Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Water Wars

The Water Wars by Cameron Stracher

This is another young adult novel. The setting is the US in the future stretching from the mid-west up to the Canadian border and over to the Eastern sea-board. The polar ice caps have melted, aquifers have been poisoned by man or seawater and fresh water is at a premium.

The very few control the water and who gets it. The general public is kept in a sort of slave state by being fed a steady diet of propaganda and bad water that keeps them alive for a time but kills them before they grow old.

A young girl meets a boy who doesn't seem to believe in the propaganda. He doesn't have to go to school and learn about weather, water and the war over the water. He is rich. He has a gasoline powered car and body guards and fresh, clean water - lots of it.

The girl and her brother become friends with this strange boy. When he disappears, they decide they must rescue him. They head out on a great adventure full of danger as well as knowledge of the truth of the world and who controls it and how.

This was a pretty good book although the environmental message felt like it was being crammed down my throat. I keep looking for a book that gives us that great environmental message without feeling like it's so obvious. Being young adult fiction, the heroes are inevitably teen-agers. This time, at least, they are aided by a couple of unlikely adults along the way.

Perhaps it's because I have been reading so many books that are part of a series, but this book (as well as other non-series books) have felt like they ended a little too quickly and neatly. It's the feeling I get with some foreign films where it just ends and you think "they must have run out of money and decided to just end it there." It felt like the author said, "I'm almost out of paper and I don't want to have to run to the store for more so I'll just wrap it up in the next 10 pages."

City of Shadows

City of Shadows by Ariana Franklin

This is a historical novel that begins in 1920 Berlin. It tells the story of a Russian Jewess who immigrated after being attacked in the Pogroms in Russia. It also tells the tale of last Czar and his family and their fate. It tells about the rise of a young politician in Germany named Hitler and how he helped to save the Germans from the poverty and starvation that followed World War I. It tells the story of an ordinary German who turned out to be an extraordinary man.

I really enjoyed this book. Ariana Franklin does a great job weaving a fictional story with factual people. She has done a great job of it with her Mistress of the Art of Death series and continues with this book.

If you are interested in reading more about that time in history, I recommend this book. It gives a good and grim account of life in Germany during that era and the hope that was brought with the rise of the Nazi party, for some. It also makes it easy to see how taking the easy road with one's government can be turning your back on what is right and true.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Girl of Fire and Thorns

The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

This is another selection of young adult fiction. It's possible that there will be a second book but, unlike most young adult fiction these days, it's not obviously set up to be a whole series.

This was about a 16 year old princess who was fat and considered herself to be pretty useless (and she was at first). On her 16th birthday, she is married to the King of the country next to hers and she has no idea why and didn't see him until he lifter her veil after the "I do's" of the wedding ceremony were over.

Elisa is one of those teenage girls in books that drive me crazy. She is clueless about what is going on around her and she doesn't really care at first. Admittedly some of her ignorance is purposeful because of her countries religious beliefs. But she really doesn't start pressing for more information and asserting herself until it is almost too late.

Elisa is a bearer. This means, on her naming day, a beam of sunlight shone on her and a blue jewel was embeded, by God, in her navel. The jewel is alive and warm and pulsing. It pulses more and heats up when she prays. Elisa is supposed to do something great but she has no clue as to what it will be or when the opportunity will arise.

Elisa figures it all out just in the nick of time, of course and disaster is averted. I felt like the author could have done just a little bit more in developing the background of the religion in the book. Everyone seems to be driven by their religious beliefs but I really didn't feel like there was enough depth in the explanations.

This book was okay but even if there is a sequel, I don't think I'll be reading it.

Blood on the Tracks

Blood on the Tracks by Cecilia Holland

This was a Kindle single so I have no idea if it is available in publication anywhere else.

This was a short novella about the Great Uprising that took place in 1877. This was a protest of the railroad workers and the general public against the owners of the railroad and, most specifically, their reduction of wages by 10% as well as increasing the workload of the brakemen by making most freight lines double headers (twice the cars as normal with no extra staff).

There were quite a few parallels with regards to the state of the economy in 1877 and the current economy in 2011. Also, the seeming disregard for the rights and well-being of the workers by the corporate heads seems about the same.

