and what we wish they were

Category Archives: Books in a series

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When I took my daughters to see The Fault in Our Stars, we saw the preview for the upcoming film, If I Stay, based on the book by Gayle Forman.  And while I was hoping the TFIOS would fulfill our rip-your-heart-out movie quota for the year , I knew as soon as this preview started that there was to be yet another traumatic movie going experience in our future.  And I’ll admit I was intrigued too.

Of course I had to read the book.  One, because I know my girls will want to read it.   And two, because I cannot resist the opportunity to feel superior to all the people in the theater who have not read the book.

If I Stay is the story of Mia Hall, a classical cellist and the daughter of former punk rock parents.  From the beginning of the novel , we see that Mia’s is a happy, close-knit family.   Her relationship with her parents is easy and laid back, and she adores her nine year old brother Teddy.  When her school calls a snow day, the entire family decides to take advantage of the day off and enjoy a family outing.  Unfortunately, the outing turns tragic when their car is hit by an oncoming truck.

It takes Mia a few minutes to realize what has happened.  Her parents are dead.  She and Teddy are horribly injured.  And she is watching the entire scene unfold from outside her own body.   This is of course confusing to Mia.  How can she be lying in a hospital bed unconscious and at the same time fully aware of what is going on around her?  It is in this state that Mia realizes that the decision to live or to die is up to her.    The chapters that follow alternate from Mia watching what is happening at the hospital  to flashbacks of her life before the accident.

In these flashbacks we learn about Mia’s life.  Her parents are cool – permissive yes, but loving and devoted to their children.  This is a refreshing change from so many YA novels in which the parents are detached, selfish, clueless and more messed up than any teenager,  Still,  some parents of  teenage readers might want to discuss the Hall’s lax parenting style.  For example Mia’s parents seem to be fine with her sexual encounters in her upstairs bedroom. And when Mia gets her first boyfriend, her mother is quick to offer to take her to Planned Parenthood and to give her money for condoms.

But the real story of Mia and her parents is their deep love for each other.  In fact, their deaths are the main reason Mia considers giving up the struggle to live.  She can’t imagine a life without the family she loves.  But there are other people Mia loves too.  Her best friend Kim comes to the hospital and reminds comatose Mia that she still has a lot of people left who love her and want her to stay – aunts, uncles, cousins.  There is a particularly moving passage in which Mia’s grandfather talks to Mia about her decision to live or die.

And of course there is Adam, Mia’s boyfriend.  Her flashbacks detail their romance, one her mother describes as real but inconvenient at 17.  Adam is the lead singer in a punk rock band.  In a lot of ways, he is more like Mia’s parents than she is.   Her impending admission to Julliard and his rising singing career are a source of difficulty for the young couple.  As far as teenage romance novels go, the relationship between Mia and Adam is in some ways easier to take than others.  It is more mature, less desperate.   One version of the novel’s cover (see above) contains a review stating this story will appeal to TWILIGHT fans.  Perhaps, but unlike Bella Swan, Mia is accomplished and self-possessed.  She does suffer from the same unfortunate “why me”  response when Adam first notices her, but her entire existence and self-worth are not dependent on him.  If that were true, his love would make her decision about staying or leaving easy.  But it isn’t.  In fact in spite of his love, the thought of staying behind without her parents is almost unbearable for Mia.  Bella Swan, on the other hand, was willing to ditch her parents in a heartbeat to follow Edward into immortality.  So yes, Mia is a much stronger character than Bella, but I’m still waiting for the YA novel in which the girls knows how awesome she is before the boy falls in love with her.

The thing that is conspicuously absent from this novel is Mia’s concern for what will happen, where she’ll go, if she decides to die.  At one point she wonders if death will be just like a deep sleep, but other than that she spends little time contemplating eternity – Heaven, Hell, judgement, abyss, God, or an afterlife.  Hers is not a religious family, but they are not atheists, and they do sometimes go to church.  Her grandmother’s beliefs about the afterlife – people becoming angels in the form of an animals – crosses her mind, but in general, Mia seems more concerned about what living will be like than what being dead will be like.  This novel is not anti-religion or void of spirituality.  Rather, these things are only alluded to and not explored.  Perhaps this type of temporal thinking is realistically typical for a 17 year old.  But still, in a novel that tackles the subject of choosing life or death, one would hope the main character might wrestle with these questions.  However, even though Mia doesn’t, the reader of  If I Stay certainly might be inspired to do so.

