Summer Plans

I’ve always been an avid reader so reading five books in a semester wasn’t difficult for me. What was difficult was finding the time to read and write reviews while still keeping up with other class work. Not only did I read five books this semester, but I also read a play each week for my Introduction to Shakespeare class. Balancing Shakespeare with other reading and writing assignments proved to be tougher than I had anticipated.

Overall, I really enjoyed keeping this blog throughout the semester, so I don’t think this is going to be my last post. I might post more of my photography and some of the fiction I’m working on in the future as opposed to continuing writing book reviews. If I read a particularly great book, I may review it but don’t expect regular reviews like I’ve been doing.

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This is in Astor, Fl on the St. Johns River. Photo by: me

It’s the end of the semester and I’m excited for summer, but I’m also going to miss this class. I feel like I got to know my classmates a lot better than in most classes because we shared our writing. This is the first time in my life that I’ve truly enjoyed writing because I’ve never really written much fiction prior to this class and now I don’t like writing literary analysis anymore. Isn’t that funny?

Going completely off-topic here, recently I’ve been listening to The All-American Rejects. Probably because I got to see them in concert about a month ago at Universal Studios. They played all five songs I knew by them at the time and more but I really enjoyed all of their other songs as well. My favorite performance-wise was probably “Kids in the Street.” Concerts are great!

I’ve got so many plans for the summer. I hope to take a road trip with a friend (who is also a photographer) and drive across the state, maybe down to the Keys, stopping wherever we feel like to take photos. I’m really excited about that and if I get to, I’ll probably post more about it and post some of my pictures. I also want to rent a boat on the St. Johns again. This is the place I’ve rented from. Pontoon boats are a blast!

Anyway, goodbye for now. I’ll be back sporadically through the summer.

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Review of The Enemy Above

This week, I’m reviewing a book that is a really easy read. I read The Enemy Above by Michael P. Spradlin. It’s 227 pages and I easily read it in a day. I had a hard time putting it down once I started reading it.

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The hand covering Anton’s mouth smelled like dirt. It was all he could think of. Bubbe let out a gasp as another hand snaked out of the darkness and enveloped her mouth as well. Anton had been so careful. How had the gestapo found them?

Synopsis:

As I said in my last post, this is a WW2 story and it’s at a middle school reading level – which I wasn’t expecting when I picked it up. If you read my last post, you’ll know that this book follows a young Jewish boy named Anton, the protagonist, and a German major in the gestapo, Major Von Deusen, the antagonist. Most of the chapters are told from Anton’s perspective with some in between told from Von Deusen’s. This book starts by dropping the reader into the action of the story by showing Anton and his grandmother, Bubbe, leaving their house to meet up with family at a safe house just outside of town. I won’t say much more here because I don’t want to spoil anything but after Anton and Bubbe escape the major at the beginning, he gets an unhealthy obsession with finding and capturing them specifically.

What I liked:

Taking into account that this book was meant for children, I like the plot structure. It’s very episodic, with a lot of small story arcs. Each time Anton runs into danger, there is a clear climax and resolution which is a good thing for a children’s chapter book. It keeps the action going, while giving clear places to put the bookmark in and close the book for awhile. I didn’t do that because the action was so fast that I couldn’t put it down but, for a middle schooler whose attention span is much shorter than mine, this could be very helpful. I liked the story overall but the antagonist was the stereotypical villain – he’s completely obsessed with catching a young boy and an old woman who continue to outsmart him.

What I didn’t like:

There’s a lot that I didn’t particularly like, but I understand why the book was written like this.

SPOILERS: Mostly, I felt like the end was too cliche; while I didn’t like the antagonist, I did kinda want him to succeed at the end, but at least he wasn’t the only death in that last firefight. END SPOILERS

The characters are very cliche and a lot of the plot can be predicted, but I still think it’s a good book for its target audience.

