Thursday, September 30, 2010

Rot & Ruin, fleshes out the inhumanity of it all.

Rot & ruin is what everyone calls the world outside of Mountainside. Mountainside is a protected village walled off from the world of the dead to protect the remaining living. Benny Imura is just trying to get by in life and trying to keep his food rations coming despite turning fifteen, the point at which not having a job would result in no food. Benny doesn’t really want to work at all, but he wants to keep eating. Benny’s brother Tom is a zombie hunter and wants Benny to join him in the family business. Their parents died during the zombie outbreak and Benny has little memory of that night. What Benny remembers about that night is that his brother was a coward because he took Benny and ran leaving their parents behind. When Benny fails to find a job that he wants to do, he agrees to join his brother on a trip out into the Rot & Ruin, a trip that will change the way he sees his brother and the way that he views his own life.

This book is not what I expected it to be. I guess I was expecting a slash and gash zombie flick special with a cover as intense as this book has. This book has its fair share of zombies but it isn’t about zombies as much as it’s about family, death, loss, life, and justice. There are some great moments that caused me to reflect on how we look at things like life and death and good and evil. Sometimes the way we see things is all about the perspective we are seeing it from, and sometimes a change in perspective can change you so much that you can’t see life the same way again. Taking the journey with Benny and Tom out into the Rot & Ruin is a journey worth taking and I would recommend it for even the non-zombie fan (I mean, zombies will obviously love it so no need to make a recommendation there). To all the zombie fans out there, shamble over to the book store or the library because this is a zombie book that you will want to add to your collection. In the words of the famous zombie uuuuuguguuuuh (that roughly translates to, “you need to read this book because we zombies don’t get the respect that we deserve and this book offers the change in perspective that you might need to understand where we are coming from). *

*This review is sponsored by PETZ (People for the Ethical Treatment of Zombies). The book and the author of the book are in no way directly affiliated with this organization (or lack there of) nor is this review the result of payment by the organization to the author of the blog (seeing as the organization lacks the funding to pay anyone properly because they are spending the majority of their budget trying to keep our shuffling, rotting flesh, walking corpse buddies from busting out on the general population).  

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Boy Who Dared (to give the Nazis the middle finger).

I sit and think about what a chicken I was to even speak out against the treatment of people in school when I was 16, let alone stand up to an unjust and corrupt government. During WWII, there were many people that risked their lives to stand up against what the Nazi government was doing and to bring to light the lies that were being told to the German people. One of these people was a 16 year old German boy named Helmuth Hübener, whose anger overflowed to the point of protest. He spoke out against the Nazis who were running his home country and did what he could to spread the truth about what was going on. The Boy Who Dared is a fictional account of his life.

This book, like all books about brave people standing up to injustice, pulls my emotional strings. It definitely wasn’t The Book Thief but it was pretty good none the less. Because the book is relatively short, the depth of the characters is not felt as much as other book I have read about the same time period. I did learn a few new interesting things about being a German in Germany at the time of the Nazis’ and Hitler’s rise, and I was driven to that point of asking myself the same question as I had with other books, “how was there not more people who saw how twisted and messed up the whole Hitler thing was and did something about it?” I know that fear has a big role and we see this in the book, but it made me proud to know that out of all the people that stood up and said ‘I can’t let this happen’ there was a teenage boy. For all the adults that look down their noses at teenagers and think they are so far past those times, we are reminded that sometimes the courage and depth of youth can far exceed that of adults. This is another one of those books where I wonder how engaging it would be to a teen boy and only time on the shelves will tell the tale.   

Handbook For Boys. Bust out the barbershop chair.

Talk about taking me back to the days of hanging out in the barber shop and crackin’ on all the goofballs from the neighborhood that come in to get their hair cut (wait, that was a movie not my life).  Jimmy gets himself into a bit of trouble that could land him in jail but he is “rescued” by a man named Duke who mentors youth by having them work at his barbershop. Jimmy and another guy, Kevin, are made to keep the place clean (even though it is almost always spotless) allowing them time to spend with Duke and the other guys that hang out at the neighborhood barbershop. People with problems come and go through the barbershop and their stories provide the jumping point for life’s lessons that Duke and his buddies pass on to the boys. Jimmy is forced to think about the way he views life because of the things that he sees and hears while working in the shop.

This book cracked me up from the very beginning. The three old guys in the shop are always clownin’ and teasing the boys but always in a way that challenges the way that they are living their lives. This book made me wish that I had a barbershop to hang out in with old wise guys, or wiseguys depending on who you are, that dish their knowledge about life in a way that kids can relate to. It’s reminded me a lot of my classroom, except I’m not really old and wouldn’t consider myself to have the same level of wisdom that age has brought these guys. Okay, so I guess I’m mostly the wiseguy part working toward the wise guy. I have read a number of the parts again and again because they still make me crack up. This was another one of those books that made me think about life while making me laugh. I think I’ll ask a couple of my students to take it for a test drive and see how the story rolls out for them. If you like to laugh and learn and long for your version of Barbershop then pull up a stool and a broom and take a seat. Or you could scrape some gum off the floor while you listen, which ever you prefer. 

