The Chemist by Stephenie Meyer

I took a trip to the library, checked out The Chemist, and then left it sitting around, waiting for it’s turn on the TBR pile. I finally got around to reading it, and it took me four days to devour the 500+ page book. I shouldn’t have waited to read it, because it has quickly become one of my top books that I’ve read this year!

The reader is immediately thrown into the action that is Dr. Juliana Fortis’ life. On the run for the past three years, she has shed her old name for unisex names like Chris, Casey, and Alex; lived in booby trapped hideaways; and driven in circles for hours in cars bought off Craigslist with cash. She’s extremely intelligent, and has successfully outsmarted the government officials that are determined to assassinate the escaped asset. What she never expected was the email she received- a plea from her old boss to help them solve a case, in exchange for her freedom.

Tempted at the thought of freedom but knowing what her old boss, Carston, is capable off, she decides to take his bait- her way. When she pops in for a surprise visit, they agree to work together this one last time. He sends her the information, and she gets to work. Kidnapping her new target, Daniel, is relatively easy. In fact, it’s almost like he wanted to go with her. When they make it to her newest designated hideout, she gets to work. Enter, the Chemist.

But of course, things don’t go as planned. Just as soon as she’s almost gotten the information she needs- though not exactly what she expects- from Daniel, someone literally drops in on their party. As “Alex” prepares to fight off another government lackey, she instead is surprised by her new guest… who just happens to be in the same boat as she.

Teaming up, Alex, Daniel, and their new guest decide to change the game and take out their pursuers in the hopes of finally being free from their previous lives. It’s absolutely thrilling, gripping, and full of plot twists. I also loved the sense of humor in the book- even in some of the most terrifying situations, there would be a line that would crack me up and give me a second to breathe. I may be a bit behind the curve on this one because it was published in 2016, but if you haven’t read this one, I give it a 100% recommendation!

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Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

I would like to take a minute before I delve into the two movies/ one book comparison, and say that by the end of Mockingjay, if I hadn’t been in a public place when I turned the last page, I would have been crying. To go through the journey of horrors that Katniss had to deal with for three books, to the relatively happy ending in which even she has to remind herself that she is still surviving… talk about heavy heart. Despite those feelings, I wanted to subject myself to seeing the movie for the obvious comparison reasons, and the maybe not-so-obvious visual representation of the action that takes place. Because there are two movies, there’s going to be a lot of things to point out, so bear with me.

  • The reunion with Gabe- there is no lead up, nor is it as emotionally charged as in the book. At this point, Katniss is still having a lot of internal conflict about who she loves more, Peeta or Gale, in the book, and yet the movie skims this.
  • Katniss’s conditions of becoming the Mockingjay are cut short. In the movie, she only asks for Peeta, Johanna, and Annie to be spared (and no mention of Enobaria) to be pardoned, and for her sisters cat to stay in the district. No mention of hunting, no mention of Gale being beside her at all times, no mention of getting to kill Snow.
  • Up to this point, no mention of Haymitch, except that he’s ‘drying out’. Effie is asked to help prep the Mockingjay, instead of who was left from the stylist team. There is no mention of the abuse to the stylist team, which is important in that it adds depth to the kind of person Coin is as a leader- the kind who hurts the innocent.
  • Prim relays the information about the District 13 epidemic and that Coin loses her husband and daughter to the epidemic, which is something that I either completely missed in the book, or was a Hollywood addition for sympathy from the audience.
  • Katniss breaks the news about the miscarriage in District 8, when in the book it was spread like a rumor by the uppers like Haymitch, Coin, and Plutarch.  Also while in 8, when the attack on the hospital happens, Katniss only shoots one plane down. There is no geese formation comment like in the book, which demonstrates the  bond between Gale and Katniss.
  • The movie does give much more coverage from other districts demonstrating the uprisings in comparison of the book, which mostly relays that information via narration from Katniss or broadcasts.
  • Hunting above ground was Gales idea and okayed by Coin in the movie, and relayed as a surprise for Katniss. In the book, this was one of the requests Katniss makes as a condition of being the Mockingjay. Also, as a hunter myself, I’m very curious as to what the map of the districts would look like, because in my mind, I was surprised to see Katniss and Gale hunting elk in District 13- I tend to think of them as more of a Rocky Mountain range animal, and in my mind, 13 was near the Appalachians (which I know have elk, but in small populations). I did a little research to see if a map existed, and this is what I found to be the “unofficial official” map of Panem:

