What is your reading goal this year?

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Enchanted April

The Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnim

(Summary taken from amazon.com) "A recipe for happiness: four women, one medieval Italian castle, plenty of wisteria, and solitude as needed.

The women at the center of The Enchanted April are alike only in their dissatisfaction with their everyday lives. They find each other—and the castle of their dreams—through a classified ad in a London newspaper one rainy February afternoon. The ladies expect a pleasant holiday, but they don’t anticipate that the month they spend in Portofino will reintroduce them to their true natures and reacquaint them with joy. Now, if the same transformation can be worked on their husbands and lovers, the enchantment will be complete."

This is a fairly quick read (I read it in one day). It has some wonderful descriptions of the castle and the gardens, especially the flowers. The characters are well developed and it is interesting to see their individual characteristics, quirks, strengths, and flaws. I liked Mrs. Wilkins a lot, I think she has this contagious happiness about her, once she gets to Italy. I love how she fully believes in the power of the place to heal their sorrows and their wounded hearts. A lot of this book is "cheesy," which is okay if that is what you want and expect. I think a lot of the healing and forgiving that happens is a little quick and unrealistic, but it's kind of fun to get caught up in the moment of the book. I had a hard time pinpointing a "point" of the book, but I think part of it was that being kind and loving towards other people brings out the best in them and you. Kindness heals a lot of wounds and heartache. Also, I think Lady Caroline's words sum up the story well. She said, "Beauty made you love, and love made you beautiful..." The beauty of the place made them open to love and kindness, and that love made them more beautiful outside and in. 

I liked the story, and I'm glad I read it. It was fun for a summertime read. There are a few profane words, but not many. There are some innuendos, but it takes place in the early 1900's and so they are all quite innocent compared to today's standards.

Rating: PG+ (Some language, innuendos)

Recommendation: 16 and up. I don't think children younger than 16 would even be interested in or care about this book. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Play On

Play On by Marilynn Halas

(Summary taken from the back book cover) "In the final moments of Danny's life...everything comes into sharp focus. He won't miss being a soldier, he won't miss Afghanistan, and he won't miss the war. As he closes his eyes he knows what really matters: his family, his home, and his guitar. A few years later that guitar falls into the hands of a kid from New York named Dillon and it is just about the only thing that feels right in his life. The more he plays it the better he feels--until he starts to feel that someone is watching. His suspicion is confirmed when he hears a southern drawl coming from out of nowhere, teasing him about a bad G chord. Channeling the ghost of the guitar's former owner is weird enough, but there are other unsettling notes...fragments about death and remembering and warnings...and now Dillon doesn't know what to do or where to turn. Is Danny a friend or a threat? The only thing Dillon knows for sure is that the old guitar in his room is the key to everything. Dillon has no choice: he must play on."

The idea of this book is very creative. I haven't read anything else like it, so that alone earns some brownie points. I liked the characters, especially Danny and Dillon. The character development for Danny and Dillon is pretty good, along with their parents, but some of the other characters lack development. Thomas was a fun character, but I would have liked to know more about him. I also would have liked to know a little more about Rosa and Michael. There were some really good messages in this book as well. I liked that it talked about prioritizing your life and focusing on family and friend relationships. I liked that it talked about living each day to the best of your ability and enjoying life while you have it, and being thankful for what you have. I liked a lot of things about the book, but the premise of the book was a little too far-fetched for me. I enjoy fantasy and sci-fi, but this one was really hard for me to grasp onto. There were so many things that I just couldn't quite accept, and it definitely affected my view of the book. I liked that it was clean. I liked that it was unique, that it had some really good lessons, and I liked Danny and Dillon. This would be a great book for YA to read. I think they would enjoy it and would be able to get into the story.

Rating: PG-13 (Some war scenes and the death of a main character, some violence)

Recommendation: 12-13 years and up (I recommend that parents read it first as each child's sensitivities are different and parents know what their children will be ok with.)

I was able to interview Marilynn Halas, and here is our interview:

Monica: Why do you think there is a feeling in today's environment of hopelessness? Do children catch on to this from their parents?  
Marilynn: I believe that each of us can experience a whole range of emotions from joy to sadness and from excited anticipation to hopelessness.  Feelings of all kinds are normal and natural and so I think it is very important to acknowledge our children’s feelings, meet them where they are, and help our children develop the life skills they will need to move forward and grow.

