5 to 1, by Holly Bodger

5 to 15 to 1
by Holly Bodger
Pub. Date: May 12, 2015

I once read an article about how China has become a culture of bachelors in the decades since they made it a law that a woman could have only one child. It made me wonder, what will happen in a couple more decades? What will China do if men begin to outnumber women at a dangerous level?

5 to 1 is a dystopian novel that looks at a possibility of what could happen to a society if there are five men for every single woman. Would women become a valuable commodity? Would men fight for the right to marry? In a small part of India 40 years in the future, young men are put into groups of five to compete for their chance to become a husband and father. A young woman is assigned to be the judge of one of these groups to choose which young man will be her husband. Every young man and young woman is required to participate; every woman must marry and a man’s importance is based on how many girls he can father.

5 to 1 is written in alternating perspectives: Sudasa in verse and Kiran in prose. Sudasa is an observant young woman who sees the hypocrisy in her community. Kiran is an angry young man who refuses to participate in the competition for Sudasa’s hand. Yet, as the competition continues, Sudasa and Kiran realize that they want the same thing: a choice.

In this novel, I appreciated how Holly Bodger looked at a real life issue in today’s world and contemplated its effect on the future. I also loved how she pointed out the harm that can come when people act on revenge and anger. The novel was very clean, except for one part of the novel that discusses the possibility of having an abortion and a couple rude sexual comments. Overall, I thought this was a great novel that investigates how people strive to help others, find hope in the future, and make life better for their children.

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How Star Wars Conquered the Universe, by Chris Taylor

How Star Wars Conquered the Universe Chris TaylorHow Star Wars Conquered the Universe: The Past, Present, and Future of a Multibillion Dollar Franchise
by Chris Taylor
Pub Date: September 30, 2014

Back in 1997, I won my school spelling bee and moved up to the next level. I lost on the word “potentate” (you never forget the word you lost in a spelling bee). Leaving the D.C. hotel where that round of the spelling bee was held, my mom told me and my two younger siblings that as a treat for me winning the school spelling bee, we were all going to see Star Wars that weekend. I remember being intrigued, but at that young age I wasn’t terribly fond of science fiction, so my reaction was a little underwhelmed. Whoo boy. Little did I know that I was about to watch a movie that would come to define a part of my life.

Star Wars is one of those things. It is so enveloped in our cultural makeup it’s practically inescapable. Even if you haven’t seen the movies (and I still know a few who haven’t!), you know references. You know the characters. You know the Empire Strikes Back plot twist. You cringe at the mention of Jar-Jar Binks. Star Wars is as American as apple pie (meaning it may have become famous in the US, but it came from other places and is enjoyed in other places). This book is written by one of those die-hard fans, and tells the story of exactly what the title is: how it conquered the universe.

We start by learning the early life of “the Creator” George Lucas, and the cultural influences that he enjoyed as a kid that were added to the melting pot of his imagination that developed Star Wars. Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, The Princess of Mars, drag racing… it’s amazing all the little pieces that sparked something that ended up in Star Wars. In between chapters on how Lucas wrote the story and how each of the episodes came into being, and how the movie studio didn’t support it and then did, and quite a bit of behind-the-scenes drama with actors and special effects people, you get chapters on what the fans have done with the franchise. There’s a chapter on a guy who teaches lightsaber lessons. There’s a chapter on the 501st Legion (all those stormtroopers you see at various events). There’s a chapter on the line warriors who waited outside a movie theater for weeks to watch Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (yeah, I’m one of those people who can’t help but say the full name). There’s a chapter that starts the book on when the first film was dubbed into the Navajo language of Diné, because that’s how awesome the movies are.

I was not born when the original trilogy was released, so for me it was SO MUCH FUN to read about those early reactions to it, and then how it faded a little into the background after Return of the Jedi, and then came back with a vengeance with the prequel trilogy. Chris Taylor is an engaging writer, and met and interviewed plenty of people directly involved with the franchise, or eccentric enough of a fan to be enjoyable to read about. This was an absolutely delightful book to read, and split up into plenty of chapters that make it easy to pick up and put down if you’re a busy person with not a lot of downtime to read.

The paperback edition is revised and updated with more information about The Force Awakens, opening this week. Reading about the hype around the new Disney-helmed movie got me pretty pumped to see it. Even though that portion of the book will be mostly outdated in just a few days (and maybe we’ll get another update later on?), it’s still a wonderful read for anyone with some interest in Star Wars. (I choked up just *reading* about the part in the trailer when you see Han Solo say, “Chewie, we’re home.”) I HIGHLY recommend this as a Christmas gift for any Star Wars fan on your list.

Landline, by Rainbow Rowell

Landline Rainbow RowellLandline
by Rainbow Rowell
Pub Date: July 8, 2014

I adore Rainbow Rowell. Every single one of her books, both adult and YA, have hit it out of the park for me. I find her writing intelligent, witty, able to make me laugh and cry from one sentence to the next, and her characters are people I understand and know. The thing about Rainbow Rowell novels is I get TOTALLY sucked in. I start reading, and immediately identify with her characters. I immediately know them. And then I read seemingly insignificant details Rowell throws in for color, and I really can’t put the book down. People were freaking out about how great Eleanor & Park was, but it wasn’t until Fangirl came out that I decided to give her a try, and now I’ve read all of her books (aside from her new one Carry On, a Harry Potter-esque spinoff from Fangirl. It’ll happen, but I want it to be the proper time.)

