Posted in Fiction

City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

City of Bones by Cassandra Clare is not my usual reading genre and there are those who would probably want to take away my man-card for reading it, but let me explain.  I have this quirk about me, perhaps even a character flaw, in that I find it difficult to criticize a book without actually reading it.  Yes, often, I can find the opinions of others from magazine and newspaper articles, blogs and even YOUtube videos and sometimes the opinions can be valuable; however, when it comes right down to what I think, I want to actually read the book.  There are books that I will probably never read simply because they don’t interest me, but I’ll never say anything beyond that unless I read them.  For example, you’ll probably never hear me say anything bad about a Danielle Steel novel – that’s not because I love her work.

So when Daughter, The Eldest decides that a series of books is absolutely wonderful and spends a considerable amount of time reading every book in the series, I want to know what’s going on.  I would also like to talk to her about it intelligently – which I don’t feel I can do without reading the book (see above character flaw).

City of Bones is the first in a series called The Mortal Instruments and has been pegged as the next Twilight Saga (apparently one isn’t enough).   Personally, I found this series much more along the style of Rick Riordian’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians.  While that series was aimed at 11 year-old boys and uses Greek Mythology as a backdrop, this series is aimed at slightly older girls and loosely uses John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost as a backdrop.  When Son, The One And Only, (who enjoyed the Percy Jackson series a couple of years ago along with a few other series like Harry Potter and Eragon) saw I was reading this book, he said “Let me guess, it’s about a kid who doesn’t know who he is and learns some secret about his parents.”  My reply was: “Very observant”.  I was tempted to end my reply with “grasshopper” but I didn’t.  City of Bones starts out with a girl, Clary Fray, who doesn’t know who she is and learns some secret about her parents.  This secret involves shadowhunters, demons, **huge sigh** vampires, and werewolves.  Like Percy Jackson, in every chapter, she finds herself up against some kind of monster or evil creature.  In Twilight fashion, she’s conflicted over her feelings between two boys, Jace and Simon.  However, a wrench gets thrown into this little love triangle early on (in the series).  I’ll be honest, it’s this wrench that makes me want to read the next book.

For those who prefer their teen-age heroines to be on the fast track to becoming CEO of a Fortune 500 company, you probably won’t like Clary any more than Bella in Twilight.  I found Clary a little more intriguing due to the fact that, in a brilliant creative stroke, the author made her an artist – someone who doesn’t see the world the same way as others (both literally and figuratively) and sometimes feels out of place.

Just so my other kids don’t feel left out, Daughter, The Second has loved a series aimed at younger kids that Suzanne Collins wrote before The Hunger Games called The Underland Chronicles.  I’ll read this series sometime, too.  She’s probably the most like Dear Old Dad when it comes to voracious reading.  Daughter, The Youngest still loves the American Girl books. Dear Old Dad has read a few of those, also.

While I’ve tired of book series in recent months, I will at least give the second Mortal Instruments book a chance, but it won’t be right away.  If you still want to take my man-card, you’ll have to meet me in person, over pizza or chicken wings – you’re buying.

Posted in Fiction

Hemingway’s For Whom The Bell Tolls

He lay flat on the brown, pine-needled floor of the forest, his chin on his folded arms, and high overhead the wind blew in the tops of the pine trees.  The mountainside sloped gently where he lay; but below it was steep and he could see the dark of the oiled road winding through the pass.  There was a stream alongside the road and far down the pass he saw a mill beside the stream and the falling water of the dam, white in the summer sunlight.

As I’ve mentioned previously, I first read Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom The Bell Tolls 
during the summer before tenth grade.  This novel and The Sun Also Rises served as my introduction into “real” literature.  I say that somewhat tongue-in-cheek because I have greatly enjoyed many books over the years that might not fall into the category of “real” literature.  I’m not sure who really decides what is considered “real” literature.

That being said, however, Hemingway holds a special place in my reading life because it was the first time I actually noticed the words the author used and determined for myself (before I heard anything from my high school English teachers) that something about the way Hemingway put words together was truly remarkable.

For Whom The Bell Tolls covers a four-day period in the life of Robert Jordan, an American soldier fighting in the Spanish Civil War.  As he hides himself away in the Spanish mountains with a small band of guerrillas, he plots to follow his order to blow up a bridge.  From when I was a teenager, I remembered that the goal of destroying the bridge was the central plot-line in the novel.  I remembered Robert Jordan and Maria’s amorous activities on the pine-needled mountain floor where the “earth moved”.   I remembered Pilar taking over the leadership of the guerrillas from her “ruined” husband, Pablo.

