Sunday, December 27, 2009

Let It Snow by John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle

Happy holidays, everyone! As it is the lovely and magical holiday season, I figured now was the perfect time to fill my brain with holiday romances and read a book by the fire. I’ve been so excited to read this book for such a long time because I got to read a story by my favorite author, John Green. Before we talk about this book, I must insist that if you haven’t read any of Green’s books, GO READ THEM NOW! He is a masterful writer and deserves to be read over and over again. Anyway, back to the book in question. The book contains three holiday themed stories all taking place in the same town that become interconnected with one another.

Now, even though I’m a very romantic person I’ve never been one for stupid teenage romances. I’d take Pride and Prejudice over One Tree Hill or Gossip Girl any day. My one fear with reading this book was that the romances would revolve around petty teenagers who were stupid and lame. But then I remembered, I was about to read a story by John Green, who’s characters are anything but petty and one dimensional. If he was willing to see his name on a book alongside these two other authors, they must be good!

So I began. The first story was from Maureen Johnson. Even though I’m familiar with her name because I’ve heard it on John Green’s vlog, I’m sad to say that I haven’t read her books (sorry Nerdfighters, I’ll do that very very soon!) The first character introduced to me was named Jubilee and Maureen wrote this:

“I realize Jubilee is a bit of a stripper name. You probably think I have heard the call of the pole. But no. If you saw me, you’d get the idea pretty quickly that I’m not a stripper (I think). I have a little black bob. I wear glasses half the time, and contacts the other half. I’m sixteen, I sing in a choir, I attend Mathletes events. I play field hockey, which lacks the undulating, baby-oiled grace that is the stripper’s stock and trade. (I have no problem with strippers, in case any strippers are reading this. I’m just not one. My major concern, stripage-wise, is the latex. I think latex is probably bad for your skin because it doesn’t allow it to breathe.)”

After reading that, I knew I found a friend in Maureen Johnson. Through the rest of her story, her characters were funny, relatable and her kiss was written wonderfully, I was jealous to be reading it instead of experiencing it! I’m ashamed that I haven’t written more of Johnson’s other books because reading her writing is like talking with my best friend, it’s natural, easy, and funny. Her story left me hungry for more!

Next came John Green’s story A Cheertastic Christmas Miracle. I was upset about a story centering on cheerleaders but I trusted John Green and I wasn’t disappointed. His characters were as original and realistic as always and once again, he nailed it with his descriptions of relationships. Reading his work just makes me happy and it makes me feel understood. He doesn’t see teenagers as the stereotypical group that most adults do, he sees them as people. He writes to intelligent teenagers, not dumb ones (Nerdfighters, hoo haa!!)

The last story in the book was from Lauren Myracle. I have read a book of hers before but it was a very long time ago. I can say that this was my least favorite story. I didn’t like the writing of this one at all. The main character, Addie, was all together too whiney for my taste. I hated the writing of the entire story. I don’t know if it was Myracle’s style that I didn’t like or if I just hated the characters but I didn’t find myself enjoying this story like I felt I should. What I did enjoy was the fact that Addie worked in a Starbucks. Every Starbucks joke hit home with me and that part was very funny and very realistic. Starbucks workers unite!

This is such a fun book and I definitely recommend it! The kisses are truly delightful to read about and I do feel instilled with a sense of holiday cheer! It’s a good book to pass the time with.

Until next time, happy reading! Send me your book recommendations if you have them, I’d be happy to check them out and review them all! Leave any comments below! I’d love to hear them!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A Note on Charles Dickens (for Mr. Thompson... more book reviews soon)

Hello dear little Honors English students! My name is Emma Phelps and I was in Honors English with Mr. Thompson back when I was in the ninth grade. If you look around the old forum pages, you’ll see me under the name of Londonchick (don’t even worry, I was a weirdy in ninth grade. I’m still just as nerdy, I’ve just toned down my obsessions)

As I understand it, Mr. Thompson is going to have you read a book by Charles Dickens in the upcoming term. He gave me the assignment to either a. make reading Dickens less agonizing for you or b. convince him to skip Dickens and make you read something else.

When I approached this lofty assignment, I at first wasn’t sure which of these I was going to attempt to do. I went back and reread some of what I once wrote in response to Dickens, read a few Dickens passages, and got over my fear of disappointing Mr. Thompson by discouraging his assignment. After a lot of contemplation, I have decided to support the reading of Dickens. Sorry everyone, but just go with me for a second.

