The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, William Joyce

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris LessmoreOK, I admit that I did not read this book in the hardcover edition linked to the left. I first encountered the story of [amazon asin=1442457023&text=The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore] in the form of the short film, and then downloaded the iPad app. If you have an iPad, do yourself a favor and download this wonderful multimedia children’s story, especially if you are a book nerd. You’ll love the story. It was written for you.

The story begins as Mr. Morris Lessmore is writing his story in the French Quarter of New Orleans when he is beset by a hurricane that rips the very words from his pages. Despondent, he doesn’t know where to go or what to do. Suddenly, he sees a beautiful girl being carried by flying books. Noticing Morris’s despair, she sends him her favorite book, and he follows the book to a magical library where he becomes caretaker and lends books to other folks who need them.

This is a fantastic story about the power of reading. The film is perhaps even better than the book, as it tells the story about the importance of words without using any words at all. I love the messages about how we breathe new life into old books and make them live again by reading them, and that they live in us and in turn give us life. The animation in the film is beautiful, and it reminds me of the opening story sequence in the movie Up. The digital storybook on the iPad has a narrator who reads the story, and you can interact with elements on each page. For example, on the page when Morris first enters the library, you can touch the books and hear famous lines from classic literature. You can write on Morris’s book. You can spell out words with the alphabet cereal Morris feeds the books. It’s an amazing immersive experience. My eight-year-old son loved it. We sat down and read it together this afternoon, and of course, it took him only a minute to figure out how to manipulate the book. The book is currently $4.99 in the App Store. If you have an iPad, do yourself a favor and get it.

Rating: ★★★★★

This book counts as my fantasy/sci-fi selection for the Mixing it Up Challenge.

Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi

The Complete PersepolisThe first time I ever heard anything about the country of Iran was when I was in second grade. Americans had been taken hostage at the American Embassy in Tehran. We wrote letters to the hostages, and I remembered very clearly that a boy in my class wrote in his letter, “I hope you don’t get shot.” Miss Johnson, my teacher, made him change it because, she said, while she was sure they would appreciate his hoping they wouldn’t get shot, he shouldn’t remind them of the possibility in a letter. They were already scared enough. I remembered thinking that these people must be crazy to kidnap people they didn’t know for no reason I could understand. I think a lot of Americans came to view Iranians as crazy fundamentalists, and it was easy to lump the entire country together under that label. [amazon_link id=”0375714839″ target=”_blank” ]Persepolis[/amazon_link] is a memoir by Marjane Satrapi, who experienced what it was like to live in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. She paints a different image of Iran and Iranians than many Americans my age and younger grew up seeing. She describes what it was like to feel hopeful when the Shah was deposed, only to find the revolution was not what she and her family expected, and in many ways, their lives were worse. Satrapi suddenly had to wear a veil to school. Satrapi was outspoken and frequently courted trouble. When she was fourteen, her parents sent her to school in Austria. She came back to Iran at the age of eighteen confused about who she was: she didn’t feel completely Iranian because her beliefs were out of step with those of her more traditional friends, but she didn’t feel Western, either.

The version I read contains the complete graphic novel, spanning Satrapi’s life from the late 1970’s to the mid-1990’s. I liked the artwork. It was simple but effective, and I found Satrapi’s story so captivating that I read the novel in a matter of hours (although it is true that graphic novels are quicker to read). I have not read many graphic novels. In fact, this is only my second, the other being [amazon_link id=”0394747232″ target=”_blank” ]Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History[/amazon_link]. I didn’t like Maus all that much, and I have never been much of a comic book reader, so I think I told myself I didn’t like graphic novels. This graphic novel was excellent, though. I found Satrapi’s description of life in Iran and her parents interesting. I think growing up when I did, it was easy to see the people of Iran as “the enemy” and to forget they are not terribly different from us, and what this book does brilliantly is expose that prejudice to the reader. Reading this memoir, I do not have the sense it was written for an Iranian audience. It feels more like it was meant to educate Westerners, and it certainly changed my perspective. We have our own religious extremists here in America, but the difference is that our government allows dissent, and we’re not yet living in the Republic of Gilead.* I enjoyed the fact that the memoir was an unflinchingly honest examination of Satrapi’s coming of age, but also not without quite a fair amount of humor, even the face of difficult circumstances and devastating events. Ultimately, Satrapi’s memoir is the story of how she discovered who she is and what she wanted. I would recommend it to anyone who thinks they don’t like graphic novels. Anyone who already enjoys graphic novels will love this book.

*A reference to the government established by the Religious Right in Margaret Atwood’s novel [amazon_link id=”B003JFJHTS” target=”_blank” ]The Handmaid’s Tale[/amazon_link].

Rating: ★★★★★

I read this novel to fulfill the Graphic Novels and Manga category of the Mixing it Up Challenge.

