Arc of the Scythe Series (books 1 and 2)

Scythe (Arc of a Scythe, #1)Scythe by Neal Shusterman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Summary from Goodreads

A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery. Humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now scythes are the only ones who can end life—and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control.

Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe—a role that neither wants. These teens must master the “art” of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own.

Thunderhead (Arc of a Scythe, #2)Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

Rowan has gone rogue, and has taken it upon himself to put the Scythedom through a trial by fire. Citra, now a junior scythe under Scythe Curie, sees the corruption and wants to help change it from the inside out, but is thwarted at every turn, and threatened by the “new order” scythes. Realizing she cannot do this alone—or even with the help of Scythe Curie and Faraday, she does the unthinkable, and takes great risk so she can communicate with the Thunderhead—the only being on earth wise enough to solve the dire problems of a perfect world. But will it help solve those problems, or simply watch as perfection goes into decline?

My Review

This is one of those series that enveloped me immediately and I didn’t want to put down until I’d read every last word. Having to wait for the third book is torturous. I found the portrayal of human nature in this fictional case study intriguing, disturbing, frustrating at times, and just a great read. The author suspended my disbelief well, creating a world and scenario that felt plausible and the character’s actions and reactions fit too. Despite the amount of death and killing I did not find the descriptions to be gory or gratuitous with violence. If you liked The Hunger Games definitely give these books a try.

Age Recommendation: Some pretty heavy philosophical ideas and situations centered around death, immortality, perfection, and murder that make this book for mature readers.  I would say 16 and older.

Appropriateness: The author is skilled at telling this story fraught with moral dilemma and murder in a way that evokes deep thoughts and emotions without just being gross or praising corruption.

Book Club or Classroom Use: It would be fascinating to see the discussion that these books would spur in a book club or high school English class setting. The story would be an interesting sociology read as well.

Other Book Recommendations: If The Arc of the Scythe series interests you then I think you would also enjoy The Hunger Games Series by Suzanne Collins, The Uglies Series by Scott Westerfield, Eruption and Reclamation by Adrienne Quintana, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, and The Winner Series by Marie Rutkoski.

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Everything on a Waffle – for teachers

Everything on a Waffle (Coal Harbour #1)Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Summary

When Primrose’s parents both disappear at sea in the middle of a vicious storm, she is forced into a new life which includes a new home, new friends, new conflicts and adventures, new insights, and new recipes. It really does take a village in this case to take care of 11-year old Primrose. Some of the townspeople thinkthey know best, like the snobbish and socially awkward school counselor Miss Honeycut. While others truly are just what Primrose needs to keep her hope alive, like her impulsive Uncle Jack, and Kate Bowzer, the owner of the local restaurant where all the food is served on a waffle. But the true joy in this story is how Primrose and her hope is just what the town, and all of us, need to approach the world and all of its challenges with courage, wit, kindness, fun, and love.

Teaching Resources

I read this book for a fourth time recently for book club. I already reviewed this book here and included some book club discussion questions in that review. But reading the book this time I thought about more from an elementary school teaching perspective and thought about how I would use it as a read-aloud or small group book. Here are some questions and activities I came up with for using Everything on a Waffle in the classroom.

Read aloud or small group questions:

These can be found in a worksheet format here.

chapters 1-2

1. How would feel if you were Primrose and both your parents had just disappeared? Does Primrose seem upset?

2. How would you describe Miss Perfidy? Do you think Primrose likes her? How do you know?

3. Do you like Miss Honeycut so far? How does Miss Honeycut feel about Uncle Jack? How do you know? 

4. Why is her mother’s memo pad so important to Primrose? How do you know it is important to her?

5. Do you think Uncle Jack will be a good guardian for Primrose? Why or why not?

6. Why do the girls at school tease Primrose?

7. The townspeople think Primrose’s mother made a reckless and bad decision to go after her husband. What does Miss Bowzer think about it? With whom do you agree?

8. What kinds of things have you had on waffles? Would you want to try any of things from the Girl on the Red Swing’s menu? 

9. What does it mean to be a pacifist?

chapters 3-4

10. Why is Miss Honeycut taking such an interest in Primrose? Have you ever known anyone like Miss Honeycut?

11. What do you think of Uncle Jack’s job as a developer? How do the people of Coal Harbor feel about it? What does it mean to be a developer?