LANGUAGE

Yes.  Mia’s mother in particular is a big cusser – the F word included.

SEXUAL CONTENT

There is a scene that takes place in Mia’s bedroom that is not graphic (in fact it’s not entirely clear how far they go), but it is very sensual.  There are also references to making out and to Adam sleeping over.  Still, Mia and Adam’s sexual relationship is not a major part of the novel or even of their relationship.

SUPERNATURAL ELEMENTS

Mia’s grandmother does believe that some of her relatives have returned in the form of animals, but Mia does not seem to take this too seriously.

VIOLENCE

None.  We do not get any details of the accident; however, Mia does describe how her parents look lying dead in the snow.  Very sensitive readers might find this disturbing.

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION

1.  Do you think Mia’s relationship with her parents might be different if they were less permissive?  Less cool?

2.  Do you agree with Mia’s mother that sometimes you can fall truly in love too soon?

3. Mia doesn’t give a great deal of thought to the afterlife.  Do you think this is realistic or do you think someone facing her own death would be more apt to consider the afterlife?

4.  What is Mia’s relationship like with her brother, Teddy?  Why do they share the bond that they do?

5.  Do you think people in a situation like Mia’s can will themselves to live or to die?

6.  Do you think people in a coma can hear people talking to them?

7.  Like Bella in Twilight, Mia can’t quite believe that Adam really likes her.  She feels unworthy.  Do you think it is common for girls to base their worth on the  boys who like them?  Do you think that Mia is ultimately a stronger character than Bella?

QUOTES FROM THE NOVEL

“And even though they don’t know who we are or what has happened, they pray for us.  I can feel them praying.”

“But the you who you are tonight is the same you I was in love with yesterday, the same you I’ll be in love with tomorrow…Hell, you’re the punkest girl I know no matter who you listen to or what you wear.”

“I shouldn’t have to care.  I shouldn’t have to work this hard.  I realize now that dying is easy.  Living is hard.”

“Sometimes you make your choices in life.  Sometimes your choices make you.”

“…seventeen is an inconvenient time to be in love.”

“Either way you win.  And either way you lose.  What can I tell you?  Love’s a bitch.” (Mia’s mom)

“I’ll let you go.  If you stay.”  (Adam talking to comatose Mia)

 

 

 


Note:  I try to to give too much away in this review.  In fact, since I am currently reading the second novel in the trilogy, The Mistress of Husaby, I wasn’t even able to finish some of the links posted below.  If you don’t want to have any clue what will happen in the first novel, The Bridal Wreath, you better skip this post.  But again, I tried to keep my spoilers to a minimum.

KRISTEN LAVRANSDATTER

Recently I added the phrase “and what we wish they were reading” to my blog because I can no longer tolerate a full-time diet of YA literature. Yes, there is a great deal to entertain within this genre and even some literary gems.  But a steady diet of YA books is much like a steady diet of junk food – pretty tasty, but not much substance. Lately, I have been starving for some nutritionally dense reading – mentally and spiritually.  So when I read 10 Books You Must Read With Your Daughter (Or How to Keep Your Daughter From Turning Out Like That horrid Girl FromTwilight), I decided to dig out and dust off out my never-before-read copy of Kristen Lavransdatter and give it another try.

This novel and the two subsequent novels in the series are considered master works of historical fiction. That is why I am embarrassed to say that this was my second run at reading Kristen Lavransdatter, despite its stellar reputation and regardless of the fact that it was recommended by both my sister-in-law and one of my dearest and smartest friends, both of whom have impeccable taste.  For some reason, the first time I tried to read this novel, I gave up quickly.  Perhaps it was because I initially approached it as a beach read.  This novel, set in medieval Norway, definitely lends itself more to a cozy fireside than a lawn chair. Maybe I lost interest because the second book in the Hunger Games Trilogy came out about the time I first started reading Kristen Lavransdatter.  (Oh, how embarrassing!) Maybe it was because I was intimidated by the book’s reputation. I don’t really know, but I always intended to get back to it one day.  Well, recently that day came!  Within a few pages, I was hooked.   I began to feel that every free moment that I wasn’t reading Kristen Lavransdatter was being wasted.  I began to understand what all the hubbub is about.

