Call the Midwife

Thank goodness for adorable, high-quality shows! I know adorable isn’t the best adjective to describe a show aimed at adults, but it was the first to pop into my head. “Call the Midwife” is my current obsession; I’m telling everyone I know, “You have to watch it!” I came across it randomly one day while flipping channels – there was some special (I’m guessing) about it on PBS, and it reminded me of Downton Abbey. I figured since I’m going through Downton-withdrawal, I may as well give this show a try, and thank goodness I did!

The show is based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth and set in 1950s London (already perfect, in my opinion. Favorite era, favorite city). It focuses on a young woman, Jenny Lee, who begins work as a midwife at Nonnatus House, a convent. She and the Sisters and other midwives service the slums of the East End, and throughout the episodes she comes in contact with many different people, and finds herself growing into a compassionate woman.

Jenny is my favorite character; I feel like she and I are very similar. But believe me, it’s hard to choose one favorite. Every single person is so endearing. Aside from the characters, I absolutely love the clothing on this show! Everything is so classic and classy. I honestly believe that I was born in the wrong decade, and actually belong in the 1940s and 50s.

The hair and makeup is beautiful, too – natural and simple. I’m constantly searching for tutorials, but haven’t found any yet!

It’s a good thing my summer vacation is just getting started, because I would hate to be interrupted in watching Seasons 1 and 2; I’m already two episodes into Season 2 and can’t wait for Season 3 to begin! In the meantime, I guess I’ll just have to pass the time with reading the books. Things could be so much worse, couldn’t they?

Have you seen Call the Midwife? What do you think? Who is your favorite character?

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Book Review – Beautiful Creatures

I finally made it through Beautiful Creatures over the weekend. I knew it was going to be hot, so I decided to take a day-trip to the beach. I packed my beach bag with a few books since I was sure I’d finish Beautiful Creatures, and of course I’d need a new book to start. I thought I should wait a little to write a post about it because I wanted to make sure I had all my thoughts in line. Get ready.

Sixteen-year-old Ethan Wate lives in the small Southern town of Gatlin. This is your stereotypical small town where everyone knows everyone’s business, and no one leaves. Ethan is anxious to get out after high school…but then Lena Duchannes comes to town and changes everything. Ethan realizes that Lena is the girl he has been dreaming about, and finds himself “drawn” to her. They develop a relationship despite the fact that Lena, the niece of the town recluse, is the outcast at Jackson High and everyone is set on tearing them apart. As they grow closer, Ethan realizes that Lena’s differences come from special powers. She is a Caster. Lena’s sixteenth birthday is approaching, which means she will be “claimed” – she will be chosen as a dark caster or a light caster for the rest of her life. Knowing that her mother was dark, Lena fears that she will be the same and is desperate to stop it. Ethan spends every possible moment helping Lena search for a way to save herself…until her birthday comes, and it may be too late.

As you may remember, I had been struggling through the book and was not a very big fan. At all. I wouldn’t say I hated it, but it was far from even being considered for a favorites list. It’s an “eh” book. Like I said previously, I’m not sure if my opinion was swayed by the reviews I read on goodreads, but it didn’t take much to figure out why so many reviews were negative.

One of the things that really bothered me was a lingering confusion over what exactly it means to be a Caster…how do they develop their “powers”? Are they similar to witches? What kinds of things can they do? These things were touched on, and there were different examples of Caster powers throughout, but I felt like there was never a very good explanation. I’m not saying Twilight was anything to rave about, but at least I understood the whole vampire/werewolf thing while I read the books! I felt like the authors of Beautiful Creatures just wanted to write a paranormal story, and made things up as they went along instead of thinking it out beforehand. (They do say in their acknowledgments that it took them three months to write the book, before going through editing. Gee, I would never have guessed…)

A second thing that I didn’t like was that there was no apparent basis for Ethan and Lena’s falling in love. There seemed to be no development of feelings over time, no getting to know each other. You know, those things we normal people go through in real life. In Beautiful Creatures, Lena and Ethan are “drawn” to each other because of a dream they keep having. And when they finally meet, Ethan’s world changes forever. Please. PLEASE! And don’t even get me started on the ridiculous lines. I wish I had kept count of how many times I rolled my eyes and thought, “Oh my God.” I couldn’t help but think as I read this, that a number of my students were reading these books, or had read them, and now have in their heads that this is what love is like…at sixteen years old. Hate to say it, but you don’t get an electric shock when you kiss someone unless you’re holding a fork in a socket at the same time.

