Reading Gives Me Wings

book shelves

Why do we read? As an elementary school teacher the first thing that comes to mind is, “Good readers set a purpose for reading. Do we read to learn new information? Do we read to be persuaded? Or do we read for entertainment?” – But those three little options leave far too much out of the equation for me as a reader. Reading is just very personal for me – and my purpose for reading is quite simple: I read because I need to.

I learned to read when I was about 3 or 4 years old – my mom, who was my kindergarten and first grade teacher, taught me how to read. I read just about anything I could get my hands for years after that: grammar books, encyclopedias, fairytales, comics… anything at all! Once we moved from the Dominican Republic to New York, I discovered the New York Public Library. My mom took my sisters and me there on a regular basis. It was nothing I’d ever experienced before: so many books! I remember reading Ramona The Pest in Spanish in my bilingual class… and The Mouse and the Motorcycle. I loved reading anything that sparked my imagination.

I still do. Although I do take some time to read newspaper and magazine articles, I’m truly passionate about fiction, of any kind. Picture books, middle grade books, young adult books, and even some grown up books now and then – I live with my head stuck in a book and I love it! I’ve enjoyed sharing the everyday troubles of Freckleface Strawberry and Windy-Pants Patrick with my little students. I love hearing the gasps of my current students as they make their way through The Lightning Thief or Before We Were Free,  and currently, Wonder. I admit I have been completely transfixed by young adult fiction for a few months now: Divergent, The Fault in Our Stars, the Legend Trilogy… I’m all over it! And I’ll even admit to having quite the soft spot for “Richard Castle’s” Nikki Heat mystery series.

But why do I read? I read for the pleasure of diving into a world that is not my own. I love living a different life for a while – whether it’s traveling to the past through historical fiction, or into the future to dystopian worlds, or simply looking at the world through a different set of eyes. My thirst for stories goes beyond escapism – it’s a learning experience. Fiction reminds me to practice empathy – to feel for others, to feel through others… or just to feel. My days are packed to the brim with things to do – just like every other fast-paced New Yorker – but reading slows me down. Reading stretches my mind, paints new pictures in my head, and introduces me to characters I wish were real… characters that become real to me.

I read because I feel empty when I’m not reading. I don’t know what to do with myself if I’m not the midst of a story. I find myself searching for a new book, a new author, a new series to follow when I’m done with one. I’ve experienced post-series depression – I didn’t know what to do with myself after Harry Potter… I was homicidal after Divergent… I wait every year for Isabel Allende’s new book. I’m a lover of books – it’s part of who I am and what I do.

Perhaps that’s why I do what I do for a living: I encourage others to read – it’s the most amazing experience and readily available to just about everyone willing to engage in the mental exercise of following an author through the rabbit hole.

I read because it’s fun. I read because it’s liberating. I read… because it gives me wings.

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New Year… Lots of Books to Read!

Gideon and Gutenberg

Winter Break is just fantastic! And I will be making even more of an effort to read, read, read, and READ! Simply because… I genuinely was born with a book list I may never finish — but not for lack of trying.

I have spent some time on my latest book reviews, Gideon Smith and the Brass Dragon by David Barnett, Gutenberg’s Apprentice by Alix Christie, and Wonderboy by Tom Conyers. Each story could not be more different: one is an exciting steampunk adventure (and I am really loving those!), another is the tale of an arduous task made even more challenging by a megalomaniacal genius, and the last, a coming of age story (that reminded me very much of Bridge to Terabithia) about a boy and his best friend.

These will all make their way into the San Francisco Book Review around February. In the mean time, I am off to do more reading!

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Tuck Everlasting… What if you could live forever?

life's got to be lived

… What if you could live forever?

Natalie Babbitt raises some very interesting questions within this relatively simple story of Tuck Everlasting. Winnie Foster is a rich little girl who feels oppressively confined within the gates of her own home. Her mother and grandmother are constantly watching her… asking where she is… wondering what she is doing… it’s positively stifling! She dreams of running away… and even tells a little toad all about her wondrous plans of escape. But Winnie is a good little girl — she wouldn’t actually run away. Where would she run away to? Who will she run away with? So she just wanders into the woods near her home. Once there, she sees a boy sitting by a tree, and watches him sip some water from a spring. Soon, his mom and older brother join him — and they must explain to Winnie why she must never, ever drink from that spring or tell anyone about it!

