Thursday, March 24, 2016

A Review of 'Grounded' by Kate Klise

"Life will never be the same... 

After her brother, sister, and father die in a plane crash, Daralynn Oakland receives 237 dolls from well-wishers, resulting in her new nickname: Dolly.  And she doesn't even like dolls!  Dolly would much rather go fishing-- not that she's allowed to go anywhere on her own after the accident.  As she sees it, her whole life has turned terrible, and there's nothing she can do about it. 

But when her angry, grieving mother's new job as a hairstylist at the local funeral home is threatened by the new crematorium, Dolly decides it's time to take action.  She suggests throwing Living Funerals-- a chance to attend your own funeral and hear all the nice things people say while you're still alive to thank them.

Will Dolly's new plan heal her mother's broken hear and save a dying business?"

Why do I always choose books like this for my fifth graders to read?  But this book wasn't totally sad.  It's just that I realized that this book and the next book we're going to read (and that I'll review here when we've finished reading it) center around death and dying.  But, they're grade level books and the fifth graders in my reading group have done quite well when we talk about grief and funerals, which you can't avoid when you read this book.

I think this is a neat exploration of grief.  What makes it so neat is that there are two people who are in the same family going through grief, but because of their ages, they deal with these difficult feelings differently.  The mother is angry towards others and she keeps busy with whatever she can.  She shuts down and doesn't do a lot of the activities and chores that she used to do on a regular basis.   She tries to keep her remaining child close by to keep her safe.  And what else would you do if you lost two of your three children and your husband?  The daughter, Daralynn (I hate calling her Dolly because she hates that name... I hate being called horrible nicknames, so I like to ask... or infer) has a different way of dealing with so much loss.  She writes letters, particularly to her dad.  She goes fishing at the lake like her dad used to do when he needed to think.  Daralynn was closest to her father than she was to her brother and sister, it seems.

On a different note, I appreciated the crime aspect of the story.  Sketchy Clem Monroe... in our group, we had a bad feeling about him right away.  I thought that he was guilty of murder, but I was wrong... and actually, the fact that he is *SPOILER* guilty of conspiracy and taking money under false pretenses makes this story more exciting.  It's a bit more devious than murder, if you want to start ranking crimes...

This was an enjoyable read even for an adult person.  I'd like to find more work by Kate Klise sometime soon!

I give 'Grounded':
Thanks for Reading!


Wednesday, March 23, 2016

A Review of 'Ash' by Malinda Lo

"In the wake of her father's death, Ash is left at the mercy of her cruel stepmother.  Consumed with grief, her only joy comes by the light of the dying hearth fire, rereading the fairy tales her mother once told her.  In her dreams, someday the fairies will steal her away, as they are said to do.  When she meets the dark and dangerous fairy Sidhean, she believes that her wish may be granted.

The day that Ash meets Kaisa, the King's Huntress, her heart begins to change.  Instead of chasing fairies, Ash learns to hunt with Kaisa.  Though their friendship is as delicate as a new bloom, it reawakens Ash's capacity for love-- and her desire to live.  But Sidhean has already claimed Ash for his own, and she must make a choice between fairy tale dreams and true love.

Entrancing, empowering, and romantic, Ash is abut the connection between life and love, and solitude and death, where transformation can come from even the deepest grief."

This book is a sort of a retelling of the classic story Cinderella.  The resemblance stops as soon as Ash is with her stepmother and stepsisters and after her father dies.  But this isn't a bad thing-- just a difference I noticed.

This book took a little while to get into.  My professor who taught my literacy education class let me borrow it last semester and between being quite busy and not finding the beginning super appealing, I let it sit for a while.  I'll let you know that it does get better... I'll explain.

I think the part that kind of prevented me from getting into the book right away was Ash's wall of grief.  I understand that she lost her mother and that's a really difficult thing to go through, especially when you're quite young.  But the thing that bothered me was that her grief didn't seem to lessen or become more nuanced as she got older.  She was just as grief-stricken as the day her mother died.  I don't know anything about losing a parent, but I've lost close family members.  The closest person to me who has passed away way was my Uncle.  It was a really hard grieving process, but it's been years since the day we had to let him go and the day of the funeral.  There is pain and sadness, but it's not the same pain and sadness as a few years ago.  With Ash, her pain and sadness doesn't change very much.  I think her grief was a dramatic one, almost.  It was a grief I didn't have access to which made it hard to get into this book.