This is her second and latest adult title, about Georgie McCool, a TV writer in California on the verge of great fame. She and her writing partner Seth, who have been collaborating since college, have a chance to pitch the TV show they’ve been talking about for years to a major studio figure. The meeting is set in a few days, they just need to write up four episodes to present. Except the meeting is just after Christmas. And Georgie and her family had planned on going to her husband Neal’s mother’s house in Omaha. When Georgie tells Neal she needs to stay to work on what could be the biggest break of her career, Neal is upset, and goes to his mother’s house with their two little girls without her. Georgie spends the next few days fretting about her relationship with her husband. When she stays in her old room at her mother’s house, she discovers that her old phone can call Neal in the past – 22 year old Neal, the Neal she knew in college. Will talking to the Neal of the past help her figure out the Neal she knows now?

What I *really* love about this book is the story of Georgie and Neal’s imperfect marriage. Neither are blatantly sabotaging the marriage, but it’s the little things that start to add up. Georgie recalls how she met Neal, and what her best friend Seth thought about him (not good). She recalls how he made her feel. They seem mismatched, and Georgie’s more than aware of that, but somehow these two mismatched and imperfect people found love and comfort with each other. The trick is working at the relationship to keeping that up, a lesson we could all use a reminder on. This book recounts how magical courtship can be, and how not perfect marriage can be as well. You can be in a happy marriage and still have problems, and I think that’s one of the beautiful messages of the book. Life is a fine balancing act. And you can see all the adorableness of these two people as Georgie remembers all the little things that made her fall in love with her husband.

There’s some blue language in the book (but honestly it’s nothing more than what I encounter on a daily basis – don’t know what that says about me), and references to the LGBTQ community, but nothing I found totally offensive. With the bulk of the story focused on Georgie and Neal, it’s a great book to read and reflect on your own relationships with your family and significant others. It’s just a sweet book.

I really can’t pick one book of Rowell’s to start with – each one is fabulous – but since this one takes place around Christmas it’s a little more timely. It’s like one of the vignettes from Love Actually got expanded into a book. Christmas is a magical time for romantics!

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

UnbrokenUnbroken: An Olympian’s Journey from Airman to Castaway to Captive
by Laura Hillenbrand
Pub Date: November 11, 2014

Due to the popularity of Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand created a young adult version of this popular biography adapted for the big screen. I am glad she did. I have not read the original biography since I am not fond of biographies, but I found myself reading late into the night for “just one more chapter” as I read the young adult version of this book. This is one of the best biographies I have ever read, and is an inspiring story of achievement, resilience and forgiveness.

Growing up, Louis Zamperini was considered a trouble maker and a pest. Still, his older brother could see Louis’ potential and convinced the high school principal to put Louis on the track team. From there, Louis discovered a talent and determination to succeed that affected the rest of his life. This skill took Louis to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, but WWII interrupted his running career and directed him to the US Army Air Corp where he became a bombardier. After a plane crash, Louis survived being stranded on a life raft for over a month and then becoming a prisoner of war with the Japanese, who were known for their brutality to POWs during WWII. Reading his story, I couldn’t believe all that Louis was able to survive, and survived with dignity and honor.

For me though, what amazed me the most was how Louis was able to overcome his fear and hatred for his Japanese captors enough to forgive them– to visit POW camps where he was held, see his guards, and tell them he forgave them. After the atrocities committed against him in the POW camp, it takes a great amount of inner strength, confidence, and compassion to be able to forgive those who hurt you and brought you to the brink of death. Louis Zamperini is a great example to me of true empathy and forgiveness.

I highly recommend this book to those who want to read this amazing story with more pictures and less of the emotionally difficult passages contained in the original biography. The guys in my teen book club were especially excited about this book, but the girls also found this an amazing story worth reading—even those who don’t read anything but fiction as a rule. This book does discuss smoking, drinking, and violence, but not in graphic detail or in a positive light. I am definitely recommending this to teens and their families as an example of overcoming the odds, forgiveness, and compassion.

Flight Into Danger, by John Castle and Arthur Hailey

Flight Into Danger John Castle Arthur HaileyFlight Into Danger
by John Castle & Arthur Hailey
Pub Date: 1958

Flight Into Danger, or Runway Zero Eight as it was also titled, is a suspense novel set in an airplane. Food poisoning has affected a number of passengers, including the pilots. Only one passenger has ever flown a plane before, and that was over 10 years ago during the war – can he get the plane safely to Vancouver in inclement weather before the sickness gets worse?

If this sounds vaguely like the plot of Airplane!, you’re right. Actually, this story (first produced for Canadian television as Flight Into Danger, then made into a Hollywood film with Dana Andrews called Zero Hour!) provides some of the source material for the disaster film spoof. A few other gags came from Airport 1975, the first sequel to 1970’s Airport, based on a book also written by Arthur Hailey (singing nuns!). So I feel Hailey is the godfather of the 1970s disaster films – many of which I have taken to watching on New Year’s Eve as my own tradition. Which is why I thought it would be fun to go all the way back to read the story that really started it all. And it was recently put back into “print” as an ebook, so it’s far more accessible than before.

I’ll be honest – considering this was an early version of a plot that has been done repeatedly in the following decades, this isn’t quite as suspenseful as one would hope. If you’re like me and you’ve seen the films that were influenced by the story, you already know how it plays out. However, you do see the seedlings of the familiar tropes that were featured in most of the disaster films, and for people who are into film (especially B-movies or camp film) this could prove to be entertaining. And it’s still well-written to enjoy, if a little predictable. And since it’s from the 1950s, it’s a pretty clean read, too.

Really what this is fun for is a fairly quick, somewhat suspenseful read with prototypes of the characters you find in disaster films. And if you’re up for watching the films inspired by the story either before or after, that adds a level of enjoyment to the reading. So it’s kind of an exercise in writing development. Maybe not a book for everyone, but I certainly found it enjoyable enough! And like how you shouldn’t watch The Poseidon Adventure on a cruise, maybe don’t read this one on a flight. 😉