Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the category “reviews”

Movie Musings: The Birder’s Guide to Everything


I learned to appreciate birds from my parents, mainly my father. I have his set of adequate binoculars, purchased from J.C. Penney, which obviously indicates their vintage status.

I learned to appreciate quirky indie films from my days of attending the University of Washington in Seattle and frequenting the variety of theaters in the fair city of the Space Needle.

As for Sir Ben Kingsley, ever since his performance of Ghandi I have been a fan.

So–an indie movie about watching birds with Ben Kingsley? That was a quick grab off the shelf for movie night.

The trailer pretty much sums up the whole movie: boy loves birds, because his mom shared her love of birds with him, mother dies, father moves on, boy is passively resentful, boy goes on a Bildungsroman road trip.

There is more than that formula plot, of course. There is the humor of watching the provided stereotypes, knowing they know they are set up as stereotypes. There is the quirky enjoyment of watching people watching birds. And there is the brief appearance of Sir Ben, adding in the perfect blend of pathos. There is also a swear word about every two minutes.

We watched most of the movie muted due owning a DVD player installed with Angel Guard, a device that catches profanity before it’s uttered and mutes it. This is a leftover from our days of raising children with a conscious effort of protecting them from harmful influences in the world. Right. Somewhere there must be a study out there correlating whether this measure of parental watchfulness truly has any significant impact on protecting children.

The children are long flown from the nest–oh, an unintended birder metaphor, but the Angel Guard lives on and the Hubs and I haven’t a clue how to reprogram it. Then again, we’re not fans of profanity and muted potty mouth works. With no subtitles, in this PG-13 film, we filled in the blanks. There were a lot of blanks. What was available, though, was a thoughtful, sensitive, often humorous coming-of-age movie of living with loss and discovering that the pain of losing someone cherished doesn’t ever truly go away, but one can learn to cope with the pain.

One of the best features of the film, beyond the commendable performance of Kodi Smit-McPhee, witty script, and Sir Ben, was the bonus feature of a Cornell bird identification insert. A winsome plug for their site: All About Birds  . 

This film helped me to better understand the culture of birdwatching, although I haven’t decided where I am in categories. I am beyond the casual bird feeder crowd, not quite the dedicated birder, and definitely not a lister, checking off spottings of avian treasures. An appreciative fan? I know just enough about birds to sound like I know something about birds.

This film falls in the category of adapted John Green novels showcasing awkward adolescence pain mixed with humor populated by quirky people and moments:

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Reading Round Up: January


January. If I could somehow whisk myself away to a warmer clime, one with no snow, and a proclivity towards blue sky. Just for January. That’s right–January is my least favorite winter month. The day job requires I stick around, so I combat my winter blues with copious book reading. January racked up 17 books. I’ll highlight the hits.

Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life by William Deresiewicz

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Absolutely provoking, yet falls short of being truly inspirational due to a tendency to bring in too much personal angst. While the author’s experience has meritable points, that an elite education tends to prepare graduates for being stellar at certain aspects, such as being lawyers or being English professors, it falls short at mundane abilities i.e. talking to tradesmen. But that isn’t everyone’s experience, and the point he makes unravels into an unfortunate profanity-laced rant in the last few chapters.

The first half of the book is the most effective, and by the numerous sticky notes I flagged in this section, made the most impact. An abundance of worthy passages on what a college education should be in found the first half; however, the second half of the book becomes more or less conjecture, and loses traction.

Overall, an effective thesis concerning the value of an elite education, give or take a few moments of ranting. No shame in a state university diploma after all.

The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Continuing right from where the first book left off, Ada relates her story of adjusting to life in Kent during WWII. Much stays the same, the hardships of war, the loss, the deprivation; however, Ada sees many changes as well: her foot surgery is successful, Susan becomes her legal guardian, they must live with Lady Thornton in one of the estate cottages, and Ruth, a German Jewish girl, comes to stay with them.

Ada still struggles with the shadows of her past life in London, but is slowly learning to open her heart to the good things that come her way.

A bit faltering in the beginning, yet once the strong characterization and plot take hold as in the first book, Bradley’s sequel is just as riveting. It’s hoped Ada’s story will continue.

