Ian McEwan – “The Children Act”

In the summer of 2019 I began work towards a graduate certificate in English so that I could pick up additional credentials to teach English courses at the community college. My first course was on British literature, and I was introduced to Ian McEwan. His book, “Amsterdam”, was riveting, and so I tucked him away in the back of my mind with the intention of reading more of his work later. The time came, and I started another of his books, “The Children Act”.

This book focuses on a Fiona, a high court judge that focuses on family situations. She and her husband are having some marital issues, and her focus is mainly on her work rather than her husband. While law is certainly not my area of expertise, I do follow cases now and then as they apply to my work as a Political Science instructor. The cases described that Fiona has to address certainly caught my attention, and many of them focus on religion. Keep in mind, McEwan is a British author, so I had to put my “1st Amendment” mentality to the side. For example, do the Catholic parents of a set of conjoined twins have the authority to deny separation surgery because it would result in the death of one of the children whose body simply can’t survive?

The main case, however, involves a boy, Adam, who, along with his parents, are devout Jehovah’s Witnesses. Adam is fighting Leukemia, and his doctors strongly recommend a blood transfusion. Unfortunately, Adam’s faith prohibits blood transfusion, and his parents have forbid the doctors from proceeding, noting that they would be shunned by their community. Adam, who is a few months shy of turning 18, is still legally a child, and thus there is a legal debate over whether or not he is able to make his own decision regarding the transfusion. Fiona must determine if Adam is truly capable of making his own decision, given the influence of his parents and their faith. She decides on an unorthodox visit to his hospital room, and it is there they both have an enlightening experience that changes both of them.

This book was amazing! Not only did the backstory grab my attention, the debates over the legal role of the courts in handling issues of faith struck me as interesting and applicable to what I teach. I felt for both Fiona and Adam, and they were both engaging characters. McEwan definitely hit a home run with this one. I’m currently trying to track down a copy of the movie that was produced based on the book, as I’d love to see how it transitioned to the silver screen. Regardless, the book was definitely one I’d recommend. It’s a pretty quick read (about 6 hours), and it’ll keep you hooked up until the end!

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Susan Collins – “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes”

I was introduced to “The Hunger Games” about a decade ago. I was teaching at LHS at the time, and I remember I was covering someone’s class for some reason. One of my students was nose deep in a book, and that caught my interest because that particular student was NOT an avid reader. I remember asking her what she was reading, and she just lit up with excitement, telling me all about Katniss and what was happening to her. If a student who rarely read was excited about a book, it had to be good, and thus I decided to check it out.

“The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” is Susan Collins’ fourth book in the series. It’s actually a prequel to the original trilogy. I have to admit that I was looking forward to reading it, because I thought the original trilogy ended on a rather bland note with “Mockingjay.” The first two books were amazing, but the third was rather lackluster. When I initially heard the rumors of a 4th book being a prequel, I thought it was going to be about Haymitch and his experience winning the games. That turned out to be wrong. This book focuses on Coriolanus Snow, the guy who would go on to become the president of Panem during the main trilogy.

It had been quite a while since I had read the original books, so I had to refresh myself with some of the lore. (What was an avox again?) I found myself interested in the early days of the games and how the mentoring program started out. Unlike the original books, the mentors here were students in the Capitol rather than former winners, which makes sense given that it’s only the 10th games and there aren’t that many winners yet. The book focuses on the role of Snow and his assigned tribute, Lucy Gray from District 12, as they work together to make it through the games.

It turns out Coriolanus Snow, despite living in the Capitol, is pretty poor and desperate, but just like some people today, he puts on a good show of trying to pretend to be upper class. Apparently his family was fairly well off prior to the war that ultimately gave birth to the Hunger Games. I can’t recall exactly what happened to their wealth, but Snow and his cousin repeatedly utter “Snow falls on top” as a reminder that they’ll end up better than they currently are. (Obviously that does happen, given his status as president later on.)

I should note that the book is made up of three parts. The first two were pretty enjoyable. They focused on the lovable Lucy Gray as she makes her debut at the reaping up through her time in the games. Snow is there to help, and he becomes a likable character. The third part, however, goes in a completely different direction. I’m not sure what Collins was thinking here. Furthermore, the ending of the book seems ridiculously rushed, like she was just trying to make a deadline or something. I was definitely not satisfied there, and, if I’m being completely honest, it was just as disappointing as “Mockingjay.”

Was this book worth the read? Yes. Did I enjoy it? For the most part, yes. Do I think it could have been better? Absolutely! I would definitely recommend it, especially if you’re a fan of the originals, but be prepared to be somewhat disappointed with the last part of the book. I certainly don’t want to provide any spoilers, but you’ll know what I mean when you get there.

