Blott by Daniel Parsons

Blott

Blott by Daniel Parsons deserves a solid 8 out of 10.

Parsons tells the story of a young boy, Blott, who has lived in an isolated village his whole life. No one is allowed to leave, and for the most part everybody is content to stay where they are until a drought causes severe hunger amongst the villagers. Blott takes it upon himself to travel to the outskirts of the village where the white plains begin with the hope that he will be able to find food. While he is there, he unleashes a power that he has kept hidden from the villagers for years because if he did reveal this power, they would not understand and make him an outcast. The villagers might be right about Blott’s special ability because with it, Blott lets loose a pack of cat-like creatures that begin to terrorize the villagers. It takes Blott on a journey to discover himself in order to find the right thing to do in the end.

Daniel Parsons has blended elements of fantasy in a landscape that reminds the reader of an old west showdown. He has also developed a bunch of rich characters to populate this landscape and by doing so he has been able to delve deep into some interesting ideas: the origins of evil, the journey for self-discovery, and the importance of taking risks. I could see the small secluded town that he had created, and realized quite quickly the extent of the whole world he has made even though he does not supply the reader with a map to the white plains and what might lie beyond them. It adds to the isolation that the villagers feel and lets the reader empathize with them.

The creatures that Daniel Parsons has created to inhabit this world are also original. He doesn’t take from old mythology to create a new one for himself. Instead, he creates a whole new class of creatures that the reader can see as they terrorize the townspeople. They aren’t overboard either, but just the right amount of dangerous to add a realistic element to this fantasy.

Parsons also does a great job of giving the reader some closure in the opening novel. Too often when new writers write a series, they believe that they need to create a huge cliff-hanger that leaves the reader with too many unanswered questions and doesn’t give the first story any sense that it has ended. I do believe that it is important to have some unanswered questions at the end of the first installment of a series to keep the reader interested, but it should also be able to stand on its own. Daniel Parsons definitely leaves the reader with a cliff-hanger in the epilogue of this book, but if you did not read that you would feel satisfied with the story where it had left off. Of course, with the rich characters and the original landscape that he has created, it will be hard for a reader not to feel excited for the release of the next installment, and Parsons left just enough unanswered questions to have this feeling linger. He walked this difficult tightrope very nicely, and he has to be commended for it.

Overall, Blott was a fun story to read with just the right amount of action, and I can’t wait for the sequel to come out so I can continue to follow the adventures of Blott.

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Souls of the Never by C. J. Rutherford

Souls of the Never

I would give Souls of the Never by C. J. Rutherford a 6 out of 10.

Souls of the Never is the first book in the Neverwar series, and it combines elements of science fiction, fantasy, and young adult romance to create a unique story. It is a little bit of Fringe combined with Twilight and adding just a hint of urban-fantasy mixed together. Katheryne is plagued by strange dreams where she must protect herself and others who are tormented around the universe from a formidable beast who is set to ravage the world. She does this by collecting them all on an island in her mind where they can find sanctuary. Help comes to her from a dashing alien, Derren, who she can never tell if he is real or not because it only takes place in her dreams. All of this comes to a head when she sees the same person from her dreams in a bar in Belfast one evening and she discovers that what she has been participating in is actually part of a greater chess match and she is one of the key players.

C. J. Rutherford explores some great ideas in this story. There is the ever present battle of fate versus freewill and whether we have control over our actions or are just a part of some greater plan. Multiple universes also play a part in this story and how our lives might be different by making a simple choice over another one. Rutherford also explores the concept of time, and how our choices might change the course of history. These are all interesting ideas, but they have been explored by other writers, and Rutherford doesn’t bring anything new to the table. The concepts do play out nicely together in the story that he has written. He combines a lot of action with the obvious romance that is quickly developed between the “star-crossed” lovers. It creates an entertaining story that would play out nicely on a summer movie screen and probably would enjoy moderate success if it ever finds itself there.

The problem comes with the editing of the novel. Within the first couple of chapters there are many glaring grammatical errors that distract the reader. He couples this with a series of stock characters: the helpless heroine who finds strength in herself, her sassy best friend who is her rock in a sea of troubles, the dreamy yet mysterious love of her life, and the faceless enemy who torments them all. This makes me wonder if this wasn’t written by a younger man. There are also problems with time in the text of the story where the reader starts to wonder if only a day has passed or a whole week. The book just screams that an editor could have helped C. J. Rutherford come up with a more quality product.