Image result for official hunger games district map

  • The evacuation to the lower level is portrayed with way more panic and chaos than the book describes. The only dramatic part in the book is when Prim can’t be found. No idea what all the rain is about in the movie either… I don’t remember any pipes bursting underground, so I’m not sure why it’s pouring in the movie.
  • Katniss is supposed to be talking about Peeta with Finnick as a distraction during the rescue mission of Peeta and the others captured during the Quarter Quell. However, in the movie, Katniss isn’t a part of the propo.  Instead she is watching the rescue mission, a in communication with President Snow, which didn’t happen during Peeta’s rescue mission.
  • They send in Prim, not Delly, as the first introduction to Peeta after he attacks Katniss. This makes no sense to those who read the book, because Prim would be a definite trigger that would connect back to Katniss.
  • Snow poisoning the minister was definitely a show piece for the movie audience and not a part of the book- or at least, it wasn’t narrated, but more speculated by Finnick.
  • Johanna looking at Katniss’s things in the hospital, not in their room. Johanna shows no hesitance when she sees the stuff, nor gets permission from Katniss to look at the things. This doesn’t allow the movie audience to see their sort of camaraderie build.
  • Instead of earning her place on the 451 squad, and showing the effort that Johanna and Katniss put in training, the movie bypasses the situation and has Johanna cover for Katniss after Finnick and Annie’s wedding so that Katniss can sneak onto a plane headed for the Capital. This frustrated me, because there was so much character development for Johanna in that time period, and when she fails to make the team, it was meaningful to the reader as to why. And the same goes for Katniss, especially when she outwits the training simulator into thinking she can follow orders. Anyways, it was so Hollywood to see her walk into the war front and of course everyone was recognizing her, and then when she meets up with Gale, she learns that Coin is annoyed with her now that she’s gone rogue- when in the book, the mistrust from Coin is found out later. Finally, the squad is introduced while in the Capital during the movie, when in the book they are all shipped to the capital together.
  • Finnick recognizes the Holo as akin to the Hunger Games arena before Katniss- in the book it is visa versa.
  • Katniss and Gale are the only ones to head out toward the Snow mansion, and  unlike when all 5 of them head out. In the book, the significance of the remaining squad members leaving to create distractions from Katniss as she makes her way to the mansion is lost in the movie. The same goes for Gale giving his nightlock pill to Peeta, and for Peeta to want to protect Katniss. Also, when Gale is captured, it is supposed to be a chaotic moment that Katniss doesn’t even have time to hear or register what Gale was shouting at her. She is not supposed to hear Gale saying shoot me.
  • Snow isn’t locked up within the garden like in the book.
  • Katniss only gets one arrow in the book to shoot Snow, and yet she walks out in the movie with a full quiver. Also, she mentions the lack of stage space, and how close she was to Snow for the execution, and yet the movie has a huge wide area. And on top of that, Peeta is there to witness the whole event when he should actually still be in the hospital.

There you have it, as many discrepancies as I could note while watching the films. I would like to say that over all, these movies kept me on the edge of my seat, and I enjoyed the way the actors fit their roles. I have to say, my favorite in the movie was surprisingly Haymitch- haha Woody Harrelson nailed the character. I’ll definitely be rereading and rewatching this series, and am glad I finally came out from under my rock to tackle them!