The spring is magical. It allows those who drink from it the ability to live forever… unchanged. The Tucks discover this the hard way, over 8 decades ago. And while some might consider living forever a blessing — or a profitable business — most of the Tucks feel that this has caused them to lose far too much. Nonetheless, unsure about whether Winnie really believes them or not, the Tucks take her to their cottage to speak with the father… surely he can make sure she understands. Technically, this is kidnapping… but Winnie goes willingly. Finally, an adventure of her own! Unfortunately, an awful and greedy little man who has been looking for the Tucks and is curious about their secret, sees them taking Winnie… and hears their story. He runs right back to Winnie’s family hoping to coerce them into selling him the woods… and thereby, the magical spring.

There are opposing views about whether the spring is a blessing or a curse. The greedy little man sees it as a way to profit — he wants to be able to see the spring water to a select few people: only those he deems deserving of everlasting life. But should such a questionable character even be allowed to make that kind of judgment calls? Mae Tuck doesn’t seem to mind it much, so long as she can see her boys every so often. Miles, her older son, does mind a bit: he lost his wife and daughters once she noticed there was something odd about his inability to age. Jesse loves it — he can see that there is so much to do when you can live forever… and yet, he wants Winnie to drink from the spring, so she can join him on his adventures later on — clearly, even he is a bit lonely. Meanwhile, Angus — the father — sees the loss this has brought along with it; the life cycle has been disrupted, and he feels the Tucks are stuck… unable to pass on, but still unable to join life fully. They cannot be like regular families — makes people suspicious after a couple of years. They cannot ever die, but they must watch those around them age and die instead.

In the end, is the moral of the story that living forever is a curse? Seems to me the idea is that, as Mae cleverly states, “Life’s got to be lived, no matter how long or short.”

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Bridge to Terabithia: a Bridge of Tears and Courage

dandelion

Bridge to Terabithia is the story of Jess and Leslie — the very bestest of friends. Jess is the only boy in his large family — way too many girls, he has tons of work to do around the farm, his dad works away from home for most of the week to make ends meet, his mom is busy keeping track of his millions sisters… life is tough for hard-working little Jess, who’s about to enter the 5th grade and wants to be the fastest kid around! But then he meets Leslie; she has just moved into town, her parents are writers… she calls them Bill and Judy — and even though she’s a girl, SHE’s the actual fastest kid in 5th grade. They don’t exactly hit it off right away… but then, they click… and they’re inseparable!

Leslie has a beautiful imagination fueled by the many stories she’s read, and her natural ability to create magical worlds with her words. Jess loves being around her, exploring the magic of friendship, and being away from his many daily chores and sisters. Out in the woods, and across a dry creek, they create a world of their own:

“‘We need a place,’ she said, ‘just for us. It would be so secret that we would never tell anyone in the whole world about it.’ Jess came swinging back and dragged his feet to stop. She lowered her voice almost to a whisper. ‘It might be a whole secret country,’ she continued, ‘and you and I would be the rulers of it.'”

… and so, Terabithia is born!

Life is great for Jess and Leslie for a good while… they tackle bullies at school, find the best of gifts to exchange, even visit Church on Easter. But as the rain beats down on their town, and the creek leading to Terabithia overflows, Jess’ fears begin to get the best of him. He’s afraid of the water —  the fear of drowning begins to be too much for him to venture any more visits to his kingdom until the waters recede. But how can he tell that to Leslie? How can he admit he’s scared? How do you simply lay your biggest secret out in the open… even to your best friend?

Unfortunately, a tragic event prevents Jess from ever telling Leslie his secret. Jess’ reaction (right after denial) is anger: “She had tricked him. She had made him leave his old self behind and come into her world, and then before he was really at home in it but too late to go back, she had left him stranded there — like an astronaut wandering about on the moon. Alone.”