With this still in mind, the story itself is very good, and there is a lot of potential there. Like I said earlier, it is very entertaining, and the concepts that Rutherford plays around with are very cool. It makes me wonder where this writer will end up in ten years after he has developed his craft a little further.

Moab, Utah

For the last eight years I have worked for Frontier High School, an alternative high school in  Elizabeth, Colorado. It is a school determined to bring back the joy of education to those who have been disillusioned by the traditional methods of teaching in a culture that is more interested in testing students rather than educating them. I have been proud of the fact that this small staff at this school has been able to turn around the lives of kids who other schools have written off as trouble-makers, or unable to reach. I’m not saying that every educator out there is so callous as to dismiss one of their students, but there are enough of them out there to not care about any individual that causes disruption in their classroom. These educators would rather ignore these students in need than give them the time needed so they could obtain a proper education. For the most part these students end up at my school, or schools like mine. They find themselves there for various reasons: drugs, gangs, struggles in learning, disruptive home lives, poverty, or bullying for various reasons of teenage awkwardness. Frontier High School is there to give these kids a chance.

There are many things that this school does to bring these kids into the fold of lifelong learners. The one that I enjoyed the most during my tenure there was the experiential education program. This program allowed students to learn by getting out of the classroom and seeing the world around them. Moments like this bring learning to life. I have been on a lot of these trips during my time there. I went skiing on the slopes of Colorado, explored the caves in Carlsbad, New Mexico, and hiked the less traveled paths of Yellowstone National Park with my students. Each time I went on one of these adventures I learned just as much about the history of our nation and the way the world works as my students did. They were experiences that they will always be able to take with them, and in the process I was able to make great academic relationships with my students and show them a way to a more promising future. It has been a rewarding experience, and sometimes I wonder who got more out of the experience, them or me. My last trip there was to the beauty of Moab, Utah.

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Our voyage on this trip took us to many exciting places. We went to two national parks, Arches and Canyonlands, and a canoe trip down the Colorado River. The first day was an eight mile loop through the slick rock that is Canyonlands National Park. We learned about the formation of these canyons while running into the wildlife that found a home in this desolate place. There were many lizards scurrying over the same rocks that we were, and when we looked in the sky, we saw hawks soaring to hunt these same lizards. The students learned about the power of the desert as the sun sweltered in the sky, and we sweated under the exposure of its brutal landscape. Luckily, we were there in early June, so it was only in the nineties. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like in August when temperatures reach well over the one-hundred degree mark. It was a little bit of a challenge for my fellow teacher, Jed, and me, but it was more of a challenge for some of our students who have never been on an exposition like this before.

The next day was spent on the Colorado River. Even though we were given lessons on eddies, strainers, and how to navigate through them in a canoe, we were given an unexpected lesson in physics. One of our members of the trip backed out a couple of days before we left, so we were left with a  odd number. We had arranged with the rental company, Moab Rafting, for ten people in five canoes, so they had prepared that many for us. Once again luck was on our side, or so we thought. One of the canoes they pulled out was smaller, so one person could navigate the river with it. Jed,  being the more skilled, opted to take the canoe down the river by himself. We quickly learned our mistake in letting him alone in a boat. His weight lifted the front of the boat out of water, and we quickly experienced a headwind right before heading into the canyon. The four boats with two passengers moved swiftly down the river, whereas he lagged behind. Quickly, Jed and his boat became a tiny dot on the horizon. This is where the kids’ problem solving skills came into play. The other four canoes formed a barge and waited for him to catch up. When he was finally with us, we tied the end of his boat to one of ours and guided him down the stream. It still wasn’t as fast as the other boats, but he no longer lagged so far behind that we were scared of losing him completely.

Even with all of the difficulty we experienced as we made our way down the Colorado River, the fact that recent rains had pushed its limits to the highest banks and gave power to its current, we arrived at the pullout an hour ahead of schedule. We spent a little time enjoying lunch and then joined another group of students that took turns leaping off an outcrop of rock into a deeper part of the river. The water was refreshing and it was the perfect activity for a hot, sunny day.

