Friday, August 29, 2014

Look Again by Lisa Scottoline

Look Again by Lisa Scottoline

Ellen Gleeson adopted her son, Will, almost two years ago. He was a patient in the cardiac intensive care unit at DuPont Hospital undergoing surgeries for a hole in his septum. Will's mother rarely visited and Ellen learned from Will's caseworker that adoption was a possibility. Ellen legally adopted Will with signatures from both his mother and father and with Will's heart repaired, they were living a happy life as mother and son. Then one day Ellen recognized a face on the white card she received in her mail entitled "HAVE YOU SEEN THIS CHILD?" A photo of young boy named Timothy Braverman had an uncanny resemblance to Will. The young boy in the photo had been abducted when he was only a year old. The photo provided was age processed to show what Timothy would look like at his current age. Disturbed by the similarities between the two boys, Ellen begins to investigate into the devastating possibility that the son she believed she legally adopted could be the missing son of two parents who are still desperately looking for him.
Look Again was a suspenseful drama about a mother’s search for the truth about her son’s past. Ellen adopted Will after all of his medical procedures were completed. She was with him through his recovery process and the two have become a family. Will is aware that Ellen is not his birthmother but is the only mother he has ever known. The possibility that Will may be the missing child Timothy Braverman is something that Ellen hides as she begins her investigations. Ellen’s career as a reporter has given her the tools she needs to investigate thoroughly but she battles with herself and what legally this could mean to her and Will if he was in fact kidnapped. The questions raised throughout the story test not only Ellen’s strength and love but her morals. If Will was in fact kidnapped then the adoption she thought was legal would have no bearing in court and Will would have to be returned.

Scottoline created an interesting story with complicated moral implications. Ellen was a well flushed out character whose motives were easily understandable. A mother is searching for the truth even if the results could negatively affect the rest of her life. This book started off slowly. The idea of the Will being kidnapped as an infant is brought up early and the research is painstaking. It took a lot for me to stay invested in the story initially. I was only fleetingly interested. It wasn’t until midway through the novel that the story really started to take shape and the implications clear. There was a lot more to the story than a simple kidnapping. As each layer was peeled back and the truth exposed I began to really enjoy the novel. I recommend it to anyone who likes thrilling drama. I give it 3.5 out of 5 stars. The rating would have been higher if the novel started off with the bang it ended with. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Banned Books: The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

                The scarlet letter ‘A’ must forever adorn the chest of Hester Prynne.  She has committed adultery against her husband who she has not seen in over two years, the proof of which is the young child she now holds in her arms. The father of the baby she refuses to disclose adding more ridicule to the situation. But she has chosen to bear the guilt on her own, fully aware of the damage the truth would do to the reputation of the father. Her husband has arrived to the town to find his wife the victim of scrutiny and scorn. Embarrassed and ashamed he chooses to go by a different name, Roger Chillingworth, swears Hester to secrecy and vows to find the man that put him in this position to exact his own revenge. Time in New England passes and the young child, Pearl, begins to grow and experience her life as an outcast next to her mother who wears the highly adorned scarlet letter.
                Hester, though stronger in spirit than many realized, knew of her crime and stood tall under the weight of it. She was also a single mother doing everything to supply a stable home and upbringing for her fatherless child. She lived under scrutiny in New England under the still watchful and hateful eye of her husband and still harboring a secret. The reader becomes aware fairly early on the identity of the child’s father which only adds to the scandal of the novel. As much as this story is about Hester, it is about the town and how they treat Hester and her child. It says a lot about the community and how gossip ensues and how, with the passage of time, some burdens can ease or become greater. The Scarlet Letter is an interesting view of the world that used to exists and how guilt was assigned and weighed.
                Published in 1850 the story of Hester Prynne was one meant to place fear in the hearts of young women everywhere. Who wants to be an adulteress outsider forced to wear her shame on her chest and care for the product of that shame? Hawthorne wrote a novel full of the rich details of the time but lacking in much dialogue. He chose to be more observant of the characters and of their situations than to have them engage each other often in conversation. At least, that’s what it felt like to me. I’m not a fan of the language used during this time period so it took away some of the interest I had in his writing style but the story itself I found very intriguing. I liked Hester and wanted to see her rise above the dehumanization she was suffering through. She made a mistake and took her daily penance while others who hid their sins judged. But it’s been well over a century since the novel was first published and a lot of the things have changed. Now a woman wouldn’t be tried and punished so severely for adultery in America. This novel received a huge backlash in the 1850’s. Many were upset because they felt that Hawthorne was too kind to his leading lady, Hester. It was considered sinful and lacking in morals. This isn’t to say with the passing of time that it hasn’t still been controversial. In the 1970’s it was called pornographic and obscene which I find absolutely ridiculous. There actually isn’t a sex scene in the pages of the novel. We only know that sex took place because the proof of intercourse is in the existence of the child. If you want to stand on a moral high horse and object to it then so be it but there is so much to learn throughout these pages about human nature. Hester’s journey is one that begs understanding regardless of whether or not you agree with the crime or punishment.