I did not remember the story slowly widening it’s scope before the actuall destruction of the bridge.  In the beginning of the novel, the reader gets to know  Robert Jordan and the other guerrillas from Jordan’s perspective.  However, the closer the plot moves toward Jordan’s goal, the more the reader sees things from others’ points of view.  In a lesser skilled author, this would somehow seem choppy and out of place; but Hemingway skillfully uses this device to build the tension among the characters and the reader.

I did not remember the extent to which Robert Jordan talked to himself and even argued with himself.  This allowed the reader to see the humanity of a soldier on the inside as well as the steadfastness of a soldier on the outside.  In spite of his thought processes, Jordan proceeds with his orders.

Hemingway served as a newspaper correspondent during the Spanish Civil War.  While a commentary on war, I can’t describe this novel as an “anti-war” novel.  Though Hemingway portrays war with all of it’s tragedy and trauma, he paints a picture of a small band of people who are willing to give up everything for the possibility of a better way of life.

Posted in Libraries

Library Memories: Champaign County – Urbana, Ohio

This month, I thought I would post about several public libraries that have been vital to my reading life.  Until I started thinking about it, I hadn’t realized how many memories I have of libraries in various places among the tri-state area (Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky) that has been home to me for the majority of my life.

I’m starting with the Champaign County Library in Urbana, Ohio.  I obtained the historical information below from their website . Check it out for some pictures.  While this was not the first library I had ever been to, it was the first one in which I realized how rich of a resource a library could be.  During my years in Urbana, I was in upper gradeschool and junior high which puts this part of my life somewhere in the late 1970’s.  This was prior to computerized systems and on-line catalogs.  Back then, it was the card-catalog with literal “cards”.  I could still look up information based on title, author or subject.  How this was manually put together kind of boggles my mind.  To find out when a book was due back at the library I couldn’t look my account up on-line, I had to look at the last date on the check-out card in the back of the book.  I always found it intriguing to see how far the dates went back on the card.

Urbana is a small enough town that I could ride my bike all over the place.  Many of these bike trips would end up at the Champaign County Library on Market St.  If I was riding from my home it was a quick trek down Water St., across Main St. at the Urbana Twin Cinema, to Market St. and the library building.

I was at an age when I still went to the “childrens” area but was increasingly finding myself in the adult section.  Many of the books that I read fell into the science fiction and fantasy genre, in addition to reading both previous winners and the latest Newbery Medal winner.  Katherine Paterson’s Bridge To Teribithia and Ellen Raskin’s The Westing Game were two books that I specifically remember finding, checking out and reading.  I have copies of both of these books (not the copies that I read back then!) on my shelf, now, and have enjoyed seeing my kids read them.  Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes, an older Newberry Medal winner (even back then) was another favorite that I might have to re-read sometime in the future.  I still don’t mind reading a good children’s book.  If it’s good, it’s good, no matter how old you are.

I remember one of the librarians telling me that she loved fantasy and science fiction and didn’t like anything realistic.  At the time, I thought that was absolutely cool!  I had moved away from Urbana when I discovered Ernest Hemingway the summer before tenth grade.  I never got to go back and tell her that I now liked realistic books.  And since high school, my tastes in reading have pretty much crossed over all genres.

After 64 years at the Market St. location, the Champaign County Library moved to a former grocery store on the other side of town (which still isn’t that far away) in 1996.  In spite of the fact that family still live in the Urbana, Ohio area and I have made numerous visits back there, I’ve never been inside the new library.  Next time I am there, I need to make a point to check it out.  They also have another branch in North Lewisburg (a town even smaller than Urbana), now.  It’s in a building that used to be a Friends Church.  The church donated their building to the City of North Lewisburg.  As I have a few friends who are Friends, and they all love books, I have a feeling this congregation wasn’t disappointed that their former building is now a library.

Posted in Short Stories

Another ‘summer’ story by Ray Bradbury

I think Ray Bradbury may have especially enjoyed summer.  I’ve mentioned before that the first few pages of his novel Dandelion Wine has a beautiful description of a twelve year-old boy waking up on his first day of summer vacation.  Last week, I read his short story “The Picasso Summer”.  Now this week, I read another of his short stories “All Summer In A Day”.  I would also say that this story is more science fiction than his other two works that I’ve mentioned.

The Stories of Ray Bradbury

A colony of humans live on Venus where it rains continuously except for two hours every seven years when the sun comes out.  A class of 9 year-olds don’t remember the last time the sun was visible so they all have their own thoughts on what it might be like.  The central character is Margot, described by Bradbury as:

…a very frail girl who looked as if she had been lost in the rain for years and the rain had washed out the blue from her eyes and the red from her mouth and the yellow from her hair.

Through a cruel prank, Margot misses the two hours of sunshine while the other children get to enjoy it.  The story is not very long, but it’s long enough for Bradbury to contrast the joy of those who get to experience summer and the tragedy of those who are kept from it.