Tuesday, September 19, 2017

More Ness: A Monster Calls

After Chaos Walking, I had to read A Monster Calls -- especially having seen the movie-tie in edition making the rounds.  I flew through it in about an hour and a half, but not because it was trivial or plain.  On the contrary.  It is one of the best books I've read this year, indubitably.

While in no way being trivial or plain, it is elegantly simple and tight.  It's also imagery-rich, funny, real-feeling and Gaiman-esque.   I became pre-occupied in marvelling how Ness' brain works at its close.  The writing is so good, the story so strong and the entire thing so tastefully and masterfully executed, I have to recommend it to one and all.  Unlike Chaos Walking (a.k.a. a profound gut-puncher), this one's for everyone.

Review copy received from Walker.

*I hear a nuanced performance by the child star in the film adaptation steals the show.  I will most definitely be seeking it out.  So glad I read this.

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Knife of Never Letting Go (and the Chaos Walking trilogy)

Earlier this year, I read Patrick Ness for the first time.  I made my dip into his writing via his latest novel, Release, and while his writing reminded me of Stiefvater (of whom I'm a serious fan), the content was more confronting, crass and cursey than I prefer.  I could tell he could write though.  So when I saw Walker email signatures blazing with banners promoting the film adaptation of another of his books (and one geared towards a slightly younger audience), I was resolved I needed to read something else by Ness.  I am so. glad. I did.  I began with the Chaos Walking trilogy and moved onto A Monster Calls (review follows tomorrow).  Guys, if Release was not for you, that does not mean Ness is not for you.

Overall: The Chaos Walking trilogy is a robust and rousing world-build which I felt deserved a chef kiss of bennisimo at its conclusion.  

Let's break this down a little more, book by book;

The Knife of Never Letting Go, Patrick Ness
  • I was reminded of Stiefvater all over again in style and The Dream Thieves in particular.  In atmosphere, of The Wasp Factory and Lord of the Flies -- only The Knife is more compelling and...better (to my taste).  Either of those classics would serve well as a comparative class study, but holy crackers I would salivate at the prospect of studying this alongside Ender's Game.
  • There are multiple narrative perspectives, and I think the devices employed to distinguish between these two personalities make them impressively distinct from each other.
  • Strong language is used tastefully and very intentionally (two major curses in this one, by my count).
  • I devoured the varied sentence-lengths and paragraphs and found the story crazy-compelling.  At first I felt like I was picking my way through and deciding how I felt about it all, but from the inciting incident onwards I was in, and in deep.  I saw some things coming, but others I did not and it made for a thrilling ride.
  • There's a lot of violence --  both implied and graphically described.  The most insidious images are those I insinuated, however.  (Typical.)
  • No sex scenes; euphemisms and vague references to sex are brief and tasteful.
Overall: Book 1 is so well done, and one I'm quick to recommend to people I think would enjoy it;  but it's certainly not for everyone.  I saw Laini Taylor say in her GR review that it's good...but it's also a punch to the gut.  So true.

The Ask and the Answer, Patrick Ness
  • It is like a gift from the English Teacher gods; because Book 2 in this series is a perfect comparative study for Speaker for the Dead!  AH!  (I also would love to write and read essays drawing on links to Peter Pan.)
  • One sad thing about having a roaring, crazy-compelling first book built upon intrigue, is that it is one tough act to follow.  Book 2 is by no means a weak book, but after becoming accustomed to the pace set in Book 1 and after having so many questions answered, I didn't drive through the sequel with the same urgency; I could put it down (and even read another series in the middle of it -- I needed something lighter, and indulged myself accordingly).  BUT THEN -- chapter four introduces a new narrative voice that upped the investment anti-, and later, from the three-quarter mark, I was so obsessed all over again!  
  • Reveals are less for fun and less contrived than say The Maze Runner, and have greater relevance to the story.
  • I appreciate that as this story develops there is a greater emphasis on hope in spite of all of the loss and pain.  I needed that.  It made me feel a little fist-pumpy even.
  • Small beef:  The horses.  Oh Patrick, how you've short-changed these majestic creatures!  I'll say no more for those yet to read, but c'mon, they're so majestic and intelligent!
Overall:  Book 2 is slower (a very relative term!) than Book 1, but still essential and strong!

