Thursday, August 9, 2018

THE JULIAN CHAPTER: A WONDER STORY by R. J. Palacio

On Goodreads
Le Blurb:

Over 1 million people have read Wonder and have fallen in love with Auggie Pullman, an ordinary boy with an extraordinary face. Now readers will have a chance to hear from the book's most controversial character—Julian. 

From the very first day Auggie and Julian met in the pages of the #1 New York Times bestseller Wonder, it was clear they were never going to be friends, with Julian treating Auggie like he had the plague. And while Wonder told Auggie's story through six different viewpoints, Julian's perspective was never shared. Readers could only guess what he was thinking.

Until now. The Julian Chapter will finally reveal the bully's side of the story. Why is Julian so unkind to Auggie? And does he have a chance for redemption?

Le Afterglow:

You've probably heard all the rave reviews for WONDER by R.J. Palacio. So had I. I'd seen YouTube videos by parents of children with Auggie's condition talking about how important the book and movie are. And I'd seen friends on Facebook sharing what it meant to them.

When the movie came out, we watched it in the theatres and then I knew I had to read WONDER the book. We chose to listen to it as a family on Audible, and I'm so glad we did. It was engaging for both of my oldest kids (11 and 8), and I know it made an impact on the kind of people they will choose to be.

So when I saw "The Julian Chapter" on Audible at a steal, I decided I had to check that out, too. I began listening to it while sorting the laundry, expecting a chapter or two from the perspective of Julian, the main bully in the WONDER story. Much to my surprise, I had finished all the laundry and the story kept going.

It turned out to be a complete book, not a chapter!

This was a very happy surprise because, frankly, I couldn't get enough of the compelling characters and well-crafted narrative. I listened to THE JULIAN CHAPTER all day long and, while I had been skeptical that anything would make me like Julian the bully, I was in tears by the end of it. Without spoilers, it's pretty much impossible to tell you how R.J. Palacio managed to make this mean little boy into someone you would root for. Suffice it to say that she did, and she did it beautifully! I will definitely read this one with my kids over and over again, for the empathy it builds and the true stories to which it pays homage.

We own WONDER in hardback and I love that story, too. But there is something special about THE JULIAN CHAPTER. There's something special about the way it sheds light in the darkness, about the hope for redemption, and about the forgiveness that is so central to its theme. Of course, without first knowing Auggie's story, we wouldn't care much about Julian, so I do recommend you read that wonderful book WONDER first. Then read THE JULIAN CHAPTER. And get out your tissues!



Sunday, July 8, 2018

Gifted Hands by Ben Carson


Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story

From the first time I saw the movie based on Ben Carson's life, I wanted to learn more about this man and the amazing transition he went through, from a kid from the ghetto's of Detroit to one of the most famous neurosurgeon's in the United States.  This book is filled with amazing stories that not only turned Dr. Carson into the man he is today, but also into a man of God.  Starting from when he was a kid in school with a massive temper problem to performing unheard of surgeries, Dr. Carson could see the hand of God in everything that he did.  This book lists just a few of what I'm sure represent the many times where Divine Providence has shone down on this man to guide him in the ways he should go.

The blurb

Dr. Ben Carson is known around the world for breakthroughs in neurosurgery that have brought hope where no hope existed.  In Gifted Hands, he tells of his inspiring odyssey from his childhood in inner-city Detroit to his position as director of pediatric neurosurgery at John Hopkins Medical Institutions at age thirty-three.  Taking you into the operating room where he has saved countless lives, Ben Carson is a role model for anyone who attempts the seemingly impossible.  Filled with fascinating case histories, this bestselling book tells the dramatic and intimate story of Ben Carson's struggle to beat the odds - and of the faith and genius that make him one of today's greater life-givers.

