Friday, March 28, 2014

The Prince: A Selection Novella

Cass, Kiera. The Prince: A Selection Novella. New York: Harper Teen, 2013. Kindle file.

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My Thoughts
This novella is the beginning of The Selection as told from Prince Maxon's perspective. VERY GOOD!

I was interested to see how nervous he was about this contest between girls to become his wife. His parents are more present in this story and what kind of people they are (I suspected I wouldn't like the King from the first book. Seeing him through his son's eyes doesn't change my opinion).

I hadn't thought about America, a Five, being a "throwaway pick" (Location 362). I was glad to read that he is a bit smitten with America. "This girl was the antithesis of everything I'd been expecting" (Location 514).  He describes her as a "walking rebellion" (Location 686).

When I read The Selection, I didn't keep close tabs on each girl (their name, description, social status), but reading this story, I noticed that even the overwhelmed Prince makes some distinctions. "I imagined Kriss next to Celeste, and thought of them as opposites" (Location 680).

I hope to start the next book in the series, The Elite this weekend. I'm very glad I took a chance on this series. It is refreshing to read a "chick lit" book that isn't so sappy and contrived.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Eight Keys

LaFleur, Suzanne. Eight Keys. New York: Scholastic, 2011. Print.

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My Thoughts
Twelve year old Elise (Cricket) lives with her Aunt Bessie and Uncle Hugh. Her mom died in childbirth and her dad passed away a few years later from cancer. Elise does not have a great first day at middle school thanks to her locker partner Amanda Betterman. Her best friend Franklin suddenly becomes a "loser" that Elise tries to disassociate from so she won't be picked on by Amanda and friends.

The rest of the school year just gets worse.

One day, though, Elise finds a key with her name on it in the barn. Uncle Hugh's barn is really a craftsman workshop, but she's never been allowed upstairs--until now when this key will unlock one of the 8 rooms. She enters the first room to find a message from her deceased father. Yes, he had the foresight to create this gift for Elise before the cancer killed him. As the days pass, she finds more keys to unlock more rooms. Each room is giving Elise a sense of who she is, where she comes from and who she might be as she grows up without her parents, but still surrounded by people who love her.

The book is divided into three parts and told from Elise's first person point of view. This was a thoughtful story that made me think about friendships and how family isn't always defined by blood relation.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Silver Star

Walls, Jeannette. The Silver Star. New York: Scribner, 2013. Print.

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Back cover summary:
"It is 1970 in a small town in California. 'Bean' Holladay is twelve and her sister, Liz, is fifteen when their artistic mother, Charlotte, a woman who 'found something wrong with every place she ever lived,' takes off to find herself. She leaves the girls enough money to last a month or two. When Bean returns home from school one day and sees a police car outside the house, she and Liz decide to take the bus to Virginia, where their widowed Uncle Tinsley lives in the decaying mansion that's been in Charlotte's family for generations.

An impetuous optimist, Bean soon discovers who her father was, and hears many stories about why their mother left Virginia in the first place. Money is tight, so Liz & Bean start babysitting and doing office work for Jerry Maddox, foreman of the mill in town--a big man who bullies his workers, his tenants, and his wife. Bean adores her whip-smart older sister--inventor of word games, reader of Edgar Allan Poe, nonconformist. But when school stars in the fall, it's Bean who easily adjusts and makes friends, and Liz who becomes increasingly withdrawn. And then something happens to Liz in the car with Maddox."

My Thoughts
Walls is a wonderful story-teller. I enjoyed The Glass Castle and Half-Broke Horses. This story, The Silver Star,  was not autobiographical like the other two, but a wonderful story. Walls knows small town life. She captures the nuances.

When the girls first arrived at Uncle Tinsley's, I thought he might be a prime candidate for Hoarders. He wouldn't allow the girls inside, blocked the door from their view and then once they were allowed inside, told them that every piece of everything had special value and meaning ("if you had the brains to see its value") (Walls 41). Uncle Tinsley's character actually surprised me, as he turned out to be a solid, good person and a constant support for the girls.

The mother was something else! Boy, I just wanted to slap her, repeatedly! How can she be so selfish to leave her young daughters in California? Then when she finds out where they are, she still leaves them. Once she does make it to Virginia, she is so self-consumed that it really doesn't matter that she's there. Oh, she doesn't last long there, though. She heads up to New York City and promises to send for the girls when things got settled. Surprise, surprise (note the sarcasm), they never do. I very much DISLIKED this character. Walls created her and kept her in character consistently. I never felt like, oh, she's getting it. She sees how she's wrong. Nope, the mother was a victim her entire life and the entire time of this story.

Bean  is the narrator of the tale, and she blossomed in Virginia. Instead of being the sister always being told what to do, she became the one doing the telling. She became wiser to the world (and at times, I thought acted much older than 12). She learns about her father and the truth of how he died. The title reference shows up when Aunt Al is explaining that Liz's dad was in the Korean War and "got the Silver Star" (Walls 87). Ever the optimist, Bean does cling to hope that her mother will change, but she also comes to realize that her mother will never change. I was proud of Bean when she tells her mom, "Every time we run into a problem, we just leave. But we always run into a new problem in the new place, and then we have to leave there, too. We're always just leaving. Can't we for once just stay somewhere and solve the problem?" (Walls 236).

Sister Liz doesn't fair as well in Virginia. She becomes sullen and withdrawn (the age?). What Walls has Liz reading struck me. "She was sitting up in bed, reading a book called Stranger in a Strange Land, which she'd come across while we were cleaning the house" (Walls 46). I've read this book. I wondered if the book was a popular title in its day (reiterating that Walls captures the details in a story), or it just so happened that Walls included an obscure book that I happen to know. Either way, I marked the reference. Walls also includes several of Poe's poems and Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird.

