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Hello, my name is Valorie. I have a Master's Degree in History and a license to teach-- I have been both university professor and public school teacher. Currently, I am a middle school social studies teacher. I love horror movies and spooky things. Every day is Halloween. I am also a passionate book blogger.

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Book Review: 23:27 by H.L. Roberts

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Book Review: The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games, #1) by Suzanne Collins

Title: The Hunger Games 
Series: The Hunger Games
Book Number: 1
Author(s): Suzanne Collins 
Genre: Dystopia Sci-Fi 
Finished: August 21, 2012

Most of the popular books of late have been tales of little substance. The female characters are weak, silly, or co-dependent to some male who has emotional problems and treats her rather poorly. I will refrain from getting into a long dialogue about how this may negatively impact a few generations of young girls, but I will say books like Twilight and Shades of Grey have little to nothing to offer people in the way of true importance and meaning. With that being said, the one thing that I liked immediately about the Hunger Games was the female lead, Katniss. She is independent and strong, yet she still displays a weakness that she cannot admit or make sense of, which I think shows her complexity and depth. She isn't some generic caricature of the strong female that can do all, and neither is she weak, weepy, or vapid. Fortunately, since the Hunger Games is not only an immensely popular book, but also a movie, I don't need to repeat the plot. But to give a very succinct summary: it is a dystopian future of an undated era. What's left of civilization is called Panem and is situated into a number of districts, 12 in total, and a Capitol city that is pretty much the center of money and power. There was a rebellion years ago that failed, and so every year in remembrance each of the districts must give a boy and girl as "Tribute" to fight other Tributes from all districts in the annual Hunger Games. It's a reminder of the power of the government, you know? The power of life and death. Poverty and want are rampant throughout this world. So is fear. Enter Katniss Everdeen from District 12, a depressing and poor mining area. Most people there are starving and impoverished. To put food on the table Katniss has become very capable with a bow and arrow, which she uses to hunt food. When her little sister is drawn in the random lottery that selects Tributes, Katniss volunteers. The rest of the book contains the trails of training and then finally the games themselves, completely bloody and violent affairs. I suppose when it is die or win, the natural desire is to live, even at all costs. I can't say that I completely hate the other Tributes for their brutality. When your only choice to stay alive is to kill everyone around you, I think it would bring the worst in a person out. And I also think there is a lot more psychology and human nature there than we really need to ponder, but needless to say, it says something about how strong the will to live is, and what fear and pain can bring out in a person. But when a book makes you ponder human nature and even question yourself it is a good book. I love dystopia novels because I think they are more accurate as to what a true "utopia" would become. I'm not bothered by violence or gore, and I certainly don't hold it against an author when there is a copious amount of both. To be honest, I respect an author who doesn't shy away from graphic detail. There was a point during the romance that I wanted to shake her and make her pay a little attention to the fact that the dude (Or Peeta, as he is called) really does like him. But then I realized that I was being unfair to her development as a character. First off, she is fighting for her life... boys aren't a priority. Secondly, she has always had to struggle and fight and care for those she loves. When you live day to day, you aren't afforded the time to ponder your future. And living like that has a way of sucking the feeling out of a person, giving them only what they need to operate at a basic mode of survival. Unnecessary feelings of want or desire or frailty just don't fit in, so they have to go. She wasn't blind for not being a silly girl when I wanted her to be. She was even more real of a person because she didn't see. And I liked the parts where she was close to giving up the most because it threw a kink into the typical "badass girl" scheme. I mean, come on... we can't be brave and strong and capable all of the time. I know most authors like to Mary Sue and live vicariously through their characters, but this isn't one of those cases. Thank God. That is on my list of things that grate on my nerves... it's a long list. I will read book two and three, and I am certain I will enjoy them.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Book Review: Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

Title: Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch 
Author(s): Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett 
Genre: Fiction - Paranormal Humor 
Finished: July 18, 2012

