Paper Covers Rock

As dubious as I am about reading Young Adult books, I’m always surprised when I manage to find one that’s9369717 really worth the read.  It seems as if 2013 has been a charm for choosing really good ones.  Paper Covers Rock is the story of Alex.  A sixteen year old boy lacking assurance and attending an ivy league style boarding school.  A tragic incident occurs at the school when one of the boys dives head first off a rock into a river on campus and dies.  Thomas’s death is recounted along with Alex’s guilt.  He’s writing everything in his trusty  journal which is addressed to the us, the reader.  His feelings of guilt are accompanied with all the other awkward emotions of adolescence i.e. has low self-esteem, very self-critical, headstrong, yet fearful and easily coerced into doing stupid things.

The structure of the book consists of journal entries written in first person and in between those are dialogues.  Alex begins by explaining to us that his father gave him the journal a few years earlier and told him to fill it with his thoughts and that’s exactly what he does.  The first chapter is called “Call me Is Male”, which is an allusion to Herman Melville’s Moby Dick – a clever play on words.  The first line in Moby Dick is “Call me Ishmael”.  It’s very interesting how Hubbard tries to make this parallel to Moby Dick.  As a matter of fact, the book is filled with literary references.  Writing represents the way Alex tries to conceal his guilt but also the way he tries to redeem himself.  His talent for writing is the only good thing that comes out of this tragedy.  In the beginning, he isn’t at all aware of his talent for writing.  He is given various writing assignments by his English teacher, Miss Dovecott, who is enchanted by Alex’s writing talent.  However, she immediately identifies Alex’s guilt which shines through his writing.  So she continues to give more original writing assignments to try and uncover his guilty secret.  The journal entries give a certain familiarity to the reader.  We are literally privy to all of Alex’s intimate thoughts and emotions.  We trust him, care about him, and empathise with him. We are lead to believe that all he recounts is reliable.  Hubbard did an excellent job with the voices of Alex and Glenn.  There was no doubt for me that they were boys.  She was also brilliant with orchestrating the story(using the writing to reconstruct the retelling of the sad day of Thomas’s death and the surrounding events) and adding a bit of suspense at the same time.  Paper Covers Rock isn’t a long book and can be read in a two-hour sitting.  As the story progressed, I found myself reading faster because I wanted to know how all this was going to end.  This book brought out that I was glad I wasn’t an adolescent  in high school anymore.  Loads of angst and grief and insecurities. Hubbard got all that spot on.  Even though, it was well worth the read and a welcome change to the typical Young Adult novels that are popular at the moment.  I’d suggest this one for adolescents and adults(young at heart) who like reading realistic stories, with  a mix of contemporary and a dash of literature about them.

Jenny Hubbard was a finalist for the William C. Morris Debut Award for Paper Covers Rock in 2012. Paper Covers Rock was released in 2011.  This award goes to a debut innovative novels written for adolescents.  The award has only been in existence for five years.  The winner in 2012 was Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley.  The 2013 winner was Seraphina by Rachel Hartmen, which is quite popular.  The finalists were Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby, Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, After the Snow by S.D. Crockett, and The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth.  If you’re interested in quality YA, these titles looked pretty interesting when I checked them out.  The YALSA – Young Adult Library Services Association, a branch of the American Library Association, administers the award every year at the end of January.  Hubbard was also an English teacher for ten years in a boys boarding school so I guess that experience inspired her to write this book.  She has a second novel, title undetermined, that will be released at the end of 2013. Check out the video below for more information on Paper Covers Rock and on Jenny Hubbard.