12. Why is Primrose writing down all of these recipes? How do you think she chooses the recipes she wants to write?

13. Do you think Primrose’s parents are dead? Why or Why not?

14. What does Primrose mean when she says, “Sometimes you get tempted to make something wonderful even better but in doing so you lose what was so wonderful to being with.” 

chapters 5-6

15. Do you think Uncle Jack could have had a special reason for getting Primrose a dog? 

16. Do you think there are really ghosts playing hockey? What else could it be?

17. Why did Lena go so crazy over boiled potatoes? What does that have to do with Primrose helping Uncle Jack?

18. Why doesn’t Miss Bowzer like Uncle Jack?

19. Have you ever had an experience like Miss Bowzer’s with the whaling ship? 

chapters 7-8

20. What is happening to Miss Perfidy’s memory? 

21. Why do you think Primrose’s sweaters are so important to her? What do you think happened to them?

22. Chapter 8 is called “I lose a toe.” How do you predict that will happen?

23. What does Primrose mean about Miss Honeycut’s relationship with her sister when she says, “THAT’S the type of thing I’m talking about!”

24. Why does Miss Honeycut tell such long and uninteresting stories over and over?

25. How would you feel if some many people didn’t believe you, like how the townspeople don’t believe Primrose when she says her parents are coming back or that she didn’t try to kill herself?

26. Have you ever felt an unexplainable joy or peace like Primrose at the end of chapter 8?

chapters 9-11

27. Why does Primrose keep talking about a solarium?

28. How do you think Primrose feels about the boys getting another goalie?

29. What does Miss Honeycut think about Primrose’s behavior in the rain and also of her cutting the guinea pig’s hair?

30. Why does Uncle Jack not like The Girl on the Red Swing?

31. Why does Uncle Jack start talking to Miss Honeycut about a new townhome in the restaurant?

32. Why does Uncle Jack tell Primrose about the boys who catch fish and sell them?

33. How do you think Uncle Jack’s idea lands Primrose in a foster home?

chapters 12-14

34. Chapter 12 is called “I lose another digit.” What is a “digit?” Which one do you think Primrose loses? How do you think it happens?

35. What do you think of Evie and Bert? How would you describe them?

36. In this chapter Primrose admits to crying for the first time.  Why does she cry now and not at any other time in the book?

37. Are there “good guys” and “bad guys” in this book? If so, who are the good and who are the bad?

38. How is Uncle Jack a hero? Why are the townspeople angry with him?

39. Why does Miss Bowzer cut the vegetables into small bits “BAM BAM BAM” whenever Primrose mentions Miss Honeycut’s name? 

40. How do Evie and Bert feel about the fire? 

41. How does Miss Perfidy dying in the middle of Primrose’s sentence relate to the rest of the book? 

chapter 15

42. What of your predictions turned out to be correct? 

43. Were the characters happy in the end? Why or why not?

44. Have you ever known something in your heart without knowing why?

45. Which of the recipes in the book would you want to try? 

46. What kind of “important things” happen in the “smallest places?” 

Activities:

1. Have a waffle party. Make the recipe from the book or bring in Eggo waffles and a variety of toppings to try.

2. As a science project try making boiled potatoes or cinnamon rolls and experiment with yeast.

3. Study seals and Orcas. Study about tourism in British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest.  Make travel brochures.

4. Make a travel brochure as as a book report. Have a section for characters, events, recipes, and the book’s theme.

5. Make a menu for The Girl on the Red Swing. Come up with as many interesting waffle combinations as possible.

6. Research development in your own city or town. Has there been opposition like in Coal Harbor? Come up with a plan that might make both sides of the issue happy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

A Tree Grows in BrooklynA Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

A poignant and moving tale filled with compassion and cruelty, laughter and heartache, crowded with life and people and incident. The story of young, sensitive, and idealistic Francie Nolan and her bittersweet formative years in the slums of Williamsburg has enchanted and inspired millions of readers for more than sixty years. By turns overwhelming, sublime, heartbreaking, and uplifting, the daily experiences of the unforgettable Nolans are raw with honesty and tenderly threaded with family connectedness — in a work of literary art that brilliantly captures a unique time and place as well as incredibly rich moments of universal experience.

My Review

How did I go so many years as a book devourerer and not read this one until now? The forward by Anna Quidlen describes my thoughts and feelings about the book so well. It’s not one that you can easily sum up if asked “what is it about?” As Quidlen puts it, “It is a story about what it means to be human.”

The lives of the Nolans are full of hardship, poverty, hunger, uncertainty. Yet somehow the book is not depressing. I found myself feeling such gratitude for all I have and the things my children and I don’t have to face because we have money for food, clothes, and fun every month. But there was that small part of me that also admired the character of the family, of the children, that the developed because of their struggles. Francie and Neeley express that when thinking about their baby sister who will not have to collect junk to help the family get by. Lucky her they say, but she also won’t have the fun times they had either. And they feel sorry that she will miss out on that.

