A Storm of Swords

There is a point while reading novels, especially great ones, when your eyes are no longer seeing words on a page, but forming an image of that moment in time. You are transported to a faraway world, to the struggles of a little boy, to the pride of a championed cause. It’s brilliant. And once you’ve found your niche, that place you know you’re meant to be, you don’t want it to end.

George Martin’s ability to create such a place is surreal. The pain and sorrow of the characters are palpable. Every desire, resounding. Each small victory, triumphant. These stories he’s created accomplish what every book should make an audience feel. We’re no longer an audience. We’re citizens of Westeros, the King’s Road, the snow falling beyond the Wall that bears witness to the magnificent secrets of Sansa, Arya and Jon, Tyrion and Ygritte, Brienne and Jaime.

A-Storm-of-Swords-e1346603808470All the while, Martin so adeptly weaves life’s wisdom into his story. I decided to share some of my favorite…

‘In the world, as I have seen it, no man grows rich by kindness.’ – Ser Jorah Mormont

‘A man can own a woman or a man can own a knife,’ Ygritte told him, ‘but no man can own both. Every little girl learns that from her mother.’

…Pylos meant it kindly, but his assurances rang hollow….’A kingdom’s not a ship…and a good thing, or this kingdom would be sinking. I know wood and rope and water, yes, but how will that serve me now? Where do I find the wind to blow King Stannis to his throne?’
The master laughed at that. ‘And there you have it, my lord. Words are wind, you know, and you’ve blown mine away with your good sense. His Grace knows what he has in you, I think.’
– Davos Seaworth and Maester Pylos

‘An ant who hears the words of a king may not comprehend what he is saying,’ Melisandre said, ‘and all men are ants before the fiery face of god.’

‘No man goes hunting with only one arrow in his quiver,’ he said. – Mance Rayder

‘The gods made the earth for all men t’share. Only when the kings come with their crowns and steel swords, they claimed it was all theirs. My trees, they said, you can’t eat them apples. My stream, you can’t fish here. My wood, you’re not t’hunt. My earth, my water, my castle, my daughter, keep your hands away or I’ll chop ‘em off, but maybe if you kneel t’me I’ll let you have a sniff. You call us thieves, but at least a thief has t’be brave and clever and quick. A kneeler only has t’kneel.’ – Ygritte

If he survived this night, he would take Devan and sail home to Cape Wrath and his gentle Marya. We will grieve together for our dead sons, raise the living ones to be good men, and speak no more of kings. – Davos Seaworth

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New narrators, once again. Samwell Tarly. Jaime Lannister. As well as old acquaintances. Catelyn Stark and Jon Snow – among others. And in the preview of A Feast for Crows we find that readers will get a closer look into Cersei Lannister’s true feelings. However in A Storm of Swords, the third installment of Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series (a.k.a. A Game of Thrones) reveals that Robb Stark, ‘King in the North’, has yet to be beaten on the battlefield and Tywin Lannister has made his way to King’s Landing. Lord Tywin’s arrival temporarily leaves youngest son Tyrion void of responsibilities to the realm. As King Stannis so fortuitously slays his brother Renly Baratheon – the desparate scheming for the Iron Throne continues….

To Sansa Stark’s good luck, the Lannister’s find a more prosperous match between King Joffrey and Margaery Tyrell from Highgarden. But the Lannister’s, or rather Lord Tywin, is not prepared to throw a chance at Winterfell to the wind. In the far North, Jon Snow is exploring life as a wildling following ‘The King Beyond the Wall’, Mance Rayder. Jon finds himself mixing pleasure in this ‘reconnaissance mission’ that he does not easily forget once the freefolk make their way back to the Wall.

Brandon ‘Bran’ Stark and younger brother Rickon are thought to be executed and are making their way north with two crannogmen. I find it easy to let them slip to the back of my mind, despite the mysterious powers of Bran’s dreaming. But I’m not about to disregard the Khaleesi, Daenerys Targaryen, ‘Mother of the Dragons’. The Queen is building her army, purchasing thousands of ‘Unsullied’ – fearsome eunuchs dulled to pain – proving the loyalty of her dragons. Although such loyalty cannot be said of everyone in her caravan. Her fate will be one I am eager to discover when I finally decide to open the cover of A Feast for Crows.

