Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Book Review: Salt to the Sea

Title: Salt to the Sea
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Release Date: 2016
Genre: historical fiction, WW2, romance, teen fiction, travel, family, pain
My Rating: *****
Official Rating: teen fiction
Age Group: 16+ (or 18+, depending on reader's exposure)
Awards: Junior Library Guild Book Pick, 2015 Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Residency

"We the survivors are not the true witnesses. The true witnesses, those in possession of the unspeakable truth, are the drowned, the dead, the disappeared" --Primo Levi

Joana: a nurse from Lithuania, Lina's cousin, and just trying to make up for her mistakes by caring for those around her. Emilia: a young Polish girl running away, hiding a pregnancy, looking for some goodness in the world that mirrors the fairy tale world she so recently lived in. Alfred: a young German soldier, stuck in his own head, blind to the evils around him, eager to please but not wanting to work. Florian: a Prussian art scholar, fleeing two countries as he tries to avenge his father's death and find his sister before it is too late. And Sorry Eva and Wandering Boy Klaus and Shoe Poet and all the others.
Wilhelm Gustloff, the ship that will take the injured soldiers and refugees to safety.

The lives of these characters all converge until they find themselves aboard the Gustloff where they witness what the author calls "the single greatest tragedy in maritime history."

Word of Warning
  • This is war. Horrible things happen, and the descriptions are not graphic but are rather stark. People are frozen dead, starve, shot, missing limbs, delirious, dying, drowning, getting crushed, and more. There is an assumed murder-sucicide of a family.
  • We hear of the invasion of a town where the Russians raped the young women and slaughtered all the others. Later there is mention of getting someone's "skirt up", which is what the Russians would do (or so we are told).
  • A young woman gives birth.
  • A character has shrapnel embedded in his back which has to be removed without medical supplies.
  • People are cruel animals to each other. Children die horrible deaths, parents are desperate, and people are generally heartless.
  • Kisses. Flirting (honest, delirious, and twisted--though from different people).
  • Lying. Cheating. Spying.

My Thoughts
From a purely literary perspective, it is a work of art. The way the author shapes the narrative through the minds of four distinct characters from four different countries, all stories converging on the Gustloff,  and giving incredibly historical perspective all along the way--this is a truly stunning book.

She's done it again. Ruta Sepetys, the author of Between Shades of Gray, has once again written us something that tears at our hearts while revealing to us the horrible truths of history which are so often overlooked.
It sounds horrible to say this is a good book. I might use the word "priceless" instead. Amid all the horror, we see people emerge as heroes. Amid all the smoke, we are at last shown the truth.

I have nothing valuable to say about this book aside from this: read it.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Short Story Review: Half-Hours in Hades

Hello hello!
It is my great pleasure to introduce not only one but two new elements to this blog!

First, the short story review. Short stories have great power and take great skill to write. While not as talked about as other forms of writing, it does have great value, especially in class rooms due to time restrictions and the ability to narrow in on specific elements. So, enter the short story reviews!

Second, and far more exciting, student authors! I have offered my students the opportunity to write reviews for class, which can be posted here if they like, as an entrance to the world of academics and critics, as well as many other great learning opportunities. And I'm very very excited to say that they have taken me up on this offer! All posts will be preread by myself before being shared, and I trust this group to be thorough in their analysis of the content of the media they review. Feel free to leave feedback--I will be sure to pass it on to the student authors.

Title: Half-Hours in Hades: An Elementary Handbook of Demonology
[Due to loopholes in copyright laws when it comes to death and time, the full text (and hilarious illustrations) can be found by clicking on the title]
Author: G. K. Chesterton
Release Date: 1890ish
Genre: fiction, short story
My Rating: *****
Official Rating: children's/young adult fiction
Age Group: 11+ (make-believe characters that might be concerning to younger children) [Maria Gianna here. I might advise a little older so the reader can appreciate the intertextual references. If there's one thing G. K. Chesterton loves, it's a good name drop.]

The wonderful author, G. K. Chesterton, again shows his brilliance in his work "Half-Hours in Hades." He gives a hilarious and interesting account on the different types of demons. He goes over the different types of demons, explains them to you, and tells where one could find them. This is a good essay to read if you are studying G. K. Chesterton.

Word of Warning
  • Non-existent characters
  • Topics on demons or devils [and how they operate]

My Thoughts
I think this is a very funny essay to read. It gives an interesting view on demons in a good way, even though they are generally bad. It might be a little confusing for young readers. I enjoyed reading it very much.