Certainly social issues are presented in this book, but I loved that they were not the main theme. They were there simply because it presented the scene for how these characters dealt with it. There is no preaching in the book’s pages about how poverty should or shouldn’t be dealt with. There is no cheering for “republicanism” or “democratism” while condemning the other side. It’s just showing that horrible things that are somewhat out of our control don’t have to make life worthless or unhappy for any of us. I loved Johnny Nolan’s simple explanation of what makes America a free country. He marvels at all the fancy carriages in the rich part of Brooklyn and at how anyone can ride in one of them provided they have the money. Francie asks how that’s different from the old countries to which Johnny replies that in the old countries even if you had enough money not everyone could ride in a carriage. Francie wonders wouldn’t it be better if everyone could ride in the carriages for free? And Johnny says that’s socialism “and we don’t want any of that here.”

Whether we struggle with poverty and alcoholism, or with depression, or with greed we can see ourselves in the Nolans and their reactions to the things that happen to them. Best of all, we see how they take control of what they can and work really hard so that things stop happening to them, and they start making things happen. But the Nolans also know that their survival is not only a result of their hard work. They recognize God’s hand in their lives and miracles occur.

This was a story that left me proud of those who came before me and worked so hard to make it possible for me to have the opportunities I have now. And I hope I can create an even richer future for my children. As Katie Nolan observes, the key is not money; it’s education. My children are warm in the winter and well-fed. They have toys to play with and a safe yard to run amok in and I wouldn’t trade that for anything, but I also hope that like Francie they can look at others with compassion and understanding. I hope they can value and appreciate what they have rather than judge those who have more or less. I hope they can recognize the value of hard-work and loyalty especially among family. I hope they will see their positions in life as a result of their own hard work and the support of so many around them. And then I hope they will help to lift and build others up.

The best way I can teach that is by example. Hopefully my children will learn from my good example and also my screw ups just as the Rommelys and Nolans did. I am grateful of the reminder from these characters of how precious life is. How happiness is made up in the small things. How hard work, independence, and selflessness are their own reward. And how it’s also fun to feel rich sometimes by throwing a little money around, but really the richness comes because of the memories created and the character that is built.

Age Recommendation: Experienced readers with a broader life experience will get the most from this book. I recommend for 17 and older.

Appropriateness: The lives of these characters are tough; reading this book means facing alcoholism, poverty, mental illness, social injustice, and bullying to name a few.  But on the flip side you experience triumph, courage, and hope. There is also swearing in the book frequently. It’s not for the faint of heart but for me, it’s totally worth the journey.

Other Book Recommendations: If you like this book or are interested in it you may also enjoy Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery,  The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, The Help by Kathryn Stockett, A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, and Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath.

 

Taking Chance

I am breaking form for a moment and reviewing a movie rather than a book. But this movie moves me as much as any of my favorite books, so it deserves to be included in my reviews.

The movie is Taking Chance   and I give it 5 stars.

5 Star Rating

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Summary

Based on true events – Marine Lieutenant Colonel Michael Strobl escorts the body of a 19-year-old Private First Class Chance Phelps, a marine who was killed in Iraq. The film follows his journey from the mortuary at Dover Air Force Base, to Private Phelps home in Wyoming and gives an intimate look at the process and people involved in putting a fallen soldier to rest. The real power of the film is in the emotions it evokes with its honest and unabashed  portrayal of real people who sacrifice for others and who receive the respect, honor, and reverence that they truly deserve.

Time: 1 hour 17 min.

Rating: PG

Starring: Kevin Bacon

My Review

This is not at all what you would call an “action-packed” film, but it packs a punch nonetheless.  To tell the events of the movie would sound a lot like a travelogue, but the details and absolute order of each checkpoint in the journey reveals the true dignity and hallowed calling of the men and women of our armed forces. Each person that you meet in the film who is involved in the sacred duty of returning the body of Chance Phelps to his family, lights such a fire of hope and optimism for our nation and citizens because they all give respectful and reverent tribute in their own unique and perfect ways.

I can’t think of any other movie I have seen that is presented with such honesty and truth.  Taking Chance is devoid of any Hollywood dazzle or ploys. Kevin Bacon’s portrayal is perfect and the supporting actors feel so real. This is not a parade of magazine cover faces, but rather a look into true and everyday America.

Through the process of Chance Phelps’s body being brought to rest  we get a glimpse of the intricacies involved in giving our military men and women, both the living and the dead, the honor, respect, and reverence they deserve. The pieces that are shown come together into a powerful whole in which you feel such gratitude and pride for those who give so much for our freedom and way of life.  Even more powerful though, is the vision these events give of how we could be as a nation and as the human race if we were to treat every person and responsibility with the same honor that is evident throughout the movie.

After watching, I feel smaller and bigger. I feel humbled and proud. I feel my priorities rearranging themselves and such gratitude for my life and for those that sacrifice in small ways and who sacrifice everything so that I can live the way I do. And I feel, like the people in the film, the desire to give back in some way, big or small, to those strangers who sacrifice, fight, and die for me. Posting a review isn’t much compared to a soldier’s sacrifice, but maybe by drawing attention to this film in my small way others can also be affected and changed by it’s message.