Once I was a ways into the book, I wasn't so bothered by the grief... that is, I think I stopped taking it so seriously.  What bothered me next was how helpless Ash was and how quick she was to run away.  Her age also bothered me.  I know that at some point in the book, she turned into a girl who was closer to being an adult... I estimate sixteen or eighteen.  But I had to keep reminding myself that Ash is around this age.  So hers and Kaisa's relationship felt really weird to me.  Kaisa had this maturity about her that I kept thinking that she was in her mid-twenties or even thirties.  I still wonder what she sees in Ash.  The relationship felt inappropriate because of the maturity each woman carried with her.  Kaisa had a lot of experience with the world and Ash just didn't.  I don't understand this relationship.

One thing that I appreciated were the hints of nuance to the stepsisters.  They weren't simply pure evil.  Sometimes they'd respond to Ash's kindness.  Ash brought the eldest stepsister, Ana, who is seeking marriage to preferably the Prince, but anyone will do, really.  Ash gave her a spell that's supposed to bring your true love to you or something like that.  Ana used it, although she didn't want to admit it.  You could tell she was more than mean.  She was a stuck character-- her mother needed her to marry because of the debts they had.  She didn't really have a choice of whether to marry or not.

I also thought the take on this story with the fairies was interesting.  Fairies were made out to be dangerous and while we never really see how dangerous they can be (we just hear about it), it added a little suspense because in the back of your mind, there was always the possibility of something bad happening because Ash was with a fairy.

I also appreciated that bisexuality or even being lesbian was treated normally.  Like we treat straight people in our society.  It's normal and okay.  No one had to mention it and no one talks about it.  It just stands out to readers because... it's normal, but we still spend a lot of time convincing people that it's as normal as being heterosexual.  Because when we come out in our society, people are often afraid to say who they are and straight people don't have to go through this.  In this society, it's okay and accepted by everyone to fall in love with someone who is the same sex as you.  And also someone who is not the same sex.  It's okay to love.

Overall, this was an okay read.  This is definitely meant for a younger audience, so it's possible that middle school or possibly early high school readers would eat up this book.

I give 'Ash':
Thanks for Reading!


Tuesday, March 22, 2016

A Review of 'Orange is the New Black' by Piper Kerman

"With a career, a boyfriend, and a loving family, Piper Kerman barely resembles the reckless young woman who delivered a suitcase of drug money ten years before.

But that past has caught up with her.

Convicted and sentenced to fifteen months at the infamous federal correctional facility in Danbury, Connecticut, the well-heeled Smith College alumna is now inmate #11187-424-- one of the millions of people who disappear 'down the rabbit hole' of the American penal system.

From her first strip search to her final release, Kerman learns to navigate this strange world with its strictly enforced codes of behavior and arbitrary rules.  She meets women from all walks of life, who surprise her with small tokens of generosity, hard words of wisdom, and simple acts of acceptance.

Heartbreaking, hilarious, and at times enraging, Kerman's story offers a rare look into the lives of women in prison-- why it is we lock so many away and what happens to them when they're there."

I have watched every season of "Orange is the New Black" available on Netflix twice over.  I am absolutely fascinated with the goings on in prison, though I never want to find out first hand what it's like.  Vicarious experience is good enough for me.  When I heard that this show was originally a book, I made it my mission to get this book for myself.  That was about a year and a half or two years ago, but I finally got my hands on a copy and I devoured this book.

I was surprised by just how different from the show it is.  I mean, the Netflix show gets quite violent, especially in the later seasons.  It can get downright scary.  In the show, particularly during season 2, if I remember correctly, there is gang violence within the prison and things begin to fall apart around the prison itself.  But there isn't any of that in this book.  Definitely not the gang violence and very minimally about the prison falling apart.  Even Alex from the show plays a minimal part in this book  This book is mainly about the women in prison that Piper meets and how she keeps it together during her year-long stint in prison.  She ruminates a little about the injustices that befall our prison system.