The Warrior Maiden by Melanie Dickerson

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

A reimagining, rather than a retelling of the Chinese folktale of Mulan, Dickerson’s version is set in 15th century Lithuania.

In this version, Mulan is the illegitimate daughter of Mikolai, a warrior father who has died. Mulan serves as a warrior to save her mother from becoming homeless, and to escape from an unwelcome arranged marriage.

The first half of the plot relates Mulan’s adventures as a soldier. With realistic detail, Mulan struggles to meet the demands of fighting amongst men, while trying to hide her identity. During battle she meets and becomes friends with Wolfgang, a duke’s son. Inevitably their friendship develops into something deeper once Wolfgang discovers why he is attracted to and is protective of the young soldier known as Mikolai.

Unfortunately, the second half of the story becomes enmeshed in being more of a romance novel than the adventure story of the first part. Attention to historical detail and the smooth rendering of the multiple points of view, tip this more towards a four star than a three star review.

This story refers to characters from the previous book in the Hagerheim series, yet it can be read as a standalone.

The publisher provided a free copy in exchange for a review, with all opinions being mine.

Eye of the Crow by Shane Peacock

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

What of the boy Sherlock Holmes? So little is known of who or what he might have been like, that it is fair game to improvise, and maybe take liberties in creating his backstory.

This is the case in Eye Of The Crow, the first in a series about Sherlock Holmes as a boy. Shane Peacock, an obvious admirer of Doyle’s famed detective, has provided a fast-paced supposition of young Holmes.

Smartly written, and full of action, as well as memorable characters, Peacock provides a worthwhile read.

Prince Not So Charming by Roy L Hinuss

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

What happens when you cross a reluctant prince with a reluctant dragon? Answer: You get a book that fractures the fairytale motif with humor and fast action.

Mike Allegra, writing under the nom de plume of Roy L. Hignuss, presents the first book in a series highlighting Carlos, a prince of a kid who would rather grow up entertaining the court than ruling it.

Throw in some potty humor (because what kid doesn’t appreciate how “duty” sounds like, well you get the idea) and a dragon who shirks his fiery calling, along with royal parents who totally don’t get their son, and a new favorite is shelf ready.

This is a recommendation for those young readers transitioning from early readers to chapter books. A fun read with whimsical drawings.

Rewired by Ajay Seth

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Providence can be the only explanation for the series of events that starts with an infected raccoon bite and leads to an experimental procedure that changes the field of prosthetics.

Dr. Ajay Seth. a professed small town surgeon from Ohio, relates the case of Melissa Loomis through a conversational narrative which includes personal anecdotes that add a warmth to his story. What really stands out is the quiet faith that radiates through Dr. Seth’s writing, as his patient puts her trust in him, and as the doctor acknowledges how the events were beyond coincidence.

More than another medical miracle book, this is a story of exploring options and celebrating victories when defeat seems imminent.

Disclaimer: The publisher provided this book exchange for a review, with all opinions being mine.

Reader Review: Such Good Reads


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The Goodreads elves sent out their annual Year in Books report earlier than expected this year. Although I surpassed my reading goal of 101 books, I’m still reading! I hope to reach 135, and I just might.

Because I know you are interested, here are the highlights:

The Golden Mean by Nick Bantock Shortest book–46 pages/4 stars

Part of a series I discovered at the library. Very creative format.

The Marvels by Brian Selznick

Longest book–655 pages/3 stars

I read most of Brian Selznick’s books, having

enjoyed The Invention of Hugo Cabret. This title, although an interesting, wasn’t quite as compelling as his other stories.

The Girl on the Train by Paula HawkinsMost popular read: 1,790,319 readers can’t be wrong? Right?

I read it simply to see what the fuss was about, and why so many of my students were reading it. An idea Hitchcock, no doubt, would have explored. Or did he?

Literature Made Easy the Merchant of Venice by Ruth ColemanLeast popular read: 0
–that does not bode well for my upcoming unit…

Highest rated on Goodreads: a warm tribute from a son to his well-known, beloved father.

Through My Father's Eyes by Franklin Graham

First review of the year:

The Gravity of Birds by Tracy Guzeman A four and half star read that contained an intriguing plot twist (or two). A find at the library sale.

