Today's Grateful List/31 December 2015

  • Going to get answers no matter what

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Now For Something Different...Sort Of

Based on Patricia Briggs's successful Mercy Thompson series, Homecoming is sort of a companion piece: it's a graphic novel, easily read in one sitting, that shows us what happened when Mercy arrived in the Tri-Cities. Mercy being Mercy, she immediately found herself in danger while out on a run in coyote form; though saved by an unknown pack of werewolves, Mercy further places herself in harm's way when she stops at a VW shop for car work and ends up making friends with Stefan, a local vampire. How Mercy then meets up with Adam, Zee, and Zee's son Tad while deciding whether or not to stay in town rounds out the story that also involves Adam's pack forcing rogue werewolves out of town.
Like many of the reviewers, I did feel this story lacked the depth I'm used to from the Mercy Thompson series. I'm not a big graphic novel fan, but I was open to the idea of furthering Mercy's tale with pictures (even if my mental images did not necessarily match up with those on the pages). I suppose I was most let down by two factors, however; first, the overly sexualized comic book rendering of Mercy, complete with curves every little boy drools over. Really? This was the best way Briggs could allow Mercy to be fashioned? And secondly, the fact that there were a couple of grammatical errors in this published book, including the insertion of "liked liked" on one page, is inexcusable, especially in a book this size. Where were the editors? I had to re-read the caption three or four times to be certain this gaffe wasn't one of my imagination.
That said, I did enjoy the book, even if I didn't love it. I liked knowing how Mercy came to know Zee, and I had no trouble following the action. The drawing itself is strictly comic book style, which will probably appeal to those who generally enjoy that type of thing. I'm not sad I read this book, but I doubt I'll be rushing out to purchase another one. It simply didn't add much to the storyline and with the errors, it certainly wouldn't be money I'd spend again.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Bone Crossed by Mercy Thompson

In Bone Crossed, Mercy Thompson is back, still suffering the aftereffects of the events of the last novel but trying to get on with her life. Unfortunately, Marsilia, the mistress of the local vampire seethe, has discovered the truth of what happened to her vampire Quinn, and she's not pleased. To prove the point, Marsilia has tortured Mercy's vamp friend Stefan almost to the point of death, and then sent him to Mercy, thinking Stefan will kill Mercy. But Stefan's will is stronger than Marsilia counted on, and Mercy, given the directive to run, does so--and finds herself entangled with yet another vampire, a zombie, and several ghosts. Will Mercy be able to extricate herself from both Marsilia's revenge and the new threat posed by a rival vampire? I plunged head first into Bone Crossed, reading quickly and enjoying myself immensely. Mercy, usually strong and forthright, finds herself tempered by panic attacks brought on by her experiences in Iron Kissed, though her refusal to give in to them reinforces my positive opinion of her ability to heal. The relationship between Adam and Mercy also takes a major step in Bone Crossed, and not with entirely good results. And as always, Mercy's sympathetic nature for others leads her, for good or for ill, to forge ahead, knowing the worst may happen but unable to let things go. Bone Crossed is, as usual for the Mercy Thompson novels, action-packed and filled with all the characters we've come to know over the course of the first three books. The relationship between Stefan and Mercy becomes very complicated; I was intrigued enough to wonder what might happen next between the two while still rooting for Adam and Mercy to be together. Certainly Ms. Briggs has developed the relationships so well that no matter what, I'll be looking forward eagerly to the next installment. With characters as strong as these, it's impossible not to be hooked. Recommended!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

And There She Goes!

You know how you always know the day will come when your child will graduate high school and then go on to college but it seems forever away? Well, that day arrived today as we moved Hannah into her dorm room at MTSU. How did all this happen? Wasn't she just starting school yesterday?

She's so excited and I can't blame her. I remember going off to college--it was a grand time with so many possibilities. It might rank as some of the best years of my life, even with exams and classes you love to hate. She is also so nervous, as evidenced by all the questions: Where do I go to get my parking pass? How do I use my dining card? Will I be able to get to my classes on time? If I can't give her a definite answer, she gets mad at me, which actually means she's frustrated that I, as parent-all-knowing, don't have the answers. It's a time when she's going to have to branch out on her own and learn these things for herself.