Title: Paper Covers Rock

Genre:  Young Adult/Realistic Fiction/Coming of Age/ Mystery

Published:  2011

Edition:  Random House

Pages:  181

Language:  English

My rating:  * * * * 1/2

My favorite quote:  ”The campus is more beautiful to adults than it is to us:  we see it as a fishbowl, and they see it as a nest, with the stone buildings tucked inside the rolling hills at the feet of the Blue Ridge Mountains, supposedly the oldest chain of mountains in the United States. To adults,old is cozy.  To us, old is something we can’t imagine we will ever be.” (Paper Covers Rock, pp. 20-21)

+3,902

The Book of Paul

Book of Paul banner
Book of Paul - LRGThe Book of Paul 
Book Summary:

“Everything you’ve ever believed about yourself…about the description of reality you’ve clung to so stubbornly all your life…all of it…every bit of it…is an illusion.” In the rubble-strewn wasteland of Alphabet City, a squalid tenement conceals a treasure “beyond all imagining”– an immaculately preserved, fifth century codex. The sole repository of ancient Hermetic lore, it contains the alchemical rituals for transforming thought into substance, transmuting matter at will…and attaining eternal life.When Rose, a sex and pain addicted East Village tattoo artist has a torrid encounter with Martin, a battle-hardened loner, they discover they are unwitting pawns on opposing sides of a battle that has shaped the course of human history. At the center of the conflict is Paul, the villainous overlord of an underground feudal society, who guards the book’s occult secrets in preparation for the fulfillment of an apocalyptic prophecy.The action is relentless as Rose and Martin fight to escape Paul’s clutches and Martin’s destiny as the chosen recipient of Paul’s sinister legacy. Science and magic, mythology and technology converge in a monumental battle where the stakes couldn’t be higher: control of the ultimate power in the universe–the Maelstrom.The Book of Paul is the first of seven volumes in a sweeping mythological narrative tracing the mystical connections between Hermes Trismegistus in ancient Egypt, Sophia, the female counterpart of Christ, and the Celtic druids of Clan Kelly.
Review:
Surprisingly enough this is a love story mixed with mystery, intrigue, violence, and a lot of shock value.  I haven’t read anything like The Book of Paul before and the intensity of it was mind-blowing and frankly a little exhausting.  The story turns around four main characters Paul, Martin, Rose, and William who is the narrator.  Paul is an evil sadistic character who is hell-bent on controlling Martin, Rose and anybody else he can get his hands on, while attempting to obtain the ultimate power in the universe, the Maelstrom.
Martin is a strong man yet dependent on Paul the only family he has left.  Martin was sadistically abused by his mother and by Paul.  Paul teaches Martin not to react to pain, by putting him through horrific acts and has been doing so since he was a child.  Martin learns to withstand pain but also to rely psychologically on Paul.  Rosie, a tattoo artist, is also an admirer of pain.  Martin and Rose form a perfect couple, that William wants to break up because he likes Rose too.  William collects serial killer memorabilia such as books covered in human skin.  All in all this motley crew will keep you rocking and rolling throughout this non-stop mysterious story, which could be described to fit in quite a few genre – horror, paranormal, thriller, suspense, mystery, and even romance.
The Book of Paul will keep you undeniably glued to the pages.  The story grows in crescendo starting with the sad, abusive back story of Martin as a child living with his mother.  The novel touches on many subjects and themes such as pain and how men deal with it, the occult, abuse, manipulation, but there are other surprises like body modification. I learned a few things about it that I didn’t know. Wow! Really?  Can’t tell, I don’t want to spoil it for you.  It’s really a psychologically disturbing and dark book, but extremely original, well-orchestrated, and written in a short sentenced direct way.  Richard Long was very clever in telling the story.  The only thing is I hated all the characters with a passion (They were more than flawed.They were all a roaring hot mess.), but that didn’t make me stop reading to my surprise.  I think it enkindled my curiosity.  Warning, this book is high up on the scale of violent and sexually explicit so if you hate that sort of thing The Book of Paul isn’t for you.  Even though horror isn’t my thing, I still read it and found it interesting.  Although I wouldn’t suggest reading it when you’re in a depressed or sad mood.  It surely won’t cheer you up.  Check this out if you really want something different to read and like horror/occult/supernatural stories.  Happy reading….
Click the following link to read an excerpt.
richardlongRichard Long‘s Bio: 
Richard Long writes to exorcize the demons of his past and manifest the dreams of his future. His debut novel,

The Book of Paul, is a dark, thrilling, and psychologically rich supernatural horror/thriller that blends mythology, science and mystery into a page-turning addiction. Richard is also writing a YA novel, The Dream Palace, primarily so that his children can read his books. He lives in Manhattan with his wife, two amazing children and their wicked black cat, Merlin.