Leslie changes Jess for the better. She expands his imagination, encourages his dreams and ideas to flourish, and even makes him king of their small little place in the woods. But then she’s gone… yet Jess is still changed. He is braver, he is kinder, and he is forever indebted to Leslie’s friendship for the gift of every day magic.

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I’ve been a little silent…

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Contrary to what might rightfully now be popular belief, I read grown up books, too — well, sort of. I’ve been a little silent since I had a bit of a deadline for some reviews for the San Francisco Book Review. I’ve been quite busy immersing myself in Resisting the Enemy by Lorraine Campbell, The Time Roads by Beth Bernobich, The Only Thing to Fear by Caroline Tung Richmond, and Grail Knight by Angus Donald.

From Robin Hood and his quest for the Holy Grail, to World War II and clandestine missions, to alternate historical worlds in which Hitler may have conquered the Americas, and a little time travel with steam-punk flare to ensure it all makes plenty of sense, these books have been a really fun read. The reviews will be available in January’s edition of the San Francisco Book Review.

I now hope to get to a few other stories I’ve been meaning to delve into… and a little Rick Riordan, too, of course!

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A Trilogy Comes to an End with The Serpent’s Shadow

serpent

The Serpent’s Shadow brings the Kane Chronicles to an end as the third (and “probably”) final recording of Sadie and Carter. Just like the previous two novels, this one has a great hook:

“Sadie Kane here.
If you’re listening to this, congratulations! You survived Doomsday.
I’d like to apologize straightaway for any inconvenience the end of the world may have caused you. The earthquakes, rebellions, riots, tornadoes, floods, tsunamis, and of course the giant snake who swallowed the sun — I’m afraid most of that was our fault.”

So there you have it: Apophis swallowed the sun! That’s one burning question down, and a whole lot of others to go — like, how did they survive Doomsday if the snake got away with his plan? Well, I guess that’s when you need to read and find out.

However, I did have some other very serious questions at the end of The Throne of Fire:

Are they making the right decision? Despite Ra being a crazy old guy who played with cookies, he was rather needed. 

Is this a trap? Everything’s a trap! You need to go with it anyway. 

Why would anyone try to ride a double-headed snake? Clearly this earned Carter some serious street cred. It was totally necessary.

What’s with the zebras and the weasels? Well, Zebras are clearly awesome and Ra’s very favorite… and Weasels are sick… though not beyond salvation. 

Who’d make a better boyfriend, Walt or Anubis? The answer is… YES.

So many things go wrong as Doomsday approaches — go figure. Sadie and Carter, along with Walter and Zia, the Brooklyn House, and any stragglers… er, supporters, of the First Nome, must fight the greatest threat to human kind. What could possibly go wrong? … Well, they survive to tell the tale, so clearly a few things go right.

The Serpent’s Shadow is driven not only by the impending deadline of the end of the world — as Sadie and Carter search for a way to defeat Apophis and vanquish him– but also by the characters’ interactions, hilarious events (just imagine a kindergartener running around with crayons, screaming “Die! Die! Die!”), and senile senior gods who just want to partake in the fun of fighting the forces of chaos. The third and final installment of this trilogy may not tie everything into a neat little bow (because we know Rick Riordan loves his loose ends… as do we, since it leaves the possibility of continuing the tale), but it is a satisfying end.

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The Quest Continues with The Throne of Fire

game of senet

In The Throne of Fire, the quest to bring balance to the world and Ma’at continues, as evil forces gain power and Apophis attempts to break free from his prison so he can destroy the entire world as we know it. No pressure, Kanes! Thus, Sadie and Carter start their recorded narration with no preamble: “Look, we don’t have time for long introductions. I need to tell this story quickly, or we’re all going to die.” With only 5 days to find the lost Book of Ra, bring this senile god back from… wherever he is, and face Apophis as he rises… oh, while also either fighting against or joining forces with the House of Life (who is also currently trying to destroy them), Sadie, Carter, and their recruits are facing an impossible task. But impossible is what these guys (and gals) do best!