When I got dropped off at college, my parents had never been and they knew no more than I did. I had to learn how to schedule my classes (in the days before computers did it for you) and how to map out my four years. Now it's amazing to me how well-informed parents are: we can receive emails and texts about literally everything, and we've been to parent question-and-answer sessions to set our minds at ease (at which I read a sue me). Hannah's a big girl now, even if she sometimes doubts it. She can handle this. (That's my new mantra, anyway).

Her dorm room is large and recently renovated, and wonder of wonders, it's a private room. We weren't sure she'd get one but somehow the cards of fate have been dealt and there it is. As she flitted about the room putting things away, she kept saying it's a good thing she doesn't have a roommate because then where would she put all her stuff? And stuff there, tv, iPod, iHome, clock, mirror, clothes enough to choke a horse and twice that amount of shoes. Then we took off to Target to get MORE STUFF...mostly food but also those last minute things you can't live without, like Shout stain remover. A girl's gotta be prepared.

She's got a busy week ahead with band camp amid 300+ of her closest band buddies. I'm glad she's got Mara living with her for the week because people are scarce in her dorm until Friday when regular freshman move-in commences. And of course there's Leonard, my adopted son, who accompanied us to dinner tonight and looks imposing (at least from a distance, lol). Together they'll figure it out and will be okay.

It's a fun time but a scary time. Will she be safe? Will she remember to lock her room door when going to the restroom? Will she get a parking ticket? It's the beginning of the "let go" time and while I'm so proud, I'm so worried for her. Growing up isn't always easy.

Course it's also a sad did my baby get to be so old, so independent? It's all we ever want for our children, but when it comes, it's a kick in the gut, too. You mean she really doesn't need me 24/7 (even if she thinks she does at times)? How dare she be able to have a good time without me? And of course there are things that will happen that I *don't need to know about.* It's been that way since the dawn of time, and thus it will continue. Doesn't mean I have to like it, but I do have to live with it.

So...check back in a week and I'll tell you how we're all surviving. I am thankful she's close by; I am thankful she's a smart young woman who knows what she's doing; I am thankful for her scholarships and the fact that she does need me, if only a little bit. After all, who else would've remembered to bring the scissors she needed to open everything new today?


Sunday, August 16, 2009

Labor Day by Joyce Maynard

Over the space of a Labor Day weekend in 1987, thirteen year old Henry's life is forever changed when he and his mother meet fugitive Frank Chambers. In an odd encounter, Frank approaches Henry and judging him trustworthy, asks Henry and his mother Adele to take him home with them, and for reasons known only to them, they do. During the next few days, Frank ingratiates himself into their lives, teaching Henry to play baseball and bake a pie, and falling in love with the quirky, depressive Adele. The three live within the cocoon of the world they create as the rest of the community searches for Frank, an escaped murderer. As the days pass, Frank's bitter story emerges; wrongly accused of murdering his wife and child, he took the first chance he got to escape, and with his gentle ways and care, he slowly brings Adele back to life and helps Henry confront his confusion over a mostly uninvolved father and a helpless mother.
Written in Maynard's trademark spare style, this odd set-up somehow works its magic and pulls you in. Told from Henry's point of view, we experience all the longings of a young teen with too much responsibility. Henry is somewhat of a social outcast; his mother has burdened him with her inability to function outside her home so that he is her only lifeline to the world. Frank, a Viet Nam vet, somehow makes the three into a family in a short period of time, knowing it won't last but grasping at whatever freedom he can achieve, both from his past and his present. Henry makes both good and bad choices here; both typical and atypical, Henry's a main character filled with confusion, at the mercy of parents too concerned with themselves to worry much about him.
I at first let the premise of allowing an escaped felon into your home willingly get in the way of my enjoyment of this novel, but once I set aside my own worries over the probability of this happening, I found that I was immersed in this story of old beyond his years Henry and his nervous, needy mother. Maynard's characters are real and poignant, and Henry tells the story honestly. Moving and desperate, this coming of age tale will pull you into its depths and leave you thinking about it long after you close the last page.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Iron Kissed: Mercy Thompson, Book 3

