Friday, October 17, 2008

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Also reviewed by Kari

Summary: Pi Patel is an unusual boy. He is the son of a zookeeper, has an encyclopedic knowledge of animal behavior, a fervent love of stories, and practices not only his native Hinduism, but also Christianity and Islam. When Pi is sixteen, his family emigrates from India to North America aboard a Japanese cargo ship, along with their zoo animals bound for new homes.

The ship sinks. Pi finds himself alone in a lifeboat, hisonly companions a hyena, an orangutan, a wounded zebra, and Richard Parker, a 450-pound Bengal tiger. Soon the tiger has dispatched all but Pi, whose fear, knowledge, and cunning allow him to coexist with Robert Parker for 227 days lost at sea. When they finally reach land in Mexico, Robert Parker flees to the jungle, never to be seen again. The Japanese authorities who interrogate Pi refuse to believe his story and press him to tell them "the truth." After hours of coercion, Pi tells a second story, a story much less fantastical, much more conventional, but is it more true?

My review: Some books for me are intensely personal and you, lucky reader, get to be a sounding board for all of that. I know, you are weeping at your good-fortune. Before I started this book, I wasn't familiar with its premise. I assumed it was a story about a boy who was stranded in a boat with a tiger (something I, undoubtedly, pulled from the cover of the book), but happily I got far more than I that. I guess I expected it to be monotonous and predictable. I mean, how many things could really happen, right? He either gets eaten, or he doesn't. Wrong. Life of Pi was fabulous all the way through. I never knew what was coming and when I thought I might have an idea the storyline always twisted in a completely different way than expected.

"Life of Pi" begins with a young boy who is busy exploring life, religion, and all things zoological in India before his family sets off in a Japanese freighter for a new start in Canada. His early life was very much an exploration of what we believe--what is the truth? about life? about family? about God? about ourselves? I really wasn't expecting this book to create, within me, a religious dialogue, but it definitely got me thinking about what I believe, specifically about God, and why I believe it.

Here are a few of my truths that I gathered from this book (I realize I'm a little off topic here. Deal.)

- We live in a world of people that long to be defined... that are searching frantically to know and understand their purpose on this earth. They want to be able to put everything that happens in order..in its proper place. Having a purpose to life..a clear predictability...it defines a person, their space and their existance and when it is threatened they can react unpredictably.

-One of my favorite quotes from LOP was in reference to agnosticism and Christianity. "If Christ spent and anguished night in prayer, if He burst out from the cross, 'My God, my God why have you forsaken me?' then surely we are also permitted doubt. But we must move on. To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation."

- Here's another... "it is on the inside that God must be defended, not on the outside...for evil in the open is but evil from within that has been let out. The main battlefield for good is not the open ground of the public arena, but the small clearing of each heart."

- And finally the last... "I must say a word about fear. It is life's only true opponent." It says somewhere in the scriptures that "fear is the absence of faith." I really feal that a lack of faith is our only true opponent in life...this can be faith in God...or just faith in eachother...or in oneself.

Okay. Back to business. Yann Martel is a master of the perfect sentence--the one that you read and then reread because the author has put his thoughts in such a creative and unique way that you just have to stop, breathe, and honor it. Example: YM could have said "there are lots of weird animals in Tokyo." Instead we get "If you took the city of Tokyo and turned it upside down and shook it, you'd be amazed at the animals that would fall out" I love it when authors use completely different imagery, rather than the standard cliche, to get their point across. These sentences pepper this book and make me search for and relish the moments when I encounter them.

As the story progresses, to Pi's life within the confines of a small life boat the story only gets more interesting. He is forced to live life, on edge, every moment and you become as consumed as he is in his own survival as he descends into a type of animal existence in order to stay alive. How far does he go? That is up to you to decide.This book was a wonderful read, but it was made, really MADE by its ending. I won't give it away...but it will literally suck the air out of whatever room you happen to be sitting in. Breathe.

My rating: Four and half stars (deducting half a point because it made me nauseous at certain points...I'm merely being immature and retalitory). For the sensitive reader: This is an adult novel. I would not recommend it for young adults because of its dark tone, the Richard Parker violence and general "ew" factor.

If I could sum this book up in one phrase it would be: Disturbingly devourable.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Snow (Once Upon a Time Series)

Summary: In a tiny Welsh estate, a duke and duchess lived happily, lacking only a child--or, more importantly, a son and heir to the estate. Childbirth ultimately proved fatal for the young duchess. After she died, the duke was dismayed to discover that he was not only a widower, but also father to a tiny baby girl. He vowed to begin afresh with a new wife, abandoning his daughter in search of elusive contentment.
Independent--virtually ignored--and finding only little animals and a lonely servant boy as her companions, Jessica is pale, lonely, and headstrong...and quick to learn that she has an enemy in her stepmother. "Snow," as she comes to be known, flees the estate to London and finds herself embraced by a band of urban outcasts. But her stepmother isn't finished with her, and if Jessica doesn't take control of her destiny the wicked witch will certainly harness her youth--and threaten her very life.
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My review: I'm always a sucker for a fairytale retold. There is something magical about getting to relive that first time you heard the story of Snow White, Cinderella, or Beauty. "Snow" did not disappoint. TL did a good job of weaving together the original story line with her own unique characters, settings, and plot twists so that even though thought you knew how the story was going to end...you still didn't know how it was going to end. Also, apparently this part of a series of retellings in the "Once Upon a Time" series. I'm sure you can search that on Amazon and find the rest of them if you have a favorite fairytale.
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My rating: 3 stars (Will I read this book over and over? Probably not...but I'll definitely keep it in my library and read it to my girls someday. RATED PG
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If I could sum this book up in one phrase it would be: A nice way to spend the evening.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Ella Minnow Pea - Mark Dunn