Prices/Formats: $19.95 paperback, $2.99-$3.99 ebook
Publisher: Open Eyes
ISBN: 9780615648644
Pages: 492
Release: June 2012

Amazon paperback buy link ($19.95):
http://www.amazon.com/dp/0615648649?tag=tributebooks-20

Barnes and Noble paperback buy link ($19.95):
http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-book-of-paul-richard-long/1111400572?ean=9780615648644

Kindle buy link ($2.99):
http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0088QYXGA?tag=tributebooks-20

Nook buy link ($3.99):
http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-book-of-paul-richard-long/1111400572?ean=9780615648644

iTunes buy link ($3.99):

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-book-of-paul/id541134918?mt=11&ign-mpt=uo%3D4

Check out other reviews, giveaways, and guest posts on The Book of Paul’s official blog tour site hosted by Tribute Book:  http://the-book-of-paul.blogspot.com/

Title: The Book of Paul 

Genre:  Horror/Suspense/Paranormal

Published:  June 2012

Edition:  Open Eye (I read it on my Kindle.)

Pages:  488

Language:  English

My rating:  * * * 1/2

+3,721

 

Teacher Feature #3

Name: Cynthia T. Luna

Nationality: Swiss, American, Trinidadian cyn pic

How long have you been teaching? 

I started teaching formally in September 2012. Once started, I realized that I have been teaching in one way or another all my life.

What are you teaching?

I teach mainly Business English to young international undergraduates from all over the world. In February, I also started teaching Communication Skills to the same students in their second semester.

What certifications do you have?

I have an M.Sc. in Communications (Public Relations) and a Bachelor’s degree in French language and literature. I also have a professional interest in the written word, as well as an interest in the personal growth that takes place when you realize that you are no longer translating from your mother tongue into a new language, you are actually thinking in it! (I’m also in the process of learning German–the language of my new home.)

How did you get into teaching English?

Rather by chance. I needed to find a way to return to Switzerland for personal reasons and stumbled upon an ad for a part-time English teacher. One thing led to another.

Where are you currently working? What kind of contract are you working under? How long have you been working there?

SBS-Swiss Business School in Kloten-Zurich hired me to teach English to first-year undergraduates as a Freelance Instructor. It’s part of their academic credo to have instructors with real-world experience impart their experience and knowledge to young people. The idea is that instructors keep their day job, while teaching one or two two-hour classes per week. Contracts are up for renewal right before the beginning of each semester. I’ve been with SBS since September 2012 and just started teaching Spring semester courses in February 2013.

Where else have you worked?

I have traveled quite a bit around the United States. When I lived in Washington, D.C., I worked for a few advocacy organizations where I provided publicity and PR support for initiatives that were important to me. After a few years, I also moved to the island of Maui (Hawaii) where I headed up communications for a community media television station that launched several interesting initiatives involving building community support and adopting social media tactics. Just prior to moving to Switzerland, I was part owner and general manager of a start-up restaurant–what an experience!

Where do you prefer teaching English?

Wherever and whenever lively conversation takes place.

What do you love about teaching English?

English has become the lingua franca for so many, I have noticed. Add to the fact that American media — so widely exported — has over decades managed to cultivate a wide and varied audience. I am amazed to hear that a Swiss girl who lived in the Philippines loves Twilight, and of course, don’t forget the South American fellow who grew up in Europe who absolutely loves Star Wars. And who doesn’t know that Mr. Bond likes his martini shaken, not stirred?

