Orphan Train

by Christina Baker Kline

from the cover
Between 1854 and 1929, so-called orphan trains ran regularly from the cities of the East Coast to the farmlands of the Midwest, carrying thousands of abandoned children whose fates would be determined by pure luck. Would they be adopted by a kind and loving family, or would they face a childhood and adolescence of hard labor and servitude?

As a young Irish immigrant, Vivian Daly was one such child, sent by rail from New York City to an uncertain future a world away. Returning east later in life, Vivian leads a quiet, peaceful existence on the coast of Maine, the memories of her upbringing rendered a hazy blur. But in her attic, hidden in trunks, are vestiges of a turbulent past.

Seventeen-year-old Molly Ayer knows that a community-service position helping an elderly widow clean out her attic is the only thing keeping her out of juvenile hall. But as Molly helps Vivian sort through her keepsakes and possessions, she discovers that she and Vivian aren't as different as they appear.

my rating

my review
How is it possible for a book to tear your heart to shreds and yet still be entirely likable? Orphan Train is heartwarming and heart-wrenching all at the same time, and although it's not perfect, I couldn't bring myself to give it any less than a 5/5 rating.

Because it alternates between modern-day Maine (from the perspective of a 17-year-old) and Minnesota in the 1920's-40's, Orphan Train appeals to a relatively broad audience. However, I found the historical portion much tighter and smoother and more gripping than the part of the story set in 2011, which almost seemed to be an afterthought -- a hastily-written (though very interesting) sub-plot, perhaps, to bring the book full-circle.

As I read this book, I felt a strong urge to gather all of the orphans, foster children, abused, and neglected into my arms and and give them a hot bath and new clothes and feed them warm brown bread with honey and whisper in their ears that they are loved, they have a purpose, they are beautiful. This must be how God feels when he gazes upon the world.

(There is irony here, for my maternal instinct is either nonexistent or just dormant 99.9% of the time. I mean, children are frightening -- they're tiny people, just louder and more honest and lacking any concept of personal space. And often sticky. I really don't like sticky.)

Note: due to language and some sexual content, I would recommend this book for mature readers. If you (or your parents) don't feel you're ready for it yet, put it on your to-read-in-a-few-years list, because it's definitely worth reading.

Orphan Train


a solitary place

what of those He didn't touch?
the ones calling out His name as
He went off to a solitary place

perhaps some perished even while He prayed
and then left, healing no more in that place
so as to reach neighboring towns

and did He grieve the ones left suffering?
what of them--did they still pray
or fall to hopeless despair?

and yet
though fully God, our Christ was human
and we are limited in these mortal bodies

so shall we do nothing in the name of fairness?
or do small works knowing that
perhaps love
spreads faster than healing

(inspired by Mark 1:29-39)



by Veronica Roth

from the cover
Tris's initiation day should have been marked by celebration and victory with her chosen faction; instead, the day ended with unspeakable horrors. War now looms as conflict between the factions and their ideologies grows. And in times of war, sides must be chosen, secrets will emerge, and choices will become even more irrevocable—and even more powerful. Transformed by her own decisions but also by haunting grief and guilt, radical new discoveries, and shifting relationships, Tris must fully embrace her Divergence, even if she does not know what she may lose by doing so.

my rating

my review
This second novel was at least as good as the first, but with more character depth. The black-and-whiteness of Divergent became a muddled grey which, though it made my brain hurt, I loved.
"...our society is not divided into 'good' and 'bad.' Cruelty does not make a person dishonest, the same way bravery does not make a person kind. [This person] is not good or bad, but both."
One thing I disliked, though: Tobias and Tris have multiple melodramatic episodes throughout, which just seem awkwardly and immaturely handled. It almost seemed out of character at times.

the movie
IT WAS HORRID. They took all that was good in the book and did the opposite. Whereas Tris should have been struggling with grief and guilt to the point of not being able to touch a gun without going into shock, the movie Tris is a killing machine. Not to mention the entire plot was mutilated almost beyond recognition. I'm ok with a few changed and/or omitted details, but I can count on one hand the things the movie producers got right. If you still want to see Insurgent, wait a few months and rent it. It's not worth the cost of a movie ticket.