My overall impression:

While there are plenty of problems with this book, there are also plenty of good things about it. It was obviously written for the target audience (middle school kids who like reading and history). This is the kind of book that, had I read it 10 years ago, would have fanned the flames of my love for historical fiction. I’m sure it will do that to at least a few children who pick it up.

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This week I’m reading…

A book I picked up for FREE! It is a middle school level book, but it’s great despite the low reading level. I acquired a copy of the book The Enemy Above by Michael P. Spradlin at a cute little bookstore in Georgia before it was officially released. I’ll elaborate on that experience further after I tell you how great this book is. I actually just started reading it today and I’m already 3/4ths of the way done on page 167. I literally couldn’t put it down. Actually, the only reason I did was to use the bathroom and write this post.

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Anyway, this book is a historical fiction that takes place during WWII and follows a Ukrainian Jewish boy named Anton. While most of the book is from Anton’s perspective, some of the chapters follow the antagonist, Major Karl Von Deusen of the gestapo. There’s not much else I can say about this novel without spoiling anything but I highly recommend it for anyone who likes historical fiction because it is packed with action.

An excerpt from a letter that Major Von Deusen receives from his brother fighting against the Russians:

“This was a mistake, Karl. We should never have come here. We have lost so many men and now there is talk that we must surrender. … I am afraid it is too late for us.”

This book shows from both sides what the war was like, with historically accurate information about it, like the German defeat at Stalingrad. It makes it seem like the action is happening right then and there, in real time with actual historical events. It’s great!

So, how did you acquire this book for free, you ask. Well, last April, I was just outside Atlanta, in Decatur, for a concert with a friend. Both of us are huge bookworms and I’d been to this bookstore once before so I brought him there and just outside the door was a table covered in books. Taped to the wall just above it was a sign that read: “Free Books: Yes, They Really Are Free!” My friend and I spent probably a half an hour just reading the backs of the books and holding on to ones we’d like to read. Each of us brought home 3-4 of the “Uncorrected Proof” books and bought at least one from the store. That was an adventure for sure and a wonderful trip.

The concert was awesome, by the way. I walked back to the hotel that night having acquired not only extra books but a new tank top with the band’s logo on it and a drumstick, signed by the drummer! Since I’m already being specific, I’ll go ahead and give the bookstore a shout out. Little Shop of Stories is honestly my favorite bookstore I’ve been to. The staff can give you recommendations based on books you like, which is fantastic! Also, thank you, Marty Beller of They Might Be Giants for the drumstick and the autograph. If you haven’t yet listened to their music, I highly recommend “Birdhouse in Your Soul” and “New York City.” Actually, just listen to any of it, you can’t go wrong with TMBG!

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Review of The Crane Wife

This week I’m reviewing a novel by one of my favorite authors, Patrick Ness. The Crane Wife is 305 pages short. Ness was inspired by the story of the crane wife, a Japanese folktale. I actually had two reasons for picking up this novel, one being that I love Patrick Ness‘s novels and the other being the title is also the title of a song by The Decemberists and the epigraph of the novel is a lyric from the song. I had high expectations for this book and I wasn’t disappointed.

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This is a quote that I found particularly interesting:

“This, I will never understand,” Kumiko carried on over her. “The inability of people to see themselves clearly. To see what they are actually like, not what they fear they are like or what they wish to be like, but what they actually are. Why is what you are never enough for you?”

“For who? Me? Or everyone?”

“If you could only see the truth of yourself-”

“Then we wouldn’t be human.”

Kumiko stopped, as if slapped, and then looked strangely delighted. “Is that it? Is that what it is?”

To be human is to yearn, I think,” Amanda said. “To want. To need. What you already have, most of the time. It kind of poisons everything.”

Synopsis:

This is a story of a middle-aged man named George who finds an injured crane in his London backyard and saves its life. Shortly after saving the crane, a peculiar woman walks into his print shop and turns his life upside down. They work together creating art that truly inspires people. I can’t really say much more because it would spoil the novel.