Outlander (audio), Diana Gabaldon

OutlanderI took advantage of the time I had during a recent car trip to finish Diana Gabaldon’s novel [amazon_link id=”1419381016″ target=”_blank” ]Outlander[/amazon_link] for the third time (but for the first time as an audio book). I have reviewed the book previously. I am a big fan of Gabaldon’s, and the first time I read the series, which at that time only included four books, I couldn’t wait for the fifth book. When it did finally come out, I didn’t get through much of it before I set it aside, so I’m hoping participating in the Outlander Challenge will help me finish the series.

For those not in the know, Outlander is the story of Claire, a nurse during World War II, who travels to the Scottish Highlands for a second honeymoon with her husband Frank and finds herself mysteriously transported about 200 years in the past, where she is almost immediately confronted by her husband’s ancestor, Jonathan “Black Jack” Randall, an English officer garrisoned in Scotland. She is rescued from the clutches of Black Jack by members of the Clan MacKenzie, who take her to their stronghold, Castle Leoch. Claire finds herself drawn to Jamie, a young man in the MacKenzie party. She establishes herself as a healer in the castle and though she never stops trying to figure out how to return to Frank, she begins to build a life for herself in the past. Later, she is forced to marry Jamie in order to protect herself from Black Jack and the English army, and it is after that event that her adventures truly begin.

One of the things I noticed for the first time on this reading is the long scenes that in another book might simply have been cut. Gabaldon tends to write scenes and stitch them together later rather than write in a linear fashion. I know this because I have heard her speak about her writing process. It has benefits and drawbacks. One of the benefits is that readers feel they have intimate connections to the characters through vignettes that develop the characters into fully fleshed people. Gabaldon is gifted with description. No reader should have any trouble picturing her scenes. However, one of the drawbacks, and it’s something I really only noticed on this read, is that some scenes feel superfluous and don’t really develop the plot so much as the characters. I am huge fan of characters and will enjoy a book with good character development over a book with weaker characters and a fast, tight plot, but on this read, I really noticed the fact that much of the writing was unnecessary. Given the length of the book, that is kind of a problem. And the books only progressively get longer. I may not mind as much with the rest of the series because I have only read the next three books once, and I have never read the final three. I might find I enjoy the ride a little more when the plot is not quite as familiar, and truthfully, I don’t think most readers would have a problem with the superfluous scenes given how engaging a writer Gabaldon is.

Davina Porter is a superb reader, and listening to the books will give readers a whole new appreciation for Gabaldon’s Scots.

Rating: ★★★★☆

I’m counting this book as my romance novel for the Mixing it Up Challenge.

Divergent, Veronica Roth

[amazon_image id=”0062024027″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” class=”alignleft”]Divergent[/amazon_image]Veronica Roth’s novel [amazon_link id=”0062024027″ target=”_blank” ]Divergent[/amazon_link] is the story of Beatrice Prior, who lives in a future dystopic Chicago. After a cataclysmic war that Beatrice, the first-person narrator of the story, doesn’t know much about, Chicago divided into five factions: Abnegation, who believe that the cause of war is selfishness and seek to be as selfless as possible; Dauntless, who believe the cause of war is cowardice and seek to be as brave as possible; Erudite, who believe the cause of war is ignorance and seek knowledge; Candor, who believe the cause of war is deception and seek to be as honest as possible; and Amity, who believe the cause of war is unkindness and seek to be as kind as possible. At the age of sixteen, each member of this society takes an aptitude test that partly determines which faction they will join. Some people are best suited for the faction into which they are born, but those who are not leave their families behind because in this society, faction comes before family. Beatrice has always felt out of place in Abnegation. She doesn’t feel selfless enough. When she takes her aptitude test, the results are inconclusive, and her test administrator explains that she is something called “Divergent,” which is a very dangerous thing to be, though Beatrice doesn’t know why. All she knows is that she must keep her test results quiet. The day after the aptitude test, Beatrice must choose which faction she will join, and she shocks everyone by choosing Dauntless.

After joining Dauntless, Tris, as she is known, undergoes a tough initiation that hardens her mentally and physically and prepares her for her role in the faction that protects the society. Even in this competitive environment, she manages to make friends and develops an attraction to Four, her instructor. As she becomes more deeply involved in her initiation, she discovers something is not right about her society, which is perhaps not as invested in peace as she has grown up believing.

Fans of Suzanne Collins’s [amazon_link id=”0545265355″ target=”_blank” ]Hunger Games[/amazon_link] series will find much to like in Divergent, the first book of a planned trilogy. Tris is a tough-as-nails heroine not too different from Katniss, though with perhaps a little less confidence. Four is an interesting counterpart and love interest, too (more interesting than Peeta or Gale, in my opinion). The craziness of the Dauntless initiation will remind some of the Hunger Games, and certainly the dystopic future set in a world where people divided based on some arbitrary factor will look familiar, but the factions are more interesting than the districts of Panem. Your station in life in Panem depends so much on which district you are born into, and it seems fairly difficult to change your stars in Collins’s series, but choices determine everything about who you are in Roth’s dystopic Chicago, which I liked because it puts more responsibility into the hands of everyone. Rather than a ruthless Capitol victimizing everyone, Roth writes about a society in which everyone is responsible, to some degree, for the way things are, and are also ignorant of some facets of the society. I haven’t seen a lot of people compare this novel to [amazon_link id=”0547424779″ target=”_blank” ]The Giver[/amazon_link], but I thought of that book often as I read. In Lois Lowry’s novel, the society seems perfect, but Jonas discovers that they systematically execute those who are weak or ill or old. Feelings are suppressed. No one can see color. The weight of discovering what his society is drives him to escape, an event which might destroy his society, given that he has been chosen to the the society’s Receiver. I suspect something similar will happen with Tris. I can’t help but feel she’ll upend the whole society. Unlike Katniss, who knows her society is corrupt and unfair, both Jonas and Tris discover the darkness in their society when they both come of age and choose their role or have it chosen for them.