The afterglow

I loved the aspects of Dr. Carson's life that he spends so much time talking about.  First, the parts about how much his mother invested in her children.  Even though she herself didn't have much education, she did what she could to make sure her children were learning and smart, even if that meant the heartache of only letting her children watch three television shows per week.  But because of this, her boys grew to love learning and became very successful in their lives. Second, Dr. Carson spent much of his adult life leaning on God to get him through the hard times.  It all started when he was a young boy with a temper problem, and continued to when he was in college wondering if he would ever be good enough to become a doctor, to trying to figure out the best way to perform a surgery to save a young child's life.  This is an amazing story of his life, his trials and how we can all get through these trials if we know whom to depend on.




 

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Double Review: ROMANCING DAPHNE & FOR ELISE by Sarah M. Eden


Once upon a time, I had the pleasure of attending the writers conference LDSStorymakers and meeting a few real-life literary heroes and heroines, aka prolific authors. One of those I have never been able to forget was the witty and charming Sarah M. Eden. She gave a riveting presentation about writing romance a la Pride & Prejudice, and ever since then, I have meant to check out her recency romances for myself. Because clearly, here was a woman who understood romance and the psychology of relationships. Every time I have passed her books on display at my local library, I have wanted to get one, but for the past few years, books on education theory took precedent over books I desperately wanted to read! So I told myself to wait and someday I would sit down and curl up with a Sarah Eden book. Last week I was at the library and decided our January family screen fast was the perfect opportunity for me to kick start 2018 by reading for fun! I read FOR ELISE and ROMANCING DAPHNE on January 1st and January 2nd, and they absolutely warrant an Afterglow Review. 

ROMANCING DAPHNE by Sarah M. Eden
The blurb: 
As her first London Season looms before her, the thought of the impending social whirl fills Daphne Lancaster's timid heart with dread. She hasn't her sisters beauty nor their talent for conversing easily. Even her family's enviable connections may not be enough to prevent disaster.

But Daphne's misery turns to surprised delight when the first event of her Season brings an unexpected visitor to her door—James Tilburn, whose tender kindness stole her heart in her youth. When the handsome young gentleman expresses his desire to court her, Daphne is elated. Their feelings for each other quickly grow, and it appears that, much to Daphne s disbelief, her happily ever after is within reach.

Yet nothing is as it seems. The couple finds themselves caught in a tangled web of greed and deceit, leaving James and Daphne to determine whether they are willing to risk everything for true love.

The Afterglow: I laughed at the near-constant wit and sarcasm displayed by all my favorite characters, and relished the mushy love stuff that was obviously left over from Books 1 and 2 of the Lancaster Family series. I absolutely love that there are more books involving these characters for me to love. And this book has made me even more excited to read Seeking Persephone and Courting Miss Lancaster. Daphne is a heroine most readers will readily relate to, introverted and sharp as a tack, self-deprecating but brave and compassionate. Sarah Eden weaves a beautiful story about the uncertainty and humiliation of dating, excuse me -- courting -- during a London Season. But it's also about the family dynamics, power plays, and economic factors that controlled everything but our hero's and heroine's hearts. I found myself rooting for this couple from the beginning, and hoping despite the odds stacked up against them, that they would finally follow their hearts. One of the notes I took from Sarah Eden' s LDSStorymakers presentation was to create romantic leads who fulfill something in the other person which is desperately lacking, to fill the holes and the weaknesses with the other person. Sarah M. Eden does this masterfully in ROMANCING DAPHNE. I read it in a day and felt a little sad to say goodbye to these enchanting characters. 
I can recommend Sarah M. Eden's regency romances to everyone! They hearken back to the style of Jane Austen, and any impropriety is implied rather than explicit. Read with confidence, young and old.



FOR ELISE by Sarah M. Eden
The blurb: 
They were inseparable in their youth, the very best of friends, two halves of a whole. For four years, Miles Linwood, the Marquess of Grenton, has felt incomplete without her. When a carriage breakdown leaves him temporarily stranded in a tiny town, Miles makes an unexpected discovery that will alter the course of his life, and rewrite the pages of his past.