The third book in the Mercy Thompson supernatural series, Iron Kissed centers on Mercy's former boss Zee, a gremlin who is taking the fall for a series of murders that have taken place on the fae reservation. Mercy, called in to help Zee locate clues as to the real killer, becomes angered and entangled in the investigation because she knows Zee is innocent. Unfortunately, the fae community doesn't appreciate her meddling in their affairs, and Adam isn't pleased to know Mercy's not being safe as well. Of course Mercy doesn't back down easily, and when a friend is in danger, she places herself in the line of fire in attempting to exonerate him.
Iron Kissed is a thoroughly gripping novel, with lots of different kinds of fae involved and plenty of death defying incidents. Mercy's tough girl personna takes a major hit after a nasty trick leaves her physically and psychologically harmed. There is still a romance in the air, however; Adam's possessiveness forces Mercy to take a hard look at what she actually wants. Simply put, this novel has many layers, with characters taking unexpected turns and gut-wrenching plot twists. Ms. Briggs handles her story well, giving us enough information to understand but helping us to figure things out along with Mercy. This series just keeps getting better!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Day After Night by Anita Diamont

Anita Diamont's novel Day After Night is set in late 1945 inside a "camp" in Haifa, just after the victims of the concentration camps have been freed and victory has been won in Europe. Many Jews, upon release from their nightmarish conditions (whether from a concentration camp, being hidden, or from concealment of identity), decide that the time has come for them to emigrate to Israel, their promised land. Unfortunately quotas for Jewish emigration to Israel have been enacted, and those without proper identification or family find themselves "held" in Atlit, a camp that is nothing more than a holding pen while their fates are decided. It is within this camp that Diamont's story focuses on four young women whose divergent stories come together as an escape is planned into the Promised Land.
Based on a true story, Day After Night brings to light the plight of many Jews, who having survived the Holocaust, found themselves interned once more while the slow wheels of government turned. Zorah, Tedi, Shayndel, and Leonie spent the war years in different ways but all have decided that their best hope to escape the past lies in living within a kibbutz in Israel. The story alternates between the women as they try to come to terms with their pasts as they prepare for an uncertain future. All of the women have special gifts that enable them to be leaders in the secret escape planned for the almost two hundred Jews trapped within the camp, yet they find themselves at the mercy of their demons, unable to forgive themselves for surviving when so many others perished.
Day Into Night is a glimpse into the aftermath of the Holocaust, a time I admit to knowing little about beforehand. I liked how Diamont revealed the layers of the characters slowly, bringing their private griefs to the surface as the result of events going on around them. There is not a great deal of background revealed, but what does come to light shows the justification for actions and emotions. I do wish that a clearer explanation of what a kibbutz is had been supplied (and might be in the final edition, as this was an advanced reader copy), and a little more story on how each woman got along in the immediate days after escape would have been welcome. But this is indeed a well-told tale, and I found myself caught up completely within the lives of these fictional women thrown into a very real event. Recommended.