Divergent is a gripping, edge-of-your-seat read. I read it on the bus, which was a mistake because it nearly caused me to miss my stop several times and actually did cause me to miss my stop once. I can’t wait to read the next book in the series, [amazon_link id=”0062024043″ target=”_blank” ]Insurgent[/amazon_link], which is due out in May. The book leaves open several questions that I hope I learn the answers to before the end of the trilogy:

  • How did the society get like this? Lake Michigan is nothing more than a marsh. I want to know how that happened.
  • What is going on outside of Chicago? Are they the only people in the world, or just cut off from everywhere else?
  • If there are other people, do they have factions too, or is that just Chicago? If it’s just Chicago, what the heck is going on there?

I have other questions, but they’re a little spoilery.

I love dystopian novels. So much fun to read, and with the success of The Hunger Games, it looks like we’ve been seeing a lot of them lately.

I was glad I recently visited Chicago as it helped me visualize the scene much better than if I hadn’t, but I suspect Google Images and a good map would be nearly as helpful.

Oh, and I’m totally jealous of Veronica Roth, who wrote this debut novel when she was only 22 and studying creative writing at Northwestern.

Rating: ★★★★★

Other reviews of Divergent:

This one’s been on my TBR pile for a little while and qualifies as the children’s/YA choice for the Mixing it Up Challenge. Actually, it qualifies for sci-fi/fantasy, but I can’t double-dip.


Historical Fiction Challenge 2012

2012 Reading Challenges

I love reading challenges! Here are some 2012 reading challenges I’ve found and decided to try. I probably will add a few more, and once the calendar flips over to January, you’ll find permanent links to these challenges in the sidebar where all the 2011 ones are right now. What I need to be better about this year is actually participating on the blog challenge sites themselves—posting links to my reviews, and the like.

Historical Fiction Challenge 2012

I participated in the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2011, and it was easily one of my favorite and most successful reading challenges of the year, so I wouldn’t want to miss it again. I’m going for the Severe Bookaholism level of 20 books. Sign up here.

Where Are You Reading 2012 Challenge

The Where Are You Reading Challenge is another challenge I also did in 2011 and thoroughly enjoyed. You can see my Google Map here. I’ll post it again later in the month in my recap post. Sign up here.

Mixing it Up Challenge

I’m kind of excited about the Mixing it Up Challenge. The idea is to branch out and try books in different genres:

  1. Classics
  2. Biography
  3. Cookery, Food, and Wine
  4. History
  5. Modern Fiction
  6. Graphic Novels and Manga
  7. Crime and Mystery
  8. Horror
  9. Romance
  10. Science Fiction and Fantasy
  11. Travel
  12. Poetry and Drama
  13. Journalism and Humor
  14. Science and Natural History
  15. Children’s and Young Adult
  16. Social Sciences and Philosophy

I’m going for the “All the Trimmings and a Cherry on Top” level of participation at one book in each genre. Not sure what I’ll read yet, but I have a few ideas for some of the categories. Sign up here.

Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2012

As soon as I described this one to my husband, he said I needed to sign up for it. I do have a small TBR mountain leaning against the wall on my side of the bed. Steve would be glad if I could plow through some of it. I’m not too insane, so I’m going for Pike’s Peak (plus, I’ve been there because it’s in my home state of Colorado), which requires me to read 12 books from my TBR pile. I’m not sure which ones I’ll read yet, but as I said, I have a huge stack, and I also have a lot of unread Kindle books. Sign up here.

Why Buy the Cow? Reading Challenge

How absolutely adorable is that button? This challenge asks participants to read free e-books. For the purposes of this challenge, ARC’s, library books, or books I’ve won can’t be counted. The books must be free, legally downloaded books. FYI NetGalley users, it looks like NetGalley books are counted as ARC’s for the purposes of this challenge, so they’re out, too. I’m going for the Coupon Clipper level of 12 books. Sign up here.

Outlander Series Reading Challenge 2012

I have actually only read the first four books of Diana Gabaldon’s [amazon_link id=”0440423201″ target=”_blank” ]Outlander[/amazon_link] Series. I just recently downloaded all of the audio books with Audible credits I had saved up, so this challenge seems like a good incentive to actually listen to the books and actually catch up with the series. Sign up here.

You know of any other great challenges I should check out? Naturally, I’ll be doing the Once Upon a Time Challenge and the R.I.P. Challenge that Carl hosts once he announces them later.