Wednesday, December 31, 2008

My dad gave me Volume I of the series Out of the Best Books, by Bruce B. Clark and Robert K. Thomas. I plan to work my way through it slowly - a poem or short story a day. Today I read "The Celestial Omnibus" by E.M. Forster. In the discussion section of this story the author said:

"Some people pride themselves in the books they own.... But one never owns a book by buying it. One buys merely paper and thread and printer's ink. The only way to own a book is to read it and let it digest into the blood of one's heart and the marrow of one's bones or even the cells of one's brain." (p 40, 1970 paperback edition)

Do you agree?

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Bronze Bow


by Elizabeth George Speare

summary from bn.com:
Daniel bar Jamin is fired by only one passion: to avenge his father's death by crucifixion by driving the Roman legions from his land of Israel. He joins an outlaw band and leads a dangerous life of spying, plotting, and impatiently waiting to seek revenge. Headstrong Daniel is devoid of tenderness and forgiveness, heading down a destructive path toward disaster until he hears the lessons taught by Jesus of Nazareth.

I read this book because it won a Newbery. I try to read one Newbery winner per month rotating between books that I think look interesting and books that I don' t think look interesting. I didn't think I would like The Bronze Bow, among other things, I thought it was really weird that this wasn't a "religious book" yet featured Jesus Christ as a prominent character. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I did in fact like it.

Daniel hates the Romans, and even though he's about 18, he can hardly control himself when he is near a soldier. Always spitting, and various other things to make sure they realize his distaste. A few times his actions even get him into trouble, and it was kind of frustrating to me how often he was willing to put himself and others in danger because of his hatred. However, watching Daniel grow up and realize that Rosh isn't all the he's cracked up to be and maybe some of the teachings that Jesus of Nazareth promotes makes sense.

I really liked the supporting characters. Daniel's sister, Leah, really interested me. In the book they think she is possessed by demons. I suspect today she would be diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress or something - she never really recovers from witnessing her father's crucifixion. Watching her come out of her shell is fabulous, and I couldn't help hating Daniel when he yelled at her.

I wouldn't classify this book as religious. There are several scenes with Christ - most of his words are taken from the New Testament - but it's not a book that is trying to convert you. It's just a fabulous story of forgiveness and love. It turned out to be a great read for the Christmas season.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Boy Who Dared


by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

This book is a fictionalized account of a true story told through a series of flashbacks. The "present" day is October 1942 and Helmuth is 17 years old. The flashbacks start years earlier when Helmuth was about three and sees a soldier on the street. Through the flashbacks we see first a young boy who supports Hitler and the Nazi regime, question the regime, to finally fights the regime.

I didn't really know anything about this book when I picked it up, but I found it so interesting that I read it in an afternoon. What an amazing kid. Beginning at 16 he did what he thought was necessary to bring an end to Hitler, and hopefully the war. I can't claim anything as significant for my 16th year of life.

I didn't love the format of this story. For some reason the flashback format seemed to take away from it a bit (most people seem to have liked it though). However, as I got more and more into the story, I found that I simply rushed through the present day scenes, which are quite short, in order to get back to the story and see what was going to happen. I was pretty sure what was going to happen, but I wanted so badly for it to be different.

My favorite part of the book is the lengthy author's note at the end, where Bartoletti is able to include more details about Helmuth and his friends and family. The pictures of Helmuth at the age he was arrested blew me away.

Very enjoyable read. Highly recommended.
picture taken from Maw Books

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Candy Shop War


by Brandon Mull

Nate isn't too excited about his move to a new town, but he quickly befriends Summer, Trevor, and Pigeon and becomes a part of their treasure hunting club. On the first day of school they meet Mrs. White, who owns a new candy shop in town and she introduces them to her special line of candy - moon rocks, which allows you to float like you're on the moon, sweet tooths, which allows you to manipulate people with your voice, etc. In order to keep getting the special candy, the kids are soon recovering old artifacts for Mrs. White in more and more dangerous situations. Is all really as it seems? Is helping Mrs. White really helping the villain?

I really wanted to like this book. The premise was really interesting, and I enjoyed Mull's first book, Fablehaven. However, I just couldn't really get in to the story. The characters all felt a little flat. While the kids had fun together, I didn't really understand why they were friends.

Also, in order to get away with breaking in to a museum, etc Mrs. White had the kids drug their parents (and most of the town) with white fudge. For some reason that made me super uncomfortable. I realize that for most fantasy stories to work, the parents have to be out of the picture (it seems like they are usually dead, but kidnapped or deadbeat works too) but somehow drugging the whole town just seemed wrong.

There were some enjoyable scenes though. My favorite is when a substitute comes in to Nate's class and writes on the board "Do not take candy from strangers" and then explains why that is important. For whatever reason, it totally cracked me up, although in trying to explain it the scene sounds totally lame.