Monday, August 03, 2009

No Teachers Left Behind

I'm a teacher, so the subject of No Teachers Left Behind by HBF (Hopeful But Frustrated) is near and dear to my heart. As soon as the book arrived, I sat down and read it in its entirety, nodding to myself at passages that hit way too close to home and sharing the frustration of burnt out teachers left at the mercy of a hands-off administrator. Yep, way, way too close to home.
Told through emails, poetry, memos, and short dialogue, No Teachers Left Behind follows a group of educators in a middle school where the executive principal is most concerned with looking good herself, violent children are allowed to get away with outrageous behavior because enforcing discipline makes the school look bad, and NCLB (No Child Left Behind, the federal law that all public schools must bow down to) reigns over good sense. At first glance it might seem that the students' behavior is too dangerous, too flagrant to be ignored, and yet, as an educator myself, I see these things being allowed to occur all in the name of raising a school's test scores and attendance rates. Principals who do enforce rules for students often face censure from their administrators and parents, but those who don't, such as the one found in this book, place their teachers and other students at risk.
I can recognize many of the teachers spotlighted in this fictitious school. There is the one just marking time until retirement because she's seen it all come down the pike and back around again and none of it works against the current mindset against education. There is the teacher who desperately wants out but cannot afford to leave, and the one who is in charge of sending ranting emails to all colleagues in order to spread the grief around. There is the fresh young teacher who truly wants to make a heartfelt difference, and what is most sad is that many of my own colleagues and myself once felt this way, too.
The author captured the different styles of administration perfectly by injecting the book with realistic situations and personalities. The idea that there are administrators who are never seen is so close to what I experience on a daily basis that I had to laugh; how on earth could HBF know how it is at my school? There truly are positions that are so far away from actually educating children that I know HBF has to be in a school himself/herself to know how to describe these positions. The memos and emails? The shortness of supplies? All true, all worded to perfection to let us know that it is "an opportunity for creativity". I suspect HBF may have saved and used actual emails/memos, changing only the details in order to protect the innocent or clueless.
I'd like to say that not all teachers are as cutting and burnt out as those found in the pages of this book, yet somehow their voices rang too true for me to put that stamp on it. I wish I could say it's just the personalities of the various teachers (because, after all, all professions have a few bad eggs), but I know for a fact it is the constant beating down of ideas, creativity, and teaching that makes the teachers' voices throughout this novel so realistic. And the parent notes/emails? Priceless! We've shared more than a few just like those at my school, so HBF gets high marks from me for letting others know that yes, we are at the mercy of the ignorant and the indulgent.
My biggest problem with this book, however, isn't the fact that I felt so defeated while taking on the problems and attitudes of the teachers in its pages, but the ending itself. While I could see that we were building toward a very dramatic conclusion, I take exception that the teachers involved were the "good" ones, and I believe that while these things can happen, the event itself was a bit of a stretch. Most teachers are not and cannot be forced to do after school duty supervising students on school bus routes, and if there is a health reason such as pregnancy, a teacher would not be forced to do anything that would go against a doctor's orders (as this would have so late in a twin pregnancy). While it was heart-wrenching, a setting within a school would've made more sense. However, the administrator's reaction was dead-on in a world where test scores and positive images rule over common sense and good educating.
I will highly recommend this book for all public school educators as a way to let them know they are not alone. I would also encourage anyone not directly involved in education to read it as well so perhaps some insight might be gained into what a typical school day is really like. I would also encourage college students and administrators to read this novel, not to discourage potential teachers from coming into the field, but to let them know that it's not quite as pictured in college classes. We're at a crisis point in education, and I would love to see this book generate a thoughtful, meaningful dialogue about who is truly being left behind.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

A Couple of Reviews

A couple of reviews; both paranormal, one young adult and one not; both good but for different reasons. 

Ghost Huntress: The Guidance, is the second book in Marley Gibson's series featuring Kendall Moorehead, a sixteen year old girl who is experiencing her psychic "awakening" just as she moves to Georgia with her family. Kendall has assembled a ghost huntress team upon realizing her abilities, and along with new hottie boyfriend Jason, the group seeks to find ghosts and help them cross over to the light. This time out, the focus is on the Civil War era home of teen Stephanie Crawford and her mother as an unsettled Union soldier seizes his moment and possesses the body of hateful cheerleader Courtney Langdon. Kendall and her gang decide that despite Courtney's general skankiness, they can't allow a ghost to run free and wild with her, and they take action, rounding up both local psychic mentor Loreen Woods and the Episcopalian priest, Father Mass, to help them rid Courtney of her unwelcome intruder. 

Of course that's not all that goes on in this volume: Among other things, Kendall's mother forces Kendall to undergo pyschological and physical testing to rule out psychosis as a reason for her "awakening", which is actually a very reasonable yet irritating thing for a mother to do when her child suddenly goes around talking to ghosts. Kendall's not so amused; her reaction is entirely normal for any teenager. Naturally Courtney is around to make Kendall's life a pain by trying to get Jason back and generally doing everythig she can to undermine Kendall's sudden popularity. There is also friction between Kendall and Jason, as well as the ever-present spirit guide Emily trying to help Kendall (and sometimes "over" helping). Lots of action, lots of interaction; mostly believable as far as ghost hunting goes. 