The first book in the Kristen Lavransdatter trilogy, The Bridal Wreath, begins when Kristen is a young girl.  She is the only child of pious Norwegian nobility.  Her parents adore her – especially her father.  Her mother who has suffered the loss of several other children is at times distant and sad.  Her father, on the other hand delights in her.  Both of her parents try to bring her up to be devout and virtuous and little Kristen is given nearly every spiritual advantage – example, education, and love.

While traveling with her father, Kristen meets Brother Edvin, a wise and kindly monk who is one of the novel’s most notable and lovable characters.  He makes a great impression on Kristen (and on the reader) with his insights.

There is no man nor woman, Kristen who does not love and fear God, but tis because our hearts are divided twixt love of God and fear of the devil and fondness for the world and the flesh, that we are unhappy in this life and in death.  For if man had no yearning after God and God’s being, then he should thrive in Hell…For there the fire would not burn him if he did not long for coolness, nor would he feel the torment of the serpents bite if he knew not the yearning for peace… T’was God’s loving-kindness toward us that seeing how our hearts are drawn asunder, He came down and dwelt among us that He might taste in the flesh the lures of the devil when he decoys us with power and splendor, as well as the menace of the world when if offers us blows and scorn and sharp nails in the hands and feet.  In such wise did He show us the way and make manifest His love.

And yet, even with passages like this, this novel in not overly religious in tone.  It is not preaching to the choir.  All the characters are painfully real – both in their virtue and their flaws.  As a teenager, Kristen is innocent and devout, eager to honor her parents and to live up to the expectations of her culture.  Yet when temptation presents itself, as the handsome and charming Ereland Nikulausson, Kristen is easily led astray.  Readers find Kristen’s selfishness and foolishness frustrating (I remember thinking, “Wait.  What? How could she be so stupid.  No Kristin. Noooo!).  And we yet can’t help but hope she will escape the bitter consequences of her actions

Many of Undset’s characters are complex in this way.  We see in them both flaw and hope.  We relate to them and root for them.  Ereland’s pride and his constant excuses for his behavior are maddening, yet we want to believe that in the end he will prove honorable.  We want to believe that he really is as great as Kristen believes him to be. Even Kristen’s parents, Lavrans and Ragnfrid are, for all their love and devotion, not perfect, and they bare their own secrets, griefs and struggles.  We to ache for them.

In addition to providing complex characters, Undset portrays life in medieval Norway with richness, beauty, and accuracy.  Life for these characters, and indeed for entire Western world in those days, centers around the Church and her traditions and around the conventions of their society.  While some of these conventions might rub the modern reader the wrong way (like a father’s absolute power over his daughter), a life so fully centered on and entrenched in the Christian calendar seems not only orderly and disciplined but also festive and meaningful.

Undset won the Nobel Prize for literature no doubt by creating an epic saga that combines a stunning portrayal of life in medieval Norway with complex, sympathetic characters. And without being heavy-handed or overly-simple, she manages to communicate beauty and truth.

Again, these characters are not perfect.  There are some pretty grown-up situations in this book and some complex issues.  But this is exactly the kind of book I want my kids to read – impressive and engrossing from a literary standpoint and beautiful and inspiring in it’s portrayal of eternal truths.

So, to recap.  Why should your teen (this is not a book for tweens) and you read Kristen Lavransdatter?

  • It is great historical fiction – a rich and accurate portrayal of life in medieval Norway.
  • It won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
  • It illustrates how the rhythm and seasons of life used to be lived in accordance with the Christian calendar and how this brought both times of fasting and feasting, all in honor of Christ and the Saints.
  • It shows the power of sin and deceit and there devastating effects.
  • The novel contains sympathetic characters – not perfectly good nor purely evil.  They are easy to relate to.
  • Kristen Lavransdatter contains nuggets of spiritual truth, beauty, and wisdom without being simplistic or preachy.
  • Reading Kristen Lavransdatter allows you to enter into a great conversation with  your child and with others who have loved this trilogy.

SEXUAL CONTENT

Yes, but no descriptive or graphic passages.  In fact, some younger readers (okay and me) might miss the initial sex scene all together and not realize what has happened until a few pages later.

LANGUAGE

None

VIOLENCE

Very mild.

SUPERNATURAL ELEMENTS

Not in the creepy way that I’m usually looking out for in YA lit.  Kristen Lavransdatter is steeped in Christianity.  However, as was common in medieval times, superstitions are also influential in the lives of Undset’s characters.

