Monday, July 29, 2013

Life: An Exploded Diagram

Life: An Exploded Diagram
Mal Peet
385 pages

At this point I need to take you on a short detour. I'm very much a cause-and-effect sort of a fellow. I'm fascinated by the way things fit together (and come to pieces). And if we were to take what eventually happened to Frankie and me and drew something like a flowchart of how it came about, one of its arrows would lead us into the darkness of a Caribbean night.

Clem Ackroyd, the son of a war veteran and a careful bookkeeper, is a working-class boy hoping to one day scrape together the funds to go to art school. Frankie Mortimer is the daughter of a wealthy land owner, living in an inherited estate. Soon, in Norfolk, England, the two will embark on a relationship that must be kept a secret, and if found out, their world could be blown apart. Little do they know, that John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khruschev are about to do just that, as the event later known in history books as the Cuban Missile Crisis begins to unfold.

Life: An Exploded Diagram is set in three main time periods. The novel opens in the year 1945, in Norfolk, England, focusing on the joy and hardship that followed World War II. The story then jumps to 1962, the plot jumping across the pond to illuminate John F. Kennedy and his crisis in Cuba, and then back to Clem, Frankie, and life on the farm. In the last chapter of the book, the reader will have found themselves in New York City at the beginning of a time with enough turbulence to give the 60s a run for their money. All three of these settings will explore the effects of war, and more importantly explosions, on the generations.

In May of 2012, at the Sydney Writer’s Festival, Mal Peet spoke in an interview of where his idea for this novel came from. He said: “I was thinking about nuclear weapons…and I was wondering where they’d all gone. We don’t talk about them anymore…The fact that there is enough stuff out there to blow us to Kingdom Come seems to have slipped our minds.”

Peet uses an interesting metaphor to describe the Cuban Missile Crisis in a nutshell: [The Americans] and the Russians were like two guys in a cellar, up to their waists in petrol, arguing about who's got the bigger box of matches.

Throughout the novel, several chapters are dedicated solely to describing the crisis to readers with little to no knowledge about the event. But, let it be known that this brief insight is not written in any way like a textbook. It is fact, but still written in a literary voice.  He describes President Kennedy in all of his good and his bad, explores American democracy as if he were a spy - he goes deeper than what was ever in the public eye. Although Peet is an author from England, he seems to play the role of a British countryman looking in from the outside, as well as a member of Kennedy's cabinet, all at the same time.

The novel is divided into three parts:
1)      Putting Things Together
2)      Blowing Things Apart
3)      Picking Up the Pieces.

Each part is then divided appropriately into short vignette-like chapters with titles such as: A Latin-American Interlude, The Girl Who Ate His Heart Bums a Smoke, Jack and Nikita Talk Turkey, and The Day the World Ended.

The chapters centered around Clem and Frankie are narrated by none other than Clem himself, in all of his British dialect, awkwardness and wrong assumptions. His voice is distinctive and unique, as he and Frankie discover all the wrongs, and more importantly rights, involved with falling in love for the first time.

On page 376, Clem, and ultimately, Peet, makes a profound statement on history.
I lived through all these times, these great events, without caring very much, concerned with my own aging rather than the world's. Most of us do likewise. History is the heavy traffic that prevents us from crossing the road. We're not especially interested in what it consists of. We wait, more or less patently, for it to pause, so that we can get to the liquor store or the laundromat or the burger bar.

If I were reading this book for an English class (or I guess one could read this for a history class I suppose) and I were asked to “find a passage from the text that speaks to the true message of the story” the above would be my pick.

Life: An Exploded Diagram is a brilliantly written novel, exposing the individual's, and the world's wounds to young readers in a way that is humorous, extremely romantic, and poignant. But also with a sense of finality that leaves the traveler, not the reader, feeling enlightened, yet tired, as if ending an explosive journey.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

S'more Summer Please?

{I can't possibly have a cookie without milk!}
When the forecast promises clouds and a possible thunderstorm, I usually know right away the day will be one dedicated to reading. (Especially when I'm finishing up a book as good as Life: An Exploded Diagram) But this past Tuesday was a different kind of rainy day. Instead of reading, a friend and I indulged in another hobby: baking.
This recipe for S'mores Cookies was super easy, and absolutely delicious! They are the perfect substitute for when the inclement weather prevents the toasting of marshmallows on an open fire.
I think the baking time for this sweet treat is very dependent on your own oven. We ended up baking ours for quite a bit longer than what was called for because after the instructed time, they were not as golden as we would have liked.
S’mores Cookies
Adapted from the blog Erica's Sweet Tooth

1-3/4 cups all purpose flour
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
2 cups mini chocolate chips
1-1/2 cups mini marshmallows, or large ones cut up
2 Hershey bars, chopped

- Preheat oven to 375 degrees
- With an electric mixer, beat together the butter and sugars until light and fluffy
- Mix in eggs and vanilla to butter mixture until combined
- In a large bowl, whisk together flour, graham crackers, salt, and baking soda
- Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix well
- Stir in the chocolate chips
- Use 2 tablespoons or a medium-sized ice cream scoop to drop rounded tablespoons of dough onto cookie sheets
- Bake for 8 minutes and remove from oven. (Note: we baked them for up to 10 minutes to start) Push a few marshmallows and pieces of chocolate into each cookie and return to the oven to bake an additional 3-4 minutes.
- Cool cookies on a wire rack (or just hand them over steaming hot to your hungry friends)