Mr. Maddox was the biggest jerk and a bully and an abuser! His character was so real. I could see and hear him, and I feared for his wife and Bean & Liz. I knew he was bad news from the moment he arrives in the story. The court room scene in this novel reminded me of To Kill a Mockingbird. The facts are there, yet the jury does not give the right verdict. I liked the layering Walls created with having a character read one novel and the real life drama unfold in her own story. I was glad that Walls allowed justice to hit Mr. Maddox.

The way the story ends was satisfying.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Selection

Cass, Kiera. The Selection.  New York: Harper Teen, 2012. Print.

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My Thoughts
This read was like Disney princess meets The Hunger Games. Much to my surprise, I enjoyed reading it. I thought it would be a "girly" read full of hokey romance and stereotypes. It wasn't. Ok, there were a few predictable moments, but overall, a good read. In fact, I plan to read the rest of the series, including the ebook only novellas.

The provided summary is this, "Sixteen-year-old America Singer is living in the caste-divided nation of Illéa, which formed after the war that destroyed the United States. America is chosen to compete in the Selection--a contest to see which girl can win the heart of Illéa's prince--but all she really wants is a chance for a future with her secret love, Aspen, who is a caste below her."

Yep, that is the summary, but what it doesn't tell is the war was with China because "the United States couldn't repay their massive debt" (Cass 209). WOW. Is this foreshadowing current events?

The summary also doesn't talk about the other girls hoping to win Prince Maxon's love (or just the crown) and how they treat one another. Reading these scenes truly captures how mean/snarky/fake some girls can be. I was proud of how America acted.  She isn't interested in becoming a future queen, but she does want to help her family. By letting this drive her actions, her true character shines through, and she mostly stays true to herself. She also treats others kindly, regardless of caste/position.

The summary also doesn't explain how important the caste system is to this society. Even though America is not from the lowest class, she, "became aware of what I meant to everyone here, as if  I represented something for all of them." She gains a "sense of purpose" and is "determined to do this well" (Cass 72).

One thing I really liked about the story is that America is not wimpy. She has ideas about her future, and she is a survivor. I really liked when America says, "No, I'm not choosing him or you. I'm choosing me" (Cass 325). YES! A strong female in a future world who will play the game, but only as it suits her. I'm already predicting what will happen in the next book. I hope America will choose the boy who has been most honest with her.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Shooting Stars: My Life as a Paparazza

I'm reading an ARC. The finalized title of the book is Shooting Stars: My Unexpected Life Photographing Hollywood's Most Famous  


Buhl, Jennifer. Shooting Stars: My Life as a Paparazza. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, 2014. Print.

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My Thoughts

What is our obsession with "celebrities" that allows a photographer to make 1/4 (or more) of my YEARLY salary on ONE PICTURE? Reading this book let me explore the paparazzi's life from the other side of the lens. I know it is their job, and I'm jealous of the literal pay off.

This book spans a little over two years and is Buhl's memoir of her life as a Paparazza. She is outnumbered, out gendered and a novice. However, she does learn the "craft" of working the celebs and getting the photos that count.

Did you know there are actual "rules" of being a pap? There is a "street code" that Buhl learns the hard way, but learns it, she does. There is a relationship between the paps and celebs, too. Even though the paps are annoying, they also keep the celeb current. There is a balance, though, of too much exposure and too much work to attain the photographs. If a celeb is too hard to get, the paps stop trying (mostly). If the celeb seeks out and fishes for paps, there are too many with the same shot so the photos are worth less money.

She also writes, "The intensity with which people crave fame here is unbelievable. I sometimes wonder if I could make more money as a hired pap who gives nobodies the thrill of feeling famous than I do by going after real celebs" (Buhl 112). I think there once was a reality show of this very nature.

As I knew nothing about Buhl or some of the stars she mentions (I Google searched a few of them while reading), it was interesting to see that my conceptions of the paparazzi are not accurate. Sure, there are the ruthless, chase you down until you smash into the tunnel (Princess Di) types that get the attention, but there are thousands of other picture takers just trying to score the next "big" shot. This book opened my mind to have a new connotation with the word "paparazzi." It was also interesting to learn that many paps are from other countries.

Throughout the book, I kept thinking that Adrian (can't think of his last name now, but the actor played in Entourage) and Buhl would end up together. I was surprised when that didn't happen (at least as of the book's printing).

Buhl's conversational voice in the book lets the reader feel like (s)he is right there, "doorstepping" on the celebs or running down Sunset Boulevard. There are several side stories that I wonder if they make it to the final edition of the book.

When she first begins as a pap, her coworker Simon told her that, "No one is your friend in this business" and that rings true as Buhl realizes "how alone I was I this business--and how this business probably wasn't all that different from any other industry. Few people in our world today stick their necks out to right a wrong, regardless of whether it's for a friend or stranger. The paparazzi are no exception" (Buhl 188). However, she does have one friend, Abbey "this woman I've known only a couple of weeks--is the only pap, after a year in the business, to ever stick up for me" (Buhl 207). WOW!

Buhl quits being a pap when she has her son Charlie. He was born the same day (different year) as my husband. I probably will think about Charlie and Buhl this year on their special day.

So, my mind isn't completely changed about the paparazzi, but at least now when I look at celeb photos, I will not only be looking at the star, but also the photo credit and the nuances of the photo. Is this a "money" shot or just another of a thousand boring photos?