So on this blog, I review the books I read. I’m an English nut and I’m very opinionated and I can’t function unless I share my opinions and feelings; typical girl, right? Just kidding. If you scroll down a bit, you can see my review of the book A Christmas Carol by Dickens. If you are too lazy, here is one of my first sentences:

“After a terrible introduction to Charles Dickens via Great Expectations in the ninth grade, I had sworn to hate Dickens for time and all eternity.”

Ok, probably not the best way to start this assignment of making Dickens less of a hassle. This is a very discouraging sentence, but stick with me a bit longer and it will all come together. In the rest of my blog, I continue my review. And after a long time of procrastination and tears, I started the book and loved every second of it.

Now, I did deplore reading Great Expectations and I didn’t read A Tale of Two Cities (yet) so you can’t call me out on either of those. I know what you guys think like and I know you will try to continue hating this assignment if I can’t convince you to give it a chance. I understand that A Christmas Carol is a lot shorter than either of the aforementioned books and I know we all have heard the plot of A Christmas Carol a million and three times. But as a great English teacher once told me, “You cannot separate a great work of fiction from its author.” The same is true for Dickens. Each of the novels he wrote were, in some form, similar to his others. If you can handle one, the other will be within your grasp too.

Here are my tips on Dickens. I’m no expert but I do know a bit more than you, no offense.

First, you need to give him a chance!!!! Have you ever noticed that after you read a really good book, it’s really hard to get into another book because you are so attached to the other characters and the other story? Dickens is like that. It takes more than five seconds to get into his books. I raided some of the forums and gathered a few quotes.

“Every time I pick up the book and read it for 30 seconds I get bored and sleepy and skip most of the words. I'm on chapter 5 and i hope i can finish it by midterm.”

We have all felt this way, I know that and so do you. But you need to know that it’s ok to feel that way for the first bit. Most books follow that sort of pattern; the beginning is mostly used as a set up for the rest of the book. We have to be told the intricate details of the storyline before we can fully appreciate the plot of the book.

Details. This brings us to our next point. Dickens is a nut for details. Another student said:

“This book makes me fall asleep! I think Charles Dickens is a bad author who is much liked by people who love exccesive amounts of detail!”

Not only did this student spell excessive wrong, but he’s being narrow minded. I hate to admit it, but I had this exact same attitude when I first read Dickens in the ninth grade. The detail Dickens uses is a bit excessive but you have to look at his writing from two different perspectives: the perspective of an author and the perspective of a performer.

Dickens wrote his books so they could be read out loud. Every year he read his Christmas Carol out loud to an audience in his town. Look at Dickens not as a reader. As an author, he cares about giving the reader the best picture he possibly could, something we should thank him for. I quote myself from an earlier blog:

“When I first read Dickens, his over description threw me for a loop. I thought it was too much, it was forced, and it made his reading drag very much. Now after hearing it come out of my own mouth, I’ve discovered that he wrote just as he spoke. When you tell a person about something you care about, you leave nothing to their imagination. Dickens cares so much for his characters and his stories that he can’t leave anything out and I thank him for that. He gives the readers an image that will not soon be erased from their minds.”

He wrote for a generation that didn’t have Google for something they didn’t know or a TV they could turn to when they were bored. They didn’t know what some of the things that he talked about were so he had to describe them. People in his time period thirsted for the latest installment of a story by Dickens. They would wait for so long and as soon as a new chapter was slapped into their hands, they raced home to read it. Not only did they read it to themselves, they read it to their families. Literacy wasn’t big in this time, or at least as big as it would become. So, the educated few of the towns took the liberty to read the story to everyone else. That way, not only could the reader enjoy it more but so could the audience. Read Dickens out loud.

Think about a movie or a play you have seen recently. Would you prefer to see it performed or read the script? Think about Dickens’ novels as scripts. If you are dedicated and willing enough, your mind can become the stage. Mr. Thompson on our forum said:

“Dickens demands your complete attention, so this is a very different sort of reading than most of you are accustomed to. You can't read Dickens while you are watching TV or listening to the stereo; your full attention must be on the words. Also, you have to set aside significant amounts of time for reading -- I recommend at least half an hour at a stretch, more if possible. It is very difficult to keep all the plots and subplots together in your head if you try to read the book in 70 ten-minute sessions; it is better to shoot for ten 70-minute sessions.”

You need to concentrate on his novels. His words are different than ours but if you let yourself sit back in time and be in the graveyards along with Pip or in the middle of the city in A Tale of Two Cities, it will be easier.

“And it takes a lot of concentration to read a classic like Dickens. I don't think a lot of modern readers are willing to give the book the proper amount of time and effort that it needs.” BE WILLING!!!! You are not the average reader.