Monsters of Men, Patrick Ness
  • It was finally, in Book 3, that I put my finger on what exactly made it so difficult for me to rip through all three novels in immediate succession; it's the humour situation!  There is humour in these, no doubt, but it is served sparingly.  If I had read these as they were released -- with more space (and stories) between, I doubt I would have encountered the same stumbling block.  Back-to-back though, they're pretty dark and dry. 
  • It was because I didn't see enough warmth from characters, I think, that I didn't care as much in the battle scenes as I should have.  I think one of the greatest stories being told in Book 3 is how war changes people, but sadly war is so much the default mode in Book 3 that change is barely detectable; I was not charmed by endearing characters to be shaken by their gravitas on the battlefield, because things are mostly serious, most of the time.
  • In the third installment, I also sadly found the switching perspectives at times unnecessary and too frequent.
  • But there are so poetic beauties in the writing.
  • GOLLY did the protags make some annoying choices in this one.  
  • Good thing the chief villain had chops. (Yeah, there are multiple villains in this series.)
  • On a related note: I'm team Spackle.  Let it be known.  If you've read these, let me speak to this point.
  • I had so many rich, enjoyable moments in the trilogy's resolution; the final book is really gratifying, even profound.  The morals and allegory may be spelled out a little, but they're morals worth making clear.  I was so pleased hope continued to triumph.  
  • Disclaimer-wise, there's some blasphemy, allusions to sexual intimacy and plenty more violence.
Overall: Book 3 brings everything together in a way that makes the stuff I sniffed at better; even the elements I'd thought, "this isn't great" seem "all good" in retrospect.  That's quite a feat!  What a conclusion!  I closed Book 3 and thought, "Darn good!"  My rec: Ride this one to its end, it magnifies the overall memorability of the world and impact of its themes and characters.

I'm very fortunate to have enjoyed reviewing the clean-design new editions of this series.  I'm reluctant to lend them to anyone because their spines are so darn pretty...but I can't stop talking about them, so I'm guessing I'll suck it up.  Or you can all just buy them unread in good faith!  Go on.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

YouTube Favourite: Scamalot

You've probably come across these, but if you haven't, you're welcome.

I've been telling anybody who will listen about this particular one all day.  It's a favourite.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Charity Dinner + Nothing But Nets FREE Activity Resources

This week our family is hosting a charity dinner to raise money and awareness for Nothing But Nets.

There are so many good causes out there, and I know we can't say "yes" to all of them, but I also believe in teaching my children that when we feel moved to action, we should act.  Because for me at least, when I wait, that motivation fades to a sort of dull, aching empathy, which on its own doesn't make measurable change in the world.

So: After my girls and I watched the (made-for-TV-)movie Mary and Martha (available on Netflix -- if you want to check it out), we felt moved to action.  Esky wanted all of her (Lego-destined)savings to go to buying nets for people like she'd seen in this movie. Ivy wanted to do more chores and host garage sales and make speeches and draw posters (all the things!) to earn money to donate.  Mia was chipmunk-cheering them both on.  And I thought: this is a place to start.  One charity, one cause we're thinking about.  (And yes, we also try to donate to our church's humanitarian fund.)

The seats have been sold and the group's donation has been made.  I'm not inviting you to dinner. *wink*  (But hey, if you wanna come next time we have one, by all means!)

This post is in aid of the awareness aspect of supporting a cause; any cause, really.  If you want to support Nothing But Nets, you'll find two resources below I've made that you can have for your use at your own fundraisers (these are for the young and young-at-heart for colouring and solving during the dinner/event) -- feel free to use in conjunction with your event.  If there is some other cause you feel drawn to, this post is to lend a voice of "Yes, you can do something!" to the many voices vying for space in your mind.  You can find something that is doing, not just feeling.  For us, that was organising a dinner (buying a seat paid for a meal and a donation), for you this could look very different.

