Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Book Review: The Chosen

Star Rating: 5/5

The Chosen

By Chaim Potok

Reuven Malter and Danny Saunders were part of two different worlds until a baseball accident brought them together. Though they have lived their whole lives only a few blocks away, they’d never met and possibly never would have if it wasn’t for the accident. Reuven is an Orthodox Jew whose father teaches at his school, helps him study Talmud using the scientific method, and writes scholarly articles. Danny is a Hasidic Jew whose father is raising him in silence to become the next tzaddik of his synagogue like his father and his grandfather before him. Unlike Reuven who could do anything he wants to do, Danny feels trapped—he can’t even talk to his father about his dream of being a psychologist. Instead he sneaks off to the library to study Freud, Darwin, Hemingway, and whatever else he can get his hands on. Now with a friend—one who isn’t a Hasid—he doesn’t have to keep everything a secret anymore. Danny can tell Reuven; but Danny isn’t the only one who has chosen Reuven, Danny’s father has, too.

The Chosen is an intricate and beautifully written coming-of-age novel. Far from simple or flat, Danny, Reuven, and the boys’ fathers are dynamic and full of life. Their relationships ebb and flow mirroring real life and showing the effects and interaction of our choices, the choices of others, and local and world events. Rather than being islands unto themselves or driven utterly by forces and events outside of their control, the characters show how their lives are an interplay of choice—theirs and others. Chaim Potok shows through his characters how previous choices create circumstances. Our choices and circumstances along with the choices of others limit our control and choices later. Potok also shows how choices and circumstances do not always result in the intended consequence, but that this unanticipated result is not necessarily undesirable. This interplay that Potok creates allows the reader to better understand the characters as well as prompt the reader consider the relationship between choice and circumstance in his own life.  

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Book Review: A Great and Terrible Beauty

Star Rating: 4/5

A Great and Terrible Beauty

By Libba Bray

All Gemma Doyle wanted was to leave India, go to London, and enjoy the parties her grandmother described in her letters. What Gemma did not want was to go because her mother was murdered or, as her brother would have her tell her new classmates at Spence Academy, because her mother died of cholera. Gemma knows the truth; at least she thinks she does. The day her mother died, Gemma had her first vision. She had just run angrily away from her mother when the vision opened—a vision of her mother being attacked by a creature that came out of the shadows. The vision and her mother are gone now, and Gemma is to become a suitable wife along with the other Spence girls. Except there is another option, one involving her visions. Gemma’s first vision was just a taste of what is inside her. After falling into another vision, Gemma is confronted by a stranger who demands she stop having them. How can she stop though when she realizes she could control the visions and change her fate? When she could have power, beauty, even her mother again?

Libba Bray’s A Great and Terrible Beauty draws the reader in right from the beginning and keeps her wondering throughout the book. Bray does an excellent job blending the past and the future. She teases you with tidbits of the past, making you question and consider what you know and think you know, without revealing the mystery and adventure of the future. The reader may notice more than Gemma if she pays careful attention to the tidbits and begins to make guesses on her own but never so much so that Gemma starts to seem oblivious. The mystery is enhanced by the other characters, particularly her classmates Felicity, Pippa, and Ann. Each at first seems fairly flat and stereotypical, but the reader discovers with Gemma that they are not as they seem. The girls are easily relatable with their varied personalities, dreams, and sometimes surprising and always enlightening secrets. These secrets and the others throughout the book are what tantalize the reader, begging her to question what she knows compared to what she perceives and assumes.

Note: I am a sensitive reader and don’t enjoy reading things that make me mentally or physically uncomfortable in certain ways. There is a short scene involving sexual content in this book, which may to you seem tame. I felt the scene was unnecessarily descriptive. I feel that it could have been removed from the novel, taking nothing from the characterization or plot. For these reasons, I have deducted a star from my rating. I would still recommend this book to mature readers who could recognize the passage, skip over it if they wish, and still enjoy the story. Obviously, this is strictly my opinion and you are free to think, feel, and do as you please.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Book Review: The Book Thief

Star Rating 5/5
The Book Thief
By Markus Zusak

Words have power. They both build and destroy. They show love. They breed hatred. Words bring about change. Liesel begins to learn this early in life when mother sends her and her brother to a foster home because her father is associated with the word “communist.” However, it takes her years to more fully recognize and understand their meaning and potential. Growing up outside Munich starting in 1939, Liesel learns more about words from her foster parents, particularly from her foster father Hans and a little black book she snatched out of the snow. As Hans teaches Leisel how to write and read, words bind them together. Books and words continue to shape Liesel’s life even as she deals with circumstances beyond her control. She matures as she weathers hardships and finds opportunities for growth.

Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief is a beautifully written book. As the novel follows Liesel’s life, the reader begins to see with Liesel how words connect us with each other and how they can change relationships and lives. Liesel’s story, which is already profound and extraordinary, takes on greater and deeper meanings through its narration by Death. Death frequently interrupts Liesel’s story to highlight words and conversations and to share important facts. These facts are often about important events and various characters’ past experience that allow the reader to more fully understand the attitudes and actions of the characters as well as the impact or magnitude of words and circumstances. Death’s commentary and Liesel’s story create a more complete illustration of the way lives intersect and how the past affects the present for both good and ill.

