The novel begins on the eve of Sasha's induction into the Pioneers (the Soviet youth program) with his writing a letter to Comrade Stalin expressing hThe novel begins on the eve of Sasha's induction into the Pioneers (the Soviet youth program) with his writing a letter to Comrade Stalin expressing his joy at becoming part of the USSR's communist movement. Sasha, the son of a Soviet State Security officer, is hopelessly naïve about his country's political climate as well as his own precarious situation within it. Even after his father is arrested, and his rose-colored glasses are smashed, Sasha can't seem to wake up to reality. He can't accept that the propaganda that he's been fed his entire life is a lie, or what really happened to his mother (hint, hint, she didn't really die at the hospital), or that innocent people are arrested for fabricated crimes. Sasha can't "play the game" because he cannot comprehend the system in which he is caught. In the final chapters, he has an almost moment of realization, but his naivety leads to a rather more hopeful ending than can actually be expected. No one can really escape the KGB especially not a kid with no resources who is still giving his real name.
Breaking Stalin's Nose would be a great story with which to introduce young people to brutality of Stalinist Russia. While the arrests and purges are mentioned, there are no graphic details. This is a little discussed topic excellently done except for the author's desire to give it a happy ending when all roads lead to the orphanage for children of the enemies of the state and an almost inevitable arrest and execution as an adult due to his status as an "unreliable."
Bringing Gogol's short story "The Nose" into the story was also a nice touch. ...more
Lila brings a startlingly different tone into the peaceful comfortable world of Gilead, Iowa. The backstory of Lila, Reverend John Ames's enigmatic seLila brings a startlingly different tone into the peaceful comfortable world of Gilead, Iowa. The backstory of Lila, Reverend John Ames's enigmatic second wife, is even more brutal than I could have imagined. Through the eyes of the other characters she was always a stoic, salt of the earth woman of few words with a mysterious unspoken past. That past takes center stage in this novel. She is the unchurched, unschooled, migrant, field hand hinted at, but she is also a woman haunted by deep shame and regret whose life consisted of nearly unbearable misfortunes.
I was greatly disturbed by her suffering and seeming lack of redemption at the story's close as well as by Lila's own feral nature. Of course, this story ends years before those in Gilead and Home do, so the woman Lila is still is not the one whom she will fully become. This is a powerful story, but Lila's sufferings are hard to bear. I was still troubled by the vicarious experience after I had finished the book....more
The story was a bit too zanier for my taste, but I gave it a go since it was written by Neil Gaiman, and I ended up getting into it in spite of myselfThe story was a bit too zanier for my taste, but I gave it a go since it was written by Neil Gaiman, and I ended up getting into it in spite of myself. The author read the book himself, and Neil Gaiman is one of the only authors who should be allowed to read their own work. He is fabulous....more
I thought I was well versed in cognitive biases, but it turns out I am not so smart. Written in a very droll tone, this book describes the most commonI thought I was well versed in cognitive biases, but it turns out I am not so smart. Written in a very droll tone, this book describes the most common biases and heuristics of the human mind simply and concisely. It is great for people who want to maintain at least a loose grip on objective reality.
The discussion of how most human memory is a work of fiction that is subconsciously and constantly edited to conform to one's current beliefs, feelings, and identity was particulary fascinating, disturbing, and comforting. Finally, a scientific explanation as to why persons of my acquaintance will tell me how "in love" they are with their current partners who "complete" them and then short time later will tell me how they always hated their partners and never loved them even once during their entire relationship, which was nothing but misery, despite the fact that this 100% contradicts all their previous assertions. I always thought they were just self-absorbed idiots in need of attention who deliberately and consciously rewrote their past in order to save face in light of how things ended, justify ditching relationships with which they'd grown bored, ascribe blame, and reconcile their current feelings about their exes with their past feelings for them. But it turns out human beings just cannot bear inconsistency when it comes to their own ideas about themselves and automatically subconsciously alter and/or outright fabricate their personal histories in order to match their current selves to their past selves. As troubling as this reality is, there is also a brightside. It means that if one's history is simply a story that one tells one's self, and the events have been so heavily slanted and edited that they may bear no resemblance to what actually happened, then it is possible for people who are trapped by their pasts to escape merely by changing their point of view and reframing the meaning the past has in their current lives. That's a cause for hope right there. ...more
Caveat: I am a harsh grader. I give most books I read a 3. For a 5, the book has to be so incredibly amazing that I will still carry it around for dayCaveat: I am a harsh grader. I give most books I read a 3. For a 5, the book has to be so incredibly amazing that I will still carry it around for days after I finish it because I can't part with it yet.