3 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Last Lecture


by Randy Pausch and Jeffrey Zaslow

from amazon.com:

A lot of professors give talks titled "The Last Lecture." Professors are asked to consider their demise and to ruminate on what matters most to them. And while they speak, audiences can't help but mull the same question: What wisdom would we impart to the world if we knew it was our last chance? If we had to vanish tomorrow, what would we want as our legacy? When Randy Pausch, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon, was asked to give such a lecture, he didn't have to imagine it as his last, since he had recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer. But the lecture he gave--"Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams"--wasn't about dying. It was about the importance of overcoming obstacles, of enabling the dreams of others, of seizing every moment (because "time is all you have...and you may find one day that you have less than you think"). It was a summation of everything Randy had come to believe. It was about living.

I kind of picked up this book on a whim. I was having a hard time navigating my new library - it's under construction and the signs that tell you where the books are were not accurate - so I was just kind of wandering around. I saw the book (which has a real cool cover) and vaguely remembered hearing that the author had died. It's a short book, so I decided to give it a try.

I'm not really sure how one reviews a book of this sort. Going in, I was afraid it would be over the top and cheesy. I didn't find it that way at all. His stories were mostly feel good stories with a moral attached at the end. Randy was able to do some really cool things in his life. Some of the stories/morals I agreed with completely, others less so (I can't imagine always carrying around $200!), but I didn't feel like I was being preached at or that I am bad for not agreeing with everything.

This book is a feel good read. The context of the story is quite sad - he's a dad leaving behind very young children - but he really does seem to be taking it all in stride. "We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand."

An enjoyable, quick read.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Inkdeath


by Cornelia Funke

Summary (as found on the Barnes and Noble website):

The Adderhead--his immortality bound in a book by Meggie's father, Mo--has ordered his henchmen to plunder the villages. The peasants' only defense is a band of outlaws led by the Bluejay--Mo's fictitious double, whose identity he has reluctantly adopted. But the Book of Immortality is unraveling, and the Adderhead again fears the White Women of Death. To bring the renegade Bluejay back to repair the book, the Adderhead kidnaps all the children in the kingdom, dooming them to slavery in his silver mines unless Mo surrenders. First Dustfinger, now Mo: Can anyone save this cursed story?

Oh how I longed for this book to come out. I loved Inkheart with all of my heart the first time I read it and still enjoy it very much today. I purchased Inkspell the day it came out and read it immediately. I didn't love it. I really liked the idea behind it, but just couldn't really adjust to the story, and I hated the ending. As for this one? I'm not really sure. I put off reading it for over a month after I bought it (rare for me - I don't buy many books) mostly because I was afraid I wouldn't like it. When I finally delved in, the story took me in. I read it in a couple of days. I enjoyed it quite a bit more than Inkspell, possibly because my expectations weren't as high going in as they were for that book.

As a story on it's own, I think I enjoyed it quite a bit. There is a lot of action and suspense, and I really wasn't sure how it would all come together in the end.

However, for characters that I have come to love, I felt a bit torn. I really loved the character of Mo in the first book. He's a fabulous father and he became one of my favorite characters. I love imagining him reading words to life. He is very different in this book. I wanted to hate him because of it, but I found that I could like the Bluejay as well, just not in the same way. The same is true for formely brave and daring Meggie. In this book she just kind of sits around waiting for someone else to fix it (and pining over two boys). She never takes the initiative to do something on her own.

Also, this book is definately more of a young adult book - more so than the previous two - there was a decent amount of swearing (not a ton, but more than I remember in the previous books) and there quite a bit of dark magic and feel about the book. Not necessarily a complaint, but something that was different this time around.

I can finally understand why Inkspell was originally called Inkblood, though it took until almost the last chapter of this book to figure it out. I wonder if the word was changed in the German edition?

Anyway. I am mostly rambling, so I will try to wrap this up. I'm still not 100% sure how I feel about the book, but I think it is a good conclusion to the story as it began in Inkspell. Inkheart is by far my favorite in the series and will remain so.

One of my favorite bookish quotes:
"'You read too much!' Balbulus was always saying, but what was she to do? Without words she would die, she'd simply die..." (p 287)

probably around 3.5 out of 5 stars

Monday, December 1, 2008

November Book List

Early Reader
Lost Treasure of the Emerald Eye, by Geronimo Stilton
The Curse of the Cheese Pyramid, by Geronimo Stilton

Middle Reader
Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians, by Brandon Sanderson
Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine (audio book) (re-read)
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules, by Jeffy Kinney *
The Ballet Shoes, by Noel Streatfeild (audio book)
Erec Rex: The Monsters of Otherness, by Kaza Kingsley

Young Adult

The Shadow in the North, by Phillip Pullman
The Blue Sword, by Robin McKinley
The Tiger in the Well, by Phillip Pullman *
Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow, by Jessica Day George *
Kiki Strike: The Empress's Tomb, by Kirsten Miller *
Voices, by Ursula K. Le Guin

Graphic Novel
Robot Dreams, by Sara Varon

* = Favorite

Not too much reviewing done this month. We are more or less moved now (at least all in one place!), so hopefully reviewing will pick back up.