What I liked:

Pretty much everything. The whole book had me wondering what’s going to happen next. There are so many wonderful characters and, while there are some things that are kind of magical, most of the novel is very realistic. Even the parts that couldn’t happen in real life, seem plausible in the world of this book.

SPOILERS, SERIOUSLY DON’T READ THIS IF YOU HAVEN’T READ THE BOOK, YOU’LL BE CONFUSED: I loved the way Ness presented the reader with multiple options of how the fire started and lets the reader decide how they think it started. When Kumiko saves Amanda’s life, I genuinely started tearing up and I don’t cry much when I’m reading. All of the foreshadowing to Rachel being possessed by the volcano and then her transformation after he dies just blew my mind. END SPOILERS.

What I didn’t like:

I don’t think there was anything I didn’t like about it, actually. The only thing I can think that I’d have liked to be different is the fact that there aren’t many of George and Kumiko’s art tiles left at the end of the novel. But that’s just because I don’t like art being destroyed.

My overall impression:

I highly recommend this novel to anyone who likes a little romance combined with a slight mystery and folklore. It’s a beautiful story and the end is incredible. You’ll have to read it for yourself.

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Review of On Writing

This week, I’m reviewing Stephen King‘s book, On Writing291 pages filled with his thoughts about writing, examples of both good and bad writing, and a short memoir.

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“Writing did not save my life … but it has continued to do what it has always done: it makes my life a brighter and more pleasant place.”

Synopsis:

This book is divided into five major sections with three short forwards and three sections labeled “And Furthermore.” The first section, called “C.V.” is a brief memoir and gives the reader a pretty good understanding of what made him a writer. This was perhaps the most intriguing section because I really liked learning about his life. The second section “What Writing Is” explains how King believes that writing is like telepathy. In section three, “Toolbox,” King tells young writers how to build their toolbox, with vocabulary and grammar, for instance. Section four, perhaps the longest, “On Writing,” tells the reader everything King knows about writing. The last section, “On Living: A Postscript,” is about King’s accident in 1999.

Ideas that will help me with my writing:

King says that writing a story is like escalating a fossil and I think this will help me get away from my need to plan everything and, instead, just see what the fossil looks like. King also writes about writing stories that are just “what if” questions. I want to take this idea and use it to help me write. I think this will help with my writing because I’ll focus less on plot and more on characters and setting and how that shapes the story. I’m working on getting all of my work into active voice, like King says and also on avoiding adverbs especially in attributions.

My overall impression:

Overall, I really liked this book and I think that King’s comparison between a raw story and a fossil has definitely helped me in the way I view fiction.

“Try any goddam thing you like, no matter how boringly normal or outrageous. If it works, fine. If it doesn’t, toss it. Toss it even if you love it. Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch once said, ‘Murder your darlings,’ and he was right.”

I love this quote because I feel like experimenting in writing can be difficult but if you do it without worrying whether or not it’ll work, you can have more fun with it.

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This Week I’m Reading…

A Stephen King book! On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft is very hard to put down. I actually read the 101 pages that I’ve read of it in one sitting! Granted, this isn’t terribly atypical of me (I read the entire 655 pages of Inkspell by Cornelia Funke in two days back in middle school).

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I love this book so far although I’ve only read the section titled “C.V.” which is a memoir. He talks about everything from his childhood and constant doctor’s visits when he was 6 to the day he met his wife and even when he found out that Carrie’s paperback rights had sold for $400,000. There’s a lot that I didn’t know about him and I can’t wait to continue reading. One thing he said that I found interesting is

“put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support-system for art. It’s the other way around.” – Stephen King

I think that, by saying that life isn’t a support-system for art, he’s saying that art is what makes life livable. I completely agree with this because I love art, whether it be writing, painting, photography, theater, dance, or anything else and I know that my life wouldn’t be the same if I couldn’t experience or create art myself. Life wouldn’t be nearly as fun without art.