FOR DISCUSSION

  • Why do you think Kristen falls so quickly and easily from what her faith and her parents have taught her?  Were you surprised by this?
  • Does she truly love Ereland?  Does he love her?
  • What do you think prevent Kristen from confessing her sins?
  • In the end is Lavrans too unyielding?  Why do you think he comes to the decision that he does about Kristen’s marriage to Ereland?
  • What is Kristen’s greatest virtue?  What is her greatest flaw?  What about Ereland?  Lavrans?  Ragnfrid?
  • In what way are the themes of love, sin, forgiveness, and despair played out in this  novel?

IMPORTANT QUOTES

“I’ve done many things that I thought I would never dare to do because they were sins. But I didn’t realize then that the consequence of sin is that you have to trample on other people.”

“No one and nothing can harm us, child, except what we fear and love.”

“It’s a good thing when you don’t dare do something if you don’t think it’s right. But it’s not good when you think something’s not right because you don’t dare do it.”
OTHER ARTICLES AND REVIEWS 

Re-reading Kristen Lavransdatter

Penguin Group Book Club (with discussion questions for all three novels)

I Can’t Believe You Haven’t Read Kristen Lavransdatter

Love and Trespasses in Kristen Lavransdatter

Amazon has some great reviews.

Linked at:

Pretty, Happy, Funny, RealSocial Media Sunday


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Growing up Jake thought his Grandpa Portman was the most fascinating man in the world.  He loved to hear his grandfather’s stories about life in the Welsh orphanage where he had been sent as a boy to escape the Nazis. Grandpa Portman mesmerized Jake with tales of his childhood friends and their peculiar gifts. One could hold fire in her hand. Another could levitate.  Another was invisible.  Still another had amazing strength.  To add to the intrigue, there were photographs, strange and haunting photographs, of these children displaying their unusual gifts.

But as time passed and Jake grew older, he began to realize that these stories and even the photographs were too fantastic to be true.  In time, Jake came to see them as merely a kind of family fairytale – that is, until the night that everything changed.

When Jake’s grandfather is attacked in the woods behind his home, the police blame wild dogs. But Jake was there, and he saw the attacker. He was no dog. He was terrifying.  And he was right out of one of Grandpa Portman’s stories.

Unfortunately for Jake, no one believes him – just like no one believed Grandpa Portman.  To confront the nightmares and fears that consume Jake’s life, his parents try therapy, drugs, and distractions. Eventually Jake tries to convince them to let him travel, with his father, to Wales to see if he can find out more about Grandpa Portman and the place where his strange stories originated. Reluctantly they agree, hoping it will put to rest Jake’s belief in the truth of these tales.

However, there on the island of Cairnhom, Jake finds Miss Peregrine’s orphanage, old and decaying, but teeming with information. Digging through rubble and remains of the old house, Jake begins to uncover, artifacts, photographs, and  the dark secrets of Grandpa Portman’s strange and disturbing childhood and the orphans he shared it with.

Set in a quaint Welsh fishing village and in the fog-shrouded Welsh countryside, this novel, part mystery part horror story, takes us with Jake on his this quest.  Who were these children his Grandfather grew up with? Were their gifts real or just fantastic stories? What happened to them? And where are they now?

As intriguing as this story is, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children might not be the book for everyone.  I’ll admit that I half hoped the story would turn out to be a mystery of the ordinary variety. But no. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is definitely an extraordinary story.

However for adults and teens who enjoy the strange and the scary, this book is a nice departure from the witches, vampires, ghosts, and werewolves that we see in so many YA novels. The children, although very peculiar, are just children, some darker and creepier than others, but they are not supernatural nor other-worldly. There are monsters in this story, but they former Peculiars whose own attempts at immortality caused their mutation.

Another refreshing thing about this book was the lack of steamy romance.  There is an emerging romance between Jake and one of the teenage orphans (yep, they’re still there), but this is not necessarily central to the plot. Unlike most YA fantasy novels where the sexually-charged relationship between some misfit human and some ultra cool vampire, ghost, or witch is the storyline, in this book the romance is more of a subplot.

Like so many YA novels today, this one is the first in a series. So, it looks like fans will have to read the next novel, The Hollow City, to see if Jake’s romance is taken to the next level.  In fact, we’ll have to read on because at the end of the Miss Peregrine Jake’s adventure is really just beginning.