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Child Thief by Brom

The Child Thief by Brom

              Nick didn’t have any hope of getting away this time. The guys sent by Marko were all too willing to bring him back to the house and be praised for not only bringing the boy alive, but for also bringing the thousands of dollars’ worth of drugs back to the house too. Luckily for Nick, Peter was on the lookout for runaways and had been watching everything unfold. He wanted Nick and he knew saving his life would help Nick trust him. So he killed the guys, setting Nick free. With nowhere else to go, Nick followed Peter to a place where there were no grownups and he would be with other boys just like him. He would have to follow Peter into the mist willingly if he wanted to begin anew. Nick had nothing and no one to go home to so he followed Peter into the Mist and into a world unlike anything he had ever experience before.
                The Child Thief was not at all what I was expecting. When I first heard about this book I knew I would have to read it eventually. A dark and twisted tale about Peter Pan, of course I’m in. I knew I would first have to read the original Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie. If I was going to do this, then it would be done right. So I did. I read Peter Pan and loved it but I kept my eyes out for all of the references to a more sinister side of Peter and there were quite a few that gave me pause. With this in depth look of one of my favorite characters I began The Child Thief. This was an amazing fantasy novel that takes a character that everyone is familiar with and exploits its dark and horrifying core. There is no Neverland. Instead there is Avalon and one can only get there through navigating through the Mist. If you can survive that then you’ve entered the mystical world of Avalon. Here’s the catch though: Avalon is dying and Peter is basically taking hopeless youths and bringing them to help him fight in this war that Avalon is losing against the Flesh Eaters. Peter is a master manipulator and Nick is just one of the many kids over hundreds of years who have crossed into the Mist. Unlike Nick they all worship Peter, while Nick can’t believe what he has gotten himself into. Peter kidnapped him and led him to Avalon under false pretenses. Now what is Nick supposed to do? He needs to find his way back to the Mist and back to New York but he needs Peter’s help to do that. Peter isn’t willing to see any of the kids go.          

                This novel was extremely hypnotic. From the moment I started reading I knew that I would fall into this book and not be able to find my way out. Brom created an extremely complex and developed world with an entire history of shattered peace and fighting. There are Gods, men, monsters, spirits, discoveries, Christianity and bloodshed. There is also a history lesson that I wasn’t expecting about Peter and how he came to be the boy that he remains. This novel was intense, unpredictable, gripping and beautifully written. The characters were so well developed and fully imagined. Brom, who is an illustrator as well, created the artwork throughout the novel that is extremely beautiful and added to the overall presence of the world. I was captivated by this story the entire time. I give this novel 5 out of 5 stars and would definitely recommend this to any fantasy novel fans or anyone slightly interested in reading a twisted version of Peter Pan. This book was over 400 pages of amazing storytelling.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Banned Book: Paper Towns by John Green