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The day wasn’t over when we completed our river excursion. Across the road from the pullout was a trail head.  We returned later that evening to take this short hike. It was enjoyable in the cool of the early evening and we were able to see our first natural arch. These majestic sculptures are created after years of being punished by the elements. Rains and winds carve out these arches to last decades and centuries, but they are a part of a constantly changing landscape subjected to the whims of nature. Even though I could probably come back ten years later and still see this same arch, it is not a guarantee. There are always stories of arches who have lost their battles to time, and eventually this one will too. All we can do is enjoy their beauty while they last and search for the new ones as the elements give them their unique characteristics.

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Arches National Park has the largest collection of these arches. They are all over the place, and many small hikes crowded with tourists from around the world took us to the more iconic ones on our last full day on this trip. Delicate Arch is the most well known of the arches. From a slightly different angle than this picture, one can see the image emblazoned on the license plates of many Utah cars. It is one of the more unique arches that we found in the park. Most times, the arches are attached to cliffs that are a part of the whole weathering process, but Delicate Arch is out there by itself, attached to nothing. Even though the mile-and-a-half hike to see this landmark is strenuous, it doesn’t stop tourists gathering around the natural amphitheater surrounding this structure and spending time watching people take their turns standing on the platform under the arch to get their picture taken. It was fun to watch the different poses that people attempted as they tried to balance themselves against the wind.

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Even though there are a lot of educational opportunities that the students experience as we travel to the different sites on each of our trips, one of the greatest experiences that happens is the bonding an individual creates between the fellow students and the teachers. This usually happens at the campsites. Yes, the students learn about camping, conservation, outdoor cooking, and how to start a fire during their stays at these campsites, but they also laugh as they play various games and enjoy the friendly banter that can only be enjoyed around a campfire. I learned a couple of new activities on this trip such as Extreme Spoons, and the roasting of Starbursts (quite a delicacy if you have never tried it), but the game that brought out the most laughter and the biggest challenge among the kids was Chubby Bunny. This is usually played while waiting to make smores. The contestants take a marshmallow and stuff it into their mouths without chewing it. They must say the phrase, “I am a Chubby Bunny” in order to continue. The contestants take turns stuffing these fluffy treats into the maw until only one of them is able to utter the phrase as their mouths are overflowing with marshmallows. The record on this trip was nine marshmallows held by Jed. Even though the kids lost to a teacher, it created a wonderful moment that the students will take with them for the rest of their lives.

This trip to Moab, Utah will be placed among the top trips that I have taken with Frontier High School. It was the perfect way to say goodbye to a place that allowed me to grow as a teacher and be able to see the importance that education holds in our society. Even though I will not be returning to Frontier High School next year, I will always be a soaring eagle, and I will look back at these trips with fond memories. It is a program that I hope will continue in the future because not only is it a great learning opportunity for these kids, but it also gives them a chance at a future because it shows them that there is a whole world out there for them to connect with. It is programs like the experiential education program at Frontier High School that should be implemented in more schools across America. They would show disenfranchised students that there is more to education than books and tests. If you find one of these programs in your local school districts make sure that it survives because it is so essential to so many students out there.

Best Superhero Movies

The Incredibles

#1 – The Incredibles

For a few years, there was no better animation studio in the world than Pixar. they were leading the way not only in animation, but in story development. Every summer, people waited eagerly for their next project to emerge, and they were never disappointed by what they saw on the screen. When they had Brad Bird tell his story about a superhero family forced into retirement, it was the height of Pixar’s reign as animated kings. It also tells one of the best superhero stories ever, and this was not one that was previously told in comic books. It showed how dysfunction can control all aspects of your life if you are not allowed to be the person you know you are. It also showed typical family life as kids grow up with parents who are the heroes they always make them out to be. This could easily be the best animated feature highlighting the lives of superheroes.

