All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

Published: 1928 in German, 1929 in English

Genre: war fiction

Length: 291 pages

Setting: Germany during WWI

Interest: The kids have been reading about WWI for American History Club. I realized I didn’t know too much about WWI and decided to read this classic.

Summary: Paul Baumer, the narrator, is a solider in the German army. Throughout the book, he describes his experience on the front line with a group of solider friends. They endure bombardments with little cover, minimal food, and injuries which sadly often lead to death. Baumer gets leave at one point and feels completely out of place back in his home village. He also wonders what he (and any of his surviving classmates) will do when the war is over since they don’t have a job or even a wife to return to. They’ve become men during the horrors of war.

Final thoughts: A very moving book. I can see why it is a classic. I kept forgetting the narrator was German, since his experience seemed to stand in for any soldier on the Western Front. The Allies finally just wore out the Germans. The Germans had the will to win, but ran out of soldiers and supplies.

I had thought about using this book as our last American History Club reading, but I’m glad I didn’t. It was a bit too graphic in the description of injuries. There was very little description of killing, but that was because most of the killing happened from far away.

I couldn’t decide while I was reading the book whether or not I wanted the narrator to survive the war. He had many close misses throughout the book. He experienced such horrors at such a young age that he could never fit back into civilian society. I found the author’s choice quite appropriate.

Title comes from: In the last section of the book, the army report for the day was “all quiet on the Western Front”.

Reading challenges fulfilled: 81/100 in my 100 Book Challenge, and a classic about war for my Back to the Classics Challenge

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How To Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charle Yu

Published: 2010

Genre: science fiction

Length: 233 pages

Setting: Universe 31, some futurish time

Font: Spectrum

Interest: I was looking for a Y author and I vaguely remember hearing good things about this book when it came out.

Summary: Charles is a time machine mechanic. He uses that job to stay in a perpetual quasi-life, living in the Conditional Tense. At the same time, he’s looking for his father. His father was an early pioneer in time travel devices, but he was never able to get recognition for his work. Charles gets stuck in a time loop and finally figures out how to take charge of his life, and where his father got stuck in time.

Final thoughts: An interesting premise that won’t be well understood unless you’re already steeped in science fiction and time travel tropes. The idea that reality is a story with heroes and protagonists and there are parts of the world that are unfinished was interesting, but I had a hard time wrapping my brain around Charles’ world. I did enjoy the interstitial pages from the book Charles was reading/writing.

Title comes from: It was the name of the book Charles wrote to guide himself to success.

Reading challenges fulfilled: 80/100 in my 100 Book Challenge, and a Y in my author Alphabet Soup Challenge

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The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper

Published: 1973

Genre: middle-grade fantasy

Length: 224 pages

Setting: British countryside, 1970s

Interest: It’s the second book in the Dark Is Rising sequence started with Over Sea, Under Stone that I’m reading to Miss Adventure.

Summary: Will Stanton is just a kid, but since he’s the seventh son of a seventh son, he’s a special kid. Turns out, he’s an Old One, destined to heal the Circle of Light. On his 11th birthday, he comes into his power and Mr. Merriman, the butler at the neighboring manor and an Old One, guides him in his journeys. He needs to find all six Signs (wood, bronze, iron, water, fire, and stone) and fuse them to regain one of the four Things of Power to fight the Dark. All along the way, the Dark Rider tires to block Will from completing his quest and gain the Signs for the Dark. Will overcomes all the obstacles and succeeds in his quest.

Final thoughts: When we started the book, I questioned several times whether or not this was the sequel to Over Sea, Under Stone. We were in a completely different part of England with a completely different family. There was one line near the end that mentioned the Grail had already been found, which brought the books together.

The book, similar to the first one, provides a stark contrast between good (the Old Ones) and evil (the Dark Rider). However, in the character of Hawking, we see how someone might get tempted away from the Light. It was a nicely exciting book for a child – tension, but no bloodshed. In addition, it worked fairly well as a read aloud.

Title comes from: A line the Old Ones use to let Will know the Dark was increasing in power.

Reading challenges fulfilled: 80/100 in my 100 Book Challenge

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My Teacher, My Enemy by Kelsey Ann Barrett

Published: June 2012 in Lightspeed Magazine that you can read online

Genre: post-apocalyptic fiction

Length: 10 pages

Setting: a future world, in the woods somewhere

Interest: It was included in the 2014 annual Campbellian Anthology.

Summary: The narrator lives in a world where power is gained by killing, skinning, and wearing the skins of other people. The better job you do skinning your kill, the more power you gain from that person. The story starts with the narrator’s first kill, as she is remembering the lessons her teacher provided on killing and skinning another individual. We see some details of a few other kills. In the last scene, we see the narrator facing off against someone with a massive number of skins on her back. Turns out, that individual is her teacher who’s become almost feral. The narrator loses the fight, but chooses to ruin the skins she’s carrying and her own so the teacher cannot have them.

Final thoughts: This story was a bit gruesome, with lots of details on how to properly skin someone to get the best result, and not mar the skin with blood or any tears. If it were an EscapePod epidose, I think it would be rated R for death and dismemberment. It makes you wonder what happened to society to make skinning someone be a good thing. I also wonder how their society could survive for very long, if the goal is to catch other people and kill them. Maybe the hunters were just a small part of society, but even so. Definitely touches on a taboo subject.