 

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

I’m just getting around to reading the Hunger Games series (I know, I know, but I like living under a rock!) and decided that since they were so popular and such major movies, I’d do a book/movie comparison! I mean, we all know the book is going to be much better because Hollywood likes cutting the good stuff for movie length reasons (just give us the 4 hour movie, seriously!) but I like being able to remember what really happened vs what happened in the movies.

Image result for hunger games

  • The introduction of the movie sums up the first few chapters of the book fairly well, though there is far more background in the book. And the relationship between Gale and Katniss isn’t as defined at the start of the movie as in the book.
  • How Katniss got the Mockingjay pin is far more meaningful in the book than in the movie. For a mayor’s daughter to give away a pure gold pin versus being handed it by a Hob woman without much insight on the pin doesn’t give the audience much information about the state of the district and the worth of the pin to Katniss. Though they add sentimentality in the movie- where Katniss gives the pin to Prim to protect her, and then she gives it back after the reaping- it still doesn’t do the book justice, in my opinion.
  • Katniss doesn’t put on as much of a show in the opening ceremony in the movie, and it’s Peeta’s idea to hold hands and not Cinna’s. Truthfully, this carries throughout the movie, and it makes their romantic interest in each other hard to believe in the movie. In the books, you really think there could be something mixed in from what the reader gathers from Katniss’ internal conflict.
  • Katniss’ display to the scoring panel- way more thrilling in the book than the movie- although, seeing her hit the apple was pretty cool!
  • The constant surveillance isn’t as apparent in the movies as in the book. The things that Peeta tells Katniss the eve of the Games in the movie is less censored than the book. The surveillance in general during the games is also lesser than the book portrays. Katniss doesn’t act up or hide her emotions in the movie as often as the book says. In the book, they seem to be constantly aware of the cameras.
  • The relationship between Katniss and Rue wasn’t as developed in the movie as the book. You get that they admire each other, but you don’t see Katniss’ soft side, the part that makes Rue remind her of Prim.
  • Katniss didn’t stay hidden after blowing up the cornucopia in the movie, nor did they explain her hearing loss.
  • The uprising of District 11 in the movie wasn’t talked about in the book. None of the underlying Gamemaker/Capital business is truly revealed, only speculated by Katniss, until the end of the book. Even so there wasn’t any mention of any district outside of the capital being upset about the Games ending the way that it did.
  • The love story is definitely not played up as much in the movie, making the whole “Romeo and Juliet star-crossed lovers” death threat at the end a lot less believable, and the whole end of the book is Katniss trying to sort out her feelings in the Games vs her reality.
  • There is no mention of the separation of the two main characters at the end of the movie, and Peeta finding out about Katniss’ not reciprocating the same feelings for Peeta. This obviously is supposed to set the reader up for the following book in the series, and therefore should also be done in the movies- but it wasn’t.

Obviously, as the first in the series, the movie left the audience curious about what might happen next, but the book left the reader rushing off to the store in search for the next one. Now, if you’re like me and haven’t read or seen the movie, I suggest you check them out, because even though I found the movie lacking in comparison, both the book and movie are thrilling and keep their respective audiences wanting more.

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

For Marie- Laure, it all starts with the Sea of Flames and the legend behind it- of one rare blue teardrop diamond with a flare of red in the center, with the power of immortality to the owner at the price of a curse: ill fate to those dearest. It was a centuries old story that Marie-Laure wasn’t quite convinced was true, but she pondered the legend anyways, imagining what the diamond would look like- for not only was she blind, but the jewel was said to be held deep in a vault with thirteen doors. After all, her father, security and keeper of the keys at the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris, France, worked in close proximity to the vault.

For Werner, it all starts with a copy of a popular mechanics magazine and a simple radio, listening to a broadcast from who knows where of a man teaching science. An orphan living with his sister, Jutta, at Children’s House (an orphanage), Werner was eager to understand the world around him, studying conduits and gears, magnets and electricity, and eventually becoming extremely talented at fashioning simple machines and fixing even the most complex radios. When a German officer has him repair his radio, Werner is inspired by his praise and decides to attend the National Political Institute of Education at Schulpforta, in an effort to make something of himself- to go far, do well.