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A Thousand Splendid Suns

When I sat down to read this book, the last thing I thought was, “Gee, I’d really like to bawl my eyes out.” Can you guess what happened? I literally had to put down the book at work so I wouldn’t be crying should someone come in for their order. Hard to believe if you know I don’t cry for anything. It’s likely that when he was writing, Hosseini just decided to write down every possible sorrow and horror that could become a woman into one novel. But sweet hallelujah, he does it wonderfully.
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Hosseini is native to Afghanistan and has received medical certification in the U.S. However, with his middle-eastern roots, I would personally consider A Thousand Splendid Suns nonfiction even though the characters may not exist. Hosseini exposes the raw and honest joys and struggles of two Afghan women, Laila and Mariam. Knowing that every person and experience is different, these two portrayals could not give example of each woman in Afghanistan, but I would not doubt if they are apt.

The audience is introduced to Mariam, a harami or bastard of a businessman in Kabul. Mariam’s mother was a maid in her father’s house and was sent to a tiny hut to be hidden from society. Her mother is also prone to seizures and verbally places guilt on Mariam for her misfortune. Nonetheless, she is sure to convey to Mariam the important lessons needed in life: “A man’s heart is a wretched, wretched thing. It isn’t like a mother’s womb. It won’t bleed. It won’t stretch to make room for you,” and, “Like a compass needle that points north, a man’s accusing finger will always point towards a woman. Always.” Yet, Mariam still eagerly awaits her father and his red tie and special gifts every Thursday. Until the day she sets out to visit him….

Laila is discovered briefly in the telling of Mariam’s tale, but we soon learn all about her family and close friend, Tariq. As her brothers are away to war, Laila’s mother is bedridden and Laila is left solely to depend on her Babi and Tariq. While the war encroaches on her town, Laila soon feels the effects of conflict and the wrath of the Taliban. Before we know it, Laila and Mariam have crossed paths and formed a unique friendship that won’t conclude until Hosseini has divulged each layer of your heart.
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During my reading, it seemed to me that Hosseini was not only revealing the secrets and lives of two Afghan women, but the different men in their life. Each kind or harsh in their own way: Jalil, Rasheed, Tariq, Babi, Mullah Faizulla, Zalmai. Every character, every event twisted my heart. That’s what my favorites do. And this post does not do justice to the incredible lives, and love, Hosseini created between those pages.

A Clash of Kings

A friend of mine has also recently read through the second and third book of The Song of Ice and Fire series. He, among others, have been discussing the characters – which is their favorite, which they hate the most. As this friend was talking about his favorite character, he mentioned that if he was still living his old way of life and if he and Tyrion Lannister knew each other, they might go drinking together. Immediately I thought of Arya. By far and away, easily the character I relate to the most. A tough girl who wants anything but to sing and sew and give curtsies. In A Clash of Kings we get to see her take care of herself, be independent and even get others out of trouble.
martin_clash_kings_mmkt-360x560 That’s just it, Martin gives the audience someone to relate to – even in a fictitious world so long ago. We’re enthralled because we see ourselves. We have someone to root for. Martin reaches through the pages to grab you. He creates a vessel for the readers in his story. How would you be in a world full of crowns and dragons?

In the last book, I couldn’t stand Sansa Stark. At the very beginning of the sequel, I still found her annoying, but I began to sympathize with her. As my friend continued his thoughts on Tyrion, he added, “I want someone to stay good until the end.” It’s a hopeful sentiment, especially for a mythological tale. Then I realized: none of the characters will manage to stay ‘good’ for the whole series – it’s what makes Martin’s characters real. Arya has not been innocent by any means, but she is still my favorite fighting for what I perceive is the ‘good’ side of things. Is there ever a time when you’re always the good guy?
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But to sum up the sequel in this series, Martin introduces some new characters to take us through the narration. Theon Greyjoy and Davos the Smuggler. The readers follow Robb through his first battles and Bran and the ‘frogeaters’ surviving in Winterfell. I even developed a weak spot for Sandor Cleagane, “The Hound”. Even though he won’t admit it yet, Tyrion falls in love with Shae and Stannis Baratheon may become as much of a danger as Lord Tywinn Lannister. All I can say is that I’m more excited for A Storm of Swords than I was for this book. If Margaery Tyrell’s spunky grandmother has a profound presence I may have a contender for a new favorite character.
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Hopkins

Ellen Hopkins is quite the accomplished woman by my record. An award-winning author, journalist, avid gardener. A survivor of an abusive relationship. The founder of Ventana Sierra, Inc., which works to achieve the career goals of disadvantaged youths through a variety of avenues. I know Mrs. Hopkins because of her young adult novels. Ellen Hopkins evoked the most troubling stories of teenagers through her very unique writing style. Once you pick up one of her books, you can’t put it down.