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Lord of the Flies: Classic, not Crap

It was time to dig into a classic again. I heard a lot about Lord of the Flies and how it inspired many an author to write their own stories. So, into the flies I dug. The story (for those who have not read it) is about a group of boys that find themselves stuck on an island without adults as a result of a plane crash. It follows the boys as they try to find a way of survival on the island together. The boys struggle with issues of authority, order, disagreement, division, selfishness and much more. In the end you are left with the thought of how parallel this whole story plays out to the world of adults. The story runs much like a kids version of survivor but it took me a while to get into because the word choice is slightly different from the YA stuff that I have been reading and it’s British as well. Once I got rolling with it, I really began to like it.

This book did not disappoint in the end. I was left uneasy at times because I couldn’t help but think how this could actually play out given the right set of kids. I kept imagining kids that had passed through my classroom over time and it became disturbing at times as well. I am not sure that the book would carry a middle school kid that is struggling in the reading category from beginning to end if they were to take it out for a drive, but a regular reader would probably find it worth the effort. This is one of those books that you are left wondering if younger readers would get as much out of it as adults, but as an adult it’s hard to work out if the book was good because of the hindsight we carry into reading it or because it just a good book. With that being said, I would love to hear the opinion of a middle school guy on this book. Although many classics can hardly live up to the hype (in my opinion) this one did the job for me and earns the title of classic.  

Monday, September 13, 2010

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Seriously, he was the real deal.

My understanding of history has been turned on its head. I can’t believe that Abraham Lincoln was not just a president but also bonafide vampire hunter. This book covers his whole life from birth to death, including the 40 years of hunting vampires. Ole’ Abe must have grown up on the stories of George Washington cutting down the cherry tree because the first weapon he picked up to chase down those heathens with sharp fangs and a thirst for blood is his trusty axe. Much of Abe’s early life choices were made based on his desire to pay back vampires for the death of his mother. It all starts with his father’s drunken story of watching his father killed at the hands of a vampire, a story told before countless times but never with the vampire ending. With this story of vampires, Abe’s eyes are opened to a world he thought only myth, and so were mine. Did you know that the slave trade was mostly a result of vampires? So was the civil war. What? Wait a minute. My wife says that the whole vampire part of the story isn’t supposed to be real. AHHH MAAANNN! That totally messes up the review. I was thinking that Abe spent his life ridding the world by hacking up vampires with his axe, splitting their heads in two, cleaving their bo…….apparently that’s too much for some of the reading audience, so the “censors” say (who are the censors anyway).  Hey, even if the vampires aren’t “real” (whatever that means), and the vampires didn’t “really” play a major role in the Civil War (maybe a minor role but probably not major, or not, because like my wife said “the vampire parts are made up”), the book is the best biography of a major political figure that I have read yet (political biographies being a genre that probably contains a fair amount of less interesting “fiction”).

This book is ultimately a heavy dose of non-fictional storytelling with a bit of twisted fun mixed in for good measure. Another great book for those of us that like history but can’t stay awake for the textbook style of non-fiction. I was even inspired to check up on the life of Abe Lincoln and was surprised at how parallel this story ran to the accounts of his actual life (assuming you still believe vampires aren’t real, although try telling that to Bella). The non-fiction feel to the story at times will turn off the majority of action flick readers because the action comes in bursts just like it does in real life. I mean if Abe was running around chopping off heads and splat…..(oh, sorry I forgot, no gratuitous violence) or um, doing vampire hunting stuff all the time, when would he have found time for his family and political career. I was entertained and I was taught, and that’s more than I can say for a lot of other books I have read. If you like history and you don’t mind a few Zombieland homages, then dig in and go for the ride.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Mockingjay has sung its song, and all went quiet. (100% spoiler free)

It is with great sadness that I report that, for me, The Hunger Games are officially over. It’s not that I want more, it just rare that books come along that pull people in the way that this series has. I will not give a summary because of the popularity of the books and encourage people to look up the plot summary on Amazon or some other site. What I want to give is just my gut reaction to the books.

First of all I will say that, in my opinion, The Hunger Games books have slightly edged out the Harry Potter books. Harry Potter connected us to a world beyond our imagination with great characters and fantastical creatures, but The Hunger Games series pushes us to consider the extremes of our own human natures. We are left to consider our own response to our “enemies,” war, friends, family, and those that live around us. I am always amazed when I am yanked into a story and the lives of the characters at a level that almost seems idiotic to feel or be at with a fictional group of people. I found myself mad, a lot, at the injustices they faced, laughing at the humanity of their interactions, and saddened in their times of pain. I love it when books pull me in so deep that I have long moments of time where the house could be crashing down and I wouldn’t even notice (I have toddlers so this could have very well been happening). There were times during this series that I was so into the reading that I forgot I was even reading a book. My mind wandered along with the scenes like they were movies being played out on the big screen. In the end I was sad to see it go but satisfied to know it was over. The series is a no brainer recommendation for anyone looking for something to read, and Mockingjay will not disappoint those that have waited so long to find out how it ends.