This was a quick and interesting read about a situation in our history that I had never heard of before.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Book Thief

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

I could say that this book made me cry. That wouldn't be quite accurate. The last 30 minutes of reading, I was sobbing. The words were literally swimming through my tears. Maybe I just don't cry enough in life and then I am inundated by the un-felled tears in the few times that something strikes me simultaneously so beautiful and so sad at the same time.

This book is the story of a young girl living in Germany. It takes place during the years just before World War II and the early years of the war itself. It is the tale of a young girl who is just living a young girl's life during that time. The story is of her life with her foster parents. It begins with her mother and brother and they are traveling on a train toward her new foster home. This young girl becomes the book thief.

The narrator of the story is death. The story without this narrator would be a good one. With the perspective offered by the narrator, it becomes a great story. Death often offers tidbits of information regarding his role in a certain city at a certain time. Death offers commentary on the Fuhrer and his minions. Death's perspective of the fate and ultimate death of humans is one of detachment and offers beauty and brutality together.

The visuals in the book are wonderful. People and the weather are described in ways that are easy to imagine in my mind. The author is not verbose using excessive adjectives. Rather, he describes people and the weather just as a young girl, the book thief, would describe them. It is childlike but effective and lovely.

After this book, I think I need to take a book break for a bit. This is one of those books that needs to simmer for a day or so before I can start something new. I highly recommend this book.

P.S. I just had an awful thought. I was thinking that someone out there will think that this would make a great movie. It won't. The movie industry will not be able to pull it off. Please don't make a movie of this book, you will not be able to do it justice and the movie will suck.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Hangman's Daughter

The Hangman's Daughter by Oliver Potzsch

This is a Historical Novel based on a family of ancestors of the authors'. The Kuisls were one of Bavaria's leading dynasties of executioners. Potzsch has done research on the history of his family, the practices of executioners during the 1600's and specifically the history in Schongau where his ancestors lived and worked.

This is a good mystery story in itself but also a really fascinating look at life in a small Bavarian town during that time. The ignorance and "witch hysteria" that existed then made my skin crawl. The idea that the patricians of the town would prefer to burn an innocent woman to placate the public rather than investigating the truth was infuriating but not surprising.

So much regarding the social mores of this era makes my blood boil but it is great to be reminded of how many freedoms we truly enjoy.

I highly recommend this book.

Clockwork Angel

Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

This is book 1 of the Infernal Devices series which is a prequel to the Mortal Instruments series.

Set about 100 years ago, we have the same types of characters (some are the same). There are ShadowHunters, vampires, warlocks and demons. The story seems more intense than the Mortal Instruments books though.

Even though the main characters are underage ShadowHunters (same) and there is the beginnings of a teen romance (same), it seems more intense because technology of the world is not the same and so the heroes seem more endangered.

The next book to be published within the two series is the second book of the Infernal Devices series. I'll be reading that and then contemplate the next Mortal Instruments book that is scheduled to be available this next spring.

City of Fallen Angels

City of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare

This is book 4 of the Mortal Instruments series.

When reading these books I am reminded of how frustrating teenagers are. I think back to myself during my teen years and compare my non-communicative self to the non-communicative characters and realize Clare has accurately depicted teenagers.

The harrowing saga continues and Clary and Jace still can't seem to just say what they think and/or feel. Neither can any of the other teen characters. Again, the adults are practically non-existent in the adventures. I have to think that if my child had been in such harrowing and life-threatening situations, I would keep a tighter rein for awhile but that just isn't conducive to the plot.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

City of Wind

City of Wind by Pierdomenico Baccalario

This is Book 3 in the Century series. Book 4 has been written in Italian but doesn't appear to have been translated into English as yet.

The adventure continues with our 4 teen-agers who must save the world without knowing that is what they are doing. The enemies continue to pile up but surprising friends appear and one enemy turns friend. The children begin to confide in their parents' in order to get their help as well as continue to enjoy the freedoms needed to complete their tasks.

I am enjoying this series in part because each book is set in a different city (this time Paris) and a great deal of ancient history is incorporated.

My Antonia

My Antonia by Willa Cather

This book won the Pulitzer Prize in 1918. It is an easy read and has lovely language, to boot.

This is the story of a young immigrant, Antonia, as told by a young man who moved to Nebraska to live with his grandparents the same day Antonia and her family moved there. They grew up together and made an impact on each others' lives.

They way the story is written, you really get the feel that this young man is telling you the story of his youth, most specifically his life with regards to Antonia. It is a nice story and doesn't really feel old fashioned in it's language so it is easy to read.