People have been encouraging me to read Neil Gaiman for a long time, so when Paperbackswap sent me this particular novel, I figured that was a sign (no book reference intended) that I should begin with this one. Who wouldn't love an amusing, comedy-filled imagining of the end of the world? It suits the morbid in me. The plot begins with a baby switch at the beginning: two babies are being born, one being the child of an important ambassador, which is to be replaced by the son of the Devil. Unfortunately, a mishap places the Devil's only son, named Adam by his clueless human parents, with an innocent Lower Tadfield couple. They know nothing of what their baby is or what will happen. All information about the eventual "apocalypse" is found in a book of prophecy penned by a long dead witch known as Agnes Nutter, who wrote down her foretellings for her descendants to interpret. Enter in to the story a motley cast of characters. You have an angel and a demon who are residents on earth. Their duty is to handle various dealings for their respective sides in the eternal battle of good versus evil. They are friends. They are aware that the end of the world is coming. The both of them are also reluctant to see the world go because they rather like it. You also have the young Antichrist Adam who is, thanks to his raising, a normal kid with strange powers and a sweet Hellhound. Mixed in with this is a witch, a couple of witch finders, a medium, the horses (or in this case the motorcycles) of the Apocalypse, and a group of young human children getting into the messes that young children do unaware that their leader is the Antichrist. Beneath the comedy is a little theology to satisfy the intellectual in all of us. It makes us ask questions like what is good and evil? Does good and evil exist only to fulfill a role because we need them to? Both the resident angel and demon in the story aren't necessarily identifiable as what we think of as theologically good or bad... they just are. And sure, they enjoy a little morality and destruction, but not enough to destroy the world for it. Angel and demon both exist as pawns in a game that no longer has meaning, but continues because both sides want to win. It's like carrying a grudge because someone did something bad to you long ago, but you no longer remember what you did, just that it made you mad. Maybe also a little because that is what is expected. And consider young Adam, the son of the Devil, who lacks the capacity for true pure evil because he was raised as a normal kid. His "evil" isn't a part of his person, it isn't embedded in his gene code, and he is only a mischievous kid with powers he can't understand or make sense of. He doesn't want to be bad, he just wants to be a kid and create a world that would be perfect to him as a child. Which, yes, does ultimately lead to a near nuclear crisis. Of course you can read it just to enjoy being witness to a creative adventure that allows one little mix-up to snowball into a chaotic mess that almost sees the world to the brink of extinction. The book is funny, clever, well written, unique, and interesting. It's not some dramatic, edge of your seat apocalypse book full of military personnel speaking in code and superhuman main characters that perform heroic acts not possible for normal people. Just a bunch of people, both human and not, running in haphazard circles trying to stop the world from blowing up in a rain of nuclear missiles.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Book Review: Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children (#1) by Ransom Riggs

Title: Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children
Series: Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children
Book Number: 1
Author(s): Ransom Riggs 
Genre: Fiction - Fantasy 
Finished: June 28, 2012

A young boy named Jacob recalls the strange stories his grandfather Abe used to tell him as a child. They were fantastical stories of children with special powers. Grandfather Abe was even able to furnish proof using old photographs of things like a floating girl, a boy covered in bees, and invisible boy. As children do, young Jacob believed his grandfather. Yet as the boy grew to a teenager, he began to doubt his grandfather's stories until they became just that: stories. It wasn't until the untimely and violent death of his grandfather at the hands of a horrific creature that it seemed only Jacob could see that Jacob began to wonder if the stories may be just a little more real than he imagined. His grandfather leaves him with a cryptic message that sends him off on a journey to find the old children's home in Wales that Abe was placed in as a child, of course Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. Naturally, like most people who sincerely believe in monsters, Jacob is sent to a shrink who decides that it is for his own good that Jacob go to Wales. According to Dr, Golan, it is the only way for Jacob to truly see that what his grandfather told him cannot be real. Except what Jacob finds instead is that the home was real and the children do exist. They exist in a loop in the past, repeating the same day over and over, the very day that their home was bombed and all the children killed. Miss Peregrine is one of a special sort of peculiar person, a shapechanger (a bird) who can manipulate time. There are loads of other pockets of loops throughout the world and time, each sustained by a headmistress who maintains the loop. The plot thickens with the introduction of hollowgast, creatures that feed off of peculiar children. These monsters, remnants of a time experiment gone wrong, are aided by wights who find them their peculiars to consume. This book was a very quick read and it combines a number of photographs with the story. I both liked and disliked the inclusion of photographs. Yes they added to the story, but it's not a perfect system. You can see that some photos are obviously fake, some portray the same people in the story but are noticeably of different individuals, and some just seem thrown in there and mentioned in the text to make room for them. Sometimes it was obvious that the pictures were writing details of the plot, not the other way around. And I found that to be cheating a bit. Maybe I am just picky. I thought the story was unique enough to be novel because don't we all want to believe that something magical exists in our otherwise mundane world? And the thought of these kids existing in some infinite time loop the day they all were to die helps curb the sheer morbidity that sits at the foundation of the storyline. Plus, monsters. It's just disturbing enough to please those who like to be disturbed, but sweet enough that people who reject disturbing things can sleep at night. I feel like the wind up to the climax of the plot was too long, and the climax was too fast. Or really, not as powerful as I would have liked. I will admit that I very much enjoyed the story and don't regret reading it. I need to stop focusing so much on the bad in everything and start shedding more light on the good. It is undoubtedly a book worth a read, and it blurs the line between horror and fantasy, between heartwarming and disturbing, which are all things that I very much love and appreciate. I just look forward to the sequel one day so that I can feel satisfied.