Recently in my Feminist Philosophy class, we've been talking about the Prison Industrial Complex-- that is, unfairly compensated for prison labor... it's basically slave labor, prisoners are paid so little.  But worst of all, there is a racial imbalance-- far more people of color are imprisoned than white people.  You see these inequalities and you get to know the people in the prison rather than simply know the crimes that were committed.  One thing that I liked was that it wasn't accepted to ask what someone was in prison for.  Sure, some people would share that with others, but not before you got to know the person.  You'd learn what their hopes and dreams for the future were and whether or not they were married or otherwise romantically attached to someone and whether or not they had children waiting for them at home.  Then they might tell you that they were in prison for a drug-related crime... and then you'd be faced with feeling of, "That's it?" because you realize that, in fact, the people in prison have worth.  You realize this in a way you can't usually in real life unless you genuinely know someone who happens to be in prison.  We tend to lump all prisoners together and not really think about the crime committed.  We tend to think that all prisoners who are sent to prison belong there and that is that.

I'm not saying that prisons need to be abolished, because I do think there are some people who need to be locked up (although not in solitary because that causes more problems than it solves) such as murderers, rapists, and people who are abusive and sadistic to other people and animals.  But I do think this book puts you in a place to think about why we put people in prison and whether or not our prison system is set up in an ethical way because it forces you to think of prisoners as people, if that makes sense.

One thing I preferred in the show was that the other women in the prison are the front runners of the story and that they get to tell their own stories.  That even further forces you to think of prisoners as people with specific identities.  I suppose this would be hard to do in a book though, especially the way Piper Kerman has set up this story.

I see this book as Piper recognizing the privilege that she holds in prison.  She takes time throughout the book, as opposed to just once, to acknowledge that she has advantages that many of the other prisoners don't.  She has friends and family that visit her every week.  She has a decent amount of money that she can spend within the prison for day-to-day necessities.  She has opportunities that others don't have.  I thought she struck an interesting balance between checking her privilege as a white, educated woman and sharing her experience.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading 'Orange is the New Black' because it was so honest and highlighted a part of our society that people tend to ignore except on a superficial level.

I give 'Orange is the New Black':
Thanks for Reading!


Monday, March 14, 2016

A Review of 'Lipstick Jihad: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America and American in Iran' by Azadeh Moaveni

Note: This is one of the few reviews that I am trying to write and post before I start in on things that I have read in 2016.  Thank you for your patience!

"As far back as she can remember, Azadeh Moaveni has felt at odds with her tangled identity as an Iranian-American.  In suburban America, Azadeh lived in two worlds.  At hoe, she was the daughter of the Iranian exile community, serving tea, clinging to tradition, and dreaming of Tehran.  Outside, she was a California girl who practiced yoga and listened to Madonna.  For years, she ignored the tense standoff between her two cultures.  But college magnified the clash between Iran and America, and after graduating, she moved to Iran as a journalist.  This is the story of her search for identity, between two cultures cleaved apart by a violent history.  It is also the story of Iran, a restive land lost in the twilight of its revolution.

Moaveni's homecoming falls in the heady days of the country's reform movement, when young people demonstrated in the streets and shouted for the Islamic regime to end.  In these tumultuous times, she struggles to build a life in a dark country, wholly unlike the luminous, saffron and turquoise-tinted Iran of her imagination.  As she leads us through the drug-soaked, underground parties of Tehran, into the hedonistic lives of young people desperate for change, Moaveni paints a rare portrait of Iran's rebellious next generation.  The landscape of her Tehran-- ski slopes, fashion shows, malls and  cafes-- is populated by a cast of young people whose exuberance and despair brings the modern reality of Iran to vivid life."

I read this for my Creative Nonfiction class this semester.  We had to give a memoir presentation and this was one of the books we could choose from.  Some unknown force has been drawing me back to the Middle East.  Morocco was just a small taste, but even so... I have this desire to know more and to see more.  Since I can't physically go there right now, this is how I will travel.

I know very little about Iran and even less about the problems that it faced at the time this book was written and continues to face today.  This was a nice way to see what life-- every day life-- is like in this place.  Even though Azadeh possesses an Iranian passport, she knows very little about what it's like to be Iranian and identify with that label on a really deep and complex level.  Being Iranian and living away from Iran leads to a very different identity than someone who is Iranian and is actively creating a life for themselves in Iran.  It was fascinating to see her form her identity and develop as an Iranian person and see how people reacted to her because she wasn't there during the country's greatest struggle.  Her family was in a position of power at the time of the revolution, so when it became too dangerous to stay, they were able to leave and many others didn't have this same opportunity.