Last review of the year:

A fun, and surprisingly informative introduction to Shakespeare I found while shelving at the library. A solid four stars.

I will continue setting my goal at 101 for next year. We’ll see what happens. And I am open to suggestions for reads.

And if you are really interested the elves might be willing to show off their colorful Goodreads chart work by clicking here.

Reading Round Up: October


There is an unmitigated pleasure about fall sneak reading whilst propped in a backyard hammock. Bundling up against the wisp of autumnal breeze as it tries to nip at exposed flanks, the remaining warmth of the retiring sun definitely adds to the pleasure of a good read.

October marks the acknowledgment that summer reading as ended. By the time I get home from work the backyard is surrendering to shadows and I drag my hammock around on its reluctant stand trying to find patches of sun, reminiscent of a desperate sunflower. The lure of reading outdoors is different to suppress.

Here are October’s picks:

The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

It comes as a surprise I had not heard of Wallace Stegner until recently. I’m a bit embarrassed by that actually, especially when he is both a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner.

So glad I made the effort. But my first book encounter ended up with three pages in and a return to the book bag.

Spectator Bird remained on my list and while waiting for it to arrive I read All the Live Little Things, the companion novel, which turned well since it helped to understand the back story referenced. Quite the drama, and The Spectator Bird makes all the more sense having read about Joe’s dilemmas with becoming older and living with regrets he can’t or won’t bury.

A definitive story on living the present based on the past.

Dear Mrs. Bird by A.J. Pearce

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Wonderful. Delightful. A novel that I found myself sneaking moments to read while trying to work. Dear Mrs. Bird is wartime drama that has provides lighter moments, providing a terrific balance of humor and stunning realism. WWII novels are thick upon the shelves, yet this debut novel is a stunner in how the details create a sense of being in the moment. Emmy and Bunty need a series, and it’s hoped this is a start.

Earth Abides by George R. Stewart

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Recommendations from librarians rarely fail. Knowing I appreciated dystopian genres one of local librarians suggested I find Earth Abides. No easy task. Even with its solid reviews and reputation, I could not land an ILL and ended up reading a free e-book that sorely tried my appreciation of Stewart’s novel due to the numerous transference typos.

Similar to the Omega Man, a pandemic dramatically eradicates the world’s population and one man emerges who will make a difference. This man is Ish. He becomes what he refers to as the last American.

An excellent story, made all the more interesting since the technology is centered on what is available in 1949, the publish date.

All the Live Little Things by Wallace Stegner

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Written during the pulsing sixties, Stegner writes of the various ideals that existed together with deft, insightful prose: older establishment meets with hippie youth who mingles with alternative, creative lifestyle who befriends optimistic outlook. It all makes for a memorable, even compelling dramatic story. Joe, a gruff, outspoken literary agent and his forebearing wife, Ruth, escape the hectic city and retire in the placid hills of California. Their peace is shattered by a interloper Peck who becomes the serpent in their garden, as he interacts with each of Joe’s neighbors and touches each of their lives in irrevocable ways.

Stegner’s prose is impressive. Not only does he relate a complicated story, he evokes such smooth passages of imagery that one cannot rush through the story without pausing to savor his craft.

“For a long time that evening we sat on the terrace, while the swallows and later the bats sewed the darkening air together over the oaks…” p. 226

Lovely.

The story tended to switch forward and back in time sequence as Joe related events, which created a somewhat uneven flow of continuity, yet it might have emulated how Joe’s mind switched from present to past as he attempted to reconcile events.

The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict by Trenton Stewart

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

This prequel to the Mysterious Benedict Society answers much about the mysterious Mr. Benedict met in the first book of the popular series. While less engaging than the first book, due to a rather boggy middle, the ending once again shows the cleverness of Trenton Lee Stewart.

The Rule of Three by Eric Walters

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

The world ends with a whimper, isn’t that what T. S. Eliot suggested? In Eric Walters novel, the first of a series, he explores how this present world might end once computers and other technology shuts off. Adam and his family, along with his neighborhood cope with the aftermath of what appears to be a global EMP strike. A bit bogged down in details, yet this supposition of how people would reaction in such a crisis situation creates an engaging read.