Paper Towns by John Green

Quentin Jacobsen has lived next to Margo Roth Spiegelman since they were two years old. When they were nine they discovered a dead body together in Jefferson Park. By the time they reached their senior year of high school they barely knew each other. The social circles of life having led them in different directions. Then one day she randomly knocks on his window asking for a favor, which was really an adventure around town. But the next day she has disappeared. She has ran away again to the dismay and anger of her parents. The Spiegelmans have given up on her. Quentin though hasn’t lost faith and is determined to find her. Margo has left clues before when she has disappeared and this time is no different, except they are left for Quentin. He has no idea why she has disappeared or why she has left bread crumbs for him to find but he is hoping he can be brave enough to follow to the end. No matter what he may find.
So Quentin Jacobsen is that not popular guy that used to be picked on until someone in the social circles made it clear that he shouldn’t be messed with. He isn’t in the band but his best friends are and he admits that he is kind of geek who likes to play video games and has no social life. Then there’s Margo, this beautiful social butterfly with the attractive popular boyfriend and attractive best friends whom everyone loves. But Quentin is perfectly fine being him and Margo hates her life and all the two dimensional people she has around her. Paper Towns is a novel of discovery. Not only is Quentin discovering that this idea he has of Margo is just that, a made up idea, but he is becoming aware of all the superficial qualities he is seeing around himself. He isn’t sure what the plan was when Margo left him these clues and what kind of self-discovery he is supposed to be on but he is willing and in many ways eager and anxious to take on this journey. Quentin is terrified of what he might or might not find but he can’t stop looking and trying to decipher these clues. It all has to mean something. He just has to figure out what.
I could not put this book down. Green created such a well-developed, well delivered, brilliantly thought out and funny novel that had so much depth and was constantly propelling itself forward. Quentin was a brilliant narrator and his friends, Radar and Ben, were great companions for this journey. Margo was a great vehicle for discovery. She was a mystery and Quentin became a detective trying to solve her story, who ended up answering a lot of questions not only about Margo but himself. Paper Towns was easy to read and extremely entertaining. I enjoyed it immensely and I would recommend it to those who enjoy young adult. A mother in Pasco County, Fl doesn’t at all agree with me. Pasco County had Paper Towns on their summer reading until a mother of a 13 year old girl found it inappropriate for their age range and wrote an email to the school about her dissatisfaction. Its references to teenage sex, cursing and what she labeled as misogynistic references disturbed her. Days later the school removed it from the reading list. It has since been placed back on the list but with a description stating that it may contain “sensitive issues and language.” Everyone isn’t going to relate to a novel the same way. As a mom of course you have a say over what your child reads but the school board took it a step too far when they removed it from their reading list. I’m glad they changed their position and placed it back on the list. This was a dynamic story, filled with references to what goes on during high school. But this story was more than the curse words and mentioning of teenage sex. It was more than one characters obsession with “honeybunnies.” It is a coming of age story that takes into account all the different aspects of coming of age.

“Pasco school drops ‘Fault in Our Stars’ authors book after parents email”  Solocheck, Jeffrey S.

“‘Paper Towns’ once banned at Pasco School is back on the summer reading list” Solocheck, Jeffrey S.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

It was a Friday evening when Peter Pan flew through the window of the Darling family residence, looking for his shadow. He had lost it before when visiting the children and now was searching desperately for it. Once found he tried to stick it back to his foot with a bar of soap. It was in a moment of despair, as he sat there crying, that Wendy Moira Angela Darling woke up from her sleep. And so the adventure began. Peter wanted a mother that could tell him and the Lost Boys stories like that of Cinderella. Wendy wanted to learn to fly. John and Michael wanted adventure. Neverland is where Wendy, John and Michael went with Peter Pan, the boy who never wanted to grow up.
What an amazing story of adventure and fancy. This book felt like a taste of whimsy and fantasy. Here is a world where mothers can look into the mind of their children and see their innermost thoughts. A world where dogs can act as children’s nurses with all of the caring and competence of a person. A world where you can learn to fly to a place called Neverland where mermaids exist and fairies are real. Barrie wrote such an amazing all-encompassing story that centered on this boy who ran away as a baby because he didn’t want to grow up. Peter wanted to live in this fantasy where he was the leader and he could kill Pirates with confidence and still listen to children’s stories at night.

Everyone I know has heard the story of Peter Pan. I know I’ve been watching the Disney version of this story all of my life and I’ve always loved it. Who doesn’t want to fly and go on these great adventures? Who wants to grow up and deal with responsibilities? I honestly can’t believe it has taken me this long to read Barrie’s novel about Peter. Now that I have though, my opinion of Peter has changed. Peter was a very arrogant child who believed that everyone should answer to or at the very least defer to him. He doesn’t want to grow up and doesn’t remember anything of his family and would very much prefer if no one else did the same. He disliked anything he didn’t understand and was extremely careless with other people’s emotions. Peter’s motives were easy to question because you were never sure when he was being genuine. Wendy was the exact opposite of Peter. She was genuine. She was loving. She remembered her parents who loved her and knew that eventually she would want to return to them. But it was Peter’s attitude that made the tone of the novel much darker than I expected. It was playful but there was always a level of unexpected trickery or suspicion. Was Peter kidnapping children so he wouldn’t be alone? What happened to the children that stayed but began to age? There was just so much depth and so many layers to this story that I found myself fully immersed in everything it contained, reliving and redefining what I thought I understood. I give it 5 out 5 stars. I’m glad I finally delved into this world to see the true Neverland. There was more to it than I could have ever imagined. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Banned Books:Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