The Dark Knight

#2- The Dark Knight

I have a hard time deciding which takes more to believe, why this movie didn’t get nominated for an academy award, or why it only got a PG13 rating. Both are head scratchers as you watch this masterpiece. The one thing that won’t make you wonder is if there has ever been a better villain in any type of movie. Heath Ledger gave this character a darkness that goes back to the original Batman comic books. He is only on the screen for 46 minutes in this movie that almost runs for three hours, but each time he is there, you remained glued to your seat to see what he will do next. He definitely deserved the academy award for the best supporting actor that year just as the movie deserved to be mentioned among the best not only that year, but maybe even this century. Granted an argument can be made for Slumdog Millionaire which won that year as being a better movie, but who is going to talk about The Curious Case of Benjamin Buttons again. Whereas, we will talk about this movie as the best installment in the Batman series and the best superhero movie ever made. It will take a lot to remove this movie from its position on the list because not only are the performances amazing, but it looks into the power of chaos, chance, and what will really happen if we all started to play vigilante. This movie is legendary and by far the best superhero movie ever made.

Iron Man

#3 – Iron Man

Growing up, I really didn’t like Iron Man. Who would like a narcissistic arms dealer turned superhero? Yes, it is the dream of all arms dealers, but I really didn’t want to spend my fifty cents on a comic book reading about it. When I saw they had made a movie about Tony Stark, I knew instantly that I had to skip this one. But then the reviews came out, and I learned that John Favreau was the director. I could overlook the fact that Robert Downey Jr. was the lead and give this movie a chance. Boy, my initial reaction was wrong and I was surprised how good this movie was. Given the fact that it was released during the height of the war on terror just added to the timeliness of the movie, and who better to play a narcissistic arms dealer turned superhero than Robert Downey Jr. The humor combined with the action intertwined in a relevant story made this movie the first to make this list.

Spiderman

#4 – Spiderman

Man of Steel

#5 – Man of Steel

Guardians of the Galaxy

#6 – Guardians of the Galaxy

Americans have a special place in their hearts for bad guys. We even like them better if they start off bad, but as time goes on, they find the right way and end up doing good. If you don’t believe me, think of your favorite Star Wars character and most of you will think of Han Solo right away. (Yes, I know Yoda popped into a lot of your heads as well.) But for those of you who thought of Yoda, I bet Han Solo is number two. Now imagine a movie where six Han Solos get together to save not only the world, but the universe. What you get with this band of misfits  is the number two spot, Guardians of the Galaxy. Most of the time I would tell you to stay away from a movie that has too many origin stories because they don’t have time to tell each of their stories, and the whole thing turns out flat, but this is not the case with Guardians of the Galaxy. James Gunn did a wonderful job of developing the characters and entertaining us all in this less than known story from Marvel comics.

The Avengers

#7 – The Avengers

Growing up, my brother was really into this group of superheroes. I did not feel the same way. It involved more of a love story and bunch of overrated heroes talking than getting into fights. A West Coast version came out that I was more interested in than the original group of heroes. Of course, this was post Ultron days when the story centered on the Vision and the Scarlet Witch. When I heard that Marvel was working to bring this story to the big screen, I was skeptical, but I liked the way that they were doing it. It was nice to get all of the origin stories out of the way, so they could focus on the story itself. What I was not expecting was the action adventure that followed. There is so much action in this movie that it never gives the viewer time to breathe. It is just pure fun all the way through. It also doesn’t hurt to see the Hulk throw a god around like he is a rag doll. This definitely deserves this spot on the countdown.

Darkman

 

#8 – Darkman

 

Batman Begins

#9 – Batman Begins

The Batman franchise had hit a slow spot. The movies had turned into the campy version of the caped crusader that plagued viewers in the 60s and 70s. Why would anybody want to come out for a reboot of this story. Christopher Nolan was also struggling as a director after his debut was followed by a lackluster performance with Insomniac. The story was doomed to be forgotten and quickly. At least this was shat I thought. I didn’t even bother going to see it in the theater. Instead, one afternoon while looking for something to do, I threw down a dollar to go see the movie in a rundown theater. What I saw blew my mind. Here was a story about the power of fear in a post-9/11 world. The theme could not be presented at a better time. Gone was the campiness of the previous movies. The villain was not some cartoon parading around on the screen, but instead a real villain. It also presented a new, dark twist to the origin story that is so overplayed that everybody in the world knows it by heart. It blew my mind, and returned Christopher Nolan back to the ranks of one of the best directors out there. Obviously one of the best versions of Batman from a series that have offered up more stories about this hero than any other hero out there.