My favorite part and also the part that made me sad was how women got along in this society.  Iran, at least at the time this book was written-- I can't be sure about now-- there were very strict rules.  Women needed to wear hijab and dress modestly at all times.  It was safer to travel with another person, but that other person can't be a boyfriend, because that's not proper.  One story that really stuc out to me was when Azadeh was out with friends, two of whom were a couple, and they were stopped by police.  They hadn't done anything wrong to provoke the police's attention, but they were stopped any way.  The police asked Azadeh's friend if the man she was next to was her boyfriend.  She has to lie-- no, he's not her boyfriend.  The police then says (and I paraphrase) "Alright, then you wouldn't mind if he got hurt" and proceeds to beat him up in order to get a reaction out of this girl and reveal once and for all that this guy is her boyfriend and they are doing something against the rules.  The girl does not make a sound or have a reaction of any kind.  It's heartbreaking that women aren't trusted at all.  Another story was Azadeh's experience when she found the gym for women.  They would remove their hijabs in order to exercise and they spoke openly about any subject in a way they couldn't if they were out in the city.  Women can have a life of their own, but with great difficulty and behind many closed doors.  It's very sad.

This is a book that I liked a little bit more once I started getting into the book, but it did seem like Azadeh spent a lot of time whining about her life in the U.S.  In hindsight, it's possible that she just needed a little perspective and living in Iran, this country where you have to watch your step and is dangerous in the face of revolution, was just what she needed.

I don't know if I will ever read this book again, but I look forward to reading more about Iran in the future.  It's a country I never thought that I would be even remotely interested in.

I give 'Lipstick Jihad':
Thanks for Reading!


Sunday, March 13, 2016

A Review of 'Bossypants' by Tina Fey

Note: this is one of a few reviews that I am trying to write and post before I start in on things that I have read in 2016.  Thank you for your patience!

"Before Liz Lemon, before 'Weekend Update,' before 'Sarah Palin,' Tina Fey was just a young girl with a dream: a recurring stress dream that she was being chased through a local airport by her middle-school gym teacher.  She also had a dream that one day she would be a comedian on TV.

She has seen both these dreams come true.

At last, Tina Fey's story can be told.  From her youthful days as a vicious nerd to her tour of duty on Saturday Night Live, from her passionately halfhearted pursuit of physical beauty to her life as a mother eating things off the floor; from her one-sided college romance to her nearly fatal honeymoon-- from the beginning of this paragraph to this final sentence.

Tina Fey reveals all, and proves what we've all suspected: you're no one until someone calls you bossy."

This book has been on my radar for quite some time, but it was only until a few months ago that I started to read this book.  After listening to Amy Poehler's memoir, I was a little disappointed, but Tina Fey's book was quirky in ways that Amy's wasn't.  It's a little hard to explain.  I hate to lump Amy and Tina together, but I'm going to do it any way.

I appreciated the path that she took to get to where she is today.  What was interesting to me is that she came from a background where she wasn't the best performer, but she loved what she was doing while she worked her way up in the improv world, making it into Second City and into Saturday Night Live in not the most expected way.  She didn't have the predisposition to be in entertainment, but she found what she loved and chased it down mercilessly.  I think that's admirable.  Certainly there were hiccups along the way, but who doesn't have those?

I loved Tina Fey's views on motherhood towards the end of the book.  As someone who is not a mother but is the age where everyone around her is magically having children it seems, I've thought a lot about what it means to be a mother.  I love that she took time to be with her daughter and didn't apologize for it.  I love that she kept pursuing her work and didn't let her identity split between being a mother and being a writer/performer.  This is a very real struggle I've noticed for mothers, maybe even especially fairly new mothers.  You want to be there for your child, watch them grow and support them, but you can't completely lose yourself in the process.  So how do you strike a good balance?

I wish that I had written about this book a little bit sooner or taken notes on it after I read it... I'm having a little trouble remembering my thoughts and feelings on this book.  I do know that it was a fascinating read.  I enjoy reading the stories of well-known people to see how they got to the position they are in life.  I love hearing their wisdom.  Tina Fey has an interesting life and is full of wisdom that I can only aspire to have as I get older.  You will not regret reading this book.

I give 'Bossypants':
Thanks for Reading!