I beg to differ with the publisher's designation that this is a book for children ages 8 to 12. While the characters are described as 5th graders, they read more like high school sophomores at the youngest. The occasional babyish interest (Jack: superheroes, baseball, and make-believe and Hazel: ballet, fairy tales, and make-believe) and total lack of sexuality, they think and act like young adults, and they are more well read than many a college student.
The books referenced within this novel are the His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman, the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowlings, the Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum as well as the movie version, the Keys to the Kingdom series by Garth Nix, and Coraline by Neil Gaiman, When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead, The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll as well as The Little Match Girl, The Red Shoes, and The Nightingale by Hans Christian Andersen. And there may have been others that I didn't catch. I enjoyed these Easter eggs, but I couldn't believe even children with an extraordinarily high reading level would have read all of these books by the beginning of 5th grade. It would have made more sense for 8th graders and up to have these as part of their consciousness. Therefore, I must conclude it was a deliberate choice to make these characters younger. Even 5th graders are on the cusp of being too old for active make-believe, so the magic and couldn't have been real. Older characters would be full of Hunger Games and Divergent, which would have marred the shiny innocence of this story. And of course, Jack and Hazel could never have been purely platonic best friends after puberty. Sexual awareness, if not tension and longing, would have crept into their relationship.
I was in love with the story until Hazel went into the woods, and the plot sidetracked and nearly stalled. So, I had to reduce my score from a 3 to a 2. Yes, the characters whom she meets are interesting as is the idea of earthly forests being ubiquitous gateways into a magical forest in a magicl world. But this was all a distraction. Yes, the children in Narnia have little side adventures before they have the showdown with the White Witch, but that doesn't mean this plot will work for everyone. Hazel was the princess rescuing the knight, and she needed to go straight to the ice fortress without bungling repeatedly into danger.
The writing is great, and the author offers several good insights to the readers. "Sometimes there's no why" and "Sometimes there's just nothing you can do" are probably two of the most useful to offer to children. Welcome to the real world kids, "This is what there was in the world, busy streets thick with the smell of car exhause and fast-food hamburgers." I particularly liked Ursu's description of how Hazel reacted when one her classmates attempted to cheer her up. "She did not know how to react, for when your heart has been poisoned and someone picks a dandelion for you -- because it is bright and yellow and you seem like you could use something like that -- all you can do is contemplate the funny ways of weeds." Hazel understanding that lies can be used to comfort as well as hurt is also great. "It's all going to be okay. She would like to hear that now, even if it was a lie. Because some lies are beautiful. Stories do not tell you that."
While I know the assertion that Jack wouldn't suddenly stop being her friend overnight is crucial to the plot, I disagreed with being to fiercely dismissed. The sad truth is that sometimes your very best friend will simply abandon you overnight, and you won't even have seen it coming. That is harsh reality that many, many young girls discover, and it's almost cruel to insist upon the contrary. I also objected to Hazel's mother's comment that someone people don't have to grow up, and they're lucky. This idea is based on the false assumption that 1) children are happy and 2) there are no strictly adult experiences of great value.
I didn't understand the purpose of making Jack's mother catatonic with depression. To have an unhappy home life, it doesn't take much. A child's parents don't even have to be divorced for everyone to be miserable. Often mothers whose jobs are stressful have nothing to give to their children once they get home from work, and fathers who carry the weight of the mortgage and the health insurance and being the primary breadwinner can poison the air with their unhappiness when they return home to less thyan happy marriages. It wasn't necessary to make her mentally ill to create a home that Jack attempts to stay away from as much as possible. But kudos to the author for not having Jack's mother magically cured at the end of the story.