LANGUAGE

Yes, there are some swear words in this book and some crass expressions.

VIOLENCE

Yes.  Jake and the other orphans must battle the monsters who threaten their safely.  The last 40 pages or so  involve a pretty intense battle between the opposing sides.

SEXUAL CONTENT

There is a kissing scene that starts to get mildly heated and at one point Jake refers to himself as a “horny teenager.”   There are also references to “making out.”

SUPERNATURAL ELEMENT

Not really.  As I said, neither the peculiar children nor the monsters they fight are really other-worldly.  But the monsters are scary and some of the children are downright disturbing.

THE MOVIE

To give you some idea of the type of book  this is, Tim Burton will be directing the movie slated to come out in the Summer of 2015.  Check out this article and creepy book trailer.

THE PHOTOGRAPHS

To add to the eerie factor, this book is filled with photographs of the Peculiar Children – holding fire, levitating, swarmed by bees, etc.  The creepy thing is that all the photos in the book are actual photos found in various flea markets, antique shops, and private collections. Chilling.

Due to language and crass expressions some parents might feel this book is not suitable for tweens and younger teens. 


From goodreads.com

From goodreads.com

The Giver is a dystopian novel set around the life of a young boy, Jonah, and his community.  In this community everything is regulated – careers, family size, emotion, even the temperature.  At the age  12, when all children are assigned to their life’s work, Jonah is given the job of The Giver.  The Giver is the one person entrusted with all the memories of humanity.  For decades all other citizens have been denied  knowledge of the pain, fear, and joy people experienced before the community was “perfected.”  They are given only “the sameness.” The job of The Giver is both beautiful and torturous.  It also gives Jonah an understanding that no one else in his community could possibly have – an understanding that makes it impossible to go back to the content, secure life he knew before.

The Giver is not exactly pop fiction.  It has been a classic staple in American middle school classrooms since it won The Newberry Award in 1994.  I decided to read it because my younger daughter was reading it for school.  I don’t read everything she reads, but  I knew The Giver was considered a classic for a reason.  I just didn’t know what the reason was.

I was blown away by this novel.  The parallels between Jonah’s community and our modern culture are chilling.  The people of Jonah’s community possess the technology to regulate everything.   This allows them to avoid pain, but it also costs them any true joy.  It robs them of any real attachment to others and of a conscience.   While our modern technology isn’t quite that all-pwerful, it can be spectacularly numbing.   There is a particular scene in the novel that drives this point home dramatically.    I don’t want to give anything away, but the scene illustrates how seemingly decent people can commit horrific acts of cruelty and violence because these acts are the societal norm.

The Giver is a must for young readers, but it should be coupled with discussion.  There is a movie version of The Giver coming out starring Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep.  Parent and kids will likely want to read and discuss the book before seeing the Hollywood version of this story.

LANGUAGE – No.  It’s a perfect world, no need to curse.

VIOLENCE – The people in this novel live in near perfect harmony, but not with out eliminating some problems.  There is so graphic violence, but there is at least one disturbing scene.

SEXUALCONTENT– The “stirrings” of the adolescent citizens are controlled with medication.  Some parents might want to discuss what is meant by “stirrings.”

SUPERNATURAL ELEMENTS – None

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION


1.  Why do you think dystopian literature so popular?

2.  Is there something appealing about living in a pleasant world with no pain, or does it sound too boring?

3.  What do the people of the community lose by having “the sameness?”

4.   Do you think Jonah’s parent’s love him?

5.  Why is what happens to Baby Gabe so disturbing and shocking?

6.  Why would being The Giver be so hard?  Would you rather to be a Giver with all that knowledge or a community member living in blissful ignorance?

7.  Why is free will essential to being truly good, happy, or free?

IMPORTANT QUOTES

“The worst part of holding the memories is not the pain. It’s the loneliness of it. Memories need to be shared.”

“We gained control of many things. But we had to let go of others.”

“I liked the feeling of love,’ [Jonas] confessed. He glanced nervously at the speaker on the wall, reassuring himself that no one was listening. ‘I wish we still had that,’ he whispered. ‘Of course,’ he added quickly, ‘I do understand that it wouldn’t work very well. And that it’s much better to be organized the way we are now. I can see that it was a dangerous way to live.”

“It’s the choosing that’s important, isn’t it?”