Smile by Raina Telegemeier

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

This book was recommended to me by a young patron while I was shelving books at the local library. His enthusiasm and assurance that it was a “very good book” intrigued me enough to check it out.

A memoir of the author who suffered a traumatic ordeal with her teeth as a teen, in the format of a graphic novel, turned out surprisingly better that I anticipated.

My short tour with braces was nothing compared with her procedure! I think tweens going through all the drama of middle school will appreciate Smile as it explores so many other issues besides getting braces.

Mark of the Raven by Morgan L. Busse

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

“To much is given, much is required” is aptly applied to this fantasy story where the gifts bestowed upon individuals can provide both life and death to others. Two recipients of these gifts, Selene, who can enter people’s dreams, and Damien, who is able to manipulate water, must determine how their gifts will best benefit the people of their land while they struggle to combat the threat of dark alliances that threaten the overall peace.

Engaging and fast-paced, with an intriguing allegorical theme of choosing darkness or the light, Morgan Busse’s The Ravenwood Saga promises readers a series to anticipate following.

This book was provided by the publisher, and all commentary is mine.

Author Spotlight: Brian Selznick


I confess: I’m a binger (interestingly spellcheck kept turning that into “bungee”–flexible strength in reading? hmm, maybe…).

Once interested in something I latch on and absorb as much as possible. Sample binges include: Where in the World is Carmen San Diego, the educational geography game, the reboot of Dr Who, and of latest interest, Brian Selznick’s works.

I can’t remember which I read or watched first concerning The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Both the film and the book and the audio book are stand alones, yet complement each other emphatically.

The bonus DVD disc in the audio book is an engaging interview of Selznick explaining his creative process. He is quite personable and his enthusiasm for his craft is inspiring.

The next book I read is his first published title: Houdini’s Box. His understated humor in both his drawings and story are evident and it’s hoped he writes more of these shorter humorous stories.

Selznick’s trademark seems to be a unique approach to storytelling in which it’s a bit of graphic novel, somewhat of a fable in text, that leans toward a wordless flip book. His talent for story and illustration is equally balanced–quite the gift.

Speaking of illustration, Selznick has illustrated for numerous authors besides his own writing, including Ann Martin Pam Muniz Ryan.

Having recently finished Wonderstruck, I, of course, needed to watch the film adaptation. Turns out he wrote the screenplay. This man’s talent and energy is astounding.

I rounded out my reading-fest with The Marvels, which I had mixed feelings about due to the graphic story being far more interesting than the accompanying text. I look forward to his next title.

I came across an enlightening New York Times interview with Selznick that revealed some interesting facts:

  • Yes, that Selznick. He is related to the legendary David O. Selznick of Hollywood fame.
  • Ray Bradbury sent him a fan letter.
  • He researches extensively.
  • Splitting his time between three homes in three different parts of the country is a norm.

If you are not familiar with his works, I suggest starting out with Houdini’s Box, moving onto Hugo (do listen to it while you read it–such a double treat), then watch the Scorsese film of Hugo (the book is the book, the movie is the movie). From there? Explore, enjoy, maybe even binge a little.

Movie Musings: The Librarian


Someone finally got it right: they created a movie that showed how librarians are more than capable of saving the world from evil doers. I discovered these movies long after they had first been released, but enjoyed them nonetheless.

Noah Wyle from ER fame, established himself in that long running role (11seasons!) as the likable character who was a bit different from others due to background and interests, and sets the tone by choosing what is beneficial for others. This appeal transferred well into the Librarian series.

In the initial movie, Quest for the Spear (2004), Flynn Carsten is a poster boy for failure to launch. He has 22 degrees, lives with his mother, doesn’t have a job or any relationships going (never has, and doubtfully ever will), and would rather spend time with his books because they “speak to him.” His professor signs him off, telling him to go live in the real world. Flynn looks for a job, but then a job finds him. Sent a personal invitation to apply as The Librarian (notice the emphasis), Flynn joins the que of perhaps a hundred applicants.

Thumbnail: he gets the job, he discovers his penchant for all the knowledge that he amassed comes in handy, and that the most important knowledge is not what is in the head, but is found in the heart (great mom advice).