“I think that reading this book is harder because they say things in a different way than we would. Kind of like Shakespeare but not quiet to that extent. Also, I think that it's because we don't seem to have very long attention spans nowadays. In the world today we seem to want to have everything fast and easy( fast food, high speed internet, cable) so when we have to read something like a classic novel, due to the time and effort needed to make sence of the story, it seems to make us think that it is impossible and can't be done.”

Get over the fact that Dickens doesn’t speak like you do. You are getting older, books and school and life for that matter are getting harder; you have got to accept this. The faster you accept it, the easier life is, trust me. During your reading of this book, don’t be surprised when you come across words you don’t know. This book will require more attention from you and more work. My recommendation, sit with a dictionary when you read this book. As soon as you see a word you don’t know, mark it with a post it note, grab a piece of paper, write it down, and LOOK IT UP! This will make reading take longer but when it comes time to take a test on this book or write an essay about it, it will pay off that you know what everything you read actually meant.

“When I first started, it was horrible! Now I understand it a lot better.”

This is delightful and so true. After all of your hard work reading this novel, be sure and have fun with it. People in Dickens day were entertained by it and believe me, people haven’t changed much. What Dickens writes about how people feel is still true today; that’s why Shakespeare is still popular, his characters are relatable. Give it time and take it slow.

To sum up this ramble, here are my tips for success with Dickens:

1. Give Dickens a chance. Don’t write him off based on prior knowledge or thoughts about him or just by reading the first page.
2. Accept the excessive details.
3. Think like a writer and a performer.
4. When in doubt, READ DICKENS OUT LOUD!
5. Turn off the TV and concentrate.
6. Take the time to really read the book.
7. Sit with a dictionary right next to you. Mark up your book.
8. Give it time. BE WILLING!
9. Have fun!

Thanks for reading this and I hope you enjoyed it. Please give Dickens a chance and enjoy him! Happy reading and best wishes!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

So, I set out on another assignment from my AP English literature teacher, this time reading the play “The Importance of Being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde. My teacher said that we would love reading this play because it was so funny and written in a very understandable way. After reading this I can honestly say, I did not enjoy reading this play. I tried reading it out loud but nothing helped. When you hate characters, it becomes a chore to read about them. Now that the book is over however, I can discuss a few things that I did like about the book.

It was very funny to see the different way women and men are looked at in this book. The men, Algernon and Jack, view women as fickle and flighty and in a way, very stupid in comparison to men. When discussing their plans for marriages, they talk of planning to introduce the girls to each other. They say that they will be calling each other sister after only having met. Algernon remarks that “Women only do that when they have called each other a lot of other things first.” This did make me laugh because it is true. The best friends I have ever had, I started out hating. As I have heard, this is the case with most girls. Props to Wilde for picking up on that.

Lady Bracknell bugged me a lot, but she was funny. Every time any type of subject was mention, she objected in one way or another. She cared so much about appearing fashionable that everything was wrong. All in all, the characters in this book just frustrated me! There was no reason for any of them to be pissy but they spent the majority of their time that way which, in turn, made this book a chore for me to read. If anyone can clear this up for me, please let me know that I was reading this book wrong because I was just angry every time a character spoke.

What I did enjoy about this play was the many different meanings of the word earnest. The women in the play, for no reason, have vowed only to marry a man named Ernest. Earnest itself means having a serious and intent state of mind which, ironically, neither man has. Each man invents different lives for himself so that he may act in any way he chooses without dealing with consequences. When one of his fake lives begins to displease him, he only needs to kill off that life. At the end of the play when Jack states that he has finally realized the importance of being earnest, he has finally found what he wanted in life so he no longer needs to fake his life, he can be honest now.

Wow, my first negative review. I feel bad for not liking this play; I feel like I missed something. The characters just got on my nerves. Any help would be appreciated!

Until next time, happy reading! Send me your book recommendations if you have them, I’d be happy to check them out and review them all! Leave any comments below! I’d love to hear them!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

Alright I know, we’ve all read Harry Potter at least 400 times and seen the movie just as much. And I know that if I give this book a bad review, I’ll be automatically shunned by society. Believe me; I don’t plan to give this book a bad review.

So, if you’ve been living under a rock for the past decade and don’t know what Harry Potter is, first of all, my condolences, and second, the plot is pretty basic. 13 year old boy wizard Harry Potter is in his third year at Hogwarts (magic school, not to be confused with Pigfarts (haha nerd jokes)) and he is trying to avoid the escaped prisoner Sirius Black while living through normal teen wizard life. Still with me? Great!

