Monthly Reads: July

Montly Reads infograph

August already—that means the 4th of July was almost a month ago. Time is racing away. As for the reading I did in July, there were some major highs and lows. Thankfully, the highs outweighed the lows, which made the whole experience worthwhile.

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Written in Red by Anne Bishop

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

My favorite part about fantasy novels is participating in the world the author creates, and the world of Written in Red is well worth the read. It’s similar to our own, but is ruled instead by the Others, shape shifters who were the original inhabitants of the world. When a human with her own unique powers comes to live with a group of the Others, suddenly the strict lines between humans and Others blur as both sides realize goodness in the other. I just downloaded next installment of this trilogy onto my Kindle, and it will be the next book I read.

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By Darkness Hid and To Darkness Fled by Jill Williamson

Genre: Fantasy, Christian

A young boy has grown up as the nobody servant of a minor noble, but his situation changes rapidly when he discovers that he can speak to others with his mind. I didn’t realize this was a Christian series until I was about halfway through the first book. Very sneaky. Not that I mind Christian fiction, but too often, it’s poorly written. Thankfully, this author is a good writer, which makes the series worth reading. Her world isn’t the most original—it’s classic medieval-styled fantasy—but still entertaining. I’m looking forward to reading the conclusion.

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Cold Case Christianity by Jim Wallace

Genre: Christian apologetics

Jim Wallace is a cold case homicide detective, which means that he solves old murders the police department has been unable to resolve for years. He has to use inductive reasoning, logic, and good sleuthing skills to sniff out the murderer. He takes these same skills and applies them to Christianity—would the claims of the religion hold up as a cold case? A fantastic read.

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The Gathering, The Calling, and The Rising by Kelley Armstrong

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

This trilogy was a quick read for middle school or high school age readers. A girl discovers she can shape-shift into a cougar, and that her other friends are starting to exhibit strange  abilities too. Entertaining, but doesn’t have a ton of depth.  I probably wouldn’t recommend the series.

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Lost Voices by Sarah Porter

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

I don’t often see mermaid books on the market, so I thought I’d give this one a try. Wrong choice. Not much happened with the plot, and the writing was very poor. The author was trying to make the characters sound like middle school students, so she inserted a boat-load of “likes,” “totallys,” and “ums” into her dialog, which drove me crazy. The main character had some good depth, but that was the book’s only redeeming quality. I definitely won’t be continuing on with this series.

No literature books this month, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been reading it. I’m about 1,000 pages into Les Miserables, and will hopefully finish it before the end of August! As for my favorite book this month, I’d have to go with Written in Red. It’s one of the best fantasy novels I’ve read in a while.

Question: Have you finished any books this month? If so, which ones? Post a comment!

Ten Facts You Didn’t Know About Les Miserables

29Victor Hugo’s epic has captured and wrung the hearts of millions since its publication in the 1860s. The time period during which the story takes place was a political roller coaster for France, and Hugo is a master at exploring the implications for every level of society. (See this post.)

In honor of Les Misérables, here are ten interesting facts you probably didn’t know:

1. The unabridged book is 1,900 pages in French, and approximately 1,500 pages in English.

2. There have been over 60 film adaptations of the story.

3. Jean Valjean saves Cosette from the Thenardiers on Christmas Eve.

4. Hugo started writing Les Misérables in 1829 and it wasn’t published until 1862—that’s 33 years to write a masterpiece.

5. When the book was first published in France, Victor Hugo was in exile in England.

6. The musical production has been translated into 22 different languages, including Hebrew, Hungarian, Icelandic, Czech, Castillian, Finnish, Argentinian, Estonian, and Korean.

7. Remember Gavroche, the little boy who helps with the revolution? Bet you’ll never guess who he is—Eponine’s brother! Madame Thenardier apparently had little love for her son, les_miserables_ver11_xlgwhich is why he ends up living on the streets.

8. The book quickly became a hit in America, because of the relevancy of the themes and political upheaval to the Civil War. Confederate soldiers who read the novel called themselves “Lee’s Miserables.”

9. In the recent 2012 film adaptation of the musical, all the singing was done live on set. The cast was forbidden to drink alcohol because of the strenuous demands of singing daily.

