factionless are the policing force and the city is under lockdown. Evelyn does not believe any help should be given to the outside world and that no one should leave. After Tris’ trial frees her of any guilt in her association with Marcus, she and Tobias join the Allegiant, who want to be given a choice of how to live, faction or factionless, and who also want to venture outside these gates. A group is chosen to venture outside of the walls and what they discover changes everything. Could the reason for Divergent be a genetics? Could the reason for those who belong in certain factions also be genetics? If that is the case was anyone ever given a choice on where they belonged?
                Allegiant is the last book in the Divergent Series and it takes an interesting twist, which includes an outside element. With each previous novel the reader is introduced to different aspects of being Divergent and what that truly means inside those walls and inside the factions. This last novel defines Divergent within the grand scheme of the world.  It also defines what it means to not be Divergent and how the differences between the Divergent and those who are not Divergent affect people outside the walls of what the characters now know is Chicago. The characters have to figure out in Allegiant what their place is in this new world. Do they leave behind the home they knew even though it’s been completely revolutionized? Is there a place for them in this new world?

                Allegiant offered an unexpected ending to what was an enjoyable series. It was written in the voices of both Tris and Tobias. I found that more enjoyable than how the previous novels were written because I find Tobias a better character than Tris. This change in writing style allowed for a broader and more detailed view of the new world. The change of circumstances presented in this last novel made it essential to have these two opposite views of the surroundings. Does the series end well? I’ll leave that up to you decide. As I’ve said before I was engaged by the story line and the ideas it presented. There were certain aspects of the story that I found wanting, but it moved well and the momentum of the story may have slowed at some parts but never stopped. Give it chance. I did enjoy and don’t regret reading it but it's not my favorite.  

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Banned Books: Animal Farm by George Orwell

Animal Farm by George Orwell

It all started with an emotional and moving speech by the old boar Major. A rebellion was necessary. The animals of the Manor Farm needed to rebel against the humans and work for themselves. Major believed that animals should benefit from their labor not humans. Man was the root of all their problems. The animals could work together, oust the humans and run the farm themselves. Major died, but leaders emerged in two boars, Snowball and Napoleon. Through meetings in the barn they created Animalism, based off Major’s teachings, and eventually the animals banded together and rebelled against the humans taking the farm as their own. The pigs, who learned how to read and write, created seven commandments for the animals to live by. All animals were equal. All decisions were to put to a vote. The farm was prosperous. Then greed and opportunity stepped in and those who could take power did. The commandments slowly began to change. Accusations and fear ran rapid throughout the farm. What was a democracy became a dictatorship.
                Animal Farm is an amazing, well written novel that examines how decisions made under the most honorable conditions can eventually lead to destruction. The first phrase that came to mind while reading this book was “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” and I can not find one more fitting. When the idea was originally formed for the animals to rebel, Major imagined a world where animals were self sufficient and in no way were dependent on man. After his death, Snowball and Napoleon took those ideas and created a system that would benefit the animals. They worked together to make the farm work to provide for all. They were successful. All of the animals trusted each other and worked together. Then one animal stepped forward and took power. He manipulated the other animals, playing on their fears and capitalizing on their ignorance. Eventually he held all the qualities that the animals rebelled against in the first place, Man.
                This is an incredibly thought provoking novel that reflects, in more ways than can be measured, the downfall of society. It is all too easy to imagine the events described in this novel, taking place today in our own society. When ignorant we forget what it is was we were fighting for. When uneducated we have no means to defend ourselves. When too trusting we can be neglected and led into harms way. Animal Farm elegantly, but simply, put into words how society loses its strength when it trust too much in the leaders whose greed have taken them away from caring about society.
                Animal Farm, according to the American Library Association, has been banned numerous times for reasons ranging from George Orwell being a communist, to the political theories in the novel. I believe that because of its political theory and the style used to deliver its message that we should encourage more people to read this book. Many high schools have this book on their required reading list and its obvious why. We should want to teach our youth to examine their world and think for themselves! I applaud George Orwell for writing such a wonderful and yet solemn novel that reflects many societies so vividly.

Banned and/or Challenged Books from the Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century. Retrieved January 31, 2014 from

Friday, February 7, 2014

Children's Time! My Face: The Many Adventures of Donald by Dominique Penn

My Face by Dominique Penn

If you are looking for a book specifically for your little reader then look no further. My Face by Dominique Penn is a great place to start! My Face is the first book in a series of five titled The Many Adventures of Donald. This first book takes a look at Donald and how the differences he may see in the faces of his friends don't take away from the fact that they are all the same, which makes them all special! 
           My five year old, Jonathan, was able to read 85% of this novel by himself! It was a great, simple read that engaged my son with visuals depicting children having fun, which is the easiest thing for a child to relate to. He also enjoyed the story and as a parent I did too. I want to raise my son loving people for who they are, not what they look like and this story emphasized that point. I'm looking forward to the rest of the series and would definitely recommend it. 