While the movie’s initial production quality is a bit thin, it does have a campiness that is fun. There is a combination of all those jungle adventure movies, mixed in with some Sherlock Holmes, Indiana Jones, Tomb Raider, and James Bond. Sometimes there is a hint of Doctor Who, as Flynn gains experience and status as the “fixer” of what is strange and how it affects the world. Fairly clean family entertainment, except for hinted love scenes, and tame fighting sequences.

A total of three movies plus a TV series meant The Librarian has a fan base of reckoning. Noah Wyle’s character grew in each movie and TV episode until he became a legend in his own time.

His Librarian skills transferred well to Falling Skies, a Steven Spielberg TV series about life after aliens have invaded the planet.

If you haven’t seen The Librarian and are looking for some easy going entertainment, check out the movies. If wanting a more developed, continuing sequenced plot look into the series.

Quest for the Spear” (2004), “Return to King Solomon’s Mine“ (2006), and “Curse of the Judas Chalice“ (2008).Nov 12, 2009

Reading Round Up: July


July is my designated vacation month. I have turned away from teaching mode (it’s hard to turn it completely off) and I dive into the enjoyment of reading and reading some more. In the words of one of my book’s characters: “I shove my nose into it to have a good sniff and I go.” (Dear Reader)

Since July is my dedicated month of reading it isn’t surprising I read 20 books. Last month I read 14 being in a hybrid of schoolish vacation mode. Selecting highlights from my baker’s dozen plus last month proved somewhat difficult (which pet to trot out for a walkie?) so this month’s Reader Round Up consists of rating groups with a micro précis.

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown: The true story of nine working class boys who rowed their way into the hearts of the American people, becoming champions at the 1936 Olympics.

The Princess Bride by Willuam Goldman (25th anniversary edition): This classic contemporary fairy tale comes with everything: heroes,  villians, a princess, duels, giants, wise men, foolish men, dreams, nightmares, happiness, sadness, and clever plot turns. Do not settle on the movie. Read the book.

Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead: Middle school is the epitome of awkward. 

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead: Winner of the 2010 Newberry Medal. Sixth grader Miranda is trying to figure out friendships gone astray as she puzzles out mysterious messages that seemingly know about the future. 

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz: Discovering a new friend can mean discovering something new about yourself.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl: A Cinderfella story of sorts where a chocolate factory becomes happiness ever after.

Shakespeare on Toast by Ben Crystal: Shakespeare is as accessible and friendly as beans on toast, (English comfort food?) according to actor Ben Crystal, who provides a witty and friendly guide to the Bard.

Angel’s Rest by Charles Davis: Eleven year old Charlie has his life turned sideways and upside down when his father is killed by a shotgun blast , and everyone says Charlie’s mother pulled the trigger–but did she?

Housekeeping by Marilyn Robinson: Orphaned sisters Ruth and Lucille grow up haphazardly under the care of various aunts which defines how each sister chooses to grow as an adult.

Old School by Tobias Wolff: At a prestigious boysboarding school the emphasis on   literature takes precedence over all else, especially when it comes to meeting writing greats such as Robert Frost and Ernest Hemingway.

History Year by Year: The History of the World from Stone Age to the Digital World by Peter Crisp: An engaging illustrated timeline grouping  to 2012.

Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf: A modernist tale involving stream of consciousness narrative of several characters over the course of one day.

Dear Reader by Paul Fournel: Robert Dubois, a French book publisher, grapples with the transition of reading paper manuscripts to having them loaded on his electronic reader and begins to see his life in a new perspective–yet, is the new necessarily the better?

The Friendly Shakespeare by Norrie Epstein: A worthwhile resource that one can flip through exploring all sorts of Bardolatry from trivia to play commentary to an admirable list of film adaptations.

The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula Le Guin: George Orr realizes his dreams can affect reality and the consequences of this realization changes civilization forever.

The Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet by Erin Dionne: Shakespeare probably didn’t think about what would happen if an eighth grade girl were named Hamlet.

Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator by Roald Dahl: Being the owner of a fabulous chocolate factory has its ups and downs.