10. Victor Hugo’s other famous piece of literature? Notre-Dame de Paris, or The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Sources:

http://www.lesmis.com/us/history/facts-and-figures/

http://www.walnutstreettheatre.org/season/lesmis-author.php

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Les_Misérables

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1707386/trivia

http://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2012/12/les-miserables-by-victor-hugo.html

Your Ancestors Could Have Met Jean Valjean

29043I’m currently on a French literature binge. Having recently finished The Count of Monte Cristo, I started Les Misérables a few weeks ago. While both these stories are worth reading (and re-reading), they’re both very long. I read an abridged version of Les Misérables in high school without realizing it was abridged. Who would expect the abridged version to be 500 pages?

And that’s less than half the full book. That Victor Hugo is a rambler.

Reading the two books back to back has taught me quite a bit about France in the nineteenth century, most of which I didn’t know, or had forgotten.

The French Revolution began with the storming of the Bastille, the medieval prison in Paris, on July 14, 1789. This day was followed by the years known as the Reign of Terror.

This part I was familiar with. The guillotine, the mass genocide, and the execution of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette are dramatic and bloody.

But I wasn’t as familiar with the period after this, which was rocky for France as well.

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By 1804, Napoleon Bonaparte had taken over and declared himself the Emperor—so much for democracy. His reign lasted ten years. In 1814, he was exiled to the Island of Elba, but escaped a year later to make a final attempt at power. He lost the Battle of Waterloo on June 18, 1815, at which point King Louis XVIII permanently resumed the throne.

Please excuse the history lesson. All this interested me because The Count of Monte Cristo and Les Misérables both take place in the years after the king has regained the throne. Even though the monarch isn’t going anywhere, France is still reeling from the political upheaval of the last thirty years, elements which play heavily into the plots of both novels.

This similar time frame interested me so much that I decided to investigate the book timelines more closely. If the fiction world existed, both Jean Valjean and Edmond Dantès would be living out their adventures at the same time. I found this amusing, so I included a few other books in my research as well. Here’s how that timeline would look, if these fictional heroes walked in our world:

In 1769, Jean Valjean of Les Misérables is born. While he is a child, the American colonists are fighting for freedom in the 1770s.

Somewhere around 1780, Mr. Darnay and Lucie Manette of A Tale of Two Cities give birth to their daughter.

guillotine3 Benjamin Franklin dies in 1790. Two years later, during the Reign of Terror, Mr. Darnay comes to France to free a faithful servant. He is imprisoned himself. While he is in prison, Sir Percy Blakeney of The Scarlet Pimpernel is secretly smuggling French nobility out of the city to escape the guillotine. Apparently, he misses Mr. Darnay.

In 1795, Jean Valjean steals a loaf of bread to keep his sister’s children from starving, and goes to prison for it. A year later, in 1796, Edmond Dantès of The Count of Monte Cristo is born.

Over in America, George Washington dies in 1799. By this time, Darnay and Lucie’s daughter is probably married, and Lucie has grown old.

When Abraham Lincoln is a two-year-old toddler, in 1811, Miss Elizabeth Bennett of Pride and Prejudice meets Mr. Darcy. They are married in 1812, while their county is at war with the Americans.

Jean_ValjeanThree years later, Jean Valjean has just been released from 19 years’ worth of prison, and has his fateful encounter with the Bishop Myriel. Meanwhile, Edmond Dantès is sailing into port as a young 19-year-old, ready to become a ship’s captain and the husband of the beautiful Mercedes.

As Jean Valjean’s good fortune rises, Edmond Dantès’ sinks. By the time Dantès emerges from prison in 1829, Jean Valjean and Cosette are safely tucked away at a convent in Paris, and young Marius Pontmercy is learning to become revolutionary.

In 1832, Marius helps with the short-lived revolution in Paris, Jean Valjean saves him from death, and dies himself. Dantès, meanwhile, is biding his time before he takes his vengeance against his enemies in 1838.

In 1845, just seven years later, Scarlett O’Hara of Gone with the Wind is born.

Of course, I could go on an on. There are so many wonderful books from the nineteenth century, and I’ve hardly touched on some of my favorite British characters. Fun to imagine, right?

Question: Who is your favorite character from these books? Why? Leave a comment!

Monthly Reads: June

Monthly Reads

July already. Wow; time flies. Here’s to the month of June and its reading, full of sunshine and good books.

 

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The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

Genre: French Literature

Talk about a long book! I loved it, but it took me over a month to listen to it on audiobook. Adventure, romance, questions of justice, vengeance, and mercy. The main character, Edmond Dantes, is worth getting to know.