What are the advantages to teaching for you?

Still being connected to what’s going on in the world around you. It’s also a great exercise towards learning and remembering what ultimately motivates people to do things. I am constantly looking for ways to keep lesson materials fresh and engaging to encourage conversation in the classroom. I wasn’t a fan of the top-down, one-way communications lesson model when I was a student, and I’m even less of a fan now, as an instructor. The students seem to respond and learn better from a two-way model.

What are the disadvantages to teaching for you?

Teaching is so important, yet the pay doesn’t really entice some of the world’s most talented and knowledgeable people to carve out some time from their lives to share their wisdom with our youth. The pay makes one wonder why as a society we seem to value the profession so little.

Do you like teaching English? Why?

I love teaching English, and I’m so thankful to have such an intimate and varied relationship with the language. There is a precise word for so many things. I love how English has historically drawn from Latin, Saxon and Greek influences, and continues to draw from other cultures today. I love being able to tell a native French speaker, for example, that we share words with them.

Do you do another job?

Yes. I also freelance as a communications/PR consultant and write articles and blog posts for small publications and small and medium-sized businesses. I’m always on the hunt for new challenges.

I want to give a very big thank you to Cynthia for sharing her rich experience as an English Language teacher.  You should check out Cynthia’s blog over at http://www.livingincyn.com.  There you’ll find interesting posts that Cynthia writes about food, culture, writing, and of course living life to the fullest in Switzerland.

Stranger in a Strange Land

350

Stranger in a Strange Land is a novel I’ve heard so much about for a long, that is, not really hearing what it was actually about.  I’ve heard masterpiece, brilliant, bestselling classic (and that was also written on the front cover of my edition), great book, etc.  So in my mind I pictured a great work of science-fiction, that would go clear over my head since I assumed I would get lost in all the science.  Well my vague assumptions were incorrect.  Science-fiction is not my forte at all but when it was chosen as the March read for my book club, I was anxious to finally know what this book was all about. I got the uncut version so that I wouldn’t miss a bit of Heinlein’s first desired words of Stranger in a Strange Land.  Heinlein’s original draft was cut about 160,000 words before being published because a few of the scenes were viewed as being “offensive to public taste”, which is how Virginia Heinlein described it in the preface of the book.

This is the story of Valentine Michael Smith.  Humankind sent an expedition to Mars, but there were never heard from again.  About twenty-five years later another expedition is sent and they find Valentine Michael Smith, who is the child of two of the original crew sent there.  He has been raised by Martians.  He was later discovered and brought back to Earth.  In the beginning, he is naive, curious, and childlike, not speaking or understanding well Earth language or our customs.  Once on Earth, he becomes the center of attention for mankind, as he teaches them grokking and water-sharing.  What is grokking you may be wondering?  “Grokking, according to the Oxford Dictionary of English, is to understand something intuitively or by empathy.”  It states that it is a word invented by Robert A. Heinlein in the 1960s.  It can be used in many verb forms like groks, grokking, or grokked.  It is considered to be used in US informal English.  As I read on, in the beginning I was struggling with this word.  It was everywhere and I started to consciously replace it with “smurf”, while laughing to myself because it reminded me of that.  I quickly began to understand better it was a way of saying a deeper understanding of something, along with a few other meanings.