What these two young children aren’t expecting is the start of World War II, and how quickly it would change their lives.

For Marie-Laure, she would flee with her father to Saint-Malo, having to learn the area through her father and his handcrafted wooden replica of the town by feel and sound. Her great-uncle Etienne, who fought in World War I and still battled his demons post-war, and his housekeeper, Madame Manec, took them in, eventually becoming Marie-Laure’s guardians when her father is caught and sent to a labor camp in Germany. Determined to aid the allied war effort, Madame, Marie-Laure, and even Etienne risk their lives running operations in code through the sound waves of Etienne’s radio.

For Werner, he would become one of Hitler’s Youth, learning the cold methodology of the Nazi SS organization. Though he witnessed the cruelty of the system, there didn’t seem to be a way to stand up against it- nor was he sure that he could. Attempting to keep his nose to the grindstone, he surprises one of his teachers with his quick ability to produce simple mechanics and electronics, and becomes a favorite of his instructor. Then, when Werner tries to level the favoritism playing field between himself and his peers, the instructor turns against him and enlists him. As a soldier in Hitler’s Army, he scans the radio waves for illicit transmitters, ones that could be aiding the allied war effort.

As the two plot lines connect, the pages seem to turn faster and faster as the reader learns what is to become of the now young adults. It’s a beautiful story, and the sensual visualizations (sight, sound, even tactile) that Doerr gives the reader through his two main characters is so realistic that it’s like you are there, witnessing everything for yourself. I also enjoyed reading about World War II from yet another point of view, in which the characters are affected by the war differently than some other novels I’ve read- though it still reads heavy because no matter who is talking about the subject matter, the subject is still about the one of the darkest times in our history. I should also mention that the chapters alternate by character and are very short, so though it is a 500+ page novel, it still reads rather quick.

Overall, I’d recommend All The Light We Cannot See, but I wasn’t as enamored with it as I thought I would be. It’s a good story, and if I found the book on one of my Goodwill hauls, I’d certainly pick it up, but I’m not rushing to the store for my own personal copy. I’m glad that I did read it though, and would say that those who recommended it to me were spot on in saying that I would enjoy it!

 

 

 

Banned & Challenged Books Week

Hi Everyone! I’m blogging outside the box today because it is #BannedBooksWeek! I decided to do a little research on the honorary week, and suggest you check out the American Library Association (ALA) list of banned and challenged books!

I did so myself, and wasn’t surprised at what I saw on the banned books list- mostly books that were ahead of their time or had controversial points of view. As it is, some of these are still talked about in controversy! What did surprise me is that I read most of these novels between middle and high school ages- formative years. Each one has broadened my understanding of the time periods, taught me to see both sides of conflicts and resolutions, helped me sort where my moral values stand, and fueled my love for historical fiction!

Banned Classics:

The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
Ulysses, by James Joyce
1984, by George Orwell
Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
The Call of the Wild, by Jack London

Then we reach the challenged books. This list really surprised me. I know I read about a third of these before I even entered middle school, and I haven’t read any of these post high school graduation. To think of a child reading challenged books- *gasp*! Of course, when I skimmed through the entire selection of challenged books, I understand many of them had adult themes- sex, mostly, but also drugs, violence, strong language and other controversial content that would make any movie “Rated R”. But some of these on my list- Junie B. Jones, REALLY?!- were shocking.