Insurgent (Divergent, #2)



by Veronica Roth

from goodreads
In Beatrice Prior's dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue--Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is--she can't have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself. (Read the full description here.)

my rating

my review
This is one of those rare books that would keep me up reading all night except for that silly thing called "work" that requires waking fairly early each weekday morning.

I found Beatrice to be a well-developed, extremely relatable, and very realistic character, although the rest, including Four (to an extent), were unfortunately quite flat. Christina has the personality of every other YA or chick-flick best friend: quick wit, ready encouragement, a hint of independent thought... but not much else.

However, the premise of the book is fascinating. The factions in and of themselves are not an evil system (compared to your typical dystopian, anyway), and the government, rather than being an elite group, is comprised of members from the most selfless faction. And although the aptitude test offers a strong suggestion, people are ultimately free to choose which faction they belong to. Yes, the factionless are unjustly left without community, but not without jobs or or a caring source of aid. It's not a perfect system--I'm not saying I'd want to live there--but it's not exactly oppressive, either. (If you've read the book, feel free to argue with me here. I'm still figuring it out.)

In addition, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Veronica Roth is a Christian author, and that does shine through not only in some of the themes, but also in that prayer is mentioned three times under three entirely different circumstances (not huge, I realize, but this book is geared towards a broad audience).

I love Beatrice's internal struggles and thought processes. For example: Dauntless, perhaps, was not always so bad, the initiation not always so brutal. In fact, their manifesto speaks of more nobel ideals. Perhaps they're not so different from Abnegation after all. Ethics have a place in this book; the necessity of violence is questioned rather than blindly accepted.

I like weak characters who find their strength without losing themselves. I like books with morals. I like tragic characters who rip my heart out, because it means that I have an attachment to the story and that the author is willing to lose some of the "good guys" because that's what happens. I like this book.

(Also, the only thing about the movie adaptation that made me angry is that they changed Tris' reaction to her final fear in the initiation simulation. Why did they do that. It was completely unnecessary. Why.)

Divergent (Divergent, #1)


St. Patrick's Day -- more than shamrocks and leprechauns

As much fun as it is to go wild with green food coloring and wear as many shades of the color as possible, St. Patrick's Day has a much deeper meaning behind it. I'm sure St. Patrick would be appalled if he could see the shenanigans that occur on the holiday dedicated to him, from pranks and pinching to partying in the pubs (honestly, the alliteration was unintentional. I promise).

Last year I shared a prayer by St. Patrick as well as a brief biography. If you missed the post or don't remember, it's an interesting tale of how a formerly wealthy British boy went on to establish hundreds of churches on the island that enslaved him. I cannot even begin to fathom the great faith it must have taken to not only return to the land of his captors, but to love its people.

"It was among foreigners that it was seen how little I was," he writes, in Confessio, one of two short works authored by St. Patrick.

"It was there [Ireland] that the Lord opened up my awareness of my lack of faith... He guarded me before I knew him... He protected me and consoled me as a father does for his son.

That is why I cannot be silent -- nor would it be good to do so -- about such great blessings and such a gift that the Lord so kindly bestowed in the land of my captivity. This is how we can repay such blessings, when our lives change and we come to know God, to praise and bear witness to his great wonders before every nation under heaven."

I am not Catholic, and I'm not sure I could name more a half-dozen saints off the top of my head (actually, I would be surprised if I could name that many). But green is my favorite color, I have an inexplicable fascination with Ireland, and over the years I've become more and more curious about this fellow named Patrick who isn't, in fact, a leprechaun, and may not even have anything to do with shamrocks.

(Confession: I made Irish brown bread yesterday, and I have every intention of wearing green tomorrow.)


Watership Down

by Richard Adams

from back cover
One of the most beloved novels of our time, Richard Adam's Watership Down takes us to a world we have never truly seen: to the remarkable life that teems in the fields, forests and riverbanks far beyond our cities and towns. It is a powerful saga of courage, leadership and survival; and epic tale of a hardy band of adventurers forced to flee the destruction of their fragile community...and their trials and triumphs in the face of extraordinary adversity as they pursue a glorious dream called "home." Welcome to the warren.

my rating

my review
I didn't like this book nearly so much as I thought I would. The beginning held my attention quite well because I was constantly comparing the rabbits in the story to my own pet rabbit, and the mannerisms were quite similar, giving me a wonderful first impression that the book was, in the very least, well-researched. And I really enjoyed the writing style--Richard Adams truly is talented in that area, including plenty of rich description without overwhelming the story.