                Huckleberry Finn was once part of a gang with his best friend, Tom Sawyer. They found some treasure and now he’s got six thousand dollars just sitting in the bank until he’s older. He lives with the Widow Douglas right now and all she wants his for him to be civil, go to school and be educated. She also wants to keep him safe. Huck’s father is a drunk and he’s back in town. He wants his son and his son’s money. After Huck’s father takes custody from the Widow Douglas, Huck eventually comes up with an ingenious plan to get away. He fakes his own death and heads down the river where he finds Jim, Ms. Watson’s slave, on a run for freedom. And so the adventures begin.
                Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain is a story about friendship, trust and loosened morals. Huck isn’t the most reliable narrator. He lies throughout the story and is great at exaggerating points. Jim is a more trustworthy character but is a slave and completely ignorant and uneducated. Jim wants to be free with the hopes of eventually buying his wife and children. Huck wants to help but at the same time struggles with what it means to assist a runaway slave, a very well liked runaway slave who belongs to Ms. Watson. It becomes easier for Huck to take things day by day but in the moments between the lies when you can see that Huck does have morals and does in many ways want to do right, he proved to be an interesting and complex character. His moral dilemmas is what makes this an interesting coming of age story.
                Oh Huck. This has never been my favorite novel. I read this in high school and really struggled with whether or not I wanted to read it again. Was it interesting? Yes, but I struggled with reading a story about a southern boy who made excuses for why he felt the need to do wrong and couldn’t always be good. Even now, I enjoyed the writing but the story was so exaggerated that I started to find it simply anticlimactic. It was one thing after another after another. Again not my favorite but I can appreciate why others have enjoyed it for years.  This novel from the beginning has had its share of battles with censorship. In 1885 it was banned from a library in Massachusetts because of the behavior of Huck and his language. This was the first of many bans to take place over the century. The reason for the bans and challenges changed throughout time. It took on a racial standpoint because of the depiction of Jim and the use of the word “nigger” which is said more than 200 times throughout the novel. There have even been instances where passages were changed to make people more comfortable. I’m obviously not a fan of banning books but I am definitely not a fan of altering books either. If a book makes you uncomfortable you should stop reading it. But you should never try and interfere with the reading experience of the others.

Sova, Dawn B.  Banned Books:Literature Suppressed on Social Grounds Revised Edition                             Facts on File Inc 2006

Moloka'i by Alan Brennert

Moloka’i by Alan Brennert

                The year was 1891. The leper colony, Kalaupapa, located on the island of Moloka’i had been established a few years earlier to isolate those diagnosed with the disease from the rest of the Hawaiian population. Rachel’s uncle, Pono, had been diagnosed and placed in Kalihi hospital undergoing different tests and treatments. Now the health inspector was knocking on Rachel’s door. She had seen this man and others like this one at her school, checking the students for any of the telltale signs of the disease. Her mother, Dorothy, has bandage the small red soar on Rachel’s leg for weeks hoping and praying that it wasn’t leprosy but the marks remained. Rachel was to be taken to Kalihi hospital, just like her Uncle Pono, and if there was no change their greatest fear would come true: Rachel would be sent to Kalaupapa where the disease would eventually kill her as it had so many others.
                Moloka’i is a historical fiction novel that is as entertaining as it is informative. Rachel has such a vibrant spirit and yet a horrible disease that took her away from the ones she loved and slowly killed those she began to love while in Kalaupapa. This story begins when Rachel is only six years old and end many years later. Throughout that time we are exposed to the life that one would live on Kalaupapa. As the world changed, much on Kalauppa stayed the same. The sick were kept to themselves with very little contact from the outside world and yet they became a community. Rachel and those she lived with and around experienced love, and the creation of families and loss. Loss was ever present in Kalaupapa but everyone lived with hope. Hope that one day they would be cured. Hope that one day they would be able to leave the island. Hope that one day they would no longer be isolated. Hope that they would one day see those they were separated from.

                Brennert did a great job with recreating the hardships of that turbulent time. He recognized that he couldn’t include one point in Hawaiian history without discussing the other events that happened within that time as well. From the death of King Kalakaua, to the imprisonment of the Queen, the provisional government established in Hawaii and yet he handled it all gracefully. Moloka’i spanned a large amount of time and handled each era delicately. Rachel was an intense character, at times filled with rebellion and others an infectious hope. She grew from a child into a woman in a world away from the world she knew. I enjoyed her story and relished her strength throughout her life. She was up against horrible odds and yet she lived in a way many couldn’t imagine. I give this novel 4 out of 5 stars. I’m a fan of historical fiction and I would recommend this to other fans of historical fiction as well. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Banned Book: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

