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Monday, April 30, 2012

Book #10 of 2012: Monsters of Men

I finished Patrick Ness's Monsters of Men about a week ago.  It is the third and final book in his Chaos Walking trilogy.  I read the first two books, The Knife of Never Letting Go and The Ask and The Answer, earlier this year.

Having finished the entire trilogy, I'm left feeling a little lukewarm about it.  This series came highly recommended to me and everyone that I know who has read it loved it.  I definitely liked it, but I'm not sure that I'm willing to go as far as "love."

For me, part of the problem was the style of narration.  When reading The Knife of Never Letting Go, it took me a while to get used to Todd's stream of consciousness narration.  In The Ask and the Answer, Ness kept the same stream of consciousness style but alternated chapters between Todd and Viola.  I initially really liked this, because it gave me some insight into Viola, who I thought was a great character.  In Monsters of Men, Ness adds another layer, with stream of consciousness chapters switching between Todd, Viola, and the Spackle known as "The Burden."  This was a little much for me.  In some places, the chapters were very short, and I felt like I never truly got into any of the characters' voices before needing to change gears.

The title of the book comes from the premise (repeated several times throughout the trilogy) that "War makes monsters of men and women."  The Mayor's oppressive regime and growing attrocities in the previous books led to war in this book.  And it was definitely war on a grand scale--with four separate fours to contend with (the Mayor's army, the Answer's terrorist forces, the Spackle, and the ever-looming threat of a spaceship full of settlers), all of whom changed alliances several times during the book.

In spite of all the action, though, I was frustrated by the middle of the book.  I felt like it was a lot of "same old, same old."  The characters continued to have slight variations on the same debates that they'd had for the previous two books, and eventually things reached such an impasse that I felt like there was simply no way for the book to resolve.  While these traits may well be true of conflict and war in real life, they didn't make for great reading.

While the last hundred pages did include some developments I definitely wasn't expecting, I wasn't really satisfied with the ending.  I actually feel this way about a lot of dystopian books--they've painted a society so bleak that the best they can do is end with a slight glimmer of hope, but definitely not a feel-good sort of tie-up.

I would still recommend this trilogy to anybody who likes dystopian novels, but with the caveat that it wasn't my favorite trilogy/series out there.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

One Year Ago

It's hard to believe, but today is the MeyPfan family's one-year anniversary at camp.

One year and one day ago, we packed up everything we owned (or at least as much as would fit in the U-Haul) with the help of our wonderful Indianapolis friends.  One year ago today, we made the hour and a half drive north to our new home, where our camp friends helped us unload.

(note how the U-Haul looks almost as big as the house.... this may be why we still have so many unpacked boxes!)

It has been a wonderful year.  The kids have made tons of friends, both at camp and at their new schools.  We have all learned how much fun it is to explore the woods and find new trails.  We have fed the chickens that give us our eggs.  The kids have conquered new playgrounds, run in new fields, and (occassionally) tried new foods.  We have largely overcome our fears of bugs, have hunted for Morel mushrooms, and learned to identify an alpaca.  We have seen corn grown and harvested in our own front yard and have picked huge bouquets of wildflowers.  Ben has learned to use a chainsaw to cut our firewood, and I have (almost) stopped screaming every time I find a mouse in a trap.  The kids went from tenuous, shy little things at this time last year to robust, outgoing kids who feel confident running all over camp, because they know that every adult here is their friend.  And most joyfully of all, we'll soon be adding another little one to the crazy mix of our lives.

It has also been a hard year.  Moving to a new town means finding a "new" everything: new doctors, new schools, a new church.  I have to admit that even a year in, we still sorely miss our "old" everything.  Especially with all the medical problems I've had this year, I've really missed my old doctors (and eventually decided that I'm going to continue to drive down to Indy to see some of them).  We love Shay's new preschool (Ready Set Go), but it took us until January to settle there, and we still miss the loving,  nurturing teachers at St. Andrew's.  I think we may always miss Connection Pointe Church and the dear friends we made there.  And oh, our friends--how we miss them!  I've tried two different MOPS groups here, and though I've met many wonderful ladies, neither group has compared to the wonderful women and group that I left behind in Brownsburg.  And our Game Night group--some of my very dearest friends, many of whom I'd been friends with since high school or college.  While we love the friends we have at camp, we still sorely miss the close friends we left back in Indy and have so appreciated their support, visits, and love over this past year.  As I said earlier, it has also been a hard year medically for me, nearly all related to this pregnancy--chronic migraines, intense nausea, varicose veins, and sciatic nerve pain.  It has also been a challenge to adjust to the mechanics of this very rural life (like driving a half an hour to go grocery shopping!) after spending 10+ years in the city and suburbs of Indianapolis.  It's also been a hard year financially, as our Indianapolis house STILL hasn't sold.

It has been a blessed year.  We have come to know, work with, and fellowship with so many wonderful Christian people, from college age to adults.  We're anxiously awaiting the birth of this little miracle baby, still safe and growing against all medical odds.  Ben has settled into his job and made huge strides in implementing new programs, including winning the first-ever Brackets for Good competition for camp, ensuring nearly $20,000 for camperships in that contest alone.  We have been blessed by the outpouring of love from friends near and far who have volunteered to help our family with babysitting, playdates, and grocery shopping while I'm on bedrest.