Monica: What do you think parents can do to minimize or change this attitude in their children? 
Marilynn: I think modeling is a huge part of parenting.  Letting our children see how we deal with disappointment, sadness and even fear will teach them volumes about moving through their own emotions in a healthy way.  It begins with acceptance of ourselves and our feelings.  That acknowledgement reroutes our energy from judgment to empowerment.  Then it is about taking the steps we need to neutralize the negative and accentuate the positive.  It may be a good run, a drawing or journaling that helps us through, but it is all about building something new from the broken pieces.   I choose to build through stories.

Monica: Why did you choose a guitar from Elvis Presley to build your book around? Are you an Elvis fan? 
Marilynn: I liked the idea that the guitar was rumored to have been played by Elvis for two reasons. Firstly, it worked in my story to have a guitar that would have been preserved no matter what.  Anything that might have belonged to the King of Rock and Roll, had a better than average chance of standing the test of time.  Secondly, yes, I am a huge Elvis fan, I remember dancing around the living room to “Let Me Be Your Teddy Bear” when my children were babies and I still smile when I think about it.

Monica: What lesson or moral do you hope children get out of your book?  
Marilynn: My dearest hope is that children will be entertained and empowered to never give up.  To know that like Dillon and Danny, they have within themselves what they need to make it through life’s challenges. To know they can play on and share the music of their lives with a world in need of each person’s song.

Monica: Do you think early exposure to profanity and violence in literature and media affect children's behavior and attitudes? 
Marilynn: I believe that literature and media can and do affect children’s behavior and attitudes. It is so important to surround our children with what will empower them and even nourish them and to be very wary of anything that diminishes what it is to be human.   Expression that hopes to affect others is the goal of art and communication.  Literature and media that deal with the difficult, but very real parts of life in a way that gives our children positive coping examples can be a very practical tool for building more compassionate communities.

Disclosure: I did receive a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Ephraim's Rescue (Movie)

Ephraim's Rescue (Movie)
(Synopsis taken from the press kit)
"From T.C. Christensen, director of the sensational pioneer film, 17 Miracles, comes the heroic true story of a simple man who was called to do the work of angels. Ephraim’s Rescue relates the story of Ephraim Hanks: a rescuer of the Martin Handcart company.
Follow Ephraim as his adventures lead him to join the LDS Church and ultimately to one of the most heroic rescues in American history. With a unique desire to help and strengthen others, Ephraim learns that each choice we make can prepare us for what lies ahead. He discovers, through it all, that decisions determine destiny."

This is a first. I haven't ever reviewed a movie before, so we'll see how this goes. I was invited by one of the companies I review for to go to a prescreening for this new movie "Ephraim's Rescue." It is  being released in select theaters on May 31st. Even though it's a movie, and I review books, I decided to take a (very short) break from reading and  go see the movie. I wasn't sure what to expect. Overall, I mostly enjoyed it. It is religious in nature. It centers on a man named Ephraim Hanks, and it goes through some of his life and the experiences he had during those times. I know they tried to fit a lot into the 2 hours, but I would have liked to have seen more about his early years. It shows how he came to convert to a new religion, and what happened when he dedicated his life to living that religion. The culminating moment is when he helps to rescue a group of people traveling with handcarts across the plains. These people left too late in the season, and then were faced with an early winter. They buried many of their friends and family along the way, and those who were still alive were barely hanging on. Many of them didn't have shoes and walked through the snow in bare feet. Their food supplies were completely gone. Even though the conditions were awful, Ephraim risks his own life to get supplies and aid to these people.

The storyline was a little hard to follow in parts because the time periods and places kept switching. At times I was confused about who was who in which time period, and how it all fit together. They switch from Ephraim to a family in England, and although they do eventually come together, I thought there would be a much greater connection than there was. I'm not sure why they spend so much time talking about the background of this other family when there isn't a greater connection with the two families. There was a part about a man in a suit on a ship, and Ephraim says it was a huge turning point in his life. I may not be very smart, but I didn't understand that part at all. I did not see how that could be a life changing experience. Some of the actors did a very good job and were believable, and others didn't convince me at all. There were some funny and lighthearted moments, but there was also a lot of sadness and devastation. I also felt that even though they tried to stay away from the cheese, there were some very cheesy parts. One thing I didn't like was that there were some very personal, intimate, and sacred experiences that I didn't feel comfortable watching in a movie. Those moments felt too personal and I felt they could have described them without showing all the details. There were some really good lessons in this movie, though. A lesson I liked was that the experiences we have in our lives prepare us for moments in our future. We can take those experiences and be ready when those moments come, or we can let them pass us by and be unprepared when those future moments come. The lesson is to grab ahold during those times of preparation and be ready when the time comes.

