Learning to fly

Septimus Heap: Book 2: Flyte by Angie Sage

This series is just so much fun! It’s a kids series, good for readers who enjoyed Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Septimus Heap doesn’t grow and get darker the same way Harry Potter did). I would confidently recommend it to kids who are looking for a great fantasy series with quirky characters, lots of plot, fun language play and some solid world building.

The book follows Jenna (the long lost Princess), Septimus (no longer a nameless boy in the army, but the apprentice to the ExtraOrdinary wizard) and Simon, the oldest Heap as he pursues another apprenticeship, this time with DomDaniel.

I laughed out loud, was surprisingly moved by a few moments and really enjoyed how, at its core, despite its epic feel, dragons and jokes it is still a story about a family. A confused, struggling and not always reasonable family and if that isn’t relatable I don’t know what is.

Last movie I watched:

Probably still that piece of The Greatest Showman

Last TV show I watched:

Avatar: The Last Airbender. Still so, so, so good

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Beautiful and heartbreaking and human

A Thousand Splendid Suns (Abridged) by Khaled Hosseini

I listened this book as an audiobook, which is why it was the abridged. The reader was great, the book was amazing and I’m kind of struggling with an book hangover – I’ve got a new audiobook on the go but can’t get into it because it’s just not as good as this story.

The story is of two women in Afghanistan, spanning forty or fifty years. It is heartbreaking, beautiful and devastating but ultimately hopeful story .  It is about the amazing power of women to overcome unthinkable horrors, particularly when they are motivated by love of their children.

The first part of the book is the story of Miriam, an illegitimate child of a wealthy man and a former housekeeper. She is excluded not just from her father’s family, but society as a whole. Her world changes dramatically when she’s a young teenager which ultimately results in her marriage to an abusive man named Rasheed in Kabul.

The second part of the book introduces Laila, who has lived her whole life down the street from Rasheed and Miriam, some twenty years older than her, without ever knowing it, in a much more liberal household. She too is forced to grow up devastatingly early and she becomes Rasheed’s second wife.

The last part changes point of views, switching between the two women as they move from adversaries to allies to a family in the truest sense.

The personal struggles of the two women take place against the backdrop of Afghanistan troubled history, including regime changes, international conflict with the Soviets and the Americans and the repressive rule of the Taliban. Both women are scarred by the trauma of war, just as their beloved city is. Yet at the end of the books, there’s a glimmer of hope for another generation of women, who may escape the horrors their mothers and grandmother’s survived.

I should mention that this book ends almost in the present, and its worth considering what the book is so subtly and elegantly suggesting about the future in the middle east.

It’s really hard to talk about this book without giving away a lot of details, which I’m struggling with because it was such a great story I don’t want to ruin it for anyone but I feel like I have to talk about mothers in this book, because to me that’s what the story is really about. In all fairness, this could be because I listened to it as I fed my 4 week old son, but I still think it’s worth considering.

Both women, Laila and Miriam had mothers who loved them, but could not make the hard choices to protect their daughters, due mostly to the trauma and pain they had experienced. For Laila’s mother, this was the death of her sons and her hatred for the Soviets as a result which motivated her to stay in Kabul long after it became unsafe for her family, which ultimately resulted in her death, her husband’s death and the forced marriage of her daughter. Miriam’s mother was so unable to move past the betrayal of the man she loved that when Miriam left her, even just for a day, to see her father, she took her own life.

Contrast that with Laila who married and stayed with a man who abused her to protect her children, who at the end of the book is called “mother” by a school full of orphans and is carrying the potential for the next generation of women. Miriam kills and literally dies to protect Laila and her children, the daughter who wasn’t even her own. Both women make enormous sacrifices to ensure the safety of their children, and that provides hope for the future.

This is an incredible story and I think everyone should read it. Everyone because if nothing else it’s a beautiful, moving exercise in empathy, which is of course, how books change the world.

Last movie I watched:

A small piece of the Greatest Showman, with the commentary of a four year old and a six year old over top of it. I think I’ll try it again sometime.

Last TV show I watched:

Avatar: The Last Airbender. So good guys! So, so good.

Very deep, just a little bit scary

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

I really like John Green, his online personality as much as his books. So I was pretty excited for this.

As I side note, I listened to it as an audiobook and the reader was pretty good, if anyone’s got a long road trip ahead of them.

This book centers around Aza, a sixteen year old girl who has a great best friend Daisy who convinces her to help look for a missing billionaire in Indianapolis to get the hundred thousand dollar reward. She also has a few pretty serious mental health issues. As she struggles with her sense of herself, Aza and Daisy’s quest changes everything for both of them.

Overall it was a great read. Like most John Green books, it’s pretty philosophic and maybe a little more thought driven then plot driven, but that’s okay. There’s lots (and lots) I could say about it but I will just mention a thought or two and get on with on my day.

One of the things that I could most terrifying and wonderful was Aza’s mental health issues. John Green clearly brings his own personal experience to this book. Aza’s constant search for the perfect metaphor to describe her illness, like if she could just explain it accurately somehow she’d be better. I found (spoilers! just assume there are spoilers from here on out) her late night drinking of hand sanitizer to be a terrifying and traumatic read for me. The writing was perfect. Not only was Aza out of control, but the reader was too. It was scary.

I also really liked that Aza and her love interest, Davis, the son of the missing billionaire, did not end up together.  John Green often subverts expectations about happily ever afters (see Paper Towns) but Davis and Aza really had a connection. It felt tangible and real and built on something that mattered, not the far too common love at first sight coupling that YA so enjoys. But lots of relationships between two people who are really connected don’t work out and YA doesn’t always do a great job of showing that.

And I liked that the core relationship in the story was Aza’s and Daisy’s. Because again, YA novels often put all the focus on the romance, and not the best friend. There’s the odd exception of course, but generally it’s not. This is unfortunate, because I have found in my own experience (not a study or anything) that after high school you’re way more likely to keep in touch with your friends than anyone you dated.

So it’s not The Fault in Our Stars, but it’s a great read and I would be more than happy to recommend it to any young person.

Last movie I watched:

Golden Compass. It was good. Certainly not the movies fault they didn’t make the sequel. I blame the book.

Last TV show I watched:

Galavant. Hilarious.

It was probably okay to read the last one first

Spirit Animals: The Evertree by Marie Lu

This series is pretty popular with junior readers, and I can’t lie, if they had been written when I was a kid I would have loved them, but unfortunately for my younger self, my present self is a bit more of a snob.

This was a perfectly fine book in just about all ways. The characters are okay, somewhat likable but they are dependent on a certain amount of flat characterization about their racial identities and backgrounds. The story is okay, nothing out of the ordinary, a standard small team of young people who have to save the world from something unthinkably evil after the death of their mentor with a group of allies they’d met on their quest for various objects of power. The world is okay, standard fantasy world with different peoples, landscapes and of course, mythical animals.

When the story is this generic you really need impressive writing to make the book special. But the writing’s pretty fine too. I really like Marie Lu’s YA stuff but this I found underwhelming.

However, the most important part is that I would recommend this series to young readers who liked fantasy and animals. It’s a good series for that.

Last movie I watched:

Equals I think. Not that great, but I love bad science fiction, so I enjoyed it

Last TV epsisode I watched:

Gallavant. Which I think is hilarious.