Night Runner by Max Turner: Vampires can be found in unexpected places (especially when the dustjacket does not allude to vampires lurking within the plot).

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline: Vivian, a ninety-one year old former orphan train rider has a secret bound up in her memoirs.

Through My Father’s Eyes by Franklin Graham: A tribute, rather than a biography, of evangelist Billy Graham.


Reading Round Up: May


May provided a mixture of titles. It was a grab and go find time to read as the month was filled with AP testing and finishing up curriculum units. Brain in a blender is how I refer to those mad days of teaching in overdrive mode. Sometimes it’s difficult finding enough energy to peruse a few pages without falling asleep. Book whap in the face is embarrassing.

Greenwillow by B.J. Chute

An enchanting tale with a warmth about it that makes it suitable for a cozy wintertime fireside session or as a drowsy summer hammock companion.

Reminiscent of Tuck Everlasting in how true love is shadowed by a family curse, with a bit of the charm found in D. E. Stevenson’s novels. Gently told and full of quaint characterization and imagery. I hope to find other novels by the author. A delightful five star read.

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

A bit of Benjamin Button mashed with Dr Who timey-wimey stuff. The idea of someone who ages incredibly slow is intriguing as it has so many plot possibilities. Unfortunately, most of the story centers on how miserable Tom Hazard is concerning his condition. He is over 400 years old though he looks to be in his forties. Falling in love is problematic, as is staying in one place for more than eight years. The flip flop of Tom’s backstory mixed with present day is the stuff of novels these days, so that wasn’t the issue as much as the over-dramatic ending with serious plot holes. The overall premise is quite clever, the storyline fairly entertaining despite Tom’s grousing. The inclusion of Shakespeare garnered the four stars, otherwise a middling three.

First Impressions by Debra White Smith

While some readers may appreciate yet another spin off of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, it is a universal truth that providing a refreshing retelling is difficult. This is the case for First Impressions by Debra White Smith, who begins her series of Austen retellings with the familiar love story of Darcy and Elizabeth. White attempts to freshen up the story by placing it in a contemporary Texas small-town. Some of the characters have changed, yet not so much for the better. Darcy is Dave, a millionaire hiding from his fame, Elizabeth is Eddi, a sassy lawyer, Jane is Jenny, ambivalent about the men in her life, and Bingley is Calvin, endearing, yet somewhat bumbling in his attempts at admiring Jenny. Lydia is Linda, the promiscuous sister. The Bennett parents still play their assigned roles of mother with no filter and passive father. The other two sisters didn’t make the cast. Wickham is a police officer gone wrong, and Connor becomes the awkward smitten cousin. Overall, the dialogue and attempts to match key dialogue and plot points comes off forced, such as making Connor a third cousin, with several reminders that it’s okay to marry cousins in Texas.

Retelling such a well-known story can be problematic, partly since readers have high expectations the characters and plot will provide similar vitality. Unfortunately, First Impressions did not impress, and it is with regret, as it held promise in its chosen format, but tried too hard to emulate Austen’s story and earns a two star.

The Lost Girl of Astor Street by Stephanie Morrell

Piper loses her best friend Lydia, and is determined to find out what happened to her. This is no easy task for an eighteen year old society girl living the crime-prone era of 1920’s Chicago. As Piper begins her investigation into Lydia’s disappearance, she begins to jeopardize her own safety. Fast-paced, with notable era details, this is an engaging read. Odd, that it is labeled as a YA, since its history-mystery format is more inclined towards an adult audience interest-wise.

One off-putting aspect of the novel is the way Piper is presented: tomboyish, clever, yet emotionally immature. Her overly-dramatic behavior makes her seem much younger than eighteen, more like fifteen, which makes it surprising that a mature police detective like Mariano would be interested in her. The ending definitely hints at sequels, as there are a couple of loose ends that need attention. A four star in spite of Piper’s tendency towards being irritating in her enthusiasm in solving problems.