Now, although I have read this book dozens of times, there are a few reasons why I keep reading it.

First of all, I personally feel that as a true fan, you have to reread the series every few years. I’m long overdue for a series reread. The general plan is to reread a Harry Potter book after I finish a few other books so they will be a bit spread out on here, which isn’t bad. We all need a few doses of Harry Potter every now and then. Since it’s been so long since I read these books, I’ve started to confuse what happens in them with things that happen in the movies. I’m glad that it’s all getting cleared up. Along those same lines, I’m noticing the things they have been leaving out in the movies and getting more and more upset. The information that seemed meaningless in the third book will end up being crucial in the seventh movie! Come on Hollywood directing types, pay closer attention!

Second, J.K. Rowling is a masterful writer. I’m glad I’m reading these books again as an older person so I can pick up an all the subtleties that she adds. Can you imagine how well she had to plan out her entire series before she even began writing her books? Throughout her books, she sprinkles little bits of foreshadowing here and there that don’t show up again until the seventh book. If you remember, in the third book, Professor Trelawney predicts the whole thing about the slave rejoining his master and helping him come back. Later in the book, Dumbledore remarks that that is the second correct prophecy that Trelawney has predicted. He is hinting at something that doesn’t become important until the 5th book! And even the littlest things that she writes about become main things or provide hints about events to come. The fact that she can keep all of those things straight is truly quite amazing.

Third, Harry Potter just makes me happy. Rowling has created such a relatable character that has faults and grew up along with the reader. The first book came out when my generation was eleven and we grew up with Harry. Rowling kept every year realistic by making the events match up to what her readers were experiencing. I couldn’t help but smile at the end of the book when Harry returned to the Dursley’s after his year at school to begin his summer vacation. As corny as this story could be, Rowling makes it so hopeful and alive. The happy endings that fill the books just make you love the characters and the story more.

As a Hogwarts hopeful that is still waiting for her acceptance letter, I can’t help but want to read Harry Potter. And after reading some pretty serious books recently, it was nice to fly back into my childhood with Harry. Now it’s back to real life and more serious reading!

Until next time, happy reading! Send me your book recommendations if you have them, I’d be happy to check them out and review them all! Leave any comments below! I’d love to hear them!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

In my AP English Literature class, we were assigned to read A Christmas Carol over Thanksgiving break. Believe me, I was the complete opposite of excited. After a terrible introduction to Charles Dickens via Great Expectations in the ninth grade, I had sworn to hate Dickens for time and all eternity. The book sat like a hideous demon on the stack of books on my bedside table, a weight on my brain that needed to be done. Finally, I picked the book up and began to read it, sort of. I flipped through the pages, just getting more and angrier about having to read it. To procrastinate even more, I read the back cover. On the back cover, I discovered that Dickens read this story publically every Christmas Eve. This gave me an idea; try reading Dickens out loud and just buck up and give him a second chance.

Here’s is what I learned; when you are in doubt about an author, READ THEIR WRITING OUT LOUD! Dickens is like Shakespeare, if you read it silently, it’s just a bunch of words with no feeling or meaning behind it. It was not written to be read silently, it was written to be shared with an audience. Now, I’m not going to lie, I read this book out loud with a British Accent. Am I embarrassed? Nope. I never would have been able to understand his writing approach without reading it out loud. I was automatically transported back to the mid eighteen hundreds and I watched the spirits visit Scrooge one by one and saw his transformation take place.

When I first read Dickens, his over description threw me for a loop. I thought it was too much, it was forced, and it made his reading drag very much. Now after hearing it come out of my own mouth, I’ve discovered that he wrote just as he spoke. When you tell a person about something you care about, you leave nothing to their imagination. Dickens cares so much for his characters and his stories that he can’t leave anything out and I thank him for that. He gives the readers an image that will not soon be erased from their minds.

His metaphors throughout the book are so brilliant and original. He describes Scrooge’s house as a house that “one could scarcely help fancying it must have run there when it was a young house, playing at hide-and-seek with other houses, and have forgotten the way out.” How brilliant is that personification? Can you not see that image perfectly? Mmmm… imagery is yummy.

So, I won’t lie, I was a bit creeped out when Marley’s ghost appeared. It’s a terrifying idea, having your house filled with usually lifeless bells and then suddenly chains rattling! Creeptastic, right?! But, I loved the humor that is thrown into the conversation Scrooge has with Marley. Scrooge takes the time, while terrified mind you, to speculate if a spirit can sit in a chair or not. Dickens is one funny dude.