As a whole, I didn’t enjoy this novel.  I went into it expecting something that it isn’t.  I was expecting lots of spaceships, advanced technology, and lots of other strange and intriguing things.  On the other hand, what I got is a satirical critique on society at the time and on what it was likely to become.  It was like reading about the sixties.  There wasn’t enough technological advancement for my taste.  It’s very heavy on themes about sex, religion, politics, and relationships.  Heinlein couldn’t keep quiet at all during his book.  It was like he had to keep reminding us of the reasons he had for writing it.  That got a little old and was a major turn off for me.  However, there are some great one liners and his forecast of the future has proved to be somewhat accurate for some things.  He seemed to have difficulty though with his female characters who remained so insipid that their names could have been interchanged.  Not to mention their roles are typical for female characters – nurse, assistant, sex object, mother, etc.  Some have accused the book of being down right sexist.  I won’t discourage you from reading this book because I do feel that it will appeal to some, but don’t go into it thinking it will be a typical science-fiction novel because it’s a lot more than that.  There are many themes running through this novel that are worthy of being thought about and discussed in a book club setting for example or among friends.  I gave it only 2 stars because I really didn’t find it enjoyable to read.  That’s my opinion, but I urge you to make your own by picking it up yourself.  Is is the best science-fiction novel ever written?  I’m not so sure about that.  So, what do you think?  Will you put Stranger in a Strange Land on your TBR?  If you’ve read it, did you enjoy it?  Do yon think it’s the best science-fiction novel ever written?  If not What do you think is the best science-fiction novel ever written?

Robert A. Heinlein was most known for having written Stranger in a Strange Land, along with quite a few others.  He was born in 1907 in Butler, Missouri.  Heinlein is considered to be “the dean of science-fiction writers”.  He was the focal fiction writer supporting and encouraging other great science-fiction writers such as Ray Bradbury and L. Ron Hubbard.  He hosted an informal gathering of science-fiction writers of the Mañana Literary Society which included Leigh Brackett, Ray Bradbury, L. Sprague de Camp, Henry Kuttner, and C.L. Moore.  Isaac Asimov was recruited by Heinlein from 1942 to 1945, while he was working at the Philadelphia Navy Yard as a service engineer.

Heinlein’s first short story published in 1939 was called Life-Line.  It is the story of Professor Pinero.  He invents a machine that has the capability to predict how long a person will live. He had the intention of writing it for a competition in Thrilling Wonder Stories magazine, where the prize was $50, but instead he submitted it to another magazine called Astounding, and was paid $70.  From there he wrote a plethora of short stories and novels, often encompassing themes of sex, race, religion, the military, and politics.  Heinlein also wrote a series of novels that would be considered Young Adult today called the  Heinlein Juveniles, also known as the Scribner Juveniles, which consists of 12 books written between 1947 and 1958.  They are Rocket Ship Galileo, Space Cadet, Red Planet, Between Planets, The Rolling Stones, Farmer in  the Sky, Starman Jones, The Star Beast, Tunnel in the Sky, Time for the Stars, Citizen of the Galaxy, and Have Space Suit-Will Travel.  Heinlein was a real powerhouse in science-fiction writing, so if you’re interested in his work, there is surely something among his many novels and short stories that will interest you.  Oh and by the way, if you were wondering what the A stands for in his middle name, it’s Anson.  Anson MacDonald was a pseudonym he used.  MacDonald was his second wife’s maiden name.  Check out the clip below for Robert Heinlein quotes.  He was surely a highly intelligent man with a great sense of humour.

Title: Stranger in a Strange Land

Genre:  Science-Fiction/Classic/Fantasy/Religion

Published:  1991 edition

Edition:  The Berkley Publishing Group

Pages:  525

Language:  English

My rating:  * * 

My favorite quote:  ”You speak it fluently, I heard you.  Do you grok ‘grok’.” (Stranger in a Strange Land, p. 264)

+3,233

Half Blood Blues

It’s 1940 in Paris and a jazz group is trying to survive playing their music and trying to cut a record as the 11076123Nazis take Paris.  Its principal characters are Sid, Chip, and Hiero.  Hieronymus Falk is a black German or a “Rhineland bastard” as he and other Afro-Germans were called.  He was the outcome of a liaison between a German woman and a soldier from Senegal who was sent to protect the Rhine border.  These African soldiers were usually French colonial troops. Hiero is an extremely talented trumpet player and accepts his complex condition, despite the fact that he is such a young man of only about nineteen during the war.