I couldn't find a rating for this movie, but I think I'll allow my 11 year-old, and maybe my 9 year-old, to watch it. I wouldn't go younger than that. There isn't any profanity. There is one little kiss (that kind of surprised me), and there is a lot of devastation. There is a lot of death, frostbitten and gross toes and feet, and physical ailments. I think it would be really good for teenagers to watch. I think a lot of teenagers today think they have it rough if their cellphone is taken away.....they have no idea what people went without and the hardships they encountered. It made me thankful for all that I have.

Rating: PG+ (Death, physical hardships and ailments)

Recommendation: 9 and up at the youngest.

Disclosure: I did receive a free ticket to this movie in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Orphan Train

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

(Summary taken from the inside cover) "Between 1854 and 1929, so-called orphan trains ran regularly from the cities of the East Coast to the farmlands of the Midwest, carrying thousands of abandoned children whose fates would be determined by pure luck. Would they be adopted by a kind and loving family, or would they face a childhood and adolescence of hard labor and servitude? As a young Irish immigrant, Vivian Daly was one such child, sent by rail from New York City to an uncertain future a world away. Returning east later in life, Vivian leads a quiet, peaceful existence on the coast of Maine, the memories of her upbringing rendered a hazy blur. But in her attic, hidden in trunks, are vestiges of a turbulent past. Seventeen-year-old Molly Ayer knows that a community-service position helping an elderly widow clean out her attic is the only thing keeping her out of juvenile hall. But as Molly helps Vivian sort through her keepsakes and possessions, she discovers that she and Vivian aren't as different as they appear. A Penobscot Indian who has spent her youth in and out of foster homes, Molly is also an outsider being raised by strangers, and she, too, has unanswered questions about the past."

I love it when I can read fiction and still learn something! I consider myself to be well-versed in history, especially U.S. history, but I had absolutely no idea that the orphan trains existed. I was shocked, to say the least. I'm glad Ms. Kline put the time and research into this book, because I may never have learned about this part of history. Ms. Kline weaves the story together so well. I loved her imagery, her descriptions, her ability to tell the story, and her ability to bring the story to life. I loved this book. Yes, it was definitely depressing and awful at times, but the way it came together in the end made all the sadness worth it. The character development in this book is very well done. The characters come to life on the pages, and it felt like they had been my dear friends forever. Vivian-old and young-is such a strong character. I felt so bad for her when they changed her name, and she just seemed to roll with it. I enjoyed getting to know her through her possessions.  Dutchy is such a fun and real character. I loved his determination, his attitude, and his independence. Mrs. Nielsen was another favorite character. She seems like the perfect teacher. Someday, when I go back to teaching, I want to be like her. I could go on and on about the characters. Ms. Kline's writing style is very easy to read, yet has a certain eloquence to it. She managed to really fit the style of it with the time period, and I liked it a lot.

I also liked the second part of the story, and Molly. I didn't really like her at first, and I think that was the point. I did feel bad for her, growing up in modern-day foster care, but her personality and mine definitely clash. I loved how her character evolved, though. It made me so sad to realize that in the 80 or so years since 1929, we really haven't come too far from the orphan trains. According to the book, and from my impressions of today's foster care system, it doesn't seem a whole lot better, and that irritated me. Sometimes it takes a book like this to motivate people to make changes, and I hope it does that. These children aren't just statistics anymore, but are real children that matter and should be loved.

There is quite a bit of language in this book. The "f" word is used several times, along with other profanity. There is an attempted rape scene, along with domestic violence, death, and abuse, among other things. I told you, it is not a happy book, there are scenes that will make you cringe and cry, but it is a wonderful story and I'm so glad I read it. I learned a lot, and it really made me think and consider what my viewpoints are, and if I could possibly help. I highly recommend it, with the above cautions.

Rating: R (Remember, this does not follow the movie ratings exactly....it is just my way of saying it is not appropriate for younger readers.) Death, abuse, domestic violence, language, attempted rape.

Recommendation: College and up. I think this may still be too much for even an 18 year-old.

Disclosure: I did receive a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.