Likewise, I was puzzled by Hazel's mother's relationship to her ex-husband. The story says that he left the summer before 5th grade, but he's already planning the wedding to his next wife's, and it's only winter. That was one quick divorce and courtship and requires a bit of explaining since the author made a point of mentioning it instead of just saying Hazel's father was out of the picture and not giving an exact date. And his frequent phone calls to Hazel's mother are just weird and also not explained. Is he just checking on Hazel? Or are they still having some strange emotional entanglement behind his new fiancee's back?
The author also sides too much with Hazel's attitude that everyone at her new school is wrong for not liking her. Hazel feels that they should just accept her like her old friends at her old school, and when they don't immediately take to her, she makes no effort court anyone's friendship or even behave in a civil manner towards her classmates. Too many children have the I-am-100%-right-and-everyone-else-is-wrong attitude and insist that they are the complete victims of others' unkindness, and it should not be indulged. Yes, people should like you for who you are, but if you behave in an unlikeable manner, they won't like you. Hazel doesn't try to get along. She doesn't attempt to present herself in any way that would encourage her classmates to befriend, so I had a hard time feeling sorry for her. She makes zero effort to adapt to her new environment and just whines about how it's not like her old one. Part of the reason people read is that they are trying to understand how the world works, and several times this book just send the wrong message.
Also presented was the ideal of a genderless society where everyone is physically equal. Hazel had dreams of being a Zena Warrior Princess type heroine. This is probably another reason why she and Jack as 10. After about 10 age, male and female child stop having roughly the same physical strength for their size. This was such a great opportunity for the author to show the predominantly female audience who women can be strong in ways that no man can match with acts of strength. It was such a missed opportunity!
So, the writing was excellent. The villian who truly wanted nothing was a nice twist. The literary references were awesome. But there were also some big weak points....more
This book provides an excellent and thorough overview of Greco-Roman mythology. Edith Hamilton retells the every major myth in the Greek and Roman WorThis book provides an excellent and thorough overview of Greco-Roman mythology. Edith Hamilton retells the every major myth in the Greek and Roman Worlds as well as clearly describing their key players -- both immortal and human. At the beginning of each section, the author cites the primary sources in which each story is found, tells whether the tale is a summary of one particular source or a synthesis of several, gives the civilization of origin (Greek and/or Roman), and explains any relevant cultural context. She then provides a simple but elegant and straight-forward summary of the tale.
I feel a lot less ignorant after having read this. I only wish the author would have treated Norse myth as extensively as Greco-Roman myth instead of throwing it in at the very end almost as an afterthought. I really longed for more about Norse mythology....more
In the interests of full disclosure, I am what the author calls a late adopter, which he takes from Everett Rogers’s Diffusion of Innovations theory.In the interests of full disclosure, I am what the author calls a late adopter, which he takes from Everett Rogers’s Diffusion of Innovations theory. Actually, I am probably even a “laggard” rather than a member of the “late majority,” but either way I do not jump on board with any new idea, trend, institution, or technology until it is virtually the norm, and even then I often resist either because it conflicts with my Neo-Luddite beliefs or because my disposable income is essentially zero after I pay my bills, buy groceries, and then put gasoline in my car. This means Sinek’s new revolutionary approach to leadership -– as well as the leadership bandwagon in general -– is not something I am likely to buy into.
If you enjoy books about the hot topic of leadership, this one is pretty much par for the course. Nonprofits can glean some ideas from this book, but the bulk of it pertains to for-profit companies. Sinek is very passionate about leadership, and he enthusiastically spews buzzwords everywhere. This book overflows with examples of great leaders and innovators. Sinek puts a slightly different spin on the same old, same old, themes. Lead by example. Inspire people, and they will follow your passion. If you treat employees well, they will be loyal to you and work harder. If you create loyalty, then people will be willing to turn down better deals for your company or your product. Sales are strongest when consumers feel a personal connection to the company or the product. Staff should share the company’s values and buy into its vision. Et cetera, et cetera ….