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F.C. Yee – “The Rise of Kyoshi”

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“But that all changed when the Fire Nation attacked…” I never watched Avatar when it first aired (16 years ago, yesterday!) because I thought it was a kids’ show. When I caught it on Netflix a few months back, I was amazed at how rich the story was. It was chock full of themes a kid might enjoy, but an adult certainly would as well. After binging the show and tracking down its sequel series about Korra on DVD, I discovered there were books about Kyoshi, one of the previous avatars. F.C. Yee’s “The Rise of Kyoshi” was a delightful read. Full of avatar lore, the book traces the origin of Kyoshi. As an abandoned child, she ended up as a servant of the new avatar, who happened to be mentored by the three former companions of Kuruk, the previous avatar. Kyoshi’s journey rapidly changes as she falls in with a new crowd following a tragedy. Despite the setback, she rises! Like the show it’s based on, the book has lots of adventure. We see Kyoshi’s relationships grow. We see her maneuver through political conflicts. And like Aang, she has to face moral challenges. I think Yee has done a tremendous job crafting this prequel. Kyoshi was worthy of her own show, for sure, but at least we get her story in text! And to make things better, there’s a second novel I’ll be reading soon! This one, however, is a definite “must read” for any fan of “Avatar: the Last Airbender” or “The Legend of Korra.”

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Nicole Galland – “I, Iago”

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Today I finished “I, Iago” by Nicole Galland. I picked this up a few weeks back at the Green Valley Book Fair, because the title caught my attention. As a part of the grad certificate in English that I completed, I took a course on Shakespeare. Though I recall “Othello” from high school, in this course we did some major analysis of Iago and Othello’s relationship, playing close attention to just how deceptive Iago was. Galland’s book returns to the world of Shakespeare’s characters and gives us an in depth look at Iago. From his childhood adventures with Roderigo up until the final scene from the original play, Galland gives you an Iago you’ll love and then come to despise. The backstory she presents makes Iago human. His friendship with Roderigo, his courting of Emilia, and even his love of Othello makes Iago just like any of us, but his passion for promotion and his jealousy of Cassio turn him into a monster. Sure, you could get all of that from Shakespeare, but Galland adds a plethora of details, using Shakespeare as her guide, to present a rich story. Despite knowing what would happen, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. In a way, it reminded me of Madeline Miller’s “Song of Achilles” and how the backstory and point of view of a secondary character can be brought to life. I’d definitely recommend this one, especially if you’re a Shakespeare fan!

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Neil Degrasse Tyson – “Astrophysics for People in a Hurry”

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Here’s another one, and this one was fun! “Astrophysics for People in a Hurry” by Neil Degrasse Tyson was enjoyable to listen to because HE was reading it. I’m glad the Libby app had it on there. While space isn’t my field at all, I’ve always enjoyed learning about it. As a kid I read books about the universe and aliens, and even today I enjoy watching documentaries like “Cosmos”. (I also love sci-fi shows like “Stargate: SG1”.) Although I have a basic understanding, as I did take 2 semesters of Physics as an undergrad, this book was perfectly balanced. It didn’t make me feel like an idiot, and it didn’t make me feel like I knew everything already. Dr. Tyson broke everything down into manageable chunks, and he interjected plenty of humor into the book. I would certainly recommend this one, even if you’re not in a hurry!

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Andrew Krivak – “The Bear”

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For December the RCC Book Club read “The Bear” by Andrew Krivak, and I, once again, took advantage of its presence on Hoopla. This one started off with some promise. There was a man and girl living in a cabin in a world in which they are apparently the only people left. I had a number of questions about that, but none were answered. The man, which is how he is addressed, was teaching the girl survival skills. Eventually he ends up telling her a story about a talking bear that saved a town. Later the girl ends up meeting a talking bear. Then again, it may have been a hallucination. I didn’t think it was that clear. My colleagues in the book club felt the same way. By the end of the book I was wondering what I had actually read. Maybe I need to read it again, but it was definitely lost on me.