Title comes from: The narrator learned all she (I think it was a she) could about hunting from her teacher, but ends up dying at the hands of her teacher.

Reading challenges fulfilled: none since this was a short story

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Weekly Wrap-Up: WWI Research

Our next meeting of American History Club will be presentations on topics of the children’s choice. That means lots of research and note-taking this week. Mr. Curiosity decided to do some German weapons used during WWI, while Miss Adventure decided to research Jewish holidays.

Before Mr. Curiosity decided on the WWI weapons he wanted to research, he had to figure out what weapons were used. For that, he read Weapons of World War I by Matt Doeden and Machines and Weaponry of World War I by Charlie Samuels. The Doeden book is for young kids, with very little text on a page and lots of definitions. Even so, it has lots of photos from the war and lays out what most of the weapons were for both the Allies and the Axis. It is one book in the Weapons of War series that covers everything from ancient to modern times, with many of the major wars America has fought in included. The Samuels book is written for an older age group, with more text and information about each weapon and machine. It covers everything from zeppelins to tanks to pistols to gas. It’s also part of a series (the Machines That Won the War series) that starts at WWI and ends at the Gulf War.

indexMiss Adventure went in a totally different direction, since the American Girl books she read didn’t touch on the war much. Instead, they focused on Jewish traditions. In that vein, she decided to look into some Jewish holidays. Unfortunately, most of the books written on the subject for children are pretty short on text and details. We started with A Sweet Year: A Taste of the Jewish Holidays by Mark Podwal. The book gave us an overview of all the holidays so Miss Adventure could choose what to research further. She decided to do the fall holidays, so we ransacked the library for more books. They’re all written for adults, so I have to help her interpret the information. It’s good practice for her, I guess.

And those are the books we used this week, linking up with Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers.


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Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull

Subtitle: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration

Published: 2014

Genre: nonfiction, business

Length: 314 pages of text, 340 pages total

Font: Sabon

Interest: The Modern Mrs. Darcy recommended the book in her Summer Reading Guide. While I’d seen it reviewed a number of places, this post prompted me to put it on my list. Besides, the book is all about Pixar, and we love Pixar at our house.

Summary: Catmull has attempted to explain the specific actions he and the other leaders at Pixar to maintain a corporate culture of creativity. He’s worked at many different levels within business and believes that to maintain creativity and success you must actively review what’s working, what’s not, and search for problems before they become so big they’ll ruin you.

Final thoughts: While I know Catmull intended the book as a kind of how-to book for creativity in business, I read it mostly for the Pixar anecdotes. They were good stories and covered everything from Toy Story to Inside Out, as well as some of their failures. I found the whole book fascinating, even if I don’t work in a business environment where I can implement many of the suggestions. I did find it interesting that Catmull recommended a scientific method approach, in the sense that failure is a data point, not a catastrophe. Figure what failed, take it into account, and try again. No big deal, right? It becomes a bigger deal when you’re dealing with millions of dollars, but even so Pixar plans to fail.

Title comes from: Catmull has tried number methods to develop a corporate culture (the Inc.) of creativity.

Reading challenges fulfilled: 79/100 in my 100 Book Challenge

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Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Published: 2012

Genre: YA historical fiction

Length: 339 pages

Setting: England and France, WWII

Font: Goudy Old Style

Interest: I’ve seen it reviewed and lauded a number of places. I first saw it in a Simple Homeschool post on YA historical fiction.

Summary: Julie (aka Verity) has been captured by the Germans soon after flying into France on a secret mission for Britain. She’s then tasked with writing down all she knew about the British War Effort to five to the Germans. She tells the story of herself (in the third person) and Maddie. Maddie worked herself into becoming a pilot during the war, against all odds. The second half of the story is told by Maddie, who was also stuck in France (the plane she was piloting to bring Julie to France crash-landed) trying to find Julie. Julie’s translator sneaks Maddie Julie’s written confession. Turns out, all the intelligence (but not the relationship with Maddie) was made up. Maddie’s part of a plan to rescue Julie and blow up the German headquarters in the nearby town. While they are able to blow up the building, with information hidden in Julie’s confession, they are unable to rescue Julie. Eventually, Maddie makes her way back to England.

Final thoughts: This book matched my expectations. I totally felt for Julie – tortured and forced to spill her secrets. (We never see the torture, which is one of the few concessions to the YA audience I noticed.) Then, in the second half, we find out all the secrets were made up! I was completely shocked! I thought Julie was broken, but she was playing the victim and still trying to get information out to the Resistance. So many of her actions and words seemed innocent but turned out to convey information to the Resistance. The saddest part of the book was when Maddie shot Julie to prevent Julie being sent to a Nazi “research” facility. I thought for sure it was another trick on Julie’s part, but no – she was really dead. Overall, an excellent book and the twist of the second half had me going back over the first half to see the events in the new light.

Title comes from: The code name of Julie (the main character and narrator of the first half) was Verity.

Reading challenges fulfilled: 78/100 in my 100 Book Challenge

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