Dominique Penn is a self-published author so if you would like to purchase visit

Insurgent by Veronica Roth

Insurgent by Veronica Roth

I am not one to disclose spoilers so if you have not read Divergent I suggest doing so before continuing with this review.

Divergent ends with an attack by the Dauntless on the Abnegation. The Dauntless were being controlled through a simulation created by Erudite leader Jeanine and the majority of the Dauntless were acting under this mind controlled stimulus. Most of the Abnegation are dead including Tris’ father, Andrew, who helped her rescue Tobias. Those with Tris are now on their way to the Amity in hopes of finding sanctuary. Now everyone is trying to figure out why this attack took place. It is well known that the Erudite and Abnegation factions do not get along. Articles had been written by Jeanine discrediting many of the Abnegation leaders and arguing for a different form of government where more than just the Abnegation are in charge. But does that mean killing or trying to destroy an entire faction. Marcus, Tobias’ father, a leader in Abnegation does not believe so. He is aware of the information that Abnegation has been harboring, and was planning on releasing to the public, information that Jeanine did not want anyone to become aware of. Marcus believes that this information is why she took control of the Dauntless and murdered so many of the Abnegation. This information, concerning the Abnegation and those outside of the fence will change everything.

                This was a well written sequel. The reader is introduced to more information regarding Divergent and is also exposed more to all the other factions. We are able to see not only how the Amity live but also the Candor as well. The divides between the factions are becoming more obvious with exposure to each, which allows us to gain understanding on what really makes someone Divergent. Tris, who was compatible with three different factions in her aptitude test, is the most obvious example. It is known now to everyone that she is Divergent, along with a few others, and her reasoning in certain situations makes it more obvious. She isn't constrained to one type of thought but does that make her stronger or more confused. Only time will tell.

              I liked this novel more than its predecessor. But, and this is somewhat odd for me, I am not at all attached to the main character. Even with Divergent I enjoyed the storyline and was interested in where it was going but I find Tris to be a lackluster character. I find myself more interested in Tobias and his actions than Tris. .I will however continue on this journey with Tris to its end because I find myself engaged in the story of the factions and how its come to be.  I give this novel 3 out of 5 stars like its predecessor. Stay tuned for the next review of Allegiant.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Banned Books: Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

George and Lennie have been traveling together, working different jobs and moving from place to place for a while now. George looks out for Lennie, who is a hard worker but not the smartest man you’ll ever come across. There have been accidents and situations that have arisen along the way that have forced Lennie and George to leave jobs quickly for their safety. It’s unusual to see two men traveling along together, but that’s how it’s been for Lennie and George and that’s the way it will be. Here they are again, at a new job, this time in Salinas Valley. George has it all planned out so there wont be any trouble this time. But plans don’t always work out. Between Curly, the boss’ son, aggressive ways and his wife’s flirtatious manner, George smells trouble for him and Lennie. Trouble just seems to be something Lennie and George can not avoid.
This novel is an honest look at the life of a man who doesn’t understand the world he lives in. Two men, yet one is completely dependent on the other to sustain himself. George finds work, food and money for the pair. He tells Lennie when he should speak, not speak, who and what to avoid. Lennie fears being abandoned, but that fear doesn’t stop his child-like mind from making similar mistakes over and over again. It is obvious that Lennie’s character had a developmental disability that prohibited him from understanding the emotions of others in any type of social situation. He is overwhelmed when in conversations with all of the characters, except for George. Lennie doesn’t understand his own strength and often hurts those people or animals he was trying to comfort. Try as George might, he can’t save Lennie from himself and the different situations that arise.

Of Mice and Men is an extremely well written novel that is somber in its tone and in its observance of the life of a grown man with a developmental disability. It has been banned many times since the 1950’s for reasons varying from racism, euthanasia, offensive language, sexual overtones and being derogatory to the developmentally disabled. I enjoyed this novel because of its honesty. It is a heart wrenching novel that draws you in from the beginning and emotionally attaches you to the struggles of the main characters. I’m not sure what could be gained by banning a novel that exposes so fully all of the emotions of characters simply trying to survive, when one could barely understand the world they live in. I recommend this novel because it speaks so blatantly about the struggles and conflicts in this part of history. Banning this book doesn’t take away from the fact that all of the challenges and relationships explored in this novel were true of the times in which they were written. It is an unnecessary censor, meant to hinder the understanding of the subjects at hand.