I’m also reading a book by Patrick Ness called The Crane Wife, which I may or may not review. I probably will in a few weeks. I actually was just looking to see if there were any books by Patrick Ness that I hadn’t read (he’s one of my favorite YA authors) and I saw this one. The title caught my eye because it is also the title of a song by The Decemberists (“The Crane Wife 1+2”), so I opened it up and what catches my eye but the epitaph:

And all the stars were crashing around

As I laid eyes on what I’d found

The Decemberists

I got super excited and I had to check it out immediately (normally I would have made a note of it in my phone). If you haven’t heard of The Decemberists, I highly recommend you listen to some of their songs because they are lyrically and musically beautiful.

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Review of The Handmaid’s Tale

This week, I’m reviewing The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. It is 311 pages and it’s fantastic! I’ll admit that it sometimes made me angry but I’ll go into that later.

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“I avoid looking down at my body, not so much because it’s shameful or immodest but because I don’t want to see it. I don’t want to look at something that determines me so completely.”

Synopsis:

It is the early 2000’s and the United States is in a state of upheaval. The President has been killed and Congress has been massacred. The Constitution has been suspended. Everything as we know it is changing, and quickly. Offred, the narrator whose true name is unknown, is now a Handmaid. Once a month she must partake in the Ceremony, a fertilization ritual between her, her Commander, and his Wife. She is used only as a womb because of the declining number of births. Her world wasn’t always like this and the reader gets to find out more about her past through her thoughts at night.

What I liked about it:

I loved this book although it was disturbing. I loved the details in the descriptions of places and feelings, the characters are really dynamic, the story felt too real. I loved how Offred’s backstory is revealed in small bits of information as she remembers things. She also informs the reader of what happened that made the US become this totalitarian government and how it transitioned. A lot of how it became like this really interested me but it’s also scary how quickly your rights can be taken away.

What I didn’t like about it:

This book hits really close to home. With everything that’s happening currently, I wouldn’t be too surprised if something like this happens to us in the next few years. There is some gore throughout the novel especially towards the end. There is talk of suicide and one or more of the characters does commit suicide (I won’t say who). There’s not much at all that I didn’t like about it except for maybe all of the cheating that happens prior to the novel and SPOILERS during the novel END SPOILERS.

My overall impression:

This is a wonderful book that I think everyone should read. You may not like it as much as I do, but it definitely brings to light some of the political climate of today. This is both surprising and disturbing because the book was written in 1985. I am worried about this becoming reality, but I believe that we can stop it if we are informed. On a happier note, I’m really excited for the TV show based on The Handmaid’s Tale!

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This Week I’m Reading…

Another classic! The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. I’m only on page 27 but I love it so far! It seems like we could be at a point at which our decisions affect whether or not our future becomes as it is in this book. Women have almost no rights and the system is very classist. I’m worried that our country is in the beginning stages of becoming as it is in The Handmaid’s Tale. As I was reading, I’ve come across quite a few things that have really set the atmosphere of a possible near future.

“I never ran at night; and in the daytime, only beside well-frequented roads.

Women were not protected then.

I remember the rules, rules that were never spelled out but every woman knew: Don’t open your door to a stranger, even if he says he is police. Make him slide his ID under the door. Don’t stop on th road to help a motorist pretending to be in trouble. Keep the locks on and keep going. If anyone whistles, don’t turn to look.”

This is very similar to our current society and I truly hope that we keep fighting against this. Keep fighting so that we don’t have to be afraid. I hope it never becomes like this book.

In more pleasant news, this past week has been great for me! I’m incredibly happy with my relationship. We just started dating and even just met but things are wonderful. We have so much in common and I’m just swept away by it all. We’re even both left-handed. That’s super uncommon. All of my past relationships have failed pretty quickly and I’ve never felt like this in any of them. I’m really hoping this is it. I’m just so happy and I know why but I’m not sure how everything has fallen into place so perfectly for me. I’m amazed. They say that love at first sight is only in stories but I’m not so sure about that now.