With that, I say with absolute certainty that every American should see Taking Chance.

 

 

 

Ella Enchanted

Ella EnchantedElla Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

At Ella’s birth, an imprudent young fairy bestows on her the “gift” of obedience. Anything anyone tells her to do, Ella must obey. But instead of making her docile, the fairy’s curse makes Ella a bit of a rebel. When her beloved mother dies, Ella must keep herself safe from her selfish and greedy father, her mean-spirited stepsisters, and the things the curse could make her do. Ella sets out on a quest for freedom and self-discovery which includes fending off ogres, befriending elves, and falling in love with a prince along the way. Yes, there is a pumpkin coach, a glass slipper, and a happily ever after, but this is the most remarkable, delightful, and profound version of Cinderella you’ll ever read.

My Review

I had a lot of time in a car last week so I brought one of my all time favorite books to keep me entertained. I hadn’t read Ella Enchanted for probably 10 years and it was definitely time for a reread.

I loved it once again. I was wrapped up in the characters and the story just as much as the first time I read it. It’s an easy read without complicated language so my 5, 7, and 9 year old daughters loved listening to me read it aloud, but it’s written intelligently and beautifully so that I was engaged just as much as the kids.

I love the way the elements of the Cinderella story are presented in a way that they fit together better and make a more fulfilling story than the original fairytale. Even though it’s a retelling it’s fresh and feels completely new. The romance between Ella and the prince is developed well, is believable, and brings such warm fuzzies.

This wasn’t my first reading of this book and it definitely won’t be the last.
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Age Recommendation: This is an award-winning children’s book and will be enjoyed by all ages. As I said, even my 5 year old enjoyed it as a read aloud, though I think my 9 year old certainly understood the themes better. So I would say this book is best for 9 and older.

Appropriateness: This one is squeaky clean. Nothing crass or crude, though some younger readers may feel emotional over the death of Ella’s mother and the injustices that she is subjected to.

Other Book Recommendations: If you liked Ella Enchanted you should also read Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt, The Storyteller’s Daughter by Cameron Dokey, Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery, Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath, A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, Seven Daughters and Seven Sons by Barbara Cohen, Goose Girl and The Princess Academy both by Shannon Hale, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi, and Jackaroo by Cynthia Voigt.

 

Rebecca

RebeccaRebecca by Daphne du Maurier
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

finished this book for the umpteenth time over 4 months ago, and I loved it just as much as every other time that I’ve read it. So you’d think a review would have been easy, but this is a complicated book to talk about without giving too much away. I tried getting my thoughts in order right after finishing it but with moving into a new house about the same time, taking care of 4 kids, and training for a marathon I just ran out of time and brain power for awhile. Now the marathon is over and there seems to be a brief calm in the storm of house and yard projects so I think I might have enough focus for a review. I’m sure the package of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Oreos I just finished off will help me focus too.

Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

A young and inexperienced lady’s maid is quickly and surprisingly swept of her feet by the wealthy and charming widower, Maxim de Winter. They are married quickly and return to his estate where the new Mrs. de Winter tries to find her place in a way of life she knows nothing about, and where the memory of Max’s first wife seems to overshadow every room, conversation, and event.  Rebecca’s power from beyond the grave haunts the new, timid bride until all hope for the marriage seems lost. But when the past resurfaces assumptions are questioned and hard choices have to be made.

My Review

This time reading Rebecca I noticed much more how little action there really is in the plot and yet I still consider this one of the greatest and suspense books of all time. So I have to ask myself, what is it that rivets me? What really makes it so great?

Well to start the writing is a work of art. Such intelligent and insightful description without being pompous or overdone. On the first page we read, “Nature had come into her own again and little by little in her stealthy, insidious way had encroached upon the drive with long tenacious fingers.” Describing an overgrown driveway like this gives not only a visual, but also a feeling. Giving nature a persona, making it a character, continues throughout the book. The descriptions truly give nature power and influence in not just the setting but in the events as well. Nature also plays the role of clairvoyant; it provides omens of the events to come, good or bad.

The method of plot development is also very unique. As I said, not that much actually happens in the book. There are a few events that occur, but the true conflict in the story is rooted in something that happened in the characters’ pasts. To reveal that past and to develop how it affects the present there is so much storytelling that happens within the head of the first-person narrator. Her own misconceptions provide the plot base for pretty much the whole first half of the book and then a major revelation and her having to realign her misconceptions is essentially the plot for the second half. That could sound pretty boring – a story happening inside a character’s mind much of the time – but Du Maurier masterfully builds tension through description that makes the pages come alive and characterizations that resurrect ghosts.