There are some new characters joining the Brooklyn House — including Jaz, the healer, and Walt, the charm-maker — who are holding their own under the Kane’s tutelage. But of course, the end of the world waits for no one, thus they must all try their best to fight evil and save the world. Sadie and Carter face some daunting challenges not only against their enemies, but with their own desires, and with each other. Still, Sadie manages to show she can hold her own, and make some odd-looking yet lovable friends (aka Bes). Meanwhile, Carter remains obsessed with finding Zia — but will she recognize him when she awakes? Their main struggle, however, is choosing what will be the best solution to the impending doom that awaits when Apophis rises: Do they go ahead and wake Ra, despite the fact he is old and weak and the gods don’t want him? Do they throw their support behind Horus? Should Carter take charge and rule? These are very difficult choices for teenagers who are barely dealing with the adult responsibilities already thrust upon them — albeit successfully.

In the end, they must simply take a leap of faith. Despite unnerving decisions, selfless sacrifices, and heartbreaking losses, the Kanes move forward. The future of the world is at stake, and so Sadies’ and Carter’s recordings go out into the world for anyone willing to listen and support the Brooklyn House at their most vulnerable time.

In typical Rick Riordan fashion, The Throne of Fire is a whirlwind adventure of constant suspense. We wonder about all kinds of serious questions: Are they making the right decision? Is this a trap? Why would anyone try to ride a double-headed snake? What’s with the zebras and the weasels? Who’d make a better boyfriend, Walt or Anubis?

Despite completing this part of the quest, much more remains to be answered — off to read The Serpent’s Shadow.

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The Red Pyramid and Egyptian Mythology

red pyramid

In an effort to get over the Percy dry spell, I thought I’d give Rick Riordan’s other ventures a try:

The Red Pyramid grabbed my attention from the very first line: “We only have a few hours, so listen carefully.” Since the death of his mother, Carter has been traveling all over the world with his dad, who is an archeologist. His sister Sadie, however, has been living with her grandparents in London, and only sees Carter and her father twice a year. The relationship between Carter and Sadie is rather strained, since they are practically strangers — until their dad decides to blow up the Rosetta Stone at the British Museum. Nothing brings a brother and sister together like being possessed by gods and running for their lives. The siblings are on the run from Egyptian gods who want to destroy the world, the House of Life who wants to destroy them, and any other suspicious obstacles they meet along the way.

Throughout the story Rick Riordan brings up some very interesting observations about mixed race families: Carter is dark-skinned like his father, while Sadie is light-skinned like her mother — people look twice when they say they’re related. Carter’s father makes it a point to let him know that as a person of color, he needs to try harder to look and act his best at all times– which just isn’t fair to him. But as Julius say, “Fairness does not mean everyone gets the same… Fairness means everyone gets what they need. And the only way to get what you need is to make it happen yourself.” There’s a lot of pressure on Carter! Meanwhile, Sadie has a more rebellious streak: she has the freedom to dye her hair with different colors, wear combat boots along with her school uniform, and break the rules any time someones say “Don’t…” Still, the siblings find a way to care for each other, join forces for the greater good of the world, and come together as a family.

With humorous chapter titles, slightly deranged and funny-looking gods, as well as some passive aggressive clay statues, The Red Pyramid makes for a really fun read. You just need make sure to keep your accents straight while reading!

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The Blood of Olympus — the Prophecy of Seven is Fulfilled

prophecy of seven

“Never assume you’re safe, and never, ever tempt the Fates by announcing that you think you’re safe.” — Piper

The Blood of Olympus is one hell of a ride. At the end of The House of Hades, we left Percy and Annabeth saying ‘hello’ to the stars… but the journey to save civilization as we know it from Mother Earth before the Feast of Spes is most definitely not all stars and rainbows! While Reyna, Nico, and Coach Hedge take the Athena Parthenos west, in the hopes to make a peace offering and stop the massacre between the two demigod camps at Camp Half-Blood, the rest of the crew make their way east, to Greece, where they will most likely be massacred themselves.