Kick ass

#10 – Kick Ass

Can a superhero without any superpowers really be included in this list? Hell yeah. After the saturation of superhero movies every summer, it was refreshing to see a movie about the effects it might have on the average viewer. Who didn’t want to be a superhero growing up? There were many days growing up that I fantasized about waking up and finding myself a mutant with hidden powers that I never knew about, but then reality set in. These superpowers do not exist, and no matter how much I wished for them, they would never come. But what would happen if I decided to go fight crime anyway? This is the idea that plays out in Kick Ass, and in amazingly entertaining fashion. The ideas combined with the action makes this a worthy edition to the list.

Spiderman 2

#11 – Spiderman 2

As a kid, my favorite superhero was Spiderman. So when they made the first movie, I was really excited to see it and was not disappointed in the job they did telling the story. My only complaint was the was the way the dealt with his web-slinging abilities, but that was so minor that I could easily forgive it. I had only wished that they had taken on Spiderman’s greatest enemy, Dr. Octopus. But patience is a virtue, and it was the second installment in this series that allowed me to see how they were going to present this super villain on the screen. The battle scenes in this movie are epic, and you cannot just forget what it was you have seen. I could watch this movie over and over again, and never get tired of it.

Unbreakable

#12 – Unbreakable

It was 2000, and M. Night Shyamalan had just wowed the world with his debut movie, The Sixth Sense, won an unprecedented contract, and was ready to release his sophomore effort. The world was ready to see what this wonder director was going to bring to the table with his dark themes and Twilight Zone twists. He gave us another mind-bender with his superhero movie, Unbreakable. Unlike other superhero movies, this one didn’t market itself as a superhero movie. It also didn’t have a lot of action scenes like other movies of its kind. But it has one of the best origin stories that have ever been told, and its deconstruction of the superhero genre has laid the groundwork for all of the other movies that followed.  It is one that is usually forgotten by those who love this genre, but deserves a spot on the list for its ingenuity.

Thor

#13 – Thor

Yes, I am a big enough geek to claim that my favorite kind of mythology is Norse mythology, and some of this had to do with growing up with the Thor comic books as a kid. Even though it is hard to find the stories that created this ancient religion, the more you look into this mythology, the better it gets. Of course, Marvel embellished a little bit on the original stories, but Kenneth Branagh brought some of the details of these stories back into the movie. It was also the perfect choice of director because the scenes on Asgard needed a classic appeal, and who better to bring that to a movie than a Shakespearean trained actor and director. Even though all of these aspects find themselves in this movie, it is the dynamic between the God of Thunder and Jane Foster as he makes his way to Earth for the first time that really create this movie. It adds the perfect amount of comedy to this action adventure and creates some of the more memorable scenes. It was also a great introduction that followed in the next movies that continued this great story.

 

 

The Calling by Louise G. White

The Calling

I would give The Calling by Louise G. White a 7 out of 10.

A feral young girl, Carolyn, finds herself irresistibly drawn to gateways that open up in her world, and take her to other worlds filled with demons who kidnap humans to use for their own wicked purposes. She has this calling because she witnessed a group of demons suck her mother and brother into one of these gateways. Now she is constantly looking for her loved ones while saving other humans from a similar fate. She lives this animalistic existence, avoiding the “suits” and killing demons, until one day when she “anchored” to a demon. This releases dormant hormones within her, forcing her to have a irresistible attraction to her new demon friend.

Louise does a great job creating fantastic creatures and wonderful worlds to explore. She wraps this all up in an action adventure that engages the reader at numerous occasions. Adding to the flavor of this adventure, she creates a love triangle centered around a strong willed girl as she explores what the true meaning of love is. The author does a wonderful job of making the reader see this struggle with this powerful emotion in a way that most teenagers would see it. It makes you wonder if what Carolyn is really experiencing is true love, or just an effect of the new hormones rushing through her body.

The book, however, does lag a little in the middle. This is not something that is unusual for larger fantasy pieces because the author does need to establish the world that they have created and introduce the reader to all of the characters needed in order to fully tell the tale. Louise G. White does a good job of keeping the reader entertained while developing this aspect of the story even though there are a couple of occasions where I wondered if what she added was actually necessary to the story.