The Afterglow: 
With possibly the most meaningful meet-cute of all literary time, For Elise is a story that shows powerfully the impact of a single moment's decision, and the ripples that go out from that decision. Elise is a broken character, suffering from post traumatic stress and convinced of the necessity of her own exile. Miles is a philanthropic marquess with a troubled history that more than dovetails with Elise's past, but the trouble is neither of them has a perfect memory of what happened in the aftermath of a shared trauma. This device, using infallible memory and the hallmarks of trauma as the primary driving conflict, is one of the things that makes this story memorable, and keeps readers thinking about it long after the cover is closed. It made me wonder what interactions I remember imperfectly -- likely all of them, since I only experience my own feelings and am left merely to interpret those of the other person. Imagine years going by while those false interpretations are left to simmer and stew in the broth of continued misery. Sarah Eden imagines just that, with the stroke of a skilled pen rendering Miles and Elise eminently believable as people you might meet on the street. And that meet-cute! It certainly left me with wondering thoughts about what might have happened if decisions were made differently.
I recommend this one to readers who can handle the mature themes of violence and trauma. There is, after all, a murder mystery within these pages, not to mention the occasional social violence of upwardly climbing mothers of single daughters.


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

HEAVEN IS HERE by Stephanie Nielson (Memoir)


Sometimes you close the book and know that reading it has changed you. Sometimes you know half-way through. In the case of Heaven is Here, I felt drawn to the story before I even saw the book. Through my sister's word-of-mouth review, and a video I had seen on the internet about Stephanie and Christian wanting to name their first child Claire because it was the name both of them had loved as children, they felt like old friends to me already. I had heard about the plane crash that left Stephanie with scars and pain she struggled to live with. My empathy was piqued as much as my curiosity. 

My family was in a small plane crash when I was two, but we were blessed to get out before the inferno that always follows the crash. The pilot lost his life, and that was very sad, but I was two when it happened and all I knew was my own experience. The saddest thing that happened to me personally was that all our Christmas presents from grandma and grandpa went up in flames. Kind people worked to make that up to us in the months after the crash. Only my older brothers and parents had emotional trauma from the crash. We did not have an experience anything like Stephanie's, and yet I felt a deep empathy for her that went beyond the ordinary. Perhaps it is her beautiful voice in writing, the mix of romanticism and realism that doesn't sugarcoat things but ends up tasting sweet all the same. Perhaps it is the places she wrote about: Falcon Field airport, and Mesa, my old stomping grounds; Provo, Utah and the Y, my alma mater. Perhaps it is that we share the same faith in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the familiarity I felt throughout the story because of these things. But I think more than anything else, what I felt and why I felt it was triggered by Stephanie's remarkable and admirable passion for motherhood. From the beginning of her life story, she loves the idea of being a mother. And even when the reality of pregnancy includes vomiting while she makes dinner for her beloved husband, she somehow fulfills her favorite role with equanimity and patience. She never complains about the role of mother or wife, and only laments in the later chapters that she cannot fulfill the functions of motherhood, due to her injuries, to her satisfaction. This personal view she holds, glorifying motherhood and marriage, struck me in its uniqueness in the world of women's narratives. So much has been written about the plight of women, and it was refreshing to hear the voice of one who loved everything about her womanhood, especially that aspect of femininity that allowed her to be a wife and mother! Coming from where I do, having walked the long road to motherhood and resenting something about it all the while, whether it was the actual work or simply the way the world looked at us as mothers, I drank Stephanie's message about family like it was pure, spring water on a hot summer day. A few times my learned cynicism asked itself, Is she for real? But always came the feeling that yes, this was the most earnest narrative I had ever read. In a most fundamental way, with all we shared in common, Stephanie of the NieNie Dialogues, was different from me. We were different kinds of women. Her childhood and parentage had prepared her for a different kind of life, and besides that, there seemed to be something inherent to her beautiful soul that prepared her for a life mission centered around family. 

I found that I envied her.

And then the incredible journey of recovery began in Part 2, and envy receded in shame. She doesn't want my pity; that's clear from her narrative. But whose heart could be untouched in the face of so much internal and external suffering? I can tell you, there was much private sobbing throughout the night as I read, and I only stopped reading four or five times, to help a wakeful child find sleep again. 