“I don’t know what you mean when you say ‘the whole world’ or ‘generations before him.’I thought there was only us. I thought there was only now.”

From goodreads.com

From goodreads.com


From Goodreads.com

(cover photo from goodreads.com)

I am about 100 pages into this nearly 600 page book, and I’ve had enough.   To be sure, I’ve read plenty of books that started slow and got better.  I am not usually a book quitter. But the problem with Beautiful Creatures is not that is started slow.  It’s that is started predictable.  The story (at least the first part) is told from the point of view of Ethan Carter Wate, a teenage boy from a small town in South Carolina who is tired and bored with all his shallow friends, superficial teachers, and the town’s busybody citizens (which is all of them).  Poor Ethan’s only solace is in reading (of course) Vonegut and Salinger.  Fortunately, for Ethan life begins to gets considerably  more interesting when a dark and mysterious new girl, Lena, moves to town to live with her reclusive uncle (the town crazy).  Of course all the other kids hate her instantly because people from small, southern towns can’t possibly tolerate anyone different.   Only cool, Kurt Vonegut-reading types could ever do that.  Ethan on the other hand, is drawn to her not just because he is a secret intellectual, free-thinker, but because Lena has been haunting his dreams for months.   And if I’m right Ethan and Lena will fall madly into forbidden love and have to fight against both human and supernatural forces to be together.

Maybe if there weren’t a zillion  other paranormal teen romances on the market, I might have found Beautiful Creatures more intriguing.  Maybe.  And maybe if I weren’t from a small southern town, I wouldn’t be so tired of the stereotype. Maybe.  But aside from all that, I frankly did not care for the supernatural elements.   For example Ethan’s beloved housekeeper is practiced in spells and potions and, I suspect, other dark arts.  I can handle a few do-gooding vampires and werewolves.  And I like my fair share of witches and wizards stories – but only when there is a clear distinction between good and evil.  When that line becomes too blurred, you can count me out. It is up to every parent to decided where that line is and how blurry is too blurry but when it comes to what my teen and tween read, I think we will pass on steamy teen romance laced with black magic and sorcery.

If you would like to read a review from someone who has actually read the whole novel here is a link to GoodReads.  Be sure to scroll down to get reader reviews.

I’m also including the movie review from Catholic New Services. I like their reviews because they usually take into account, not only parental concerns, but artistic merit as well.


The False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen

The False Prince, the first book in the Ascension Trilogy, is the story of Sage, a fourteen year old orphan who suddenly finds himself caught up in a clandestine plot of such magnitude, that to fail, will certainly cost him his life.  Sage, along with three other boys,  has been purchased from an orphanage by Bevin Conner, a nobleman of Carthya.  Unfortunately for the boys, Conner is no wealthy benefactor.  In fact, for his diabolical  plan, he needs only one boy – the one who can pass himself off as the long-lost (and presumed dead) Prince Jaron – the only surviving member of the Carthyan  royal family.

Sage has perfected life as a loner and a survivor.  Now he is being forced into “prince lessons” with two rival boys.  On Conner’s luxurious estate, Sage and his rivals undergo reading, sword fighting, horseback riding, and manners lessons.  In the end, only one boy will be chosen to be presented at court as Prince Jaron.  To succeed and be chosen as the False Prince will mean a life  Sage has never wanted and possibly one as Conner’s puppet.  To fail will certainly mean death.

The False Prince is an exciting novel with twists and turns I did not see coming.  I chose it because, unlike all the paranormal romance novels lining bookstore and library shelves, I thought this book might appeal to boys.  I was not wrong.  I’m thrilled to have a book I can recommend to the guys in my English class.

VIOLENCE

Yes, some mild.  But nothing too disturbing.  I think kids from upper elementary age through high school would enjoy this book.

LANGUAGE

None

SEXUAL CONTENT

None.

SUPERNATURAL ELEMENTS

None

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION

~ What is true freedom?

~ Sage prefers life as an orphan – a life that is sometimes very very difficult.  Why do you think this is?

~ Which of Sage’s rival do you like best the most?  The honest but brutally ambitious Roden or the submissive and sneaky Tobias?

~ Does life as a royal sound like fun, or do you think the cost (high expectations, scheming noblemen, enemy nations, etc.) is too high a price to pay for that level of fame, wealth and power?