Challenged 1990-2009:

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain

Goosebumps (series), by R.L. Stine

The Witches, by Roald Dahl

Blubber, by Judy Blume

The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling

James and the Giant Peach, by Roald Dahl

Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume

Carrie, by Stephen King

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain
ttyl; ttfn; l8r g8r (series), by Lauren Myracle
Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
Gossip Girl (series), by Cecily von Ziegesar
The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things, by Carolyn Mackler
Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging, by Louise Rennison
Blood and Chocolate, by Annette Curtis Klause
Junie B. Jones (series), by Barbara Park
The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold

 

So there you have it- I’m completely guilty of reading these books, and I’m thankful that I’ve had the freedom- AND HAVE BEEN ENCOURAGED- to read them all. I think that reading has helped me become the mature, well-rounded, educated woman that I am, and every book has allowed me to open my mind, experience life through someone else, and ingrained the moral of the stories into my body. I’ll always carry a bit of Scout, Scarlett, Ponyboy , Harry and the trio, Tom and Huck, and Gatsby and Daisy… all of them along within me. And, above all, I encourage others to do the same- to learn from these characters, to express their thoughts and ideas, and to keep their minds open.

Now, it’s your turn! Feel free to share what banned books you’ve read!

 

 

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

As always, Jodi Picoult knows how to write a page turner, complete with uncomfortable controversy that squarely reflects current affairs. Small Great Things, published last year (2016), is her latest heavy-hitter, this time tackling the subject of race, privilege, and prejudice.

Ruth Jefferson is a labor and delivery nurse of twenty years, single mother of a straight-A student, and a well-educated, hard-working woman. Her mother, a domestic to a wealthy television personality’s family, gave her every opportunity she could to further Ruth’s education and independence. When Ruth found out she was pregnant while her husband was overseas fighting in the war on Afghanistan, she was determined to give her child the same opportunities to be successful and then some- anything to help overcome the imminent obstacles from being Black.

Turk Bauer is a new father to baby Davis, husband of Brittany, and son-in-law to infamous white supremacist Francis Mitchum. His childhood was rocky, to say the least. His father left the family when Turk was young, his brother was killed in a car accident, and his mother drank herself into a stupor that eventually left her dead. Lost and angry, Turk befriends followers of the Mitchums, learns the ways of white supremacists, and eventually marries into the Mitchum family. At the hospital with new baby Davis, the last thing Turk wants to see is nurse Ruth coming into the hospital room, examining his child and wife. As soon as she’s done, Davis’ file is slapped with a Post-it:

“NO AFRICAN-AMERICAN PERSONNEL TO CARE FOR THIS PATIENT.”

When baby Davis goes into cardiac arrest with only Ruth available to help, Ruth has to decide- disobey orders to try to save the baby’s life, or watch on as he’s unable to breathe and do nothing.

Following a typical Picoult plot, the situation plays out in court and the reader gets to see every facet of the argument with points of view from all the characters involved. I have always loved this about Picoult’s books, because she easily allows the reader to slip into the first person narrative from one character to the next. Reading from Ruth’s point of view, I find myself cringing at the blasé comments from Ruth’s white coworkers, and near tears when she is arrested maliciously in the middle of the night. Despite all that she has done to blend in, she still sticks out. She unknowingly surrounded herself with people in denial, not acceptance, of her color. When reading from Turk’s point of view, I absolutely despised him, even when I found that I was pitying him. His childhood was terrible, the situation with his son was terrible… but his anger and strife fueled hate, and he never sought to rise above, only to get even.

Throughout the novel, I can’t help but feel uncomfortable. I’m white, privileged, and one of those people who don’t like to ruffle feathers (so to speak), but I’m aware of the facts that others don’t have the same privileges I do because of the color of their skin. Yet, I haven’t gotten the courage to stand up against it- I’ve sat back and kept quiet in fear of sounding ignorant, naive, or racist, and that’s just as bad as encouraging it. Reading novels like this (or like this http://bit.ly/2voDbia ), makes me check my white privilege, and gives me the determination to discuss these issues, even when it makes me uncomfortable. As Picoult mentioned in her Author’s Note:

“Why was writing about a person of color any different? Because race is different. Racism is different. It’s fraught, and it’s hard to discuss, and so as a result we often don’t.”