How did Stephanie's story change me?

It taught me more deeply of the intrinsic connection between all of us, the people healing and the people serving; mothers and fathers and children; sisters and brothers and cousins and neighbors; doctors and patients and nurses; grocery store clerks and flight instructors and song-writers. None of us is as individual as we like to believe. And why do we want to believe it, when the connection we share is truly more beautiful and meaningful than any pretended self-reliance could ever be? 

Connection, purpose, faith, and joy are all at the center of Heaven is Here

For more about Stephanie and Christian, read her blog, http://www.nieniedialogues.com or watch videos at the same website. Her book is a New York Times bestseller and she has been featured on The Oprah Winfrey show, celebrating her indomitable spirit and dedication to motherhood.
Thank you, Stephanie Nielson.



Wednesday, January 13, 2016

REMAKE by Ilima Todd

On Goodreads

The Blurb: 
Nine is the ninth female born in her batch of ten females and ten males. By design, her life in Freedom Province is without complications or consequences. However, such freedom comes with a price. The Prime Maker is determined to keep that price a secret from the new batches of citizens that are born, nurtured, and raised androgynously. 
But Nine isn't like every other batcher. She harbors indecision and worries about her upcoming Remake Day -- her seventeenth birthday, the age when batchers fly to the Remake facility and have the freedom to choose who and what they'll be.
When Nine discovers the truth about life outside of Freedom
Province, including the secret plan of the Prime Maker, she is
pulled between two worlds and two lives. Her decisions will test
her courage, her heart, and her beliefs. Who can she trust? Who does she love? And most importantly, who will she decide to be?

The Afterglow:

I've had my eye on this book for quite some time, ever since I first saw it at the local Deseret Bookstore. When I got it for Christmas, I was thrilled!

Gender is a hot-button cultural issue with many psychological and religious, even political, undertones. Thus, I was very impressed to see an author of faith had taken it on. That's brave. People of faith aren't politically popular right now, unless you're the Pope. And wearing it on your sleeve can earn you plenty of condemnation from your peers. Sure enough, when I went to rate this book FIVE STARS on Goodreads, I ended up exposed to plenty of negative, even angry, reviews. Fortunately, there are enough glowing reviews to land it very near to four whole stars cumulatively.

But this is an Afterglow Review, and this review blog is reserved for those books that wow-ed you, impressed you, or changed you, leaving you somehow better. Remake did that for me. I read it with my husband, which made me blush a bit in the particularly gushy parts, but definitely made the humor more fun. The mystery of it left us speculating and predicting throughout the book as we tried to figure out exactly why Nine is the way she is, so different from everyone else, and what the Prime Maker would do with her if she didn't do what was expected.

The part that impacted me, though, was the artful articulation of the true meaning and joy of FAMILY. It is, after all, what this book is all about. It ponders the questions, "Is family important? Necessary? Desirable? Or is it restrictive of freedom, oppressive of women, and inciting to revolution?"

For those of us who advocate for the continued protection of the natural family (I include myself as a homeschool mom who advocates for parents rights), family means something more to us than it seems to mean to those who believe a child is better off as a ward of the state. It means bundles of pride and joy, to be sure, but it also means mutual sacrifice, deep and abiding love, and an eternal sense of belonging that goes beyond all other affiliations in your life. Not everyone feels this way about family, and not everyone has had a beautiful experience in her own family. It can be difficult for family-lovers to articulate exactly why the family unit is worth protecting and proliferating.

Ilima Todd gently and with plenty of awkward humor, helps us discover the depth of meaning in the family pattern through the eyes of an androgynous girl without family who is fostered into a tight-knit, God-fearing, and hard-working family. From her new mother, she learns what a mother even is, that it's sometimes a painful role to play, and that her impact with a few whispered words can reach her children months later across an ocean. From her new father, she learns how fathers and mothers lead together, how the love of parents is the glue that binds the whole family together, and how to lead with love. From her new siblings, she learns that you can be happy no matter your circumstances, that complaining makes things a lot worse, and that everybody in the family has work they can do for the good of all.