Overall, the book wasn’t atrocious; I was curious to find out what would happen and how the story would end, which kept me reading. But I was by no means enraptured with this book, where I could NOT put it down. If a student is looking for a book to read and I know they like romance stories or fantasy/paranormal, I’ll recommend it but it won’t be with much enthusiasm. Should you read it yourself? Eh, if you feel like it. If you’re planning on watching the movie and are the type of person that likes to read the book first, go ahead. Or if you are thinking to yourself, “I have to see for myself what she’s talking about…”

Or just skip it and thank me. Okay, maybe I did hate this book. Can’t win ’em all.

http://thecasterchronicles.wikia.com/wiki/Beautiful_Creatures

Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl Source: http://thecasterchronicles.wikia.com/wiki/Beautiful_Creatures

Book Review – Pandemonium

Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver

Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver Source: http://www.laurenoliverbooks.com

If you haven’t read Delirium yet, wait to read this post. This is the sequel, and it’s impossible to write about it without spoilers.

Pandemonium picks up where Delirium left off. Lena has escaped Portland into the Wilds, and is trying to heal – physically and emotionally – and find her place among a group of “Invalids” who have taken her in. Eventually Lena is given an important role in the resistance; she is assigned to watch Julian Fineman, son of the president of the DFA (Delirium-Free America, a group whose purpose is to promote the Cure). This assignment takes Lena, as well as a number of her friends from the Wilds, into the middle of a DFA rally in Times Square. When an attack happens at the rally, Julian is taken into an old subway tunnel. Lena follows, and soon finds herself fighting for her life.

This book was written differently than Delirium, with each chapter alternating between “Then” and “Now” – Lena’s adjustment into the Wilds, and her role in the resistance. At first I wasn’t too fond of this layout, but as the story went on, I appreciated it much more, and I can’t imagine it written differently. I wasn’t as compelled to read the first few chapters as I had been in Delirium, maybe because of the alternating settings, but there came a point where I found myself thinking, “Ok, just read this next chapter so you can get back to ‘now’ to see what happens!”

I didn’t like this book better than Delirium, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t like it, period. This was more of an adventure, and very action-packed compared to Delirium. Lena’s narration was perfect again. Lauren Oliver has a way of describing things and telling a story in a way that you wouldn’t necessarily think of, but it’s exactly right; I feel like her writing is poetic but simple. This had another one of those cliffhanger endings, and I couldn’t resist a trip to Barnes and Noble the day after I finished, to get the third book. Which I just finished… 🙂

Overall, if you loved Delirium, it’s a good idea to read Pandemonium. And pick up Requiem while you’re at it, trust me.

Book Review – Delirium

Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Delirium is a book that I’ve always looked at, but for one reason or another, never decided to read. It was one of those that was always in the back of my head – “I’ll have to read that one day,” until finally, after seeing a number of my students with it, I decided to go for it (I had also just finished creating a summer reading list for myself, made up entirely of YA books, and was eager to start).

Delirium takes place in the present-day United States, with a couple of major differences. The most important is that the government and society believe love to be a disease which must be cured. Without love, the society is safe. As a person approaches their eighteenth birthday and nears high school graduation, they undergo a number of tests and evaluations. Some are meant to determine whether or not they will attend college after high school, or be placed in a basic job; another test helps determine which job the person will be placed into, and the final tests are to find suitable matches for each person. Once a person receives their approved matches, they choose one from the list and that becomes their life partner, but only after they have both undergone the procedure to be “cured” – to no longer feel love.