What I did not expect was the violence. Self defense I understand, although rabbits tend towards the flight instinct. But these rabbits were plotting attacks. Which I also found interesting because most of the characters were portrayed as very simple-minded, and then all of a sudden they would start planning some grand scheme or other. Despite being simple-minded, though, the characters had great depth to them. I especially liked Kehaar, a rather unusual ally for rabbits (I won't spoil it by telling you which species he belongs to). Fiver is also rather endearing, if a bit strange.

Overall, Watership Down is well-written, and for the most part I enjoyed it. But I always felt this underlying sense of unease while I read it, and the book took far longer to read than it really should have.

Watership Down


The Place of Voices

by Lauren Lynch

from Goodreads
Anna is devastated by a fire that left her orphaned, dependent on an uncle she never knew existed and far from the only home she has ever known. Brendan struggles with a life limited by crippling illness and a family torn by the loss of his mother. Tzutz Nik faces an arranged marriage to the prince of a ruthless dynasty in order to unite their fractured kingdoms. A mysterious invitation gives them each an opportunity to escape their struggles for a while and view their lives from a new perspective. Deep in a remote jungle, amid long-forgotten ancient ruins, they discover the true meaning of sacrifice. In the shadows, a relentless evil presence lurks, threatening to lead them astray. Will they triumph over their adversary or be trapped in his web of lies?

my rating

my review
Although no books can be compared equally with The Chronicles of Narnia (apples and oranges, my dears), this book seems to be heavily influenced by the series, and I do not count that a disadvantage at all. And despite being a middle-grade book, The Place of Voices is a well-written Christian allegory that even my critical mind enjoyed. The diverse characters were developed sufficiently to keep me interested, and Lauren Lynch painted a clear picture of their surroundings without going into a boring amount of detail.

As suggested by the cover, The Place of Voices includes a significant amount of Mayan history and culture, which Lauren Lynch researched thoroughly. I applaud her for portraying the Mayan culture honestly without demonizing the characters (except, perhaps, the villain) despite their pagan practices. Tzutz Nik, one of the main characters, is not asked to wholly reject her Mayan culture, but to love the one true God and also honor her parent's wishes. Her soul is nurtured and her culture respected, which is a difficult, delicate balance to find.

The Place of Voices (TimeDrifter Series, #1)


Annabeth's War

by Jessica Greyson

from Goodreads
With King Harold away at war Lord Raburn has his eye on the throne. Those who dare to stand in his way fall beneath his power. All but one. A girl named Annabeth. Can a common, ordinary girl, with love for king, country, and her father, achieve the impossible?

Trained by her father, a master swordsman, outlawed Annabeth has only her sword, her wits, and her disguises to keep Belterra from falling entirely into Lord Raburn's clutches. Can she rescue her captured father and Prince Alfred? Will one girl keep the kingdom from falling?

my rating

my review
This one is a little hard to review, because I devoured it in two sections while on a 12-hour flight. It held my attention (obviously), and was overall a rather enjoyable read. However, I have quite a few qualms with the book.

Annabeth is introduced as an expert swordsman despite her age and gender. But as the story progresses, our protagonist becomes a damsel in distress who must be rescued by a mysterious, chivalrous man. To give her the benefit of the doubt, we could also look at it this way: despite her training and circumstances, Annabeth retained a spark of femininity, or, perhaps, we could say that she is realistically flawed.

Ransom is the mysterious, chivalrous hero previously mentioned, but Eliot's character, though introduced later in the book, was the most complex. Judging by reviews, it looks like Captive of Raven Castle, Jessica Greyson's second book, offers more character depth. I hope this is true, because Annabeth's War shows great promise in Jessica's writing ability.

Captive of Raven Castle


February: what happened?

You may or may not have noticed that I only wrote two posts in February, which is rather unusual. Why? Because:

In other words, I was in Thailand for two weeks with my husband's family. It was awesome.