The one major complaint I had about the book was the ending. This is my own personal taste, but I believe that the first part of any series should be able to stand on its own as a book. Of course, the author should leave the reader with some questions to get them excited for the next installment, but I believe that there should be enough closure in the book to allow the reader to feel satisfied without having a burning desire to have those questions answered. There is a huge cliff-hanger at the end of this book, and even though I do have a desire to find out what happens next, I feel like it is part of marketing ploy to get me to buy the next installment. Of course, I probably will, but I still like that sense of closure that wasn’t a part of this book.

Otherwise, the story that Louise G. White has created is a lot of fun and if you are willing to go on the full adventure, I would recommend picking up The Calling.

Top Ten Essential Reads

one flew over the cuckoo's nest

#1 – One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey

Growing up, my siblings and I had recorded this movie off of television and would watch it three or four times a year. I always considered it one of the best movies ever made, but then someone told me that the book was so much better. I didn’t give it much thought because the book is always better, but eventually I found a used copy and bought it for a dollar. After reading the book, I could never sit down and watch the movie again. Ken Kesey’s words made me laugh and I saw the importance of civil disobedience. The book became an anthem for me, and I later found out it was the bible for the counter-culture movement. It was the perfect book for what was going on in the nation at that time, and I see its relevance again. It will just take a McMurphy to stir up trouble and motivate us to fight against the Combine that is holding us back. I never get tired of this story, and will laugh as hard the next time I pick it up to read as I did the first time I read it. Purely amazing.

the invisible man

#2 – Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

You cannot help but to be moved when you read this book. Its profound message slams you in the face and lingers there for the rest of your life. Following the narrator as he tries to find himself in a world of prejudice people makes you wonder if you are him and he is you. It doesn’t matter that the narrator is an African-American living in the 1930s because the way Ralph Ellison portrays his story, you can empathize with his every move as he navigates his young life. I have not met one person who has read this book that has not been moved by its story, and sadly enough not enough people know of its existence. This is the great American novel that everybody talks about, and everybody needs to read it.

the lord of the rings

#3 – The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

Some of you are probably going to argue that this is a trilogy and not just one book, but I am going to argue back that J.R.R. Tolkien never intended this to be three books. It was written as one book and the publisher broke it up into three novels. In fact Tolkien hated the name of the last book, The Return of the King, because it gave away the ending to the story. I would even go as far as to argue that The Hobbit and The Silmarillion should also be included under this title because Tolkien was not just writing a story but instead a history of Middle Earth and the linguistics that could be found among its inhabitants. It is just one story. But if I was forced to just look at one novel to represent the whole history, it would have to be this one. When I married, my wife showed me her wonderful hardback copy much like the one in the picture. I have often opened it up at random spots and just enjoyed the story from where I found myself. It is a lot like a bible to me, and there are many lessons to be learned from its pages such as the evil of addiction to power, how important hope is to us, and why death is something that we must all accept in our lifetimes. Many people will say that they would love to read this trilogy at least one in their lifetime, but I am here to say that once in your lifetime is not enough for this epic. It will always be one of my all-time favorites.

life of pi

#4 – Life of Pi by Yann Martel

At the time I picked up this book to read, I had been reading a lot of stories centered around religion and mythology and I wanted to find something a little lighter. I was not prepared for what I found. I had no idea that a story about an Indian boy surviving out on sea for over two hundred days on a life raft with a three-hundred and fifty pound Bengal tiger would be one of the deepest stories I had ever read. It is the better story and explains religion more thoroughly than any of the previous books I have read on the subject. If more people would pick up this book and understand the meaning behind it, we might not have as much fighting going on in the world. I loved this book so much that it has been the only story I have finished and then immediately sat down to read it again. It has that much power behind it.

the trial

#5 – The Trial by Franz Kafka

Do you ever believe that you are living in a bizarre Kafkaesque landscape in which some omnipotent power is guiding you through the surreal existence that you live in? Has logic been thrown out the window only to be scraped off the ground and presented back to you in a way that only makes sense to the holder of the logic? Do you wonder where this feeling originated? Then you need to read The Trial by Franz Kafka, and still the answers will never be presented to you. In this story that helped coin the term named after the author, Josef K. wakes up on his thirtieth birthday to be arrested for a crime which he is not aware of ever committing. Things get even worse for our protagonist because nobody will ever enlighten him to what his crime actually was, but he must stand trial for it anyway. It is a profound metaphor for modern life and its eerie parallel to everyone’s lives make it a must read. Just beware, it will leave you with more questions than it answers.