All in all, it's been quite a year--full of new experiences and new adventures.  While not every moment has been perfect, we are confident that we are where God wants us.  We are excitedly anticipating another summer of campfires, cabin cheers, and cheerful chaos--including the birth of our new baby boy, who will arrive in the midst of it all.  We are looking forward to the continuance of all these adventures, and the start of new ones that we haven't even imagined yet!

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future."  - Jeremiah 29:11

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Easter Highlights

My kids did a few things for Easter that just made my heart melt, so I wanted to share the cuteness with all of you (and also record it for posterity, since my pregnant brain is very prone to forgetfulness these days).

Last night, as we were tucking the kids into bed, Ben and I reminded them that today was Easter.  Then we asked them if they remembered what happened on Easter. 

"I know!" said Bryn, "It's when Jesus died on the cross." 

"Actually, no," said Ben, "That's Good Friday.  Easter is when Jesus comes back to life."

Bryn's eyes got huge.  "I'm so excited!" she said, "Jesus is coming back to earth tomorrow!  I can't wait to meet Him!!"

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Today, the church we've been attending did a cantata, and all kids older than nursery age stayed in the service.  Shay was pretty squirmy, but Bryn was fascinated.  Her reading skills have really flourished lately, and she followed along with the program really well.  Bryn has always liked being in "big church" when we sing, and even as a little girl, she would stand on a chair and stare intently at the overhead screen with the lyrics on it.  Today, for the first time, she was able to read all the words and sing along!  She was thrilled to be able to do it and sang her little heart out.

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While much of the service was lost on Shay, she was really interested the the "Jesus movie" that played on the overhead screens at various points in the service to tell the story of the crucifixion and resurrection.  She kept saying, "When is there going to be more Jesus movie, Mom?"

Then, during one of the songs, Shay climbed onto my lap and, with a very serious face, pointed upwards, toward the ceiling.  "God is up there," she said.

"Where?" I asked.

"In Heaven," she said, "And so is Jesus."

"That's right, sweetie," I said, and cuddled her while we continued to sing.  For the rest of the service, she periodically pointed upwards and told me the names of more people who were in Heaven: Mary and Joseph, Peter, and everyone who loves Jesus.

"And someday, we'll go there too," she concluded.

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And then, of course, there was this cuteness:


Bryn and Shay decided that they wanted to be "Easter bunnies" this year, so while Liam was napping, they filled all the eggs with candy and hid them outdoors.  Then when Liam woke up, they took him outside and guided him to each and every egg so he could find them.  They even carried a his basket for him, so all he had to do was hunt.  Soooo sweet to see how much they love their little brother!

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Book #9 of 2012: Sisterhood Everlasting


(In case you're wondering if you missed Book #8 of 2012, you didn't.  I reread Ann Brashares' Forever In Blue: The Fourth Summer of Sisterhood so that I'd be prepared to enjoy this one.  I didn't feel like I needed to write a review of a reread.)

Ann Brashares' Sisterhood Everlasting is the long-awaited conclusion to her Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series, which I first read in college (and felt guilty back then to be an "intellectual" English major enjoying YA lit on the side).  The four books of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants follow four teenage girls (Bridget, Carmen, Lena, and Tibby) who have been best friends since birth through their growing-up experiences.  I initially loved this series because of the closeness of the friendships among the four characters, their deep and utter love for one another.  They embody all that friendship should be.

Sisterhood Everlasting revisits the characters 10 years after Forever in Blue.  I have to say that I was initially very, very disappointed by this book.  Those touchstone friendships that kept me reading and loving the four earlier books had deteriorated over the years.  Realistically, I know that this happens.  I was blessed by having the best group of friends in the world, my wonderful Clan, during my own high school years, and while adulthood hasn't made me love those people any less, it has lessened our communication and shared experiences.  This simple phenomenon of growing up has happened to the Sisterhood as well, and it left me saddened, wishing that something as beautiful as what they had could have endured.  And Tibby has withdrawn from the friendship, barely communicating with the others, and a certain amount of mystery shrouds her current life.  Then tragedy strikes, and the Sisterhood is essentially dissolved.

Honestly, I would have given up on this book about 100 pages in if it wasn't for my friend Andrea, who read it before me and kept reassuring me that the ending was worth it.  The book just made me so, so sad.  All four girls' lives were frankly a mess, and it totally erased the happy, hopeful, serene note that Forever in Blue ended on.  Partway through, I decided that one major problem with this book (at least from my perspective) is that it is NOT young adult lit.  This was definitely a book written for the audience that enjoyed The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 10+ years ago... and that audience is now adults, and this is an adult book.

I spent essentially the last 200 pages (of 349) of this book sobbing as I read.  There was so much sadness, and yet I'm really glad that I kept reading.  The end of the book was definitely worth it, and it restored that sense of serene hopefulness from the earlier books... but it definitely took some rough spots to get there.

So would I recommend this book?  That's a tough one.  I think that only a true fan of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series would appreciate it.  If you choose to read it, be prepared for adult fiction instead of YA.  And don't give up in the middle (though you may be tempted), because the end is worth it.