The year is A.F. 632. It is a time of stability. The population is being manufactured so that a certain number of the population is created for each caste system. Children are raised in a State Conditioning Centre where electroshock therapy may be used for conditioning. Hypnotherapy influences the ideas of the population, are executed according to class and change with each age range. Individuality is not promoted. Thinking is not promoted. Everyone is conditioned to feel and act a certain way. Bernard Marx, an Alpha, spends way too much time by himself. His lone activities have made him a source of ridicule. Most people assume something went wrong while he was being created, which would explain why he is so short for an Alpha and why he doesn’t socialize as much. Is he an individual? Bernard ponders that question along with many other ideas. But that’s not what he is supposed to do in this new world. Here everyone belongs to everyone and it isn’t good to go against that party line.
                Brave New World is a different interpretation of a utopian society. What is the ideal? What does it mean to make everyone happy? That is the goal of this new world. Society is created so that everyone is fulfilled and everyone is happy. They even have a drug that people use and are encouraged to use on a daily basis to keep the stress as minimal as possible. There are no more families. There are no more monogamous relationships. There is no more religion. There are no more books. The people are encouraged to be promiscuous and to stay entertained. Bernard, even as an Alpha, wasn’t that attractive to others because he was shorter than most Alpha men, which caused him to be an outcast. He began to fall outside of the social norm. As the novel progressed, the story would show more instances of how dwelling outside of the social norm becomes problematic. An outsider is welcomed in to this new world and his interpretation of the story is very telling of how dramatic this new utopia is.
                Huxley was extremely imaginative with his idea of what this future may be. Here we have a world where everyone is genetically manipulated to fill certain roles. It is completely outside of what is consider normal. People have no choice but to pursue happiness in the most shallow ways imaginable, but it is how they have been conditioned. They couldn’t imagine a world with parents or monogamy or God. It is completely outside of their realm of thinking. This world was so well developed within this novel that is was frightening. What they consider happiness is my hell on earth, filled with the absence of all the things that I value. I’m guessing other people were extremely unsettled by this novel, but unlike me weren’t able to appreciate its value as a piece of literature. It has been banned in the U.S. and Ireland many times because of its reference to casual sex, its language and its moral value. I can see how this novel is a difficult book to grasp because of the extreme differences between the society Huxley has created and the one we live in now but this is such a blatant case of fiction. It’s a satire of the idea of a Utopia. If anything this type of novel would force people to recognize the beauty of the type of society we do live in where our emotions are not controlled and our genetics are not manipulated to fit a certain mold. I would encourage spending time in Huxley’s world, in order to appreciate the world we live in now.

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Dinner by Herman Koch

The Dinner by Herman Koch

                Paul Lohman is at a very prestigious restaurant with his wife Claire, his brother Serge and his Sister-In-Law Babette. Serge, who will be running for Prime Minister in seven months, has invited Paul and Claire to dinner in this unnamed upscale restaurant. This is no ordinary dinner. This dinner has to do with the future of the Lohman family, and not just Serge and his career but the future of Michel, Paul and Claire’s son, and Rick, Serge and Babette’s son. The fifteen year old boys are in the middle of an extremely harmful situation that will severely affect everyone’s lives. It’s time to lay everything on the table to find a solution to their family problem.
                The Dinner was an intense novel filled with family secrets and unimaginable choices. When the unimaginable happens and it involves your child, how should you as a parent react? It’s a very complex question and it is discussed within the pages of this novel. Paul was an extremely well developed and expressive character. He serves as the narrator, and at times reflects on the past, giving the reader a more balanced view of the situation as a whole. His relationships with the other characters, who were also very well developed, were complicated and believable. There were many layers to the story that gradually peeled themselves away and increased the depth of the story.
                Koch created a novel where it was easy to question the motivations of every single character. I enjoyed this book but the decisions that were made and the decision making process baffled me. If I was in the middle of a political campaign and needed to discuss extremely harmful information with anybody I definitely would have chosen a more discreet location than a fashionable restaurant where I would be easily recognized.  This book was full of questionable decisions and it was interesting and mind blowing the decisions that were made throughout this novel. I definitely questioned what I would do in a similar situation and it did not at all correlate with the decisions that were made in The Dinner. But I liked that about this novel. I liked hearing the rationalizations and reading the thought process of the characters. The plot was done well. It kept me involved in the story and I was kept guessing. As each secret unfolded and each choice was made I felt myself drawn deeper to the story. I give this novel 4 out of 5 stars and suggest it to anyone who wants a new or interesting outlook on the family dynamic.