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18249280Blackveil and Mirror Sight by Kristen Britain

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

The fourth and fifth novels in the Green Rider series, which I have enjoyed over the last two months. I’m not sure what I think about the fifth and newest installation. The author makes the plot go in an unexpected direction, and the genre of her work becomes steam punk fantasy instead of the traditional fantasy in the rest of the series. The jury is still out—we’ll see what the sixth book brings.

4671The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Genre: American Literature

One of my reading rules is that I won’t watch a movie before I’ve read the book. So The Great Gatsby has been on my reading list lately, especially since the recent film. I didn’t read it in high school because I was reading other books (Alexis de Tocqueville, Thomas Aquinas, etc.) I liked it. It’s very classically American, and Fitzgerald makes his readers think.

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Pearl in the Sand by Tessa Afshar

Genre: Historical fiction

This is a retelling of Rahab’s story, the prostitute from Jericho who saves herself and her family by choosing to follow the Hebrew God instead of the idol Baal. I liked Tessa’s book; it’s pretty accurate both to the historical setting, and to the Bible’s account of the events. She tells the story well and makes it entertaining and moving.

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Phantastes by George MacDonald

Genre: Fantasy, Literature

I’ve wanted to read some George MacDonald for a while now, because he influenced both C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. All three writers share the same philosophy of fairy tales. This book was well worth the time. It’s a fairy tale for grown-ups, and also acts as an allegory for the Christian walk. A very impressive little book.

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Midwife of the Blue Ridge by Christine Blevins

Genre: Historical fiction

This book was unique because it’s an American colonial book, but it doesn’t take place where all the Revolutionary action was happening at the time—Boston, Philadelphia, New York, etc. Instead, it takes place on the frontier of Virginia, and the main character is an immigrant from Scotland who has to deal with the hostility of the Native Americans. I enjoyed entering the world of the book.

My favorite book from June? It’s a toss-up between Phantastes and The Count of Monte Cristo. Both contain thought-provoking plots, but are also entertaining as fiction.

Question: Did you finish any books in June? If so, which ones? Leave a comment!

How Much Blood Does the American Flag Cost?

For the last twenty years, since I was two years old, my family’s 4th of July tradition has consisted of the same events. We first attend our neighborhood carnival, which includes the ferris wheel, the giant slide, and cotton candy. Next is our street block party with hot dogs, American flag shortbread cookies, and basketball games. Finally, the classic Flag Day event, the fireworks. For the last few years, I’ve also added a 5k or 10k race to that line-up.

1997. I'm in the middle, with my cousin on the left and my sister on the right.

1997. I’m in the middle, with my cousin on the left and my sister on the right.

While this is fun, there’s so much more to the celebration of the Union. I decided to find out how much blood those red, white, and blue decorations have cost our country. The facts are pretty astounding:

American Revolutionary War (1775-1783): 50,00 dead or wounded

War of 1812 (1812-1815): approximately 20,000 dead or wounded

Civil War (1861-1865): 750,00 dead (not including wounded)

World War I (1917-1918): 320,518 dead or wounded

World War II (1941-1945): 1,076,245 dead or wounded

Korean War (1950-1953) :128,650 dead or wounded

Vietnam War (1955-1975): 211,454 dead or wounded

War on Terror (2001-present): 57,614 dead or wounded

BunkerHillThat’s a total of 2,614,481 soldiers who have been killed or wounded defending our country—and that’s just the big wars. I haven’t included all the Native American wars, the Spanish-American wars, or any of the other small conflicts the US has participated in since the founding of the Union. If you’re interested, the full list is here.

The end of the Declaration of Independence says this:

We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States…they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Here’s to the men and women who have made the Fourth of July possible.

Monthly Reads: May

Monthly ReadsSo…it’s been a while. (A month? Really?) But in that month, I graduated from college, started working, and became engaged. Not that any excuses are good ones, but still…

I’m ready to get back to it! So let’s start with a belated list of May reading.

 

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Green Rider by Kristen Britain

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

The first in the Green Rider series. In a world where magic is feared and reviled, a girl receives the magical “rider call” to enlist as one of the king’s messengers, all of whom secretly use magic to perform their duties. I’ve enjoyed reading through this series. Though not terribly original, the author has built an energetic world, and there’s good potential for romance, which the author tastefully doesn’t carry too far in this first book.

