Treasure Island

For my “book that takes place on an island” I just went with the obvious choice. I’ve started this book a few times and just never got into it. However, this time around, reading was a breeze and a joy! I can’t believe we don’t teach this book more often. It’s really kid friendly. It has enough destruction to keep the attention of most kids, but is also easy enough to read and understand.

Basically, a kid whose family owns a tavern comes across a pirate who dies while living with them. The kid and his mom go through the man’s belongings to see what mysteries he was hiding. Bad guys come for the kid because he learned the secrets. The kid gets on a boat that is destined for mutiny, all to find the dead man’s treasure. Or something along these lines… Ha! I finished it a couple weeks ago and just haven’t had a chance to blog, so the details are a bit muddy already.

Anyway, the kid gets all wrapped up in the mutiny, has to choose sides, changes loyalty (or does he??) and has many adventures along the way. Thoroughly enjoyable quick read. I have taught Jekyll & Hyde, which is a great book, but much more challenging than this one. I also enjoyed that one, but in a different way. Treasure Island is just a really fun read.

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A Thousand Splendid Suns

Originally published 2010 on another site

Again, this one has been on my list for awhile, and the seniors my school read it this past year, so many of them were talking about it. After having the ending entirely ruined by one of them (I didn’t teach her, so I didn’t feel like I could properly chastise her for posting a spoiler) I kind of dreaded reading it because I hated knowing where the book was going. I was still really pleased with the book, despite having it told to me in advance.

Miriam is an illegitimate child growing up with her mother, barely managing to survive. Her weekly visits from her father mean the entire world to her. Miriam, in a fit of desperation, runs away from her mother, begs to live with her father, but he turns her away. Miriam returns to find her mother has hung herself, so now her father has no choice. At a young age, Miriam is married off to a much older man and is taken away from all she knows. This man does not treat Miriam well, forcing her to cook, clean, stay hidden in the house, and punishes her for small things. Needless to say, she’s miserable.

Down the road is a young girl named Laila. She’s beautiful, smart, and is loved by her neighbor boy Tariq. Her father is an educated man, but her brothers are at war, so her mother remains in a state of depression, no matter how much Laila tries to please her.

Miriam and Laila’s lives converge in an instant, and this is where the story truly began for me. I found it interesting that I would entirely forget that the story isn’t set in America. You just get so wrapped up in the story, that the setting becomes less important. Then at other times, you realize how desperate Afghanistan was for many, many years and the setting smacks you in the face again.

I have also read The Kite Runner, by the same author, and would easily recommend both of his books. **update- I’ve read all three of his books, now, and they are all amazing. **  They bring life to a part of the world that is only referred to negatively these days. He captures Afghanistan’s glory days, but juxtaposes them with war, drought, hunger, misery, and survival.

Beautiful stories, but heartbreaking as well.

Harry Potter series

Today, I finished the last book of the series, not including the newest release, which I will get to soon. It has been 7 years since I read the series in its entirety. And I still love it, obviously, but I have some new thoughts on the series. Spoilers ahead.

The first couple books are pretty mediocre. And every time I tell someone to read the series, I tell them to get through the first three books and then it picks up steam, which I still believe. The first two, while important to the plot development, aren’t spectacular. That said, Rowling does a fantastic job of revealing layer after layer of the magical world with each book. For example, the fact that we learn about various modes of transportation (brooms, floo network, apparition, portkeys, etc) in different books is delightful. There’s no way to reveal all of the magical world’s secrets in the first book, but Rowling also doesn’t just rely on brooms and owls, like in the first book. Every book there’s something new to offer the reader.

However, doing this can create plot holes. When the students practice disarming each other with Expelliarmus, the wands fly out of the owners’ hands, then they pick them back up, and carry on about their business. However, when it comes to the last book, the Elder Wand, who disarmed Dumbledore in Half-Blood Prince, when Harry disarms Draco, etc the disarming of wands and subsequent loyalty shifts has to be explained somehow. Enter Ollivander with his “the wand chooses the wizard” business. We are to assume when the students are practicing, their disarming isn’t truly meaningful, so the wand doesn’t change loyalty. However, when in self-defense, or in combat, the wand can (but not always) shift. I find this a pretty convenient way of explaining a new wizarding law that Rowling had to backtrack on. It’s just me being petty, but it is something that nagged at me while reading.

For the first time, I watched the movies while reading the books, so I was very aware of what was left out. And I understand that, for the sake of time, things are streamlined, but in HPB when Dumbledore leads Harry down the Horcrux path about how each item is “meaningful” to Voldemort, that seems to me to be a pretty important part. However, in the movies, Harry is left entirely on his own to figure it out. Even for Harry, this is a bit of a stretch of ability. He lucks upon them a lot, rather than having a solid lead, like in the books.

Every time I read the last book, I cry when Harry turns the stone over and sees his family. And even more when he asks his mother to stay close to him. She doesn’t reply in the book, but in the movie, she says “Always” which is a mirror to Snape’s response when Dumbledore asks him if he still loves Lily. I love that the movie does this. Because when you love like Snape does, or when a mother loves her child, it’s always. It’s forever. It’s no matter what. This reading, I also cried when Harry mended his wand in Dumbledore’s office. I think this is far better than in the movie, when the wand issue is left completely unresolved. He breaks the Elder Wand, but does he ever get a new one? Of course, but I prefer that he is reunited with his original.

Very few series are as excellent as this one. I can’t wait to read these again with my children, one day.

 

The Accidental Tourist

A friend recommended this book ages ago and has been hounding me ever since. Honestly, I knew it was a movie, but had no idea it was a book. And to meet my “book from a library” category, I used this one. Granted, it was an ebook, but I still checked it out, so it counts.

I really don’t understand what’s great about this one. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. The main character, Macon, has lost a lot. His son died, his wife left, he broke his leg, his house has flooded, and his dog is attacking people. In walks, Muriel, the dog trainer, who might be the most annoying character ever. Okay, hyperbolic, but still! I just couldn’t understand why anyone would want to be with her. Macon lives with his sister, temporarily, who is just as bad. The family is just so set in their ways that nothing can alter their routine. And even though Muriel does just that, Macon is such a flat, dry character that we never really learn whether or not he appreciates Muriel’s craziness.

Unfortunately, the next book I have from the library is another book by this same author, completely by coincidence. It’s the only book with my profession that I could find and that wasn’t a “how-to” manual about being a mother. I’m not looking forward to it, now. But maybe it will be better than this one. Fingers crossed.