Bizarre Romance by Audrey Niffenegger and Eddie Campbell

One of those books that turn out to be a not what I thought after reading a trade review. I liked the cover and was initially persuaded this would be quirky graphic novel. The idea intrigued me of illustrating published stories, a blending of text and visual interpretation. Somehow the stories didn’t quite work. The art kind of did. But they didn’t necessarily work together. “Thursdays, Six to Eight p.m.” is the best pick–fresh and funny. A middling three. A side note is that Niffenegger is the author of The Time Traveler’s Wife.

After next week I am free to read anytime I care to since school obligations will be over. I already went shopping at the library and have a shelf of reads ready to go. I look forward to feasting with my reading sessions instead of the peck and nibble I contend with. As much as I enjoy teaching, it does get in the way of my reading.

Happy June–the gateway to summer. Aah, yes…

book cover images: Goodreads

hammock image: Pinterest

Reading Round Up: March


Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Image: Barnes and Noble

War books are difficult to read. There is rarely a good side to war, no matter how well the story is written. With this knowledge then, with some reluctance, I began reading Salt to the Sea as I knew a WWII story would have tragedy and travail. Yet, the story starts with a strong hook and its hypnotic four person viewpoint narrative continues throughout, making it a compelling read about the worst maritime disaster in history. Surprisingly, good manages to surface in the horror that pervades in this aspect of war.

The story centers on the evacuation efforts of those fleeing Russian soldiers. Thousands escape with barely any belongings in hope of finding refuge on ships. The main focus is on the Wilhelm Gustloff, which carried 10,000 refugees on board. It’s amazing that a loss of over 9,000 lives has not had more attention. Almost half of those lost were children. This is a story of four lives and their perspective. Riveting to the end. The historical detail is commendable. A solid five star read.

Historical Background
The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson

Image: Amazon

At times the book had the feel of a PBS series, the detail and characterization being so colorful and descriptive, ready for adaptation. This is not a complaint; however, a book of nearly 500 pages does contain a bit of hefty plot making and detail. It’s as if it wants to become a series. The book is not so much a war story as it is a study of England and its people before war irrevocably altered a way of life.

Told from various character experiences, a reader senses the summer before the Great War to be one never seen again in England.  The warmth of friendships, the comfort of routine, and the pace of English country life is laid before the reader in welcome detail, so when war does arrive the shock is truly felt.

Beatrice, Hugh, Aunt Agatha, Mr Tillingham and the other characters of Helen Simonson’s second novel are admirably portrayed, as is the setting and the various subplots. Sometimes it felt a bit much, as in a bit too much detail. The over-length of the story contributed to the four and a half star rating–a hundred pages of exposition trimming would have helped to keep attention on the story instead of on the extra particulars. Colorful details, while appreciated, can become distracting if overdone.

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

Image: Amazon

Told from two perspectives, All American Boys, tells the story of police brutality, from that of the victim and of a witness. And it gets complicated. White cop, black teenage kid. White witness, friends with the cop and his younger brother. Loyalties are tested. Lines drawn at school. Choices are made.

The authors provide a realistic account of a situation happening too often across the country. What could have added to the story, ends up watering down the impact, as there is also a weak account of the police officer’s viewpoint, although it seems added in to only offset the difficulty of the situation. Being a police officer is difficult. Another character emphasizes the tough split-second decisions officers must make that can result in permanent consequences. The interjection of the police officer in question inadvertently comes off as him being menacing. It might have been better to hear his full his viewpoint to add the perspective of the police officer along with the victim and the witness.

Overall, an important, timely story told with realism and an ear for true dialogue. A four star read.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

Image: Good Reads

Having avoided this book because how can any book about the Holocaust be different from the other ones I’ve read? There is an inevitable sadness and horror to the truth of the events.

John Boyne does manage to bring a different perspective to his Holocaust tale, in that his story is told as a fable. Bruno, a nine year old German son of a high ranking Nazi official, must move with his family to Out-With because the Fury deems Bruno’s father capable enough to run the death camp. Bruno, however,  does not know it is a death camp. He also does not know why there are so many people wearing grey-striped pajamas. He hates this place. He hates it until while exploringone day he discovers a boy on the other side of the fence. A nine year old boy named Shmuel who is wearing striped pajamas. The story is about their friendship.