Some of the most intriguing characterization comes from the contrast in the narrator and Rebecca. Just their names give insight – the first name of our plain, quiet, unassuming narrator is never given. After she and Max are married she is Mrs. de Winter and we are given no other title with which to identify her. She is the narrator and main character, but the title of the book is “Rebecca.” Rebecca is the name we all know and love, or dread depending on the perspective. Just this little detail in the use of character names reveals so much about the characters themselves as well as the book’s themes.

Ah, and the themes in this book! This is where it becomes difficult to not give too much away. My previous post discussed one theme – choices and consequences and how misconceptions affect both. Mrs. De Winter spends so much time living out “what if’s” in her mind, playing out elaborate scenarios which have such detail that we as readers and the narrator take them to be reality.

The theme that makes this book unique and, so I’ve been told, even controversial in some book clubs, is determining the morality of the character’s actions. Do their motivations matter? Should the choices of others be taken into consideration? Is justice served at the end? Not only do we analyze the character’s choices and the resulting consequences, but we get to ask ourselves how we feel about them. We know what is wrong and right according to law and our conscience. Do the events of this book go against that knowledge? Is your heart reacting differently than you think it should? I have spoken with some who were uncomfortable confronting these kind of “greys” in the moral spectrum, but they are what take this book beyond being just a beautifully written and suspenseful romance and into the realm of a Classic.

Age Recommendation: High School age and older. Definitely for mature readers. I wouldn’t say the writing is difficult to read, but it is more “old-fashioned” and intelligent than your average work of fiction. The themes and events of the book also need a discerning mind.

Appropriateness: I would recommend it for any book club or high school and college English class, but as I said, there are some who have found it more controversial. But that just gives even more material for great discussion! No offensive or off-color language that I remember. No detailed sexual content, just married couple kissing and some reference that indicates a married couple were intimate.

Book Recommendations: If you like Rebecca I recommend Jamaica Inn and My Cousin Rachel both by Daphme Du Maurier. You may also like Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte,  The Book Thief by Markus Zusak,  The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, and Eruption by Adrienne Quintana.

If you have already read the book….

Here some of the ingenious aspects and insights that I loved reading Rebecca this time:

  1. On page 36 The narrator talks about wanting to bottle memory and I could so relate! There are just those perfect moments that you wish you could somehow keep forever just the way they are. How would it be to uncork the memory at some later date and have it to relive all over again? But isn’t that the irony?  Those moments are so perfect because we are completely IN them.  We are present, not worried about the past or future, just there. I can relate to the narrator’s melancholy that comes afterward as well, when you realize you can’t bottle the memory and it will fade. The joy and sadness combined make the moment that much more powerful.
  2. On page 44 the narrator describes how traveling changes you.  You leave something behind whenever you a leave a place while at the same time part of that place comes with you and makes you a different person than you were before.  I love that about traveling.  And I love that reading books can have the same effect.
  3. In Chapter 15 Mrs. De Winter goes to visit Maxim’s grandmother.  She compares the elderly to children. They can both be a hassle and tiring, but we try to be polite anyway. She points out though, that we can remember being children and so can better understand them; maybe that gives us more patience.  We have not been old yet and so may not be able to relate as well. But as Mrs. De Winter thinks about how the grandmother may have been as a young lady, it gives her more sympathy.  My grandmother is declining with alzheimer’s and I could completely relate to the thoughts and feelings expressed.
  4. It’s fascinating how reading the book for the first time you can get caught up in the idea that Maxim must still be in love with Rebecca. The way Mrs. De Winter perceives all the events, descriptions, and interactions sure makes it seem that way.  And Rebecca played her deception well. But when you read it again know the truth there are so many hints and clues to the true nature of Rebecca and Maxim’s relationship.
  5. I have always been amazed at the clear picture of Rebecca that is painted for us and for Mrs. De Winter. She is dead from the start of the book and yet we learn more about her than we do of the narrator.  Of course because she is dead, all we know about Rebecca comes from people’s descriptions of her beauty and talents, and from the things she left behind. Her handwriting, her clothes, her coat, her smell, her habits as described by the staff, and her style still left at Manderley give Rebecca presence and influence even beyond the grave.  However, none of these things reveal her character and so we can be misled just like Mrs. De Winter.

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Demanding the Truth

“I wondered how many people there were in the world who suffered, and continued to suffer, because they could not break out from their own web of shyness and reserve and in their own blindness and folly built up a great distorted wall in front of them that hid the truth. This is what I had done. I had built up false pictures in my mind and sat before them. I had never had the courage to demand the truth.” – from Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

I Read this tonight and it struck a chord. I have worked hard since I was a child to break a web of shyness. I had to stop being a doormat but ironically I also had a problem at the opposite end of the spectrum with being overly opinionated and a know-it-all. When you find the right balance between the two extremes then confidence and meekness exist together. People I have known that possess both these qualities are so uplifting to be around.