Slaughterhouse Five

#6 – Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

I have taught this novel five or six times in my tenure as an English teacher, and it has always been my favorite book to teach, especially when the students hit that moment when they realize what the book is actually about. There has never been another book like it, and if anybody attempts to write something as profound, it will be nothing more than an imitation. This book will make you laugh and make you think at the same time. People might disagree with me, but this is the most accurate portrayal of war ever written, and Kurt Vonnegut was able to bring to light the problem of PTSD long before they ever coined the term PTSD. If you have not read this book yet, read it, have somebody explain it to you, and then read it again because every time you pick this novel up you will see something new.

 

crime and punishment

#7 – Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

A very profound look at the power of guilt. Dostoyevsky asks the question whether any outside force can ever punish us the way we can punish ourselves for the crimes that we have committed. The pains that we inflict upon others can never be justified in our minds, and the only way we can overcome our pasts is to face the wrongdoings we have inflicted upon others. Never has a story about an axe-murderer had so much power as has this classic by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

pillars of the earth

#8 – Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

When I picked up this book I didn’t have any expectations. I just knew that it was long and I needed something to entertain me while I was on a fifty day backpacking trip through Europe. I didn’t even know what it was about. The book was an orphan (a book left behind at the airport I worked at) and I thought why not give it a try. On the plane ride to London, I quickly learned the treasure that fell into my lap. There was no better book I could have picked as I toured the landscape of Europe, and visited its many sites and cathedrals. It explained all of the wonderful things I was seeing and brought them to life. The story allowed me to appreciate architecture and the lifestyles of those who lived during Medieval Times. It also showed me the way that politics took place during this time of the world. I have read a lot of historical fiction since then and none of them have ever reached the heights that The Pillars of the Earth have.

1984

#9 – 1984 by George Orwell

If you have read A Brave New World, you need to read 1984 as well. It will make you wonder which world it is we are actually living in. The strange thing is that both of these books are so relevant that their positions may flip at any time on this list. Unfortunately, I believe that we are living in an Orwellian society at this time. We are under constant watch by the state. Texting is dumbing down the English language. 24-hour media changes the dialogue in obvious hypocritical ways in order to fit their current agenda. We are distracted by issues that really have no relevance in order to keep the same people in power, and we must be in constant war in order to keep us in a state of fear and compliance. It is a bleak world, but similar to the one we live in. Others might disagree with the assessment, but in order to participate in this modern debate, you must read both books.

Brave New World

#10 – A Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

I had a hard time deciding which book was more important in this day and age, A Brave New World, or 1984. It is obvious that we are living in a dystopian society, but the question is which one. That is why this is a very important read to add insight into the world that we inhabit. We are products of our class and unable to achieve anything greater. We have also been conditioned to believe that the class we have been born into is the only one we will feel comfortable in. If we ever feel that something is wrong, we can always run for the comfort of sex, or soma. Our media is also about quick blurbs that are easily remembered and devoid of any meaning, but always promoting the importance of consumption. It is a Brave New World we live in and the most dangerous thing that could bring down this dystopian world is if we learn how to feel and think for ourselves.

 

Hell, and God, and Nuns with Rulers

Hell and God and Nuns with Rulers full cover 2

TOP INDIE BOOK of 2015 – Britbear Books

5 Stars – In Tristan, Collings has created a character with which many teens will identify (indeed, most adults as well). Regardless of the religion in question, most of us struggle for a balance between the pious and the secular, and the ability to live our lives whilst pleasing both our parents and ourselves. And while many of us don’t grapple with the same potentially life-altering, game-changing issues as Tristan, we grapple with the issues nevertheless. That Tristan holds on and refuses to give up who he is to the pressure of others makes him not only memorable, but inspirational. – Britbear Books

5 Stars –  I was immediately blown away by the intelligent, almost satirical nature of Collings’ writing, which was straight-forward and authentic to the age and acrimony of a teenage boy. Tristan has a distinct tone—a real voice—and it is instantly potent. – Please Pass the Book

A witty suburban coming-of-age storyRedNoise

(Throughout the course of the novel, the main character, Tristan Adamson, has to write a series of essays for his Literature and Composition class. They don’t always go as well as he hopes. This particular essay he wrote gives the story its title.)

