Monday, September 30, 2013

The Graveyard Book

About half the time that I start a Neil Gaiman book it starts, for me, very slowly. I begin bright eyed and excited to read and then I find I'm dragging along, not making much progress, but I don't want to put the book down. I often will wonder, am I just sticking with this because I adore Neil Gaiman as a writer and person? But usually my answer is, "Well I like this book. I'm enjoying this book and no, I don't want to put it down." Then why does it start so slow for me?

The Graveyard Book was one such book. It started very slow but I had no intention of putting the book down. I found it confusing at first, as many of the characters live in a graveyard and some can do things others cannot and yet it's not very descriptive of what these characters are. But then I got past that and I returned to enjoying the book for simply what it was: magical. Inquisitive. Sometimes a little scary and all together captivating.

After the first few chapters I was hooked and that sluggish reading speed I had was surpassed by my need to read the book as quickly as I could. I wanted to know what happened and I enjoyed reading about the characters. More, more, more, give me more, and I got more with every "flip" of the page (I read it on my Kindle...).

Nobody Owens (Bod for short) is a child that has grown up in a cemetery. After his family was killed, he was taken in by two ghosts (the Owens', respectively) and accepted by a community of ghosts. Plus Silas, his guardian, who is neither alive nor dead (I suspect he's a vampire). The story knits together different short stories about Bod as he is growing up and the type of ghosts he meets within the graveyard. We see him age and understand more with each year and gradually witness the slight rebelliousness of any child. He wants to see the world, wants to get out of the graveyard, and yet he is forbidden of doing so. 

Remember, his family had been killed and certainly not on accident. The killer is still out there... possibly looking for Bod. It's within the graveyard that Bod is protected and in that graveyard that he is accepted. He isn't quite human, not really, because he can do things that most humans can't but in the end he is still a living breathing boy who is aging and changing. 

I was left wishing for more details such as where his bed was exactly, how did he shower, did he ever get sick, how did he stay warm in the winter and could you please make it a little clearer who the Jacks are and why they are going after Bod? But otherwise, I was swept away. Each chapter was a different tale of Bod's, a different adventure, and I grew to love his odd little life and the ghosts which made up his family. Silas found a special place in my heart. Maybe it's because he may have been a vampire (and I generally love my vampires) but I really think it was because of his nature. Cold and untouchable in ways, Silas was very much the guardian who cared for Bod and made sure he was safe. He was the delivery man for food and seemed always patient with Bod.

We witness Bod grow older and his past come back to haunt him. I cheered him on, hoped he would "win", and was sad to see him go. In the end, I found myself craving more details from the book, more information, but I enjoyed it and I thought of it often. Weeks after I had finished the book I still thought of it fondly, even in conversation when a friend was looking to live in a house next to a graveyard, and never were my thoughts of it ones of dislike or disappointment. That's the sign of a good book, at least to me it is. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Banned Books Week: The Color Purple

The Color Purple is extremely popular. Whether it be that people know of the movie or the book, it's rare that someone would not at least recognize the title. Written in the early 1980's it has claimed a permanent spot in "must read" literature. Depicting life in the 1930s for African Americans in the south leads to a heart wrenching tale. I read the book two years ago and while the intricate details have begun to fade I still recall much of the book and the emotions I felt while reading it.

In 2007 and 2009 The Color Purple made the list of top ten books that were most frequently challenged in the United States. The reasoning behind the challenges is for the book's: offensive language, being sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, and homosexuality. But that doesn't mean the book has only been threatened those two years. Nearly each year it is high on the list since its publication.

Most cases are due to schools claiming their students aren't intellectually ready for such rough reading. They were pulled from bookshelves in schools but also in some various public libraries.

It seems that most often when books are banned or challenged it's due to parents fearing their children reading them. If you've kept track to the past Banned Books posts in this blog I think it's relatively obvious that I think it is ridiculous to remove the opportunity to read books from all students simply because you don't want your child to read it.

Why is it so hard to discuss with schools that there should be options for recommended or assigned reading if you are so threatened by the contents of a book? Why do you feel that you have the right to choose what other students can't read by trying to remove a book from the entire educational system? I have no grievance with a parent who feels that The Color Purple is not suitable for their own child. That's your kid and you are welcome to make that decision. But just as you do not want the school to force your child to read a book, you shouldn't force that child's classmates not to have the opportunity for reading. 

This book certainly deals with a lot of heavy stuff. It's a tough read and often upsetting but I find that most books that give me actual emotional reactions are the best. Discussions of racism, rape and violence are so often covered up with the idea that it's "inappropriate" but being oblivious to the horrors of the world often times does not do us any good. Learn from the mistakes of others, learn of these problems, and maybe with education we can help to eliminate these problems in the future. 

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Sandman: The Dream Hunters

Prior to meeting Neil Gaiman I was talking about him with my coworkers. My one coworker asked me if I had read any of the Sandman comics and offered to bring a copy of his book in. The following day, there it was.

I know next to nothing about comics. My knowledge of them is lacking severely. So... take this as a review of someone who has never seen a comic before (well, I have, but I just am really unknowledgable to it all). Based on what I've read from goodreads I suppose this is a republish of this story with a new artist but I haven't the knowledge of what it was before. I suppose that will be something for you to find out on your own.