Summary: Ella Minnow Pea is a girl living happily on the fictional island of Nollop off the coast of South Carolina. Nollop was named after Nevin Nollop, author of the immortal pangram,* “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” Now Ella finds herself acting to save her friends, family, and fellow citizens from the encroaching totalitarianism of the island’s Council, which has banned the use of certain letters of the alphabet as they fall from a memorial statue of Nevin Nollop. As the letters progressively drop from the statue they also disappear from the novel. The result is both a hilarious and moving story of one girl’s fight for freedom of expression, as well as a linguistic tour de force sure to delight word lovers.
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My ReviewPangram (pan’ grem –gram), n. a phrase, sentence or verse composed of all the letters of the alphabet.  (e.g. The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.)

Ella Minnow Pea lives with her mother and father on the quaint but fictional island nation of Nollop, just off the coast of the United States.  Nollopian residents are veritable word smiths, masters of the English language who revere Nevin Nollop, the national icon who composed the sentence: “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.”  His immortal effigy (and the tiled plaque of his prestigious pangram) resides in the town square, as a testament to the islanders’ admiration and commitment to etymological excellence.  

When a terrible storm blows off the Z tile, the Nollopian High Council interprets the fall as a manifestation of The Great Nollop’s will that the letter be stricken from their spoken and written language.  The new law has far reaching ramifications; nearly all books are banished and those who flout the new prohibition are subject to public humiliation, flogging, banishment, or worse.  Resourceful townsfolk find new ways to communicate in writing, but as more letters fall and their useable alphabet diminishes, their words become stilted and tongues tied with fear.  As violations abound and their hope dwindles, a clandestine journalist from the mainland travels to Nollop and brings with him an idea that might save their beloved language and topple Nevin Nollop from his proverbial pedestal.

At first glance, Ella Minnow Pea seems like a typical novel, but quickly transforms into a story of staggering genius – one that can be read for sheer entertainment or as a light-hearted commentary on censorship, freedom of expression, and absolutism.  Written in a way that is both humorous and unique, this epistolary tale is made infinitely more impressive by one small detail:  As the letters drop from the sign and are stricken from society, they are dropped from the book as well.  The letter Z isn’t essential, but the loss of D is isastrous, and the letters just keep falling.  Towards the end, I was slack jawed with amazement at the author’s ingenuity and filled with an even greater appreciation for the complexities of the my own language.   The end result is marvelously creative feat of linguistics and a delightful tribute to the English language that is sure to thrill intellectuals and overly tired book bloggers in equal measure.    .

My rating: 5 Stars (fabulous! I'll be recommending this to people in the grocery store)
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I think that this book would go over many a young adult's head, but there is nothing in it that would keep me from letting one of them read it.
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Sum it up:  N umzn n funtustk buk (written w/ 8 consonants and one vowel)

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Somebody's Baby by Charlotte Vale Allen

Summary: At thirty-one, Snow Devane is a successful photographer living in Manhattan. Her life is all she wants it to be. And she has finally managed to establish some distrance from the mother who would, given the opportunity, suffocate her with caring concern. Then on her deathbed, Snow's mother confesses to an unthinkable crime. She kidnapped an infant from a New York City supermarket. Snow is somebody's baby, but not hers. Snow'sentire life now appears to be a lie. Who was Anne Cooke? What drove her to steal another woman's child? And, most important, who is Snow Devane? In the grip of fearful panic, she and her cloest friend, Katie Shimura, set out to learn Snow's identity and to try to find her birth parents.
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My review: To put it bluntly...I wasn't impressed. This was one of those "relationship books" that, for me, never managed to make me really care--to make that connection for me and get me involved in the lives of the characters. Sure, I cared that the girl had been kidnapped and I wanted to solve the mystery of who she was, where she came from, and what kind of woman would steal her...but when the end came and some things were unresolved, I still found I didn't much care. That was very telling. If I'm not upset...if I DON'T want to throw the book across the room because it has left me with unanswered questions, then it wasn't good enough to begin with.
Unmemorable though it was, "Somebody's Baby" did make me think about a few things. As I read, I thought alot about the relationship that I have with my mother, and the kind of relationship that I would like to have with my daughters. There are so many ways that you could go wrong...that through your own actions you can dramatically affect someone's life for better or worse. It also made me sad because I feel that in a lot of ways, we don't know that much about our parents....to us they are Mom and Dad. That is their identity and we often don't examine much further than that until it is too late to really get to know who they really were. So I suppose that I should thank CVA for prompting me to want to know more about them.
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My rating: 2.5 stars (Translation: It didn't suck...but I won't be reading it again or recommending it.)
This is an adult novel. Some language. Some sex.
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If I could sum this book up in one phrase it would be: Flat.

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