‘Tis the Christmas season, which means it is the season for crappy holiday movies meant to warm your heart but, in truth, just make you gag because of all the special happy feelings. During the reading of this book, I wished more holiday movies took a creative approach while pounding you with moral values. Of course I am familiar with this story but I had forgotten about the two terrifying children hiding under the ghost of Christmas present’s cloak. Reading their description, I had to stop and take a minute to think about what Dickens is telling us. “Man’s Children,” symbolizing Ignorance and Want with Ignorance being pointed out as the sin Scrooge should most look out for has so much meaning to me personally as well as to all of us, I feel. I’ve always believed in the motto that ignorance is bliss. Recently though, I’ve gotten tired of holding back my feelings about everything in my life. I’ve become more direct and if I sense a problem, I have to know about it so I can clear it up. Ignorance is not bliss because in the end, ignorance leaves you all alone.

All in all, I’m so glad I gave dear Charles another chance. Now when I have to read Great Expectations again, I will hopefully appreciate it. Thanks for this assignment Mrs. Hansen!

Until next time, happy reading! Send me your book recommendations if you have them, I’d be happy to check them out and review them all! Leave any comments below! I’d love to hear them!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Laramie Project by Moises Kaufman

This week I finished reading The Laramie Project by Moises Kaufman and all I can say is wow. This play left me so stunned and enthralled that the thought of starting a new book completely fell away; I just can’t leave this story yet! I’m the type of person that if I fall in love with a story or a piece of history, I have to spend the next six hours of my life googling it and getting every last drop of information I can about it. And so here I am, sitting at my computer, researching the death of Matthew Shepard.

If you don’t know what this play is about let me fill you in a bit. Led by Moises Kaufman, members of Tetonic Theater Company went to the town of Laramie, Wyoming after the brutal murder of a young gay man. There, they conducted interviews with people in the town. These interviews range from friends of the accused, the police officer called to the scene of the murder, to students at the local University. Through these accounts, Matthew Shepard’s murder is told from voices we wouldn’t typically hear from. By doing this, the reader sees so many different opinions on the attack and its aftermath.

Now, whether or not you are pro gay rights or anti gay rights, this is definitely a book I would recommend to you. During my entire time reading this book, I never felt preached at or anything of the sort. The members of the Tectonic Theater Project really took the words of Father Roger Schmit to heart and “do your best to say it correct.” They didn’t alter what the people of this town said at all so you as a reader are exposed to literally every viewpoint possible. You hear from locals who are active in the gay community, locals who don’t support that lifestyle, various religious leaders with different thoughts, and people who just saw the whole terrible incident happen. The writers of the play are holding back no information and no opinion is too harsh from this play. Even with the spirit of togetherness that the gay community felt after the murder, there was of course backlash, and we are lucky enough to see both sides.

Throughout the play, a noticeable unique quality about the script is the lack of scenes. Instead of an act being filled with scenes, the acts are filled with moments and they are listed as such. In my theater classes lately, my teacher has stressed the use of moments and their importance in our daily lives. A big theme in this play is that of destiny and reasons why things happen. The character Aaron Kreifels spends the majority of the play questioning why he was meant to find Matthew on the fence while he was out riding his bike. Without these specific moments in our lives, we wouldn’t be who we are. Personally, one of my favorite moments is Act III Moment: Dennis Shepard’s Statement. The thoughts from Matt’s father literally rip at my heart because of how he goes about speaking to the murderer of his son with such grace and elegance. The entire play is filled with this sort of delicacy and beauty while still managing to get a point across about this hideous crime.

While reading this, I never felt as if I was being bombarded by drama or dramatic scenes. They playwright took a lot of care to not overwhelm the reader with too much intensity. Because of that, it was easier to keep my attention on the book because I never felt like what I was reading was too much to handle. Because the script is truly just real people talking, it felt as if I was sitting there talking with them, not seeing a play being put on in my head.

Overall, my attention and my heart were captured by this play. It was a very fast and easy read because I couldn’t manage to put it down. Anyone studying theater should read this play because of the unique approach it takes to staging and characterization. Anyone who enjoys watching the news or enjoys thinking outside of the box should read this play because of the different views you are allowed to see. I recommend this book to one and all!

Until next time, happy reading! Send me your book recommendations if you have them, I’d be happy to check them out and review them all!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

New and Improved. Welcome!

Hello there! Welcome to my blog! Here I plan on reviewing the books I read and giving my opinions on all of the books in this world. If you have book recommendations let me know, I always need more to read! I'll try to update as much as I can, depending on how much I read (let's hope it's a lot!). Thanks for checking it out!