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I’m eagerly looking forward to her next young adult novel, Smoke. Smoke is the sequel to my favorite of her books: Burned. Burned is the story of Pattyn, a girl who questions her family, faith and every form of love. In the midst of her abusive father, Pattyn moves to Nevada. By the end of the story I’m pretty sure I had screamed, clenched the book in my fists and had tears running down my face. You can imagine why I’m looking forward to the rest of Pattyn’s story.
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It wasn’t until I had looked further into this plot that I discovered two more of Hopkins’ books. I’ve read all of her young adult novels. Perfect and Tilt are two that are now on my list, and will hopefully read before Smoke releases. Because Hopkins’ original audience started in 2004, she has also begun to explore more mature works of fiction. You can bet I’ll be checking those out too.

To visit Ellen Hopkins’ website, click: http://ellenhopkins.com/

Outliers

“It is not easy to be so honest about where we’re from. It would be simpler for my mother to portray her success as a straightforward triumph over victimhood,… Bill Gates could accept the title of genius, and leave it at that. …It is impossible for a hockey player, or Bill Joy, or Robert Oppenheimer, or any other outlier for that matter, to look down from their lofty perch and say with truthfulness, ‘I did this, all by myself.’ …Their success is not exceptional or mysterious….The outlier, in the end, is not an outlier at all.”

Dedicated to his extraordinary grandmother Daisy, Malcolm Gladwell delivers the most intriguing explanation of why the people we see as successful are a result of many other unexpected factors. I was enthralled. Every page.
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Each chapter sheds new light on our small-minded view of the world. Why the people of Roseto, PA were healthier than the rest of the nation. How the Beatles became experts in the music industry. The reason IQ makes little difference when faced with other distinctions. ‘The Ethnic Theory of Plane Crashes’ introduces cultural differences, and is continued with a theory that Asians might appear to be better at math than the rest of us.

I had my own revelation reading about Harlan, KY. Being a Missouri girl, regardless of what you say, I’ll claim I’m from the South any day of the week. Gladwell proves me right by highlighting the Irish/Scottish history of the badlands, and why I have my temper (which may or may not come from my father and his Irish roots). I’m telling you – and many will agree – to go find this book. It will make you look at the world at least a bit differently than you do today.

“It’s hard to resist Malcolm Gladwell….Reading one of his books is like sitting at the kitchen table while he runs about his house, pulling research studies out of file cabinets, thick biographies off bookshelves, and spreadsheets from his laptop. ‘Check this out!’ he exclaims, and ‘Can you believe this one?!’ Then he gets serious. ‘You know how important this is, don’t you?’ he asks….Ultimately, Outliers is a book about the twentieth century. It offers a fascinating look at how certain people become successful.” – Rebecca Steinitz, Boston Globe

Winter Is Coming…

…so please forgive me. I know I have not been on here in forever. No excuses, but I’ve been relishing in my blessings – travelling to Indiana, Kansas City for the Agriculture Future of America Conference, and Sedalia for the Missouri PAS Conference. All with in the last month. Eeeek!! However, never failing the true bookworm that I am, I have managed to finish my first George RR Martin novel. My Sundays are another ‘thing’ all together, as the first chapter of Twelve Extraordinary Women has borne the most challenging piece of work I’ve been through, possibly in ever, but I will get to that when the times comes as well.

If you’re familiar with title of this post, or know that I have been reading the first book of the Song of Ice and Fire Series, you have probably caught on to the fact that I have completely read A Game of Thrones. Might I say that it is brilliant. George RR Martin is the type of author that makes me want to write a book. He manages to create a page-turning story, symmetrical to classics, without it revolving around sex. A theme that seems to be quite frequent with current authors (or maybe it’s just me). For those of you who are far ahead of me in the series, I apologize for being so behind. Even as I’m reading Anna Karenina, I can not help anticipating how A Feast for Crows will  play out!

If you’ve not seen the series on HBO – you know, the one with the brilliant cast – although somewhat vulgar it does a pretty decent job of portraying the story. For me to admit that is saying something, as I am always partial to the living, breathing pages of a book. To recap some of the story, Lord Stark of Winterfell is asked to be the hand of the King, Robert Baratheon. Martin follows members of the Stark family, and also of Daenerys Targaryen, ‘the blood of the dragon’, who is khaleesi of the Dothraki people. It may sound a little like jibberish and maybe somewhat confusing, but trust me, it’s entirely worth the non-existent struggle. Well into the book, King Baratheon dies and all heck breaks loose. Starks and Lannisters are at work, along with a majority of the rest of the kingdom, all fighting for some security of the Iron Throne. Martin’s characters are addicting and lovable and enraging. Well done sir. Well done.

I’ve missed you all. Please let me know what you think of the book! Have any questions, comments, suggestions? Try not to give away too much of the rest of the series please!

