Sunday, January 13, 2019

The Turtle Warrior

In a world of watered-down contemporary fiction, I certainly notice when a book has bite. The Turtle Warrior, by Mary Relindes Ellis, is definitely the kind of novel that leaves behind teeth marks in your soul.

I found this treasure in a used bookshop in Kailua, Hawaii. It was both the title and the picture on the cover that drew me to it. I saw it was a debut novel (from 2004), and I just knew it needed to go home with me. And I was right.

First, let me say, the writing is excellent. The story is told by different narrators, and it isn't labeled by chapter, or section, who is who. But it isn't confusing at all. The author had confidence in the ability of her writing, and her readers' brains, to make it clear who was speaking. I love the different perspectives and back stories of the characters. Like I said, excellent writing.

Second, I will tell you that it isn't easy to read about the tragedy of some people's lives. Yes, it is fiction, but it is very much realistic fiction. It is everything life is: happy, tragic, disappointing, surprising, euphoric, lonely, and loving.

Third, and last, I will tell you the plot revolves around a boy, Bill, and his life. It begins when he is young and dreams of fighting bad guys with a wooden sword his big brother made him and an old turtle shell for a shield. But life for Bill is harsh on a Wisconsin farm in the 1960s with an alcoholic father, an unbalanced mother, and a beloved older brother who goes off to war and leaves him behind. It's a story about surviving childhood and living with decisions and forgiving and hoping to find a better life.

It's a worthy read. I don't think any synopsis could have prepared me for the incredible story that unfolded in this book. I'm so glad I read it. I hope you will decide to read it one day, too.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

New Year, Same Me

Don't look here if you're looking for my New Year's resolution. I resolved not to do those anymore, and it was absolutely the best New Year's resolution I ever made...and have kept. As the title of this post indicates, while it IS a new year, I am still very much the same me. Of course, in truth,...I am also constantly changing - as, I hope, we all are. But the changing? Yep, that's still the same me. 

I haven't blogged for...quite awhile, in case you hadn't noticed, but it's been a year full of more changes and adjustments than I've ever had to handle. But I have it all handled now. Quite nicely, too, I might add (though it sure didn't feel like it while I was going through it).

In upcoming blogs I will share several stories about a variety of things: my new location, my new job, my goal to finish a novel (something my daughters bug me about on a continuous basis - bless their sadistic hearts), my writing journey, and - as always - my reading journey. 

Barring death or dismemberment, I'll post every Sunday. I may post more often than that, from time to time, but definitely every Sunday. It's when I tend to reflect the best...and have the most quiet. 

Tune in next week to hear about the odd books found (and bought) in a used bookstore in Hawaii, as well as a review on the book I'm currently reading. 

Until then, happy reading! 

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Our Stories

I have a favorite quote that has become a bit of a mantra for me. I hear it in my head when people tell me something about themselves. I hear it when I teach students who don't believe in their own abilities to learn and to become whatever they want to be. And I always hear it when my own mind betrays me and tries to tell me something that isn't true about me, which is usually an old echo of something someone else has said to me.

Here's the quote:

"It's like everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always. All the time. That story makes you what you are. We build ourselves out of that story." 

~ Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind

Powerful words. True words. Believe me, I should know. And I've seldom seen an example of this laid out as clearly as it is in the non-fiction book, Educated, by Tara Westover. It incredible story. She's an incredible person and an excellent writer.

One of the most difficult things to do in life is to rewrite your own story, the one that plays in your head. As children, we grow up believing what our parents tell us. We trust them. And, while that seems like the right thing to do,...what happens if you don't have good parents? Or, what if, your parents think what they're doing is the right thing (because, in their mind, it is), but their version of "normal"...isn't quite normal? When do children, surrounded by the beliefs of others, ever find their own way...and learn to trust their own story? Ask Tara Westover.

Educated is Westover's memoir about her life, growing up in a rural area of Idaho to parents who 'homeschooled' her. By Westover's accounts, "homeschooled" meant she didn't receive schooling at all. In fact, her father pulled their family so far off the grid, his last few children didn't have birth records. To this day, Westover doesn't really know when her actual birthday is. While this may seem normal for someone born a century ago, Tara is currently a woman in her late 20s/early 30s. 

While Tara grew up in a Mormon home, this story is not about religion. In fact, her parents were extremist in many different ways and they often criticized, what they considered, "mainstream" Mormons. Tara's parents kept their family isolated and used their children for labor. All the while, their father preached to them about the horrible ways of the world and how the government was out to get them and brainwash them. Tara's father saw himself as the protector of his family and used the Ruby Ridge tragedy to prove to his family what would happen if they didn't listen to him. You know, terrorism on a "home-sweet-home" scale.

I think everyone should read this book. I worry some people won't because they'll think it's a "teacher book" about education,...when it's really a book about how to survive childhood and discover who you really are.

And here's the best way to truly discover Tara Westover's story: First, read the book. Second, research the author's current life and watch a few interviews. Third, look up her family - her parents. What you discover on this journey will either blow your mind...or confirm what you've always known.

Happy reading!

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Sexy Vampires? That's a Bloody Lie.

Have you read Bram Stoker's Dracula? No, not watched the movie or television series that claims it is based on Bram Stoker's version. I mean, have you actually read the novel from 1897? If you haven't, it's time you do,...especially if you consider yourself a vampire fan or a fan of popular vampire stories.

Here are just a few of the things I discovered when I decided to read the original version:

No Love

Count Dracula doesn't love. Well, except himself, I suppose. There is no love, or romance, between Dracula and anyone else. He takes everyone by force or by trance, none of them give themselves willingly - least of all Mina. He is an egotistical warlord who has lived so long he has been able to outsmart and outmaneuver mankind for centuries. The characters reveal his history as Vlad the Impaler and come to understand him through analyzing how he has evaded being discovered all this time. The analysis is fascinating. But, love and romance? Nope. There's none of that.