If you don't want to organise anything but you want to do something by donating, you can jump over to my page and donate.  I don't get any of the money, I just get to watch a meter fill up (which is always a wee bit fun; #goals).

Free colouring and code-cracking activities for Nothing But Nets (click to enlarge):
Free for use at your fundraising events.  Or just free to use at home (raising awareness is good too).

(I'm also happy to email you high res PDFs, email me!)


What is Nothing But Nets?
Nothing But Nets is a United Nations Foundation charity leading a global grassroots campaign to raise awareness, funds, and voices to fight malaria. With the help of their partners and supporters, Nothing But Nets have raised over $60 million to help deliver 10 million bed nets to families in need, along with other crucial malaria interventions like diagnostics, treatment, and training of healthcare workers.

Why Nets?
Every two minutes, a child dies from malaria, a disease caused by a single mosquito bite. Malaria is preventable and treatable, with a life-saving, insecticide-treated bed net and other malaria prevention tools and treatment.

Long-lasting, insecticidal bed nets (LLINs) are a simple, cost-effective solution to protect families from malaria while they sleep. They create a physical barrier against malaria-carrying mosquitoes, and the insecticide woven into the nets kills the mosquitoes before they can transmit the disease from one person to the next. Today, approximately 53% of the population in sub-Saharan Africa is protected by bed nets, compared to just 2% in 2000.

300 million people in Africa still lack access to a bed net.

Who is at risk of malaria?
Malaria is transmitted to people through the bites of Anopheles mosquitoes, which primarily bite at night and carry the life-threatening disease caused by the blood parasite Plasmodium. In 2015, there were 212 million new cases of malaria worldwide and 429,000 deaths, 70% of which were children under five.

Nearly half of the world’s population is at risk of malaria. Most malaria cases and deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa. However, South-East Asia, Latin America and the Middle East are also at risk.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Another Graphic Novel Collab by Hale and Pham

Real Friends, Shannon Hale & LeUyen Pham
The same two legends who brought us The Princess in Black join forces for this precious package.  I am really taken with this book.  Laid out in graphic novel frames, with chapters organised based upon people who came into the protag's (Shannon Hale's) life, it reads easy.  But it also contains some profound lessons.  All three of my girls have read (or listened) to this one over and over.  They refer to things within its pages to illustrate points or make connections when they're viewing or reading other narratives; it's a touch-stone work for them.  In addition to being heartfelt, honest and well-told, it's also peppered with some really funny moments.  The quest to find "real friends" sees young Shannon navigating through various friendships and scenarios, and sadly not always faring well ( often because she doesn't have the right thing to say).  The biographical notes at the back are a great inclusion -- I enjoyed them so much I found myself seeking out the "About Me" pages on Hale's website for more, more, more!  The biggest surprise was to find Jesus Christ appeared in the story.  It's nothing too overt, but He does have a presence.  He is presented as a part of Shannon's memoir alongside a range of coping mechanisms -- as a source she drew upon to get through.  Bonus: The book is in full colour and beautifully-illustrated, on top of being moral-rich.  I've already ordered a copy to own.  I highly recommend this for any family that would like a reference point for discussions about school and/or relationships.  For example, if your whole family is familiar with it, you can then say, "Oh, is Soandso being a Jenny?" or "This sounds a little like what happened to Shannon" or "Do you think maybe Soandso needs you to be a Zara in her life?" and so on.  I'm a big fan of real talk, and I think this is a great catalyst for more of it. Even if your family members aren't victims to bullying or exclusion, I think Hale's story can help anyone see things more objectively so they can be more intentional in being and finding "real friends."  If you're not ready to order one just yet, check your local library for a copy -- it's where we first got our hands on one.
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