Author Bio
Hello! I am a budding writer that has taken numerous writing and literature classes throughout my life. I my spare time, I enjoy reading, playing chess and card games, diving, swimming, skiing, acting in plays, and hanging out with friends. When I grow older, I Want to be an actor or an airplane pilot! Thank you for reading my Text Review on Half-Hours in Hades!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Movie Review: Antman

Title: Antman
Author: Marvel
Release Date: 2015
Genre: adventure, action, superheroes, science fiction, family, fathers, romance
My Rating: ****
Brother's Rating: **** */2 (4.5)
Official Rating: PG-13 (for sci-fi action violence)
Age Group: 14+ (that's probably over cautious, but there's one line that makes me uneasy)

Scott isn't a robber, he's a burglar. He doesn't like violence, and honestly, the only time he stole was for the greater good. Rich people were ripping off their clients, so he hacked the system and got the money back.
Then he went to jail, leaving his daughter and a woman he loved behind.
But now he's out, and he's determined to stay on track and be a good guy. Unfortunately, life is hard for people who spent time in jail, and he finds himself doing just one last job with some buddies for money, desperate to see his little girl again but unable to do so without money.
Then he steals something he isn't too sure he wants. Then he returns it and goes back to jail. Then he is rescued from jail by the man he stole from.
And told there is a mission he needs to complete, to "be the hero his daughter already knows he is." He's got to break into a super secure facility and steal a tiny little suit that can shrink the wearer to the size of an ant. After all, we can't have bad guys getting their hands on that suit.
And to do that, he's got to team up with a strange old man, an apparently cold young woman, and a whole awful lot of ants.
And he has to shrink down to the size of an ant and lead the attack. No problem. Right?

Word of Warning
  •  The beginning scene is a fist fight between men in jail. One is much bigger than the other, but no serious injuries are received. There are several other fist fights throughout the movie, all resulting in something similar (unfairly matched opponents, no serious injuries).
  • A man mentions that "those were the first boobs I touched." (this is the line that makes me bump up the age recommendation)
  • A woman died by shrinking into eternity forever.
  • A character is caught in a bug zapper.
  • Women in tight clothes and low shirts and short skirts. This is usually in scenes when on character is story telling (twice, that I recall) because the other times they are wearing business clothes. Also one kiss, more implied than seen.
  • People get knocked out, kicked around, etc. Typical superhero violence, but nothing graphic or even that serious. However, a few people are shot (again, not graphic).
  • A building blows up.
  • A woman and her fiance are living together with her little daughter (who has a different father).
  • A man calls another an "a**hat". S*** is used a few times, as well as d***, a**, and b****. God's name is used in vane about three times.
  • An ant gets supersized. So does a toy Thomas the Train engine, which promptly tears a whole in the roof.
  • A man is shrunken unsuccessfully and turns into a blob of gooey organic matter. The same happens with a really cute lamb.
  • Scenes are shown where a super tiny man punches bigger men with serious power, knocking them out (or possibly killing them. this is unclear, as it is an old recorded war scene).
  • A man is shrunken piece by piece until he explodes or disappears (it's unclear which).
Something to note: unlike most Marvel movies, the body count and destruction of cities is kept pretty low.

My Thoughts
Bear with me for a moment as an apparently-nonapplicable story becomes applicable.
Over the summers, I teach writing classes to local students. In "Fiction 2" this summer we delved deep into all sorts of devices, techniques, and ways to form a story. One lesson spent much time on how to deal with plot holes in a story. Plot holes can never completely be avoided, my premise was, and we can never meet fully a reader's expectation of narrative fidelity (taken from Walter Fischer's Narrative Paradigm Theory of Communication). The trick, then, is to do what we can so the reader believes us anyway. Engaging style, fast story, something just a tad too complex for the reader to completely follow, engaging character, and others. Or, you can own it.

Well this film has an awful lot of plot holes. The plot itself is honestly ridiculous, when you really think about it.
And the writers owned it. It was like they said, "Yeah, we know we got a crazy story for you that doesn't make any sense, but we're going to own it and still be totally awesome." They knew the plot was weird and fell apart almost right away. They were probably painfully aware that this worked much better as a comic (I assume, as I am sadly unfamiliar with the Marvel comic universe, other than what the screen tells me).

Well they succeeded fantastically. I had that idiotic "teacher/English nerd who is super stunned and impressed" grin on on my face the whole time.
I watched it twice. I'd watch it again, and probably laugh just as hard.

It wasn't all laughter. There were moments of heroics. Moments of great fathers learning to be great. Moments of reconciliation between characters who had no reason to be reconciled save for a little girl. There was seriousness.

But there was also an awful lot of craziness. And the writers owned it--brilliantly.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Blog News

Hello all,

The semester has begun at last. This means I do not have nearly as much time for reading, listening, watching...basically for consuming and analyzing media. And my classes this semester do not really lend to any analysis either, with the study of textbooks, the writings of John Henry Newman, and the works of G. K. Chesterton (that might result in some reviews).

This doesn't mean I'm abandoning the blog. Far from it. It does mean that I won't be able to share a post every week. I'm still working at posting as often as possible, and right now I have posts scheduled out into March, but I just wanted you to know why posts have slowed down considerably. I apologize for this, but between three jobs and a full class load, time can be short to come by.

Thank you for continuing to visit. I hope you find this site helpful. As always, we take suggestions for media as well as ways to improve the site (such as revamping the "Archives" page. you should stop by and see it if you haven't yet. It's pretty cool).

God bless!