No Sex

There are no sexy seduction scenes or women who can't resist Dracula for his sexual prowess and attraction. In fact, he isn't attractive, he's horrid. Not one character describes him as attractive and, yes, there are physical descriptions of him. He's also evil incarnate. And the scenes where he takes the blood from unwilling women (Mina, in particular) is forcible and brutal. There is nothing sexy about it.

A Heroine I Admire

Mina is a very savvy, highly intelligent woman who helps the heroes find their way to Dracula, more than once, and who is very perspicacious. Van Helsing, Harker, and the rest of the men respect her opinion and credit her with helping them hunt down Dracula. When the men seem to reach a dead end (no pun intended) in the chase, it's Mina who puts herself, and her soul, on the line to try and help them rid the world of Count Dracula. I'd also like to mention that Mina is married to Jonathan Harker in the novel, not his girlfriend or fiancée (as portrayed in the movies to make it seem like she is virginal and desires a sexual encounter with Dracula). She loves and adores her husband very much. It is out of hatred Dracula comes to forcibly drink her blood and take her from her husband. It is a horrible scene.

The Writing Style

The original novel is told in a journal/letter format. You hear the unfolding story from each character, except Dracula. He has no voice in this, which I found quite interesting. You only hear what he says and does from the other characters. You see, he doesn't deserve a voice, he is evil. Think about that. 

Today's Versions

I believe I could write an entire book on the ridiculous point our society has reached about 'paranormal romance' novels versus Stoker's original novel and its intent. I am amazed that what started out as an incredible novel in 1897 that portrays women as intelligent and intuitive (let me point this out again - in 1897!), and portrays men as intelligent beings of science and faith who are fighting for good, has become the second-hand drivel we see in bookstores and movies today. And the vampire? The vampire who was once a monster of evil and destruction and violence against women...has become something young girls fantasize about as being a love interest. 

It's all a bloody lie.

If you don't believe me, just read Bram Stoker's Dracula...

Sunday, April 29, 2018


Sorry, folks, I have nothing for you this week. I didn't even realize that my last post was TWO weeks ago instead of one. Yes, that's how life has been.

I'm off my reading game, and I can't even tell you the last time I sat down long enough to watch something on television...that I didn't fall asleep within thirty minutes. 

Yes, I am reading. I'm reading a class novel with my sixth graders (Touching Spirit Bear), and I am reading a book with my boys' book club (Woods Runner), and I did manage to find a half-finished novel I lost during the move,...and I finished it (The Silent Wife). And I'm sure I'll write about them eventually. Just not tonight.


I finally have my new library set up. And, today, I put a TBR short-stack by my reading couch. I will hit the reset button on my "new normal" on Tuesday. Why Tuesday? Well, that's a story for next Sunday. (By then, I'm sure it'll be okay to tell it.)

Happy reading...

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Solving the Problem

Have you ever asked yourself what's wrong with a story? Well, Vivian Vande Velde did, and I (as well as my students) have thoroughly enjoyed the results of her ponderings. I found this small book purely by accident when I was in the library one day. I was looking for a short story to read aloud to my sixth graders in honor of "National Tell a Fairy Tale Day," when I came across this treasure. I previewed the book quickly, and the author hooked me from the very beginning.

The Rumpelstiltskin Problem by Vivian Vande Velde is the author's attempt to explain how a girl ends up sitting in a room trying to spin straw into gold and why anyone would believe that she could. I mean, when  you think about the story, it doesn't quite make sense how someone could end up in that kind of predicament and end up making deals with Rumpelstiltskin.

The book is actually six different stories, or alternate explanations, of how the whole story came to be. In other words, nothing is as it truly seems in the fairy tale we've been told all this time. Velde creates six completely different versions of how that maiden ended up in the tower with the straw and Rumplestiltskin. I enjoyed all of the explanations. I chose two of my favorites to read aloud to my sixth gradeers over a few days. They loved them!

So, you know how we often say, "Don't judge a book by its cover"? Well, we really shouldn't judge them by their size, either. While this is not a big book, it is a worthy read. I also think it makes for a great writing lesson to students. They can see how you take the same players in a story, but change their circumstances, their motives, and their reactions with a humorous result. 

If you like fairy tales, as I do, you should definitely read this one, matter what age you are. It's good for a laugh and written quite well.

I hope to be back in my regular reading mode soon. Life is going by much too quickly for me lately, and I am barely keeping up. Hopefully, life will be back to normal (or close to it) in another week or so. I'm anxious to start on my next Jo Nesbo book, that I've unpacked almost all the moving boxes and found it! 

Happy reading!

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Coming Out of Chaos

Something tells me I should have blogged about all that this move has put me through. I'm sure I'll laugh about it someday. Ha. Ha. Ha. (Okay, maybe not...)

I apologize for being gone from my blog for so long. If you've ever made a major move in your life, I know you understand. If you've never done it, I wish you well if you ever decide to do so. It's been quite a challenge in more ways than I realized when it began. Still, it was the right move for us. We are in our new home now, but things are still being sorted, decorated, hung, rearranged, and purged. 

There are other major changes occurring in my life, which I'll talk about in the near future,...but for now? I'll be happy just to finish a good book and write a review this weekend. 

Please check back on Sunday evening, as I hope to have a decent book blog posted by then. I hope all is well with you and yours, and I sure hope you've had more free time for reading than I've had lately.

Happy reading!! :)