 

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First Rider’s Call and The High King’s Tomb by Kristen Britain

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

The second and third books in the Green Rider series. The characters develop nicely, and the romance takes an unexpected, but realistic turn. The overall plot also thickens like cake batter when whipped. I approve.

 

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A Countess Below Stairs by Eva Ibbotson

Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction

This book has popped up on multiple lists over the last few years, so I thought I’d give it a try. The story revolves around a young Russian countess who flees when the Tzar is overthrown, and now must find work as a maid in England to help support her mother and brother. I liked the intersection between the Russian and British cultures, and learned quite a bit about both through that interaction.

 

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Taste of Darkness by Maria Snyder

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

The third book in Maria Snyder’s Healer trilogy. I’ve been waiting for a while for this one to come out, then for the libraries to own it. It was a good conclusion to the trilogy. Maria’s several trilogies all have similar stories, characters, and plots, and this one fit the mold. But it’s my favorite of her stories, maybe because it’s the first one I delved into.

 

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Bones of Faerie by Jannie Lee Simner

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

This one wasn’t my favorite. It’s part post-apocalypse, part fantasy coming of age. Enjoyable, but better for a younger audience—maybe junior high age. The best aspect of the book was that the author incorporated some death magic into the main character’s abilities, which is more unusual.

Amazingly, no serious pieces of non-fiction or literature in May. I was working through The Count of Monte Cristo, but that’s a long one, so I just finished it. Stay posted…

First Impressions: A Short Story

I’ve written quite a bit about other people’s stories, so I think it’s time to share one of my own. Below is a short story for your consideration. Please feel free to leave a comment—writing is almost always a work in progress, and I would like to hear what you think.

empty-high-school-hallway-jpgFirst Impressions

The first time I met my husband, I slapped him.

I was at a new high school senior year because my dad switched jobs. I hated leaving my long-term friends back home, but I shoved my anxiety into the deepest crevices of my mind and told myself to make friends or die trying. By lunch the first day, I had met a few girls in Physics who invited me to sit with them.

We were sitting down at a table in the shade when we heard raised voices coming from the lockers. Several seniors were tormenting a cornered freshman.

One of my new acquaintances nodded to the senior in the middle, who was laughing as his friend shoved the freshman into the lockers.

“That’s John. Everyone wants to go out with him, girls salivate when he walks by.”

I shook my head. “I wouldn’t want to go out with anyone who’s such a jerk.” An image flashed in my mind—my best friend Owen had received a few beatings our freshman year. I had been too afraid to do anything at the time, and it still caused a sick knot in my stomach. My friend had needed help, and I hadn’t been brave enough to stand up for him.

I put down my plastic fork. “I’ll be right back.”

As I marched over to the lockers, I wondered what I was doing. It was my first day—I should be making friends, not enemies. But I kept picturing Owen.

“Excuse me,” I said to John. He turned to me, surprised. Without waiting for an invitation, I stepped around him to stand in front of the freshman. “I think this poor kid has been bullied enough for one day.”

They stared at me. “Who are you?” John asked.

I tried to make myself as tall as possible. “I’m Christina. Don’t you have lunches to eat?”

John’s face turned from surprise to incredulity. “You think you can just interfere?”

I realized that I was eye-level with the middle of his chest. “That’s exactly what I think. You’re a big bully, and I won’t have it.”

He took one step forward, and that was when I slapped him. My hand left a light pink mark on his cheek. He gaped at me.

“Don’t let me catch you again.” I let the freshman make his escape, and then went back to lunch and my awestruck classmates.

I spent the rest of the school year fending off John’s romantic advances. He wanted to get my number, to buy me coffee, to take me to homecoming and winter formal and prom. He wanted to drive me home when he found out I took the bus. He even invited me to the Sadie Hawkins dance. But I had told Kendal I didn’t date jerks—no matter how attractive—and kept to my word. It didn’t matter that he had stopped bullying. My first impression of him had stuck.

When I started my freshman year at Arizona State University, I walked into my first day of my backpacking PE class and saw John at one of the desks. I tried to sit in the back, but he saw me and moved to sit next to me.

“Hey Christina,” he said. “I didn’t know you were going to ASU.”

“Yup.”

“Look. I know we got off to a bad start last year, but could we try again? Please?”

I looked at him. While it was true that all the girls at high school had salivated after him, he hadn’t dated anyone our senior year. “Sure,” I said. “Why not?”