The one very novel idea is that the Sinek believes people/consumers don’t buy what a company does but why they do it. I disagree, but this may be a result of my bias as a late adopter. I absolutely buy what a company sells and how they sell it. Sinek believes people are attracted to the products of corporations with whom they perceive has a shared value. I may be more inclined to buy from a company whose practices support my own values but not because of a business’s values. I don’t care about the why. I only care about the end result, which is the product or service.
Price and features matter to me despite Sinke’s insistance to the contrary. I will buy less expensive products that I don’t like as well because they are in my price range and the ones I would rather have are not. Yes, sometimes I am willing to pay more, but that because of me and not the company. Certain business practices also matter to me. I am buying because of the services offered. I am buying what and how not why. Sinek believes that the why trumps the what and the how. He doesn’t feel that features and price are the primary selling point and ultimately don’t matter in the face of the why powering a company. I do. Reader, you will have to decide for yourself. You may agree with Sinek and disagree with me. You may feel a personal connection to a corporation; I, however, find this idea baffling.
The author is absolutely in loved with Apple and Southwest Airlines. But Sinek’s hero worship of Steve Jobs lost all him all credibility with me. Steve Jobs might have make Apple shareholders lots and lots of money, and Apple does make good products, but Jobs was a terrible human being. For him to be held up as the gold standard of leadership is sickening to me. Yes, he inspired. He inspired severe human rights abuses in overseas manufacturing plants and fear in his U.S. employees. I am not a Machiavelli the-ends-justify-the-means type of person. I don’t care what someone accomplished if he did so by being a sadistic bully. In fact, I feel that negates the accomplishment.
The author reads his own book, and while his voice is very pleasant, and his pacing good, he is unsuccessfully attempting to suppressive a British accent. Every couple sentences, he hits a word, usually one with containing the vowel “a,” and says it with a strong accent. This is annoying. It is as if he is pretending to be someone who he is not. Also, partway through the book, he talks about feeling a connection to a group and gives the example of hearing a group of tourists on a bus in Australia speaking with American accents and immediately feeling a kinship with them. This really undermined his point since he has a poorly hidden English accent, and there is no explanation given as to why he considers himself to be American. Was he raised in England because his parents were Americans working abroad, so he is a very random American with an English accent? Did he emigrate from the UK and receive American citizenship? Does he just feel a connection to US capitalist culture instead of European socialism? This is a red warning flag for an unreliable narrator. ...more
As another reviewer, this is not quite chick lit and not quite historical fiction. At points it is rather sad, but it is also a quick read. I wish theAs another reviewer, this is not quite chick lit and not quite historical fiction. At points it is rather sad, but it is also a quick read. I wish the jilted husband would have had some redeeming characteristic. I found him all around unlikeable, elitist, and domineering. But at the same time I can't completely excuse the unfaithful wife; she picked and, despite her doubts, married him. When one knows what one is getting, there is no right to complain.
I am curious to hear what the book discussion groups make of this story. I suspect they fall on the Nixon rather than JFK side....more
While this isn't the type of book I would have picked up on my own, I did enjoy it. Both of the narrators are excellent, and they bring something to tWhile this isn't the type of book I would have picked up on my own, I did enjoy it. Both of the narrators are excellent, and they bring something to the novel that I wouldn't have gotten if I had read it in print.
This the tale of three life-long friends whose gathering place is Earl's All-You-Can-Eat dinner in a small southern Indiana town. The narrative switching between past and present as well as between first person from Odette's point of view and third person omniscient. Odette begins the novel with a visit from the ghost of her pot smoking mother. Odette's mother and her friend, the ghost of former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, then regularly haunt Odette. Her mother provides zany profanity-laced commentary to the ongoing events that none of the living could get away with saying aloud. The absolute best is Mrs. Jackson's response to Clarice's husband Richmond's explanation that he just can't help cheating on his wife. Even I couldn't help laughing aloud. "Mama though the addiction theory sounded like an excuse. She'd never had patience for what she called 'the navel-gazing of philanderers.' Mama slapped the side of Richmond's head with the bong she'd been sharing with Mrs. Roosevelt -- he didn't feel it -- and said, 'Shut the hell up. You're not addicted. You're just a horndog, you stupid sonofab*tch. Odette, tell him he's a dog and that he should just do the decent thing and carry a Victoria's Secret catalog into the bathroom and take care of business when the mood strikes like every other God-fearing married man in America. Tell him, Odette." (pages 269 -- 270).