On a literal level, the story is annoying with its purposeful euphemisms and the veiled naïveté of Bruno. Yet, reading the story as a fable, as a story that could never happen in a world so advanced as ours, it deserves the acclaim it has received. A four star as sometimes the fable aspect is somewhat overdone.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline


Warning: Only those with a serious crush on the 80’s are advised to saunter forth to experience Ernest Cline’s whopping tome of this romanticized era. And it helps to be a gamer. Not being a fan of either, I really didn’t appreciate the story. Plus, I couldn’t figure out if the audience was meant to be YA or adult. All this contributed to the three star rating. I did like the Willy Wonka mash up with Tron aspect.
The Man He Never Was: A Midern Reimagining of Jekyll and Hyde by James Rubart

Image: Amazon

The story provides much promise as it starts out: a man waking alone in a strange room with no memory. Amnesia stories can be intriguing mysteries as pieces are put back together. Unfortunately, there are too many plot holes to sustain the premise that a person can easily disappear for almost a year without more repercussions than indicated.

At times the message of how a person can overcome weaknesses through the strength of relying on the Lord is inspiring. It is confusing, even dismaying, that this truth gets garbled with New Age aspects of meditation centers, Eastern teas, and cosmic rooms. At times there is a Ted Dekker feel of spiritual mysticism to the plot. Robert Whitlow provides the same blending of spiritual and inspirational, but with more of a faith-based storyline. Rubart’s mixture is confusing, if not disturbing, in its approach to the idea of the dark side, the Hyde, within a person. A three star read. 

The publisher provided a copy in exchange for a fair review.

Movie Musings: Risen


What would the Resurrection story be like from a weary Roman tribune’s point of view? From a hardened soldier whose main aspiration is to gain power in order to retire to the country to find peace, to live a day without death?

This is the premise of Risen, which came out in 2016, featuring Joeseph Fiennes and Peter Firth. Most, if not all of the Easter films I have watched, focus on events leading up to the crucifixion. Risen starts afterwards, beginning with a convincing skirmish with Roman soldiers and the released Barrabbas.

Image: Amazon.com

https://youtu.be/R-R9JY4le7k

Clavius, a career Roman soldier, played by Joseph Fiennes, is the one who is sent by Pilate to speed things up, to end the “rabble” noise. Clavius does so by going to the site of the three crucifixions taking place. He orders two of the three to have their legs broken, which painfully quickens the already excruciating death on the cross. As the third victim is about to suffer the same, Clavius notices a group of women weeping, and learns it is the mother. This is where the audience sees beyond the tough exterior of this Roman soldier, setting up the film. Clavius instead orders the pilium, and the suffering ends immediately with the swift piercing.

From this point on Clavius remains involved with this man’s death. He is sent to have the tomb sealed, and when the body vanishes, he becomes a dectective trying to solve the mystery. This is a brilliant, if not unique way, to present the Resurrection story.

As Clavius, Joseph Fiennes, projects a weariness from his 25 years of soldiering, that begins to soften his judgement, yet his professional training remains intact. As Clavius searches for the missing Yeshua, he begins to find truths that he cannot reconcile with what he knows, and this truth changes him as searches for answers.

Having watched the Easter films of the past, The Robe through The Greatest Story Ever Told, and even The Passion of Christ, I was at first reluctant to watch yet another film about a story I knew so well, that whenever I watched a retelling my emotions absolutely pulverized me: joy, awe, anger, devestation, exultation. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go through it all once again, even though the story is ultimately uplifting. Risen, having now twice watched it, creates a sense of wonder, a sense of satsfaction, one of peace.

Joseph Fiennes brings his polished acting skills to the role, providing subtley to his part. A sigh, a flick of an eyelid, a wary side look, a folding of arms all say so much when he says so little. This Roman, this Clavius, is a man of action, one of precise movement and logic, yet events he becomes involved in as he searches for Yeshua at Pilate’s demand, renders him watchful, cautious, and we see him slowly transform as he realizes he will never be the same.

I appreciate Sony’s dedication to producing intelligent, thought-provoking family films that take on inspirational subjects. The stories are well-written, finely directed, and showcase notable actors. Most find their way to the theatre circuit and do well, which sends the message that family entertainment with a message is valued.

He is risen, and I hope you and yours embrace this season of wonders.

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