One night Hiero and Sid go out in search of milk to calm Hiero’s stomach.  It’s late and most shops are closed.  They’d all been drinking much too much suspect French home-brew and Hiero’s stomach needed calming.  Unfortunately, they find a café open and Hiero is subsequently arrested by the Nazi’s and taken away just as Sid returns from the toilet, who witnesses the scene.  From there, the reader will be taken on a psychological yet musical trip of love, friendship, hate, and betrayal.

The story is recounted in a non-linear fashion, jumping between 1939-1940 and 1992 and is separated into six parts.  The story focuses quite closely on the long-standing and tumultuous friendship between Sid and Chip.  We learn a lot about their back stories through flashbacks from their childhood together.  It is a real love, hate relationship which grows surprisingly close.  These flashbacks tell a lot about the personalities and desires of Sid and Chip.  Though we don’t get much back story on Hiero, the story links the past and present through Sid and Chip and Hiero is the link primarily to the past.  This allows the reader to discover the various themes in the different places(Berlin, Paris, the United States, and Poland) and in the different times(World War II and today) such as racism, nationality, jazz music, and of course African-American entertainers in Europe.  There haven been very few fiction novels written about the Afro-Germans and this is one you shouldn’t miss out on.  It’s beautifully written and Edugyan does a brilliant job expressing herself as a man as well as adopting the language of the thirties and the forties.  It flows naturally and doesn’t seem forced at all.

Of course I have to talk about the bad things and fortunately for this book there was only one thing in particular that irritated me and that was the constant flashbacks and time jumping.  There were just too many for me and I found that it slightly watered down the power of the story.  I really had to keep it together with the details all the way to the end and it distracted me a little.  I understand why she did it that way and you will too when you read it, but a little less of that feature would have been better for my reading enjoyment.  You should definitely check this ‘compelling, personal, and authentic’ (Observer, quoted on the back of the book) story.

Half Blood Blues is Esi Edugyan’s second novel.  Her first novel was published in 2004 called The Second Life of Samuel Tyne, which is the story of a young man from Ghana that emigrates to the New World in 1955 looking to accomplish a better life.  Edugyan is Canadian of immigrant Ghanaian parents.  She was born and raised in Calgary, Alberta, but currently lives in Victoria, British Columbia with her husband Steven Price, who is also a novelist and poet.  Half Blood Blues was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2011, as well as being nominated for various other prizes including the Walter Scott Prize for historical fiction.  She did win the Giller Prize for Half Blood Blues, which she talks about in the video that I’ve attached below.  Check it out.  Esi Edugyan is soft-spoken and very interesting to listen to. If you’re interested in learning more about her go to http://www.esiedugyan.com for more information on her novels and what she’s doing.  Another thing that you should look out for are the different covers for this book.  There is one that looks like a vinyl record with Half Blood Blues written as the song and Edugyan’s name as the singer(Wish I’d gotten that one) and the two others are Paris and Berlin.

Title: Half Blood Blues

Genre:  African-American/Historical Fiction

Published:  2011

Edition:  Serpent’s Tail

Pages:  343

Language:  English

My rating:  * * *  1/2

My favorite quote:  ”I guess he’s got to have a glamorous death. With the right kind of death, a man can live forever.” (Half Blood Blues, p. 36)

+2,708

Poetry From Spine to Spine – Love

IMG_1637

Love – Toni Morrison  http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/11326.Love

In the Kitchen – Monica Ali  http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6065178-in-the-kitchen

Sexy – Joyce Carol Oates  http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/12523.Sexy

Warm Bodies – Isaac Marion  http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7619057-warm-bodies

Tumbling – Diane McKinney-Whetstone  http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/429931.Tumbling

Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe  http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/37781.Things_Fall_Apart

Behind the Beautiful Forevers – Katherine Boo  http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/11869272-behind-the-beautiful-forevers