I am of two minds on the supernatural and over-the-top wacky events. On one hand, they keep the story from being too serious, but on the other hand they detract from the seriousness of the events. Personally, I would have preferred a more serious story. I think a wife finally fed up with a chronically unfaithful husband and woman who spent the last 30 years drowning her regrets about ending an interethnic relationship with the man she loved in favor a socially acceptable marriage to a man whom she respected but didn't love and her grief about the death of her child in alcohol is more than enough for drama and a great story. The sitcom-style silliness unrelated to the major plot points is too much of a distraction and seems to belong to a different story. I also think the ending is a bit of a cheat, but that I can overlook because it would have marred the happy ending....more
Poor Georges, who is relentlessly teased by the popular kids for having a silent "s" on the end of his name, must face The Science Unit of Destiny inPoor Georges, who is relentlessly teased by the popular kids for having a silent "s" on the end of his name, must face The Science Unit of Destiny in seventh grade on top of moving into an apartment after his father losing his job and is forced to sell their house. He joins a spy club with an eccentric, homeschooled boy-his-own-age named Safer, and together they track the going-ons of Mr. X who also lives in their building and may or may not be chopping up people and smuggling them out in suitcases.
The story is very well written with a neat twist at the end although sometimes it is a bit overly clever. The Chinese restuarant named Yum Li's was a particularly nice touch as were the Scrabble tile messsage's from Georges's mother. Since, as the title suggests, there are liars afoot, I wasn't sure if I believed the bit about wild parrots that escaped from the airport. It seemed too much like an urban legend that Safer tricked Georges into believing.
The author very subtly reveals the flaw behind the logic saying to just ignore kids who are mean. Ignoring doesn't work while a clever tactic to fight back without really fighting does the trick nicely.
If you are looking for a book without sex, drugs, swearing, child abuse or neglect, or magic for children in 4th, 5th, or 6th grade, this would be a good choice....more
Somehow I missed this book growing up. It's a very sweet exploration of a 11 or 12 year-old's girl life, her thoughts on religion, her first crushes,Somehow I missed this book growing up. It's a very sweet exploration of a 11 or 12 year-old's girl life, her thoughts on religion, her first crushes, and her discovery of sanitary products. Being a jaded older reader, I kept expecting something terrible to happen, but nothing did. ...more
18 year-old party boy and burgeoning alcoholic Sutter gets dumped by his girlfriend and ends up falling for nerdy good girl Aimee after she discovers18 year-old party boy and burgeoning alcoholic Sutter gets dumped by his girlfriend and ends up falling for nerdy good girl Aimee after she discovers him passed out in her mother's front lawn early one morning.
This is one of the very few guy YA novels. It reads like it was written by a man for a male audience. That's not to say that girls won't enjoy it. It is simply refreshing to have a story written from a male point of view actually feel like an authentic guy instead of a woman's over-interpretation of a guy. The Spectacular Now is fun and, at moments, incredibly insightful. It's also sad. Tragedy looms at the end with Sutter having learned but not been redeemed. Of course, a happy ending would have been too out of character for the story. The road down which the Sutterman is heading won't lead him to a good place. It's a Hollywood cop out for the person dancing on the edge of his own self-destruction to suddenly have an epiphany that saves him at the last very second....more
The story of two boys both named Wes Moore who grew up in poverty in Baltimore. One goes on to become a contributing member of society and the other eThe story of two boys both named Wes Moore who grew up in poverty in Baltimore. One goes on to become a contributing member of society and the other ends up serving life in prison for murder. The successful Wes Moore wrote this book, and while his premise is that he could have just as easily been the other Wes Moore, it is fairly obvious from the life stories he presents that he had resources -- the most critical of which was a stable family unit willing to sacrifice for his future -- that gave him the opportunity to succeed while the other Wes Moore was basically doomed from birth due to circumstances beyond his control that only a very extraordinary individual could have overcome....more
Reminiscent of Coraline and Neverwhere, this is a charming little novel. I must admit I delayed reading it because the publisher summary said it beganReminiscent of Coraline and Neverwhere, this is a charming little novel. I must admit I delayed reading it because the publisher summary said it began with a renter running over the family's cat, but that is not exactly true.