Book Review: These is my Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine

Star Rating 5/5
These is my Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine
By Nancy E. Turner

Raised on a horse ranch with her three brothers in the rough Arizona Territories, Sarah Agnes Prine knows how to work. She learned to shoot a rifle before she could manage to hold it on her own, and she can break a horse that’s never been ridden. She may have calloused hands, but she wouldn’t have it any other way. When her family sets out to Texas, Sarah starts to keep a diary. Her story is full of the hardships, excitement, and horror of frontier living as they are raided by Indians, struggle through bad weather conditions and unknown terrain, are threatened by bandits and murderers, and suffer through sickness and sudden loss. As she weathers all the challenges and heartache that come her way, Sarah grows into a remarkable woman.

These is my Words tells the story of the growth and development of a young frontier woman. The diary format allows the reader to establish an intimate relationship with Sarah. Through each entry, the reader can enjoy attempting to understand the mind and heart of this complicated and realistic heroine. Sarah is well-written and bound to captivate, frustrate, and charm readers. Full of spunk and fire, she desires to be a genteel lady but can not seem to manage it. She struggles as she questions the nature of love; her role in her home and in business; and her own abilities, aspirations, and character. Sarah proves to be a strong role model as she pushes herself to be independent and self-sufficient while still loving and lifting those around her. She kept me reading and will stay with me even now that the book is over.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Book Review: Scarlet

Star Rating 4/5


By A.C. Gaughen

Will Scarlet’s a thief—the best in the Hood’s gang. Robin, John, and Much all know it. All the townspeople in Nottingham benefit from it. But Scarlet’s full of secrets. The boys know that he’s actually a she, but she keeps most other things to herself. She avoids sharing any part of her past with any of them, including her real name. Instead she goes by the nickname Robin gave her when he found her—Scarlet or Scar because of her red-ribboned knives and scarred cheek. Unfortunately, Scarlet’s past continues to haunt her or, in reality, hunt her. Her thieving in Sherwood Forest has led to the hiring of thief taker Guy Gisbourne. Scarlet wants to run—Gisbourne gave her that scar, after all—but she can’t leave the boys now. Perhaps she can lie low, help the boys get enough money to cover the townspeople’s taxes, and get lost without attracting Gisbourne’s attention. Scarlet doesn’t hold much hope, but she’s got to help Robin. She owes it to him.

A creative twist on the Robin Hood legends, Scarlet gives young women a heroine worthy of the respect and love of the beloved people’s hero. Scarlet struggles with guilt and grief and with questions of honor, justice, and loyalty. She is troubled by a past she can not change; one she was at first too innocent to realize and later too powerless to alter. She desperately wishes she could change the decisions she made that led to consequences to which she was oblivious and naïve. Though she tries, Scarlet can’t escape her past or live life in seclusion. While Scarlet’s circumstances are extraordinary, her emotions and desires resonant with ordinary life. She, like each of us, must reconcile herself with her choices and the choices of others. She must move on even when she does not know what will happen next. With these struggles she helps bridge the distance between reality and legend, human frailty and ideal.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Monochromatic Animal Prints

I finally finished! After sketching my designs on the canvases with pencil, I painted each animal using acrylic paints. I used two shades of each color and mixed the two for the third color (or for the third and fourth color since the dog has four shades). I used the lightest shade for the backdrop and the darkest shade for the outline and features. I tried to be light on the paint so that it would give the look of some texture. It turned out the best on the dog. I love how they turned out!

Here are some close-ups:

Orange Cat

Blue Dog

Pink Mouse

I think that maybe I'll do different animals for each child we have...or maybe I'll do something completely different. I do like the idea of Owen being able to have these when he and his future wife have their first baby.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Book Review: A Curse Dark as Gold

Star Rating: 2/5

A Curse Dark as Gold

By: Elizabeth C. Bunce

Charlotte Miller was used to responsibility. She’d been raising her sister since their mom passed away and helping her dad run Stirwaters mill, too. Someday she knew the mill would be entirely her responsibility, but she didn’t expect the day to come so soon. With her father’s death, the employment of most of the village comes to rest on Charlotte’s shoulders, and she is forced to take the lead. All seems to be going well. She establishes herself as Stirwaters’ new miller, refusing to sell to the mill’s competition. She holds her own during wool purchasing, grabbing good quality wool at fair prices. Production runs relatively smoothly, with little more than the usual bumps and hitches. Her uncle even arrives, offering his aid. Then everything turns against her as she discovers that her father took out an outrageous mortgage that must be paid and that the Wool Guild has blocked her goods from the market. Utterly refusing to fail, Charlotte is drawn into a deal as good as gold with the mysterious Jack Spinner. While this bargain hardly seems costly, she becomes entangled in the dark, hidden past Spinner has had with the mill and the Millers before her.

Bunce weaves a clever yet unsatisfying story playing with the Rumpelstiltskin fairy tale in A Curse Dark as Gold. The villain Jack Spinner is both creepy and compelling. The more he appears, the more frightening and interesting he becomes. Unfortunately, this eerie and rich antagonist and his grim back story hardly make up for the nearly flat and largely unsympathetic heroine. While Charlotte is pushed into a role of authority and responsibility, she is quite capable of handling the position. The hardships she encounters throughout the novel come not from her lack of experience but from sabotage, a curse, and her own pride. She is undeservedly blessed with an angelic husband in movie-style fashion as it only takes three encounters to bring about their engagement. But his presence makes Charlotte even more frustrating as her actions in relation to him and her new position bring out the worst in her. The most disappointing part of the story, however, may be the end. Though if you’re seeking a fairy tale ending, you’ve found it, for all will be unrealistically set right and then some in just a few days.