Saturday, August 21, 2010

Re-Reading Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

My students favorite phrase to say that they think will get them out of work in my classroom is, "But I already read that!" For some reason, students think that it is taboo to reread a novel or short story. Why? Don't we watch our favorite movies over and over again? Do we listen to songs we like the first time around a few more times? OF COURSE! You can derive the same pleasure from rereading a favorite book! (Don't tell anyone, but I've reread the entire Twilight series at least five times. I KNOW!) It's starting to be the same way with Suzanne Collins's addicting series. I teach the first book, so I hear the same chapters repeated six times a day, but IT NEVER GETS OLD! When Katniss is running from the Cornicopia for the first time, my heart quickens and my palms sweat...even if I'd just read that scene to my students the period before!

That brings me to rereading the second book, Catching Fire. When I was first able to lay hands on it, I DEVOURED it. I had to know what would happen to the characters I had come to know and love. When I devour a book, I tend to skip over stuff. My eyes skim the lines with anticipation, and I end up missing out on little details. I'm only through the first two chapters and I'm noticing all kinds of stuff I didn't the first go around. Has anyone else had this experience? I'm planning on chronicling my eye-opening discoveries in a post I'll publish the day before Mockingjay is released! Any tidbits you guys would like to alert me to while I'm rereading? Feel free to leave me a comment!

Totally off the subject, but check out this pic of actress, Kaya Scodelario I found on the Twilightlexicon blog. They were discussing who should play Katniss (aren't all of us?), and a fan recommended her. Add some tan-in-a-can, and I think she looks PERFECT if we are judging by looks alone.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

I will admit that my love of all things Robert Pattinson is what enticed me to read this novel that I've skimmed over, but never purchased . After seeing a few screen shots of the movie that is currently in production, I decided I wanted to know more about Rob's character, Jacob Jankowski. He's uber hot in these pics. Can you blame me? There are so many more fabulous pictures @ Oh, my. Suspenders never looked so good!

Reading the book with the mental images of Rob as Jacob might have made the book better for me than if I'd read it before movie production began. Call me shallow and a petty, but I thoroughly enjoyed the entire novel because of Rob and let's not forget the fabulous writing of Sara Gruen. I can't imagine the effort and research it took to know so much about the Depression era circus business. Gruen creates a seamless world of circus life that was engrossing and real. I'm hoping the movie can recreate the amazing imagery Gruen supplied producers with, and from looking at the movie stills, I'm seeing that they may be on the right track. I also love the juxtaposition of narration between old Jacob and young Jacob. It reminds me of The Notebook, but with less Alzheimer's and more elephants.

Gruen begins the novel with a 90 year old (or 93 year old....he's not quiet sure. What do a few years matter when he's already this old, he wanders?) Jacob. He's lonely and stuck in a nursing home, with ample time to reflect upon his life. The arrival of a traveling circus in the adjacent lot next to his nursing home stirs memories of his young-adult life. Jacob begins the long and mysterious track down memory lane, and his involvement with a traveling circus in the 1930s....

Jacob Jankowski is days away from completing his degree in veterinary medicine at Cornell University when he receives heartbreaking news about his parents. This news rattles him to the core, and sends him in a tailspin that leads him to the moving train of the Benzini Brothers Circus. Hoping aboard the train with only the clothes on his back, Jacob leaves behind everything and everyone he has ever known. His almost-degree in veterinary medicine makes him a perfect candidate to care for the rare and exotic animals on the tour, yet also separates him from the other working-class men he is surrounded by.

Immediately enamored by the beautiful and talented horse trainer and performer, Marlena, Jacob decides to stay on with the circus. Never mind that Marlena is married to the paranoid schizophrenic animal trainer, August. A man who immediately identifies Jacob as a threat, and has no qualms about getting rid of the new vet.

The gritty, often terrifying world of the Benzini Brothers Circus is the most unique and rare settings of any novel I've read this year. Water for Elephants is a brilliant novel, and will hopefully be complemented by an equally spectacular movie!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Skunk Girl by Sheba Karim

Nina is an American born Pakistani-Muslim girl doing her best to fit in to her suburban town. Never mind the fact that she was born and raised in Deer Hook, her ethnicity and religion separate her from her predominately white friends. Nina is a hysterical narrator, who keeps the reader thoroughly entertained with her humorous outlook on her situation. Any teenager could relate to her plight and perhaps find humor in their own situation after reading Skunk Girl. An entertaining addition to my teen fiction collection!

The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams

I love reading books that make me angry. It's either this side effect or the other that makes a book golden in my eyes: angry vs. blissfully happy. Great books stir emotions in their reader, and The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams did that for me. I read with rapt attention and disgust. Yes, disgust. Read the rest of my review to understand why...

Thirteen year old Kyra lives a quiet, simple life with her 19 brothers and sisters, her father, and his three wives. (Yes. She is one of 19...and I thought I got the short end of the stick being the middle child of three girls. No complaints here!) As a member of the polygamist cult, The Chosen Ones, Kyra lives in isolation with her people; only learning about the outside world through the books she sneaks into the compound from the nearest town's mobile library. (She likes to go for walks around the dirt roads surrounding the compound, and happens to encounter the County Mobile Library on one of her walks. She sneaks the books into the compound in her dress to read at night.) Reading these forbidden books has planted seeds of doubt in Kyra's mind about the preachings of Prophet Childs - the iron-fisted leader of The Chosen Ones, who claims to have a direct line of communication with Jesus himself. Prophet Childs has forbidden books and travel to the nearby town, warning the cult members that only the devil and his evil can be found outside the chainlink fences of the compound.

Kyra shares the secret of her books with another compound teen, Joshua. Through their secret meetings and discussion of books they become much more than friends and develop feelings for each other that also break the boundaries established by Prophet Childs. When the Prophet proclaims that he had a vision of Kyra marrying her 60 year old uncle, Hyrum, Kyra's world is tossed asunder. Is the world she lives within her books and in secret meetings with Joshua the right path to follow? Should she risk it all (and the possible safety of the family she loves dearly) to avoid marrying her cruel and aged uncle? Did I mention Uncle Hyrum is 60 and Kyra is 13. THIRTEEN! Yuck.

I read this novel in the span of two evenings - biting my fingernails and holding my breath with every turn of the page. I've always been curious about the lifestyle one must lead to be a part of a polygamist community, but I never really ventured what it must be like for the children who are brought up to know nothing but this lifestyle. I love how Williams uses books as Kyra's escape from the Compound. The view they give her of the outside world is what opens the window in Kyra's mind that her way of life might not be the only way to find fufillment and rightousness. This novel is by far and away one of the best teen reads of the summer!