I have become better with the balance (I hope), and deciding who I am and who I want to become has helped.  I have worked to be comfortable and confident in my skin and to find joy in improvement rather than requiring perfection. If I am patient and honest with myself I can’t hide behind excuses or walls of distorted and false reality. 

 I also work hard to try not to judge unjustly. Walls are also built by assuming the worst of others motives and intentions.  Giving the benefit of the doubt, assuming instead that we are all trying to do the best we can with what we have and know helps filter the actions of others through a much more positive light. And in most cases a much more realistic one. 

It does take courage to demand the truth, to be honest with ourselves and others, to not hide behind reasons why it’s all their fault and how we are a victim. The excuse that we have no control is a wall that we think will protect us but it’s really just fear and if we let it it will control us until life is bleak. 

The truth is that we have control over our actions and reactions, our thoughts and emotions. Ownig up to that power is true freedom. We can learn from the choices and experiences of others as well.  Then life is more joyful and fulfilling; our relationships are stronger and easier. We make our reality through our choices rather than waiting out each day in the haze of misunderstanding and inaction. 

Mrs. de Winter says the quote above after a receiving huge shock to all of her ideas and established way of life.  Hopefully none of us will have to have that kind of experience to wake up from our misconceptions but if you have read the book then you know that part of the book’s intrigue is coming to conclusions about the morality of hers and Maxim’s choices and how much circumstance should matter. The quote not only is meaningful because of my own life experience but because of how succinctly it captures one of the book’s major themes. 

I’m not done with the book yet but soon. Official review still to come. 

Rebecca – just a little taste

Rhododendron – you’ll never look at them the same after reading this book.

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”  These words are like an old friend. They set the stage for the beautiful mystery that is Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier.

We moved to a new house a few weeks ago so reading has been a luxury I’ve given up the last month or so in order to do packing and unpacking. But tonight I wanted to escape into a story for awhile.  Maybe because my focus has been on our house recently I was drawn to a story in which a house plays such a significant role. You could say that the Manderley estate is one of the characters in Rebecca.  It’s the first thing we are introduced to; it’s the first chapter and the first line.

I was only able to read a chapter and a half tonight, but the beauty of the prose and the genius description in just those few pages completely pulled me in. “Nature had come into her own again and, little by little, in her stealthy, insidious way had encroached upon the drive with long, tenacious fingers.” Talk about perfection in verb and adjective usage. Du Maurier was an artist; she knew how to paint a picture with words.

This book makes it into my top 5 favorites. I have read it so many times I’ve lost count, and I can’t wait to get lost in its pages again. I’m looking forward to having a forum this time in which I can share the greatness of Rebecca with others, so I will keep my actual book review for after I finish, but this book is just SO GOOD right from the start that I had to share some love now. If you haven’t read Rebecca pick it up and let’s journey through it’s intricate characterization and haunting beauty together.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

I tend to gush about the books I love, so here comes the gushing. This one is definitely in my top 10 all time favorite books, and probably even makes it into the top 5. Read it. It will make you and your life better.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie SocietyThe Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Summary from Goodreads (with some of my own edits): January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she’s never met, a native of the island of Guernsey, who has come across her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb…. “ I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some sort of secret homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.” As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, Juliet is drawn into the world of this man and his friends and their book club – The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. This book boasts a charming, funny, deeply human cast of characters, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all. Written with warmth and humor as a series of letters, this novel is a celebration of the written word in all its guises, and of finding connection in the most surprising ways.”

My Review

This enchanting historical fiction is so well-written and in such a creative way. My husband and I (before he was my husband) wrote letters to each other for 2 years while he was a missionary, and I love the unique element that brought to our relationship. Getting to know each other through words, through time and through distance is special. This book is written completely in letters between the characters; it’s how Juliet falls in love with her Guernsey friends before she ever meets them. As a reader you fall in love with them all right along with her, in that unique way that comes through sharing letters. You don’t just read about people in this book; you meet them. They come alive and you experience their journey with them rather than reading about it like a spectator.

Each of the main characters takes a turn as narrator when you read the letters written by them, but there is one major character that you don’t “meet” so personally as she never writes a letter. But the writing is so masterfully done that she feels just as real and warm as any of the other Guernsey residents. I was awed by the author’s ability to help me love and care for a character who is only “present” in the past.

The time period is just after WWII and a lot has been written about that time period. But this one is different. Even if you are a WWII expert, don’t pass this one by. One of my favorite historical aspects of it was learning more about life after the war, particularly for those in Europe whose homes had been bombed, who were living in rubble and with very little to help them rebuild their lives. And I had no idea that the island of Guernsey even existed before reading this, and I certainly had no idea it was occupied by the Nazis. Now I want to visit Guernsey just as much as I’d like to see Prince Edward Island or Hogwarts for that matter, all because of the beauty of this book.