Lena is approaching her eighteenth birthday and looking forward to her procedure, and starting her new life of normalcy and safety. She and her best friend Hana begin their summer after graduation just like every other summer, until Lena meets Alex, a security guard at the labs where her procedure will take place. This sets into motion a series of events which help her to realize that Hana isn’t quite the person she’s always known, and that maybe love isn’t worth curing.

While some aspects of this book are somewhat predictable because of the dystopian setting (and very similar to aspects of other dystopian novels), the story is original enough that it made me want to keep reading. Lena as the narrator was very easy to connect with, and I’m sure teenage girls will feel the same. I liked how real the society felt, and how similar to our own it was. It didn’t take a lot of imagination (which isn’t always a bad thing) to visualize the town, the school, Lena’s neighborhood, etc., and I found myself more able to focus on what was going on rather than trying to keep minor details straight. I also thought that Lena’s inner conflicts were very relatable – growing up learning and believing a way of life, only to find through different experiences that maybe you don’t agree with those beliefs – but what is right?

Bottom line, I really enjoyed this book and have since flown through the sequel, Pandemonium (review coming soon). It’s a great choice for anyone who enjoys dystopian fiction as well as romance. If you liked Matched, you’ll definitely like Delirium!

Book Review – Thirteen Reasons Why

Thirteen Reasons Why

Thirteen Reasons Why – Jay Asher

This book has been on my to-read list for years, and I’m not quite sure why I never got around to it before now. Luckily, with a new job as an eighth grade reading teacher, I feel a much greater need to get through the Young Adult and Teen books that I’ve been meaning to read. This was one of the first I checked off my list.

Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher, is a story about a teenage girl named Hannah who commits suicide. Rather than leave a suicide note, Hannah leaves cassette tapes with recordings of herself speaking. On the cassette tapes are thirteen stories – thirteen reasons why she felt the only choice left to her was suicide. Each story centers around a separate person who she has had interactions with, mainly in school. Hannah has arranged to have the cassette tapes mailed to the first person mentioned on the tapes, with instructions for that person to mail them to the second person and so on, until the tapes reach the final person who was “responsible” for Hannah’s death.

What becomes apparent as the stories unfold is how one small action or choice can have such an influence on a person’s life long after that original action. One joke or rumor can lead to a misguided idea and impression of a person, and this impression often dictates how that person is treated by others. Unfortunately, even the truth from the affected person can be overlooked in favor of stories that match more closely to the pre-made judgements.

Hannah’s stories begin with a boy who Hannah kissed (and only kissed) – her first kiss. The story her classmates hear instead, is that there was more than kissing. Although Hannah insists on an innocent kiss being all there was, her reputation is set. It is from this one simple exaggeration that everything else spirals and snowballs.

Although the plot focuses on Hannah’s stories from her cassettes, there are actually two narrators – Hannah and one of the people who receives the tapes, a boy named Clay. While two narrators can sometimes become confusing, I thought it worked well for this book, because we saw Clay’s immediate reaction to Hannah’s stories and her remarks. For me, it made the book even more powerful.

I feel like this story does a very good job of showing us that the way we treat people does make a difference; it does have an effect on them. We may think we are only teasing, or that we are harmlessly passing on a story, but that story or that teasing remark may be one of countless others that a person is dealing with. What stuck with me after I finished, was the fact that almost every person Hannah mentioned on her cassettes treated her in a way that matched their expectations. Hardly anyone took the time to get to know Hannah, and to form their own opinions of her. How many of us do this in our own lives?

Each time I finish a young adult/teen book, I consider if it’s a book that I’d like to include in my classroom library or that I can recommend to my students. This is certainly a book that I think my (students’) age group should read – my only hesitation is that there is some more “adult” matter. I’d need to make sure I recommend it to a student who can handle it, and who can focus on the story as a whole, taking the proper message from it.