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Ellen Marie Wiseman – “What She Left Behind”

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Whoops! I’ve been slacking a bit and forgot to post updates for some of the books I’ve read. This one is “What She Left Behind” by Ellen Marie Wiseman. The RCC Book Club read her book “The Life She Was Given” last month, and I enjoyed it so much I figured I’d check out another book by Wiseman. It follows a similar format, alternating chapters between two characters. Izzy, a 90s teen, has moved in with a new foster family. Her mom shot her father years ago, and after the death of her grandmother, she was tossed into the foster system. Clara, a beautiful young woman whose brother had died a few years earlier, falls in love with an immigrant. Clara’s parents had arranged a marriage for her to another man, and to punish Clara for her refusal to cooperate, her father has her tossed into a mental hospital in the 1930s. Decades later, Izzy’s foster mom, a museum worker, brings her to the remnants of an abandoned mental hospital to catalog items that were left behind. One of those items is a large trunk belonging to Clara. Izzy becomes intrigued with Clara’s story, and as the book progresses, we learn just what Clara endures. It turns out Izzy has also experienced her share of issues. I truly enjoyed this book, and although Wiseman takes some liberties with the historical record associated with mental health in the 30s (she addresses these liberties at the conclusion) I found myself increasingly frustrated with Clara’s predicament. Psychology is certainly not my field, but I knew enough to be angered at how the head doctor treated her. I also empathized with Izzy’s fears of her future after aging out of foster care. The emotions brought forth from the story made the book for me, and, like Lilly’s story in “The Life She Was Given” I found myself wanting to know more and more! I wanted to know more about the connection between the characters. Unlike Lilly and Julia, here Izzy and Clara have a different path. Wiseman clearly knows what she’s doing, and I would certainly recommend this book, too! So far, two out of two have been exceptional!

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Ellen Marie Wiseman – “The Life She Was Given”

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This month the RCC Book Club read “The Life She Was Given” by Ellen Marie Wiseman. I actually listened to it on Hoopla while driving, but it was so good, I bought myself a paper copy in case I wanted to read it again. This is the story of two girls, Lilly and Julia. Lilly, whose story is set in the 1930s, is a young girl who is living locked up in the attic of her house while her parents, an overly Christian mother and hardworking father, live downstairs. One day Lilly sees a circus outside of her window and is intrigued by it. Unfortunately, her mother sees her as a monster, and she ends up selling her to the circus. Julia, whose story is set in the 1950s, has run away from home and serves as a waitress just trying to get by. One day a man comes into her diner and hands her a letter notifying her that her mother has died. She returns home, and begins a journey of discovery as she uncovers some family secrets. Wiseman alternates chapters between the stories of the two girls, and you begin to piece together the mystery of the connection between the girls as the book unfolds. It was definitely one that had me hooked! I can’t wait to talk about it with the rest of the book club!

***Super cool nerd moment – Ellen Marie Wiseman replied to my tweet about her book!

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“My Hero Academia”

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Bit of a different book this time around! A few weeks ago my daughter asked me to take her shopping. We went to Short Pump Town Center, and we ended up at the big Barnes and Noble. She wanted to buy a manga series, “My Hero Academia”, that kids had talked about at school. She ended up reading through the first two books pretty quickly. The next week 2nd and Charles had a sale on Manga, so I told her we’d go buy the rest of the series. (I didn’t know there were 25 books…) we hit up both the Midlothian and Richmond stores, and we got all the books. I love that she’s reading so much, so I decided to check out the books, too, so I could talk to her about it. I read comics, so it took some training to figure out the reading pattern for Manga. I finished the first book today, and I can see why she’s drawn to the series. It’s about a middle school kid who goes to a new high school for heroes, except he really doesn’t have a super power, which they call quirks. Well, he kind of does, but I don’t want to spoil it. Overall, the first book presented a neat story, so I am curious to see what happens. Turns out there’s an animated series as well, so I may end up checking that out, too.

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Madeleine Bohme – “Ancient Bones”

May be an image of Matt Brent and text that says 'HER poks BY me aun ier Ancient Bones 7hr 57min Unabridged 2020 English A thrilling new account of human origins, as told by the paleontologist who led the most groundbreaking dio history. Somewhere west of Munich, Madelaine Böhi BY te You can borrow 3 more tities this month. 11/24 ANCIENT BONES Play Retumit Now Add to Favorites Secame RB FB Rüdiger Braup'

Saw this one in my recommended section on Hoopla after I finished Amityville. “Ancient Bones” by Madeleine Bohme tells of her work in paleoanthopology and working with the fossils of early hominids. We briefly talk about this in my classes, and while I certainly have an interest, it is certainly outside of my realm of expertise! This book, however, covered so many things I wasn’t aware of. While I knew about various classifications of early humans like Homo habilis, the details given in the book about what it takes to really classify these folks based on their bones is incredible. They talk of various dating techniques, including using knowledge of the earth’s magnetic field, to figure out how old these bones are. That’s just fascinating to me to use that much science to help us figure out our history! While it was a little awkward to listen to this on audio as I was driving, and it kept referring to graphs and images in the book, I still gained an appreciation for the research that’s being done. The quest for knowledge will always continue! If you’re interested in a great discussion of human evolution, I would definitely recommend this one!

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