In this fairytale a badger and fox make a bet to get a young monk to leave his temple but it sets off a n unlikely chain of events. The fox, with her attempt to bring the monk out of the temple, turns into a beautiful woman. The monk helps the woman but is not fooled by her looks and knows her to be a fox. Neither the badger or the fox win the bet but the fox comes away with something it had not considered, the fox fell in love with the monk.

But there are more things afoot and a greedy man, desperate to take the property of the monk, is working with dark magic to get it from him. The fox is privy to this information and takes it upon herself to save the monk. The monk ultimately tries to save the fox and in the end, they are still separated, but that is only what some believe.

I haven't much experience with Japanese fairytales either but I've read a few and found that this story, to me, reads quite like a Japanese fairytale. It's beautiful and simply put but moving all the same. It's a love story in the classic way that love arrives sudden and shocking and that not all love stories in written tales (especially fairy tales) end with a happily ever after but something to make you curious and wonder. To suspect and hope. 

The story stays with you and you're left hoping that maybe you can stumble into love as the fox did and that it will be strong enough for sacrifice, if necessary, but hopefully not needed.

I know there are other comics that Gaiman has done and this one sealed the deal: I love reading Gaiman  and I want to read more of his comic stories. Especially if they are as artfully done as this one.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Ghost Hunter's Guide to New Orleans

I picked this book up from a little witch shop in the French Quarter while visiting New Orleans in May. My mother loves ghost stories and long before I went to the Crescent City we often watched shows about ghost stories that centered around the city. When I was out one evening and browsing stores I came across this book and selected it from the multitude of other ghost hunting books the stores had to offer. I browsed them all but this was the one that seemed to be of my mother's interest.

First, however, I wanted to read it for myself and knowing that I wouldn't see my mother right away after coming back to DC I figured I'd read it and highlight the different places I visited for her own interest.

The book is written by sections of the city: The Garden District, the French Quarter and so on but it also has stories of the areas outside of New Orleans. Each entry has information on the lodgings or location, if available, and some feature photos of interior or exterior shots. 

The author is a 'ghost hunter' and while other ghost hunting books seem to be a pat on the back for the author and their past experiences, the author of this book sticks to the facts. He tells you the ghost stories for each location and if he brings up his own experiences he keeps them brief. I enjoyed that aspect of the book because I want to know what the ghost stories are of each location, not to read constant dribble about how wonderful of a ghost hunter the author is. This book wasn't about himself, it was about the historic details of the locations mentioned.

As I was in New Orleans I went on a number of ghost tours and read plenty of information besides talking to locals and hearing their own tales but this book was incredibly informative. Some of the stories I had already heard about but many I had not and the entries, at times, provided historic notes about the locations that I hadn't heard of before.

It certainly made me want to go back and visit some of the places that I hadn't had the chance to see before and I'm sure, once my mother has a chance to read the book as well, she'll feel the same way. 

So if you're in New Orleans and looking for a book about the ghost-filled locations in the area to do your own ghost hunting, pick this up. It's carried by plenty of shops in the area so I doubt it'll be hard to find. My friend picked up a ghost hunting book as well which didn't satisfy her (as mentioned, it was a pat on the back for the author and lacking in the ghost stories it was claiming to have) and the other ghost hunting/story books I looked at seemed quite similar. This book, however, has my vote so check it out!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Beautiful Chaos

With this being the third book of the Beautiful Creatures series, and all of the BC books seeming pretty long, I was wondering if the storyline would get old or the authors would go off track. Well, I can say that this book wasn't necessarily my favorite in the series -- the first still holds my favor -- this book wasn't bad, either. 

The world seemingly is coming to an end and while part of this book was predictable there were a lot of twists and turns through out it that left you reeling. Sometimes with predictable books, it seems (for me at least), they become extremely boring because you're reading all of this build up for an ending that you know is coming. With Beautiful Chaos I often felt "well this is what's going on, right?" but then the story would take a sharp turn and I'd be caught up in what was going on at that moment and wondering about x, y, and z, completely forgetting about my guesswork as I continued rumbling down this confusing road.

While during the last book Lena was acting extremely out of character in this book it's Ethan who has the change in personality, even if it's only slight. We find out more about the inner workings of the Caster world and there are direct consequences that seem to result from choices made that are much more destructive, personally, for our characters in addition to destroying the whole world (more or less).

The first book is much different from the following two. When this series was introduced Lena and Ethan are dealing with a lot of the typical pressures and upsets that teens in High School deal with but with a dash of magic thrown in that makes things just a touch worse. Now, however, they're learning that what they do has true consequences that don't only affect themselves but others -- whether they know that person or not -- and sometimes you have to do less favorable things to make it all better.

The end of this book, while not surprising (as I said, it's kind of predictable) is surprising simply because the authors did go that route. It's implied repeatedly that to help fix the world and keep it from falling apart as it has been the entire novel that someone would have to sacrifice themselves. While the authors could have taken the easy route and provided some last minute way out of this ending, they didn't, and killed one of the main characters. 

The book also deals with loss, once more, as all of the books have dealt with a death of a person the main characters have cared about in one way or another. I appreciate the feeling of loss being explored by the authors as it's all from different view points and shows that everyone deals with death in different ways and in their own time. I've mentioned this before with other books but I often feel that the harder things in live are avoided in children and YA literature or just brushed over in the simplest way possible. 

This book was "good". I plan on reading the next but am finding myself glad that I'm nearing the close of the series. It's good and I'm happy to continue but the books are very long and the story is starting to be a bit drawn out. I just want to know the end already!