These days, it’s easy enough to go on any social media outlet and find heated discussions on racism, but to actually discuss racism from an educational standpoint, without personal or political bias, is difficult. I applaud Picoult for encouraging these discussions in a thought-provoking manner, for writing this book, for helping others open their eyes and truly see color, rather than ignore it.

Small Great Things is absolutely a must read, and another that belongs on your bookshelves.

 

Wild Ride by Ann Hagedorn Auerbach

I’ve been wanting to read Wild Ride for almost four years now. Maybe three months after I moved to Lexington, a friend and coworker was reading it and said it was really good. Fast forward four years, and I finally got the chance to read it, and I honestly think that I wouldn’t have appreciated the book as much as I do now.

See, being in the Bluegrass has really broadened my Thoroughbred knowledge, and I’ve gained a deeper respect for the industry in the area. Despite what you read in the media- because there is always a dark side of each industry- it is truly regarded as the Sport of Kings for good reason. Generations of families taking the chance on the next superstar, and pouring hours, years, lifetimes of dedication (and money) into their horses. Not only have I gained a deeper understanding of the industry, but I’ve also learned my way around (for the most part) Lexington and the surrounding area. I haven’t gone full local (because I still can’t stop acting like a tourist or shake my New England accent), but while reading Wild Ride, I could easily picture the locations mentioned, or the events occurring.

The byline of Wild Ride is “The Tragic Fall of Calumet Farm, Inc., America’s Premier Racing Dynasty”, but Auerbach doesn’t just rehash the demise- she delves into the history of Calumet from the very origins of it’s founder, William Monroe Wright.

The reader learns about the self-made businessman who eventually decided to move from Chicago to the Bluegrass and start his own harness horse breeding operation. From there, his son Warren takes over the family operation, despite being at odds with the way his father ran the place. He converts what becomes Calumet Farm into a thoroughbred operation, and an empire is born. Though strong in business practice, the younger Wright had a lot of horsemanship skills to learn, but his progress turned out derby winners and two Triple Crown winners. Unfortunately, his health took a turn for the worse, and when he passed on, his wife and son became benefactors of his estate, and his wife Lucille inherited the farm, along with gigantic sums of money.

Lucille decides to keep the farm, and in doing so blossoms into one of the social elite. She meets Gene Markey and remarries, and the Markeys, adding a touch of glamour that the Wright men did not achieve, take Calumet to up the social ladder. While Lucille enjoyed being  Lady of Calumet, her son Warren Jr. was moved to the wayside. He didn’t care for the farm life, and had many peculiarities that made him difficult to work with. On top of that, there was some discrepancies about him being the legitimate son of Warren Wright Sr. Lucille did very little to defend her son because he was seen as an embarrassment in her circle. This feud caused much heartache for his wife and four children, and eventually the Wright family became estranged to the Markey family, most so after Warren Jr. succumbs to an early death.

Knowing fully about the family feud, Warren Jr.’s eldest daughter, Cindy, marries a man named J.T. Lundy. Determined to run Calumet, he pressures and fights with Lucille to run the farm. Lucille and Lundy stubbornly spar, neither one giving up, until Lucille’s age catches up to her. Through the will of Warren Sr., the farm is finally turned over the Wright children, and because of their disinterest in the farm due to all the past heartache, Lundy takes over in care of the Wrights. From here, as secretary Margaret Glass notes, Armageddon begins with the fall of Calumet.

If you live in the area, you can still drive past the farm, and see for yourself the images that Auerbach describes- the white double fencing, the devils-red trim on white washed barns, the acres of famous Kentucky bluegrass dotted with horses. But the Calumet you see isn’t the dynasty that existed prior to 1990, and reading about the fall brought chills to my spine.

If you’re a horse junky like me, or interested in historical novels (Kentucky history in particular), horse racing and breeding, or crime novels, Wild Ride is a must read.