Even though war and the pain that it brings are a theme of the book, it still winds up as uplifting and fun. I laughed, I cried, I pondered. I learned and relished every word. I love every theme it presented including the history, the romance, the strength of character, and the power of books and reading in our lives. I have read the book twice so far and I guarantee there will be a third reading. And a 4th, and 5th…

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Age Recommendation: The themes will be best understood by a mature readers. The aspects of war could be too harsh for some as well. So I say this book is for 16 and older.

Appropriateness: There is some profanity. Fornication and homosexuality are in the book but they are not focused on at all. Their mention is so brief and not graphic in the least. So if these things are offensive to you, I still don’t think you would find the book offensive. This is a perfect book club read.

Book Recommendations: If you like this one you should try Gilead by Marilynne Robinson and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery, and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Little Prince

This is one of my all time favorite books…Ok I’m going to take the leap and say it IS MY #1ALL TIME FAVORITE BOOK.  So to review it sufficiently will require a little of my personal history, biographical info about the author, and some interpretation and analysis. It will be just like high school English class all over again! (Get Excited! Get Get Excited! I say G-E-T..Sorry little high school flashback there.) But the book is just that great!

(Side note – I highly recommend the original English translation. The newer translations just lose some of the beauty and poetry of the language.)

It’s not easy to give athe_little_prince summary of The Little Prince. It’s one thing to tell what happens and another to explain what it is about. I can summarize the happenings by the end of this paragraph. It will take pages to attempt to express what it means to me. The story is told by a pilot who crashes in the Sahara desert, cut off from all civilization. As he is trying to fix his plane he hears a little voice request, “Draw me a sheep.” That is how he meets the golden-haired “Little Prince” who came to Earth with a flock of birds from his small planet. Over time the pilot learns of the other planets the Little Prince visited and more of the Prince’s own precious planet, and of the vain little flower that prompted him to leave it. In the process the pilot is reminded of what is essential for happiness.

Growing up I had a fascination with all things French and this book is just so FRENCH. My dad lived in France and Switzerland for 2 ½ years as a missionary so he spoke French fluently and introduced us to French foods and culture. He read to us Asterix and Obelix, Petit Nicolas, and of course The Little Prince. As a 9 year old I thought the grownups and their quirks were funny, and I found it refreshing to finally have someone give us kids a little credit for knowing important things too, to have someone finally understand how “tiresome [it is] for children to be always and forever explaining things to [the grownups].”  

planetThe idea of the Little Prince on his quaint little planet, barely bigger than a house, with volcanos to clean out (both the active and extinct since “one never knows…”) was as magical to me as any fairy tale. I fell in love the Little Prince, with his independent spirit and his desire to have friends and to care for them. I felt sad for him, being betrayed by his flower and having to leave her, then to have to leave the fox, and finally the pilot, but I respected his selflessness. I worried about those pesky Baobab roots, and I wanted to hold and hug the Little Prince to keep him away from the bite of the golden snake. But then I believed he made it back to his star so it was a happy ending after all.

The next time I read the book was for French class so I read it in it’s original French and I loved it even more, probably because the syntax in French is so much more poetic and beautiful but also because I was older and was able to pick out the deeper meaning. Also I learned more about the author in class and knowing his story definitely gives the book more impact.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery was a pilot and loved it. He flew in war and in times of peace and received many awards and recognitions for it. He wrote the The Little Prince while in New York trying to convince the US to join WWII; the dedication in the book makes a lot of sense when you realize he was worried about his friends in France who were suffering the deprivations of war. When I found out Saint-Exupery actually crashed in the Sahara desert during a flight it gave me a new perspective on The Little Prince; he truly knew what being stranded in the desert heat without water or help in sight was like, and yet he chose to write about it with the wit, tenderness, and innocence of a child’s perspective rather than the drama, suspense, and worry of an adult. I like his outlook on life. The most interesting fact of all about the author is that he mysteriously disappeared over the Mediterranean, much like The Little Prince’s body disappearing from the desert sand.  If you want to know more about Antoine de Saint-Exupery go here.