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Review of Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five

This week, I am reviewing the classic anti-war novel by Kurt Vonnegut known as Slaughterhouse-Five, also titled The Children’s Crusade. It is a rather short novel at 215 pages but, nonetheless, is life-changing.

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Synopsis:

This novel is about a man who survived the firebombing of Dresden in World War II, named Billy Pilgrim, who has become “unstuck in time.” In other words, he relives different times in his life in random order with no control of when or where he’ll be next. One moment he’s talking to his fiancé in a veteran’s hospital and the next he’s in a zoo on a planet called Tralfamadore. As Vonnegut writes on the title page:

“This is a novel somewhat in the telegraphic schizophrenic manner of tales of the planet Tralfamadore, where the flying saucers come from.”

There are three main time periods that Billy travels to: the war (most of it spent as a prisoner of war in Germany), after the war (in the hospital, with his wife, etc), and on Tralfamadore (as a middle-aged man).

What I liked about it:

Honestly, I loved the whole book but more specifically, the way the story is told. It’s very disjointed and reminds me of my favorite book, Catch-22Like Catch-22, the atrocities of war are explained in a much more lighthearted way than you would think, but it doesn’t take away from the darkness of what happened, only emphasizes it.

I also really liked the Tralfamadorians and their perception of time; I feel like it is truly thought provoking. The inclusion of aliens in a war novel is a very odd idea although it does encourage thought about life, death, time, and the universe, among other things.

What I didn’t like about it:

There’s not much I didn’t like about this book but there are some descriptions in the book, mostly about the war, that are disturbing. I do understand that it needs to be there because, well, it’s war, but I know that some people may be turned off of the book because of it.

My overall impression:

Slaughterhouse-Five is a classic for a very good reason. It’s engaging and offers a strong commentary on war, mental illness, and society in general. While it is very similar to Catch-22, Slaughterhouse-Five offers a different perspective on war and society while still being entertaining. It’s also much less confusing than Catch-22 but that’s the reason I love both of them. I highly recommend Slaughterhouse-Five to anyone who likes thought-provoking, bizarrely humorous novels and anyone who likes Catch-22.

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Ten Random Facts About Me

Here’s some stuff to know about me:

1. I do photography sometimes. I prefer landscape and architecture photography (because I find it easier than working with models) but I also do cosplay photography for my friends. I’ll probably post some of my favorite photos here.

2. I LOVE boardgames (and card games) like Pandemic and Exploding Kittens. I will, however, also enjoy an occasional game of Monopoly or the like.

3. I have two wonderfully hilarious cats. Kuzon is kinda chubby and can be a jerk sometimes (like all cats) and my sister says that Zuko is an alien (he’s definitely an odd one). There’s a picture of both of them on my About page.

4. I have so many favorite books that when someone asks me what my favorite book is, I get this deer-in-the-headlights look and say the first three books that pop into my head. I don’t have an ultimate favorite book because they’re all my favorites for different reasons. I can’t compare them all.

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5. Cold weather is the best. Tea is also the best. Books are the best too. Being wrapped in a blanket with a cup of tea and a book is definitely the best. A lot of things are the best, in my opinion.

6. If I don’t have a reason to get up in the morning (school, work, etc), I won’t. I’ll sleep until noon and only get out of bed for food. I try to keep busy because I hate wasting the day.

7. While I do love all kinds of food, my favorite is definitely sushi. If I could, I’d eat it everyday, but, alas, it is too expensive. *sad face*

8. Here’s something odd about me: I collect dead flowers. Dead roses to be exact and I have some that are from 10 years ago. I know, I’m weird.

9. I love camping. Especially with family. Somehow someone always ends up injured, but not badly. We usually laugh it off, play games, and tell stories around the fire. There’s always s’mores!

10. After a party (around midnight), my cousin and I rapped all two and a half hours of Hamilton: An American Musical. I was so tired and crazy that anyone else would have thought I was drunk (she was). It was a blast!

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