Even though Nine is eased into this new life, it is still very alien to her, having grown up in a batch of genetically engineered children as the social pariah with only one best friend to protect her from ceaseless teasing. She weighs the good and the bad in what she sees, and struggles with concepts like freedom vs. loyalty or choice vs. acceptance of things that aren't easily changed. All she's ever wanted her entire life is to change who she is completely so she can be more like her best friend in every way, even down to his gender. She mistakenly believes that strength and courage are male traits. Right up to the last chapter, the reader must wonder what she will choose to be. Even if you disagree with the Biblical and historic definitions of family, this story will allow you to explore what a world would be like where children aren't considered their parents' charges and natural birth within families is not only discouraged, but illegal.

A good dystopia shows us ourselves in a fun-house mirror to make us think about the distortions and what the real picture is and should be. Suzanne Collins in The Hunger Games forced us to realize the disgusting glamorization of violence in our entertainment by inventing a society where war and entertainment were one and the same. Ilima Todd has shown us our disregard for family stewardship, parents rights, and a child's need for the complementary and different abilities of both parents by inventing a society that isolates children from any constant caregivers, punishes parents for procreating and systematically sterilizes new citizens of a city ironically called Freedom 1.

In one particularly haunting conversation with the Prime Maker, Nine asks herself, "And what if I choose to be me?"


 

Monday, January 11, 2016

ETIQUETTE & ESPIONAGE by Gail Carriger

On Goodreads

The Blurb:
It's one thing to learn to curtsy properly. It's quite another to learn to curtsy and throw a knife at the same time. Welcome to Finishing School. 
Fourteen-year-old Sophronia is a great trial to her poor mother. Sophronia is more interested in dismantling clocks and climbing trees than proper manners--and the family can only hope that company never sees her atrocious curtsy. Mrs. Temminnick is desperate for her daughter to become a proper lady. So she enrolls Sophronia in Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality.

But Sophronia soon realizes the school is not quite what her mother might have hoped. At Mademoiselle Geraldine's, young ladies learn to finish...everything. Certainly, they learn the fine arts of dance, dress, and etiquette, but they also learn to deal out death, diversion, and espionage--in the politest possible ways, of course. Sophronia and her friends are in for a rousing first year's education.

The Afterglow:

 I absolutely loved Gail Carriger's adult series, The Parasol Protectorate, starting with Book the First: Soulless. With the light, witty tone of Jane Austen crashing into the clockworks and invention of Jules Verne, Gail Carriger has hit the sweet spot in her book universe. Set in the same delightful universe, her Finishing School series for teen readers explores a pair of unorthodox boarding schools for boys and girls: one for training up evil geniuses and the other for preparing female intelligencers to face the wild world of espionage and Picklemen.

I quickly fell in like with the main character of Etiquette & Espionage, Sophronia (love the name!) Temminnick, because of her intelligent fascination with how things work and her innate indifference to fashion and manners. I related to her because she comes from a large family, wears last season's dresses from her older sisters (though in my case it was a cousin), and can't help but be curious about everything! Even better, she doesn't come from a family steeped in the mystery of Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quali-tay. She's more like a scholarship case, referred to in the book as a covert recruit.

With her affinity for stable boys and indifference to gender or racial differences, Sophronia exudes goodness, despite her position at a school for would-be assassins and intelligencers. She is truly a main character to applaud.

While the many intriguing and mysterious characters come from diverse backgrounds and personalities, the school itself is a character. Its shape, its geographical location, and its propensity to float above the ocean all make the setting one of constant excitement and, yes, of course, danger.

While I haven't been a teenage girl for some time now, I do have a little anecdote which leads me to believe this book would be equally beloved by teen girls. Knowing my mom's love of good fiction, especially with a 19th century England setting, I gave her the book as soon as I finished it. She took it to work the next day and immediately lost it. Rather, it was stolen. Fortunately, she found it in the hands of one of her "troubled" girls who lives at the school where she works. The girl begged her to get the book approved so she, too, could read it. Apparently, she had read a few pages and was hooked. If that's not a glowing review, I don't know what is.