The Picture of Dorian Gray

I love it when I underestimate the quality of a book. Needless to say, that’s exactly what I did with Mr. Wilde’s writing, even after a recommendation from a best friend. I’ve come to terms that many of you reading this may not get around to the books I post about. No big deal. And those of you who have won’t mind if I spoil the ending. I’m going to do it just this once anyway.

The story starts off with Mr. Basil Hallward, a very whimsical and introspective creature in my mind. Mr. Hallward is a painter, and his favourite subject as of late is the young Dorian Gray. Dorian is his favourite not only in the sense of art, but in personality, innocence and society as well. Hallward has a sociable acquaintence, Lord Henry who becomes interested in Dorian, too.

Early on, the audience discovers that Lord Henry is completely and utterly full of hot air, and occasionally shares some clever insight on topics from a different perspective. During Dorian and Lord Henry’s first meeting, Hallward creates is greatest masterpiece to date, a portrait of Dorian. Despite Hallward’s best efforts, Dorian soon becomes corrupted by Lord Henry. All three of them are struck by the beauty of the painter’s latest work, which influences Dorian’s growing infatuation with youth and beauty, society and self-importance.

“Some day, when you are old and wrinkled and ugly, when thought has seared your forehead with its lines, and passion branded your lips with its hideous fires, you will feel it. You will feel it terribly.” – Lord Henry

Before Mr. Gray becomes completely consumed with himself, he falls in love with a brilliant, young actress, Sibyl Vane. Once he approaches her and proposes, Sibyl realizes how fake her world of scenes and stories really is. The same night she experiences this epiphany, Hallward and Lord Henry join Dorian at the theatre, only to watch a dreadful performance. Dorian is horribly embarrassed and breaks his engagement with Sibyl. She is heartbroken and takes her life that very night.

Throughout the story, Basil’s infamous portrait of Dorian Gray bears the ugliness of Dorian’s soul. After his life of vanity, rumours and even murder, Hallward’s canvas becomes the home of Dorian’s deception, anger, and shallow actions. A marvelous tale, full of extraordinary and humourous quotes, with a sobering finish. I’m considering a post on quotations alone. Could be fun. Excellent read. Go find out for yourself. Share your opinions!

Oh, I just wanted to throw this in there. I almost considered the title, ‘Girls Gone Wilde’ but I figured it didn’t relate. Maybe next time.

The Hunger Games

So very often,  movies are adopted to popular books and then never do them justice. When I first heard of The Hunger Games (the film), I had not even heard of the trilogy. It was then my brother who informed me that they were some of his favorite books. Turns out I actually bought him the third book for Christmas last year. Ha… Since I’m quite familiar with the disappointment of watching films that do hardly any justice to the books that inspire them, I decided to wait and read the first book, The Hunger Games, until after I had seen it in theaters. 

Maybe it’s because I watched it in theaters, but I absolutely loved the movie. I finished the book and quickly moved on to Catching Fire. While watching the movie, I easily predicted a crucial detail of the second. My foreshadowing didn’t make it any less exciting however. In the second book , I was also introduced to one of my favorite characters – Finnick Odair. Although he didn’t become one of my favorites – possibly even my favorite – until the third book, Mockingjay, which I finished just hours ago.

For those of you who haven’t finished the series, or may not even know the books (unlikely), let me catch you up to speed. You probably know the synopsis of the first book: Twelve different districts are controlled by the Capitol. Girl from District 12 volunteers in place of her sister for the annual hunger games, in which one victor emerges after killing the 23 other tributes. I won’t ruin the ending if you haven’t read/seen it yet.

Now for semi-spoilers. Here comes Catching Fire and Mockingjay without giving away too much detail.

In Catching Fire, Katniss and Peeta (victors from the previous hunger games) take their victory tour. Shortly after, they are selected to participate in the third Quarter Quell, or the 75th Hunger Games. At the end of the book, Katniss and some of her allies escape the arena and the rebellion against the Capitol is on. In Mockingjay, Katniss is thrown into a war she inspired whether she wants it or not.

It is in this third book, I believe Suzanne Collins ties together the entirety of her message. I have yet to meet a person who has read it that doesn’t hate it – myself being the exception. One can’t dispute the fact that the end of this trilogy is heartbreaking, but I think it’s what Collins needed to drive home the point she is trying to convey.

Easily a trilogy I recommend. Don’t stop at the first book or the second. Read to the end of Mockingjay, and tell me you aren’t affected (or at least feel a little something). Isn’t that what we read for anyway?

What did you think of the books? More opinions? Do your worst.