**spoiler alert** I wish I could give this zero stars. I was a big Anita Blake fan for the first six or seven books in the series, and then it downgra**spoiler alert** I wish I could give this zero stars. I was a big Anita Blake fan for the first six or seven books in the series, and then it downgraded to paranormal romance -- that is, porn. Every once and a while, I pick up a later book in the hopes that things will have magically reversed themselves, but, alas, things have only gotten worse.
Anita Blake was amazingly fun in the beginning. Despite the fact that she was short, never wore makeup, dressed entirely in frompy out-of-date fashions, occasionally donned a fanny pack to carry her spare magazines of ammunition, collected stuffed penguins, regularly attended church, and didn't believe in sex outside of marriage (or at least prior to an engagement), she was a complete vampire slaying, zombie raising, witty one-liner spewing, crime solving badass.
When I left off reading, Anita had just discovered that she was no mere animator with power to raise zombies, she was actually a necromancer. Very cool, right? But now the author has taken it to the extreme and broken one of the biggest and most basic rules in writing Sci-Fi/Fantasy fiction. The rule is don't make your character all powerful. Anita is now all powerful. Her only weakness appears to be being so sexy that every male in her presence goes out of his mind wanting to bed her, lose all backbone, and cater to her every ever moody demand.
Anita is not only a necromancer; she is also a vampire's human servant, master vampire who is neither dead/undead nor drinks blood, and a werewolf, wereleopard, a werelion, and a panwere all at the same time without ever shapeshifting. She now possesses a magical power called "ardeur" that causes her to want to have nonstop sex twenty-four hours a day. The ardeur allows her to develop new and, hitherto unheard of, supernatural powers herself whenever a bigger bad guy appears, steal supernatural powers from other supernaturals, break and enslave other supernaturals, engender supernatural powers in other supernaturals that neither of them previously possessed, and amplify super powers in supernaturals. As some feeble attempt at internal struggle, Anita still claims to cling to the notion that sex is a sin. Since she has had sex with nearly every male character named in this series and happily participates in BDSM threesomes and foursomes, this is really more than most readers' willing suspension of disbelief can stand. I couldn't buy it.
Anita's habit of getting mad to hide any other emotion she may be experiencing has also gotten supernaturally tiresome even though the ability to feed on anger and use her anger as a weapon is now one of her many new powers. She is particularly in a rage about the evils of monogamy, but despite feeling monogamy is unnatural for her, Anita insists that all the men in her harem be monogamous to her although sometimes she is okay with them having sex with each other.
The plot in Bullet is that the Mother of All Darkness, Marmee Noir, is alive afterall even though everyone thought she had been destroyed once and for all in an earlier book. She is out to take over the world beginning with the vampires and then the wereanimals and finally all of mankind. In order to save the day, Anita must have sex with a dozens of people in order to maximize the weretigers' powers and supe up her own superpowers. Oy! Most of the story takes place underground beneath the Circus of the Damned, which is just a series of overly interior decorated rooms that aren't a very interesting setting in which to spend an entire novel.
The sex scenes are terrible, truly cringeworthy. They are not even slightly titillating -- just Bluh! WTF? Bluh! Are you kidding? Bluh! What now? Bluh! Seriously? ad nauseam. But the whiny conversations that all the characters keep having before, after, and during the sex scenes might possibly be worse. Then there are pages and pages of description that a good editor would have pared down. The author especially likes to describe what sexy clothing all the men wear and how unbelievably good looking they all are. These specimens of "creamy goodness" all prefer pants so tight they "look painted on" and thigh high boots like 80's rockstars. Everyone has to dress like they are on their way to a very exclusive bondage club with an extremely strict dress code. Ug.
I don't think I will ever read another Anita Blake book again unless it is reread the beginning of the series. Those books were really good, and I am sad that the series has come to this....more