Confessions of a Murder Suspect  I don’t know how to discuss this book without giving away at least some of what happens, but I don’t think I’ll call a spoiler alert.  I don’t give away the end – just a few details from the middle.

Tandy Angel is a teenage girl living a life of wealth and privilege – and cruelty.  Her parents have very high standards for their children.  Though they do reward them lavishly for their successes, they also punish them harshly.  Her parents are demanding, extravagant, controlling, strange, and now dead.  They have been murdered in their bedroom in the family’s exclusive Manhattan townhouse while Tandy and two of her brothers are asleep in their rooms.

The police immediately suspect Tandy and/or her brothers.  The fact that Tandy has been trained by their family therapist to suppress her emotions does not help her case.  She comes across to the police as cold and unfeeling (A fact that would have made her parents proud.)  And to a degree she is.  In fact, Tandy is so good at suppressing that she can’t even be sure she herself is not the killer.  After all, she does have “blanks” in her life –  periods of time she can’t remember…there’s something about a boy, her parents, and an outburst of anger that landed her in a hospital, but it’s all like a faint dream.

To exacerbate  Tandy’s problems, she decides to stop taking her “vitamins.” A portion of the Angel fortune comes from her father’s pharmaceutical company.  For her entire life this company has not only provided her family with an astronomical income, but also with a daily dose of individually customized “vitamins” for each of the Angel children: Tandy with the off-the charts IQ; Harry, her sensitive and artistic twin; her older brother Matt, the NFL superstar with a hot temper; her younger bother Hugo with an equally hot temper, and her sister Catherine, who died a few years before under mysterious circumstances.  Now Tandy is beginning to question a lot of things – including her daily dose of pills.  When she stops taking them, she begins to find it more difficult to suppress her emotions.  She begins to feel more like a typical 16 year old girls.

Still, Tandy presses on, determined to solve the murder of her parents.  Now, earlier I mentioned a spoiler alert.   The truth is, I think this book should come with a spoiler alert, and it should read like this:

This book is not really a murder mystery per se. The primary purpose of this book is to set up a new series of books based on the adventures of  – you guessed it – a teenage detective who got her feet wet solving her parents’ murder. 

Sadly, no such information was given in the book’s inside cover.  I had to read the entire thing to realize this.  Now it isnt’ just that most of the characters, including Tandy Angel, were unlikable and un-relatable. It isn’t just that Patterson used the annoying technique of having the main character address the reader, as in Dear Reader I am not like most girls…   It isn’t even that the ending was a big ol’ let  down (not to mention totally unrealistic).  What I really bothered me about this book, and about so so many of the books I’ve read lately, is that the entire thing was just a big fat prequel.  Patterson leaves nearly every detail, except for how the Angel parents die, unfinished.  Bottom line, the purpose of  this book is to introduce us to Tandy Angel so that we will buy the next book in the Tandy Angel series.  Patterson leaves several loose ends. Will Tandy and her brothers be left destitute?  Will her brother Matt be convicted of killing his girlfriend?  Will she ever be reunited with the mystery boy from her foggy past?  And what was in those pills?

Just like John Grisham did with Theodore Boone, Kid Lawyer, Patterson cheats us.  I read this book expecting a story with a beginning, and middle, and an end, and I really just got a beginning, and a middle.  I guess that’s how you sell more books.

LANGUAGE

There are a few four letter words in this book, but they weren’t the really bad ones and they aren’t excessive.

VIOLENCE

Not much.  Tandy’s parents are poisoned, so that’s not really violent.  They just keel over.

SEXUAL CONTENT

We find out that both her parents were having affairs.  Matt’s girlfriend reveals an affair with his father, while Tandy discovers the secret lesbian affair her mother has been having with her live-in assistant. None of these affairs are described in any graphic detail.

SUPERNATURAL ELEMENTS

None.  No one even wonders where these awful people are now that they’re dead.

QUESTIONS TO DISCUSS

  • Did you like Tandy? Why or why not?  Did you like her more or less as the novel progressed?  Is it important to like the main character?
  • Did you suspect Tandy might be the killer?
  • In what ways were Maude and Malcolm (Tandy’s parents) good parents?  Were they good parents at all?
  • Think about how many popular books are a part of a series. Why do you think so many author’s these days leave us hanging?   Would you like to read a book that begins and ends a story on one volume, or do you like waiting for the next book to come out?
  • Will you want to read the next book in the Tandy Angel series?