Hell, and God, and Nuns with Rulers

Some people would say that Jewish parents have cornered the market on guilt. This noble race knows better than any other type of parent how to make their children feel uncomfortable at any given moment. They can use the fires of Hell and the pains of their past to make their children feel bad when they complain about the scratchy pants they received for Hanukkah. Even though they might have pretty effective skills when dishing out guilt, the Catholics have made strong inroads with this ability. In fact, the parents of Catholic children have made so much progress in this area of expertise that they now hold the title for the best guilt trippers on the planet.

Just like the Jewish people, the Catholic parents have the fear of Hell on their side and they know how to use it. They instill it in their children at a very early age. From the moment their child can enjoy stories, these parents pull out their big old picture book of Bible stories. These books tell wonderful stories about animals going into an ark two by two, or how three wise men showed up at the birth of some random kid to give him gifts of precious metals and smelly stuff. But other stories involve what a young person’s life will be like if they are condemned to Hell. Red painted men with horns and long tails walk around with pitchforks forcing people to take leaps into big old pits of fire. Parents force their children to look at pictures of the anguished faces of people burning for all eternity while Lucifer dances behind with glee. Catholic parents will point at these pictures and tell their children, “Look what happens if you don’t brush your teeth at night.” On a side note, Catholics generally have very happy dentists.

If Catholic parents can’t scare their kids by using the devil, they can always use God. We should all fear God; at least this is what they tell children at a very early age. God will not be undone by a mere human. If He thinks someone is showing Him up in any manner, He will use His might and power to smite that person. Many Bible stories confirm this. Children’s Bibles even furnish pictures to better illustrate these messages. God threw Adam and Eve out of Eden. After Noah got on the ark, God flooded the earth. The picture in the Bible depicted men drowning as Noah sails by with a smile on his face and a cute cat in the crook of his arm. Imagine being five years old and seeing a picture of a man wearing a toga and yielding a sharp knife to stab his son, or the picture of the Hell on Earth that God created while he destroyed Sodom. These frightening pictures, combined with terrifying stories, can even help Catholic parents guilt their children into being potty-trained.

Finally, Catholic parents having something that would make the Holocaust look tame. They have nuns with rulers. There is nothing scarier on this God-given Earth than a nun with a ruler. Just one of these formidable beasts will stare down an army of highly trained super ninjas. With one crack of that ruler, it will cause those ninjas to wet their pants (they don’t have many Catholics in Japan) and run away like Shaggy and Scooby Doo being chased by some imaginary ghost. The only problem with being a Catholic child is that when faced with this dilemma, they can neither pee their pants (see earlier argument) nor run away. They must face the nun and whatever terror she may inflict upon the knuckles of said victim. Many Catholic boys and girls wake up with their knuckles aching, and they don’t even know why.

So it is obvious that even though all parents know how to use guilt trips to their advantage, no parent knows how to use them better than Catholic parents. They have many more tools at their disposal, such as: Hell, and God, and nuns with rulers. Just feel lucky you don’t have Catholics for parents.

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This time Mrs. Baker went backward down the list as she talked to each student about their essays. I followed Stephen Bluestein. She started off by pointing out her pride at the fact that I could use a semicolon correctly. I guess this would mean a lot to me if I knew what a semicolon was. She then went on to explain her dissatisfaction with the fact that I couldn’t stick to the prompt. My voice and subject matter interested her but she couldn’t understand how it had anything to do with the relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. She would even accept my consistently writing the five-paragraph essay if only I could stay on topic. Maybe I could stay on topic if I actually sat down and read Macbeth, but I just can’t get into Shakespeare.

She handed back my paper with a big red letter F on it. She went on to explain that she might’ve found it in her heart to give me a D if I hadn’t dismissed the Holocaust as being less terrifying than a nun with a ruler. Apparently, they never taught a theology class at the public high school she attended. She is definitely not making any brownie points. I can’t move her to the list of teachers that I like. But considering the fact that only my first grade teacher, Mrs. Flarrety, has made the list, I doubt Mrs. Baker would really care.