I'm waiting on amazon to bring me my sequel copy, Curtsies & Conspiracies.

Have you read Gail Carriger? Would you read her YA series? (Hint: The answer is yes!)


Saturday, October 17, 2015

LIFE AND DEATH: Twilight Re-Imagined by Stephenie Meyer

On Goodreads



This is why I love Stephenie Meyer! Her publisher contacts her and asks for a letter to put in the front of the 10th Anniversary Edition of Twilight. She says, That sounds boring. How about I rewrite Twilight, switching everybody's gender? 

Seriously, there are few authors so in touch with their fan base. From the apology in the front to the afterword in the back, she talks to fans like we're part of her family. (The apology is that this is not Midnight Sun, the much-hoped-for, unpublished volume of The Twilight Saga that tells the story from Edward's point of view. When that comes out, look for my Afterglow Review because I have already read a portion of it on her website and plan to love the whole thing!)

 First of all, I encountered this re-imagined version of Twilight in Wal-Mart, of all places, while grocery shopping with my family. I picked it up, saw that it was not some spoof but an actual re-imagining by the author herself, and immediately started chuckling like a giddy schoolgirl. My oldest son, who has aged seven years since I first read The Twilight Saga, asked what was so funny. All I could say: "I'm just tickled." 

Twilight came into my life when I was a brand new mom, living in a California apartment, and trying to figure it all out: how to balance my love of writing and reading with my new mom job. Stephenie Meyer became my hero when she showed me it could be done, and it could be fun. Shortly--very shortly--after reading her books, I began writing my own books again. 

You can imagine, then, that I picked up Life and Death with the intention of enjoying it, and I thoroughly did!

On Monday, October 26, my more scholarly write-up on this latest book will be up on Operation Awesome. Here, I intend to gush, so get ready.

I loved Beau and Edythe! I loved the way Beau made even more sense than Bella, and that Edythe was more Edward than Edward! From Edythe's calligraphic writing and love of classical music and her perfumed breath to Beau's clumsy height and gait and his tough-guy act and his wooziness from the smell of blood, they just clicked as characters. I can imagine that if I had never read Twilight, Life and Death would have been a hit on its own merits. 

All the elements of the story that I loved are there:

  • First love, the confusion, uncertainty, and electricity
  • Obsession tempered with the knowledge that obsession isn't healthy
  • The innate inequality of a relationship between a human and a superhuman
  • The irony of falling in love with your opposite, your kryptonite, your prey
  • Meyer's unique spin on immortality and the rivalry between vampires and werewolves
  • A hero (Bella/Beau) who would give her/his life for those she/he loves, and even for strangers: a true martyr
  • Charlie. He hasn't changed, love him.
  • A happy ending. Cliffhangers are so over-rated! And after all, Life and Death is a stand-alone.
Beyond that, the chance to play with gender roles and gender stereotypes is one not to be missed! Alpha werewolves that run in a matriarchal line? A Carine Cullen (the female counterpart of Carlyle) who is the father, so to speak, of the family? And Edythe, an incredible, musical, beautiful, hauntingly perceptive woman who happens to fall in love with her kryptonite: Beau. It's a delightful way to revisit our beloved Forks. 

Of course there were parts of the story that had to be altered because they wouldn't quite make sense with a man: biology mostly, but a few stereotypes. For instance, Beau didn't ever do ballet. He ducks into the men's room, not the ladies'. The attack on him in Port Angeles has more of a motive than simply being an easy target (and she sets that up early). But what's amazing is how much of the story didn't need to be altered at all, and it just works. 

My favorite scene in this version was the blood-typing fiasco in Biology and the aftermath. Beau's way of dealing with his embarrassment is just so endearing and different from Bella. In fact, Beau's voice, for me, was more fun to read. I hope Stephenie Meyer will consider writing first person from a male perspective more in the future. From what I've read of Midnight Sun and Life and Death, she can more than handle it. 

Have you read Twilight? How about this version? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.