I have now read The Little Prince in French and English countless times and each time I am filled with a range of emotions; I laugh, I cry, I ponder. The book is often categorized as a fable or parable because the funny and tender anecdotes actually reveal the foibles and follies of humanity, as well as our strengths and purpose for living. Jesus Christ in the New Testament counseled to become as a little child, and this book advises the same. Keep the hope and faith that allows children to be fascinated by the world and to find joy in the smallest things, like shapes in the clouds or the comfort of a loved toy. Keep the ability to love, forgive, and befriend that comes to children so naturally. Spend time on the things that matter; look outside yourself, be brave and seek to understand and experience all the beauties this world has to offer, work hard to contribute to world around you, and develop relationships built on trust and sacrifice.THe Little Prince

It is so much more fun and so much more powerful to learn these truths as you follow the Little Prince’s journey, so if you haven’t read it before, do. Do it now! You will make a lifelong friend and “You – you alone will have the stars as no one else has them…In one of the stars [the Little Prince] shall be living. In one of them [he] shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night…You – only you – will have stars that can laugh.”

(You can find more of my favorite quotes from the book below.)

Age Recommendation: It is written as a children’s book with whimsical illustration so children will enjoy it. Probably 8 and older. But the true meaning of the story is for adults. The book dedication reminds us that “All grownups were once children though few of them remember it.” So I would say this book is for children and for the grownups who remember.

Appropriateness and Themes: Nothing to worry about here; the book content is clean and innocent as can be, but provides so much discussion material. This is a fantastic choice for book club, family read aloud, literature classes, and just for fun. Here is a list of discussion questions:

  1. What makes a career/hobby/pastime valuable? to yourself? to others?
  2. What does it mean to “tame” someone/something? Who/what has tamed you? Who/what have you tamed? How did you do it?
  3. What are the essential things that are invisible to the eye?
  4. How do adults lose the ability to see the elephant in the boa constrictor or the sheep in the box?
  5. baobabWhat baobab roots do you deal with in your life? What do you do on a daily basis to pull them up before they become a huge tree and take over?
  6. What experiences in your life have been as rewarding as the drink from the desert well for the pilot and The Little Prince?
  7. What reminders to you have in your life like the singing of the well and the stars serve as a reminder for the pilot?
  8. The Little Prince says, “Only the children know what they are looking for. They waste their time over a rag doll and it becomes very important to them; And if anybody takes it away from them they cry.” “They are lucky,” the switchman said. What do children teach us about connecting to people and things? What are they looking for that the adults lose sight of? What distracts the grownups from looking out the window as the train/life goes by? How do we get that knowledge and skill back?

Favorite Quotes

“I am looking for friends. What does that mean — tame?” “It is an act too often neglected,” said the fox. “It means to establish ties.”  “To establish ties?”“Just that,” said the fox. “To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world….”

 

“People have forgotten this truth,” the fox said. “But you mustn’t forget it. You become responsible forever for what you’ve tamed. You’re responsible for your rose.”

 

“When a mystery is too overpowering, one dare not disobey.” 

 

“People where you live,” the little prince said, “grow five thousand roses in one garden… yet they don’t find what they’re looking for…” “They don’t find it,” I answered. “And yet what they’re looking for could be found in a single rose, or a little water…” Of course,” I answered. And the little prince added, “But eyes are blind. You have to look with the heart.”

 

“It is such a mysterious place, the land of tears.”

 

“I do not much like to take the tone of a moralist. But the danger of the baobabs is so little understood, and such considerable risks would be run by anyone who might get lost on an asteroid, that for once I am breaking through my reserve. “Children,” I say plainly, “watch out for the baobabs!”

 

On our earth we are obviously much too small to clean out our volcanoes. That is why they bring no end of trouble upon us.”

 

I must endure the presence of two or three caterpillars if I wish to become acquainted with the butterflies.” 

 

I myself own a flower…which I water everyday. I own three volcanoes, which I clean out every week…It is of some use to my volcanoes, and it is of some use to my flower, that I own them. But you are of no use to the stars.”

 

“Men have no more time to understand anything. They buy things all ready made at the shops. But there is no shop anywhere where one can buy friendship, and so men have no friends any more. If you want a friend, tame me…”

 

“It is much more difficult to judge oneself than to judge others. If you succeed in judging yourself rightly, then you are indeed a man of true wisdom.”

 

“Why are you drinking? demanded the little prince. “So that I may forget,” replied the tippler. “Forget what?” inquired the little prince, who was already sorry for him. “Forget that I am ashamed,” the tippler confessed, hanging his head. “Ashamed of what?” insisted the little prince, who wanted to help him.“Ashamed of drinking!”

 

That man [the lamplighter] would be scorned by all the others…Nevertheless he is the only one of them all who does not seem to me ridiculous. Perhaps that is because he is thinking of something else besides himself.”

 

“The proof that the little prince existed is that he was charming, that he laughed, and that he was looking for a sheep. If anybody wants a sheep, that is a proof that he exists.” 

 

One never know where to find [the men]. The wind blows them away. They have not roots, and that makes their life very difficult.” – said by a flower

 

“What makes the desert beautiful,’ said the little prince, ‘is that somewhere it hides a well…”