Recipe yields about 3 dozen cookies

{Chopped Hershey bars and mini marshmallows}

{Finished product}

Friday, July 19, 2013

5 More Things

{6. Hydrangeas}
I thought I would blog only once on this vacation, but I couldn't help but share five more things that help make Cape Cod so special for me.
In the backyard here, there are several hydrangea bushes. The blue ones are my favorite, but there is a house around the corner with vibrant purple flowers, and a white one with yellow hues.
After getting ice cream this evening, we visited The Brewster Store. This general store is always filled buckets and baskets of odds and ends - wind up cars, refrigerator magnets, soaps, maps, and greeting cards. It's the perfect place to buy a souvenir or a kitchen item your rental house seemed to neglect. 
{7. The Brewster General Store}
{8. Harbors}

{9. The Cape Cod Rail Trail}
Besides the beach, the CCRT is probably the one place on the Cape where I have spent the most time. The rides are always incredibly scenic, whether you are passing the cranberry bogs, the busy main streets, or Nickerson State Park. When riding, I often stare intently at my feet, watching them spin, spin - the pavement disappearing as quickly as it had appeared. I also watch the other people on the trail. The families - kids with lopsided helmets who are trying to keep pace with their parents. Runners - some with dogs panting at the heat. Walkers - strolling couples in big hats and new sneakers. It's in these observations where I pull out of my fatigue and discomfort and realize, these people I pass, I will see for a second or two, and then will never see again. Maybe they live on the next street over, or in Boston, or maybe even in Missouri, but they traveled to the Cape too.

They also find it special.

{10. Infinite Ocean}

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

5 Things I Love About Cape Cod

{1. Lighthouses}
For as long as I can remember, my family has been coming to Cape Cod for our summer vacation. Over the many years of staying in homes anywhere from Harwich to Orleans, there are many things I have come to love. The following photographs are five of these things.
Usually the mornings here are foggy and a little chilly, but this week the temperatures are much warmer. This hotter weather has certainly not kept us indoors though! We kayaked yesterday to the Stage Harbor Lighthouse (shown above), and this morning rode our bikes to the Hot Chocolate Sparrow for lunch by way of the Cape Cod Rail Trail.

{2. Fishermen's Cedar Shake Sided Shacks  }
{3. Local Farm Stands}
{4. Cranberry Bogs}
Along those rides we passed numerous cranberry bogs, each very green and very picturesque. As we shifted into higher, and faster gears, we whirled past small ponds and thickly settled cottages, a rustic general store, and a busy Main Street. Twenty miles later and feeling hot and fatigued, we escaped to Harding's Beach, bringing with us some local fare. Of course, the best way to end the day was with ice cream!
{5. Black Raspberry Ice Cream in a Waffle Cone}

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Future of Us

The Future of Us
Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler
356 pages

Josh and Emma have been best friends and neighbors for as long as they can remember. When Josh's family receives an American Online CD-ROM in the mail, his parents have him bring it over to Emma's so she can install it on her new computer. Upon installing the program, Josh and Emma are automatically logged onto Facebook. But there is only one issue...The year is 1996, and Facebook hasn't even been invented yet. The two friends find themselves looking at their profiles fifteen years in the future - their spouses, careers, homes - it's all there. These unexpected discoveries will force Josh and Emma to re-evaluate what they are doing right, and wrong, in the present.

The Future of Us was an incredibly creative story: the plot premise is certainly out-of-the-box and is relevant to today's teens. Emma, Josh and their friends were readable characters, and each of their quirky characteristics brought them to life just a little bit more.

Asher and Mackler had very similar writing styles - I could scarcely have told them apart, if it weren't for the alternating chapters of Josh, and then Emma's voice. Whenever two authors get together to write, there is always a concern that the styles will be uncomplimentary to each other. In this case, that was certainly not an issue.

The Future of Us is certainly a novel bound to make you laugh, smile, and maybe even reflect on the choices you make today, that could change your life tomorrow.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Pivot Point

Pivot Point
Kasie West
343 pages

As a Searcher, Addison Coleman has a unique power. When faced with a choice, she has the ability to look into the future and see both outcomes. The power is supposed to prevent disaster, but when Addie's parents tell her of their planned divorce, she will have to make her toughest decision yet. In alternating chapters, Addie will experience six weeks living with her mother, and six with her father. Both futures promise both love and loss, and for Addie it will come down to which fate she is willing to live through, and who she can't live without.

A cross between Paranormal and reality, West has created the most unique novel I have read in a long time. With strong characters, and engaging plot, it was undoubtedly an understandable read. The very beginning was a little confusing, as the reader must adjust to the fictional idea of humans having mind powers must stronger than our own. But, by the end, I found myself re-reading the entire last chapter, not out of confusion, but because "I can't believe that just happened."

Pivot Point is extremely suspenseful, romantic and surprising - an outstanding debut.

I absolutely cannot wait for the sequel, Split Second to be published in February of 2014!

Pivot Point is the third book I have read this year for the 2013 YA Contemporary Challenge. All Young Adult books for this challenge must be published at some point this year in order to qualify. As of now, I have read 3 of my 10 book goal. (Just One Day, This Is What Happy Looks Like, Pivot Point)