The Guidance is a good story that kept me turning the pages, yet I seem to be getting pickier with the series as I read this one. Kendall's ghost hunting techniques are quite spot on (even though she's really more of a medium) but it is sort of surprising how much she's learned how quickly. There's a little of everything thrown in, including references to auras, herbs, exorcisim, Reiki spiritualism,spirit guides, and tarot cards--almost too much, really. I also have a problem with the stereotypes being reinforced here: cheerleader=bad, Goth girl=troubled/running from something, boyfriend=hot and instantly in love. The idea that a medium in a high school setting would be so very popular is also pretty out there; I'd say most high schoolers would react with disdain if not outright derision for such high profile antics as Kendall provides. Also, the references to current pop culture were distracting, and especially so when specific songs were not only mentioned, but lyrics that will be outdated within another month were quoted. I also have to point out that Southerners, and Georgians in particular, don't ask one another if they want a soda to drink. 

Interruption to regularly scheduled review: It is soooo, soooo annoying to name drop brands. I don't care that Kendall crossed her "Timberlanded foot". Get over it. Interruption over. 

However, all that said, I can endorse The Guidance because it is good fun and the storyline, while at times sappy, did keep me turning those pages. I like Kendall's spunk, and I like Jason's skepticism. I like that Kendall isn't living and breathing just being with her boyfriend, and I like that there is a set-up for future novels. I also like that the author has taken pains to make sure that the religious aspect of ghosts and psychic abilities has been established (going so far as to quote scripture!). So with this in mind, I will round up my initial reaction of 3.5 stars to a solid 4 and hope the next one gives me more action and less name-dropping.

Second up is the second in Patricia Briggs's Mercy Thompson series, Blood Bound:

In Blood Bound, the second book in Patricia Briggs's Moon Called Series, Mercy Thompson is back at work as a mechanic in the garage she owns, and hopefully done dealing with werewolf trouble. Thankfully, that does seem to be the case, unless you count the fact that her former love, Dr. Samuel Cornick, has moved into her trailer since he's decided to move away from his father's pack, and her new possible love, Alpha Wolf Adam Hauptmann, is so intense that it's making Mercy nervous. No, this time it's not the werewolves, it's the vampires; specifically it's Mercy's vampire friend Stefan, who needs Mercy to go on a visit to see a new vamp in town, the catch being that Mercy must go incognito as her walker self, a coyote. Mercy agrees (because really it's a payback) and during the visit, encounters evil so violent that she is shaken and physically harmed in the process. From there, things go downhill; Stefan turns up missing, along with three local werewolf pack members who had agreed to help Stefan find the demon vampire currently terrorizing the town. It comes down to Mercy to track the missing wolves and Stefan and take care of the truly evil vampire conjured in order to take over the local vampire seethe. 

Mercy's one tough cookie, and she's no less hardheaded in this installment. Her interactions with the local fae put her in danger, along with her determined attempts to find the demon vampire Littleton in order to rescue her friends from his decidedly demented plans. Mercy's ability to interact with ghosts also plays a role in this action packed novel, and even though she's not physically as strong as the wolves and vampires, she uses cunning and her religious senses to help her defeat evil. Her willingness to sacrifice herself for her friends is one of her best traits. But she's also got a dark side, and the ending of the novel leaves one with the sense that in Mercy's world, there is no gray area. Right or wrong, Mercy makes up her mind and forges ahead. 

This novel has a lot going for it, including an entirely scary scene where a demon bangs repeatedly on the side of her trailer throughout one very long night. Briggs has a way of pulling you directly into the story so that you have to know what happens next. The fact that Mercy's love life is complicated adds tension to the plot but never does she let it get in the way of getting the job done. Mercy's one smart chick and she's loyal but ruthless when necessary. This one's not for the squeamish. I admit it; I'm hooked!