The story is told through the perspectives of Reyna, Nico, Leo, Jason, and Piper — my first reaction, of course, was “Oh no!!” After all of the terrible omens, bad juju, the million oaths they all keep making (while I keep tally to see which one of them is going to break it), and overall sick feeling of “the Fates are awful sadists” — not to mention the many times I was tempted to stick my book in the freezer — I decided to trust Rick Riordan to simply tell the story… whether I ended up suffering through it or not. A hero’s journey is difficult, painful, and full of sacrifices. Reyna’s first sacrifice is her constant companion, Scipio… Nico’s shadow travel west is slowly killing him… even Coach Hedge must endure being away from his wife, Millie, at a most inopportune time. There are casualties among the Hunters of Artemis and the Amazons… (while I’m still mourning Bob and Damaesen!) And most importantly, we know that Gaea’s minions not only need the Blood of Olympus to wake her, but one of the Argo II crew members is destined to die. To say this story is nerve-wrecking is an understatement.

Still, the characters’ bonds grow so much stronger as they travel east battling anything and everything the Earth Mother throws their way. Nothing like a death sentence to make everyone get up close and personal… while eating gelato. Jason becomes much more likable — his perfection becomes as fuzzy as his vision — he becomes part of the crew, instead of the straight-laced leader who can never falter. Percy and Leo are hilarious throughout the entire ordeal, which is a much needed break in between the many near-death and monster-killing parts of every page. And we can’t forget the ladies on this team, who are not only incredibly strong and resilient, but also quite a force to be reckoned with.

In true Rick Riordan fashion, the story has loose threads and is open-ended. For those seeking closure, it seems that’s not his style… and I love it! Because even if there is no 6th Heroes of Olympus book, there is still room left to imagine and dream of this world where mythology is real (except for Atlantis — that’s a “fake myth,” just ask Percy).

For now, the quest is over… the spirit of Delphi is on hiatus… there are no prophecies to tackle… and “they soared into the unknown.”

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The House of Hades — a tale of anguish and unlikely hope

Percy and Annabeth

Love is no game! It is no flowery softness! It is hard work — a quest that never ends. It demands everything from you — especially the truth. Only then does it yield rewards.” — Eros / Cupid

The House of Hades follows up on the awful cliffhanger from The Mark of Athena. Everyone is on survival mode — Percy and Annabeth must survive Tartarus and reach the Doors of Death, as the rest of the team — Jason, Piper, Frank, Hazel, Leo, Nico, and Coach Hedge — travels on the Argo II to reach the House of Hades. Their trials and tribulations only grow worse with each turn of the page. Frank, despite his unassuming nature, must step up to take a leading role, while Jason continues to practice relying on others so that the weight on the quest is not entirely on his shoulders. Piper must learn to be more than just a persuasive voice. Hazel must learn to control The Mist and build up her confidence, as so much of this quest depends on her knowledge of the Underworld. Nico… well, he’s just a very complex individual. Meanwhile, Coach Hedge tries to conceal certain personal information, and Leo deals with the constant upkeep of their trireme, which is under unrelenting attacks and round-the-clock repairs.

The changing points of view allows the reader to keep up with the simultaneous events — sometimes jumping from one place to another at the most inopportune times, other times giving us just enough breathing room to relax for a millisecond. We follow Percy and Annabeth’s impossible and grueling journey through the most horrible of settings — in a surprising turn of events, there is more than just a horde of evil enemies down there… (a silver light as the end of this dark, dark tunnel?) As the larger group makes its way to Greece, they inevitably must separate — whether by choice or to divide and conquer their smaller errands along the way. Jason is able to get some insight into Nico’s antisocial behavior and inner turmoil. Piper and Hazel are able to bond as the only girls on the Argo II. Leo… experiences a change. As does Frank, who is becoming tougher and more commanding for the sake of his friends — he is such a caring and cuddly guy… until you mess with his crew.

I think Percy’s thoughts really sum it up quite well: “When he started looking back on the war with Kronos as the good old days — that was sad. […] Their lives just got more and more dangerous, as if the Three Fates were up there spinning their futures with barbed wire instead of thread just to see how much two demigods could tolerate.” The real question is, how much can I tolerate? I feel very much like the heroes of this quest: on edge, unreasonably hopeful, yet awaiting the moment when it all falls apart…

… I guess I need to keep reading.

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