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Ballet Shoes


by Noel Streatfeild
read by Elizabeth Sastre

GUM (or Great Uncle Mathew) is an eclectic collector of fossils; however, from his three most recent journeys he has brought home baby girls. First, Pauline who has found in a shipwreck. Then Petrova, found orphaned in Russia. And, finally Posey whose mother named her and gave her ballet shoes before giving her to GUM to take care of. After collecting Posey, GUM sets off on an adventure, promising to come back in 5 years, but after the 5 years have passed and he hasn't returned the girls (along with their guardian "Garny") take money matters into their own hands. Each using their own special talents: Pauline = activing, Petrova = mechanical devices, and Posey = dancing to provide for the family.

I listened to this book while I was packing, and for the most part really enjoyed it. It reminded me quite a bit of The Little Princess, where there are three more or less perfect little girls who face hard circumstances, and come out on top. In the beginning it bothered me that everything seemed to work out so perfectly: like the boarders each having special abilities to help further the girls' lives, but when I relaxed and listened to the story for fun, it really was just enjoyable.

I loved that the girls made an oath to make a name for themselves because it was their own and no one could say it was because of their grandfather. I can totally see myself doing something similar (though I did have a family, so I couldn't use the grandfather bit) when I was younger and making bold goals.

I haven't been able to really reconcile the ending. It really bothered me that Pauline and Posey made such definate plans without even thinking about Petrova. I know that it worked out ok for Petrova, but it kind of seemed out of character for the girls. They had always done what they could for each other and this time they just kind of ignored what the other might want and went for it themselves.

Based off the tapes, I think this book would make a great read aloud, and I would recommend this book for younger girls (early elementary school or earlier), especially those who love dancing.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Sally Lockhart Trilogy

By Philip Pullman

I've read the His Dark Materials trilogy by Pullman, and while I enjoyed them on the whole, I kind of felt they were a bit preachy. Especially by the end. Because of this, I've never really looked into any of his other books, then I read this review by Fyrefly, and my library just purchased all three books in the trilogy, so I decided to give the trilogy a try.

The Ruby in the Smoke is the first book in the series where we are introduced to 16 year old Sally, whose father has just passed away and who has received a cryptic note about his death. When she tries to find out more about her father's dealings her life is threatened. Eventually, she teams up with a budding photographer, Fredrick, and an errand boy who used to work for her father, Jim (my favorite character in the series), and attempts to find out who the Seven Sisters are and what exactly happened on the ship that sunk, killing her father.

I enjoyed this book from the start. I found Sally's character a bit hard to accept, this was Victorian England afterall. But, she really was written in a believable way, and she reminds me a lot of Mary Russell, another female detective that won't stand for the bounds set by males in her society. The ending was not exactly what I had expected, but it worked, and I enjoyed it. I did kind of wish that the reader had been given enough information to really solve the crime for themselves, but it was a fun read.

4 out of 5 stars

There will be some SPOILERS to the previous book in the summary paragraph of the next two books. The review bit (the second paragraph) shouldn't contain any spoilers though.

The Shadow in the North, is the next book and is set several years (maybe 6 or 7?) after the first. Sally is running a successful investment firm when she is approached by one of her clients who has lost her money due to some bad advice from Sally. Sally decides to look into what caused the collapse of the company and soon finds her livelyhood threatened. Meanwhile, Fredrick, who has given up photography to be a full-time detective, and Jim are trying to help a magician (whose name I can't remember!) who is on the run from some thugs because he saw in a vision that the leader of the thugs killed a man. These two stories end up getting weaved together, and Fred and Sally team up to save her reputation and the life of the (cowardly) stage magician.

This book is a bit longer, and I found a bit harder to get through. Not painful, but it just wasn't as interesting. The tension between Fred and Sally got REALLY old. I have no idea why she was being such a twit, but I guess it helped keep the story moving (or something). Like the last one, the reader really isn't given all the clues that they need in order to solve the crime themselves, but I felt like I had an idea of how it would come together and that was nice. Oh, and I pretty much hated the ending. Start pretty huge SPOILER: Fredrick's death just seemed like a ploy, and her insuing pregnancy bothered me. It just seemed unneccessary. End pretty huge SPOILER.

3.5 out of 5 stars

The Tiger in the Well, is the final book in the trilogy. It is set about two and a half years after the second and Sally is living happily with her daughter, Harriet. One day out of the blue, she is served with papers demanding a divorce from her "husband" and full custody of Harriet. Sally knows she's never been married, but due to her incompetant lawyer (who thinks it's all Sally's fault for getting pregnant outside of marriage) she loses the court case and goes underground to figure out exactly who is out to ruin her life.

Definatley the best in the series. It is also the longest. I had figured out who the bad guy was very early on, and it was a little frustrating that Sally seemed so clueless. However, once she "admits to herself" who is really after her and the climax begins it was really fun watching how everything came together. I also really liked the side story that Sally is told about the tiger in the well. I missed the presense of Fredrick and Jim in this one (Goldman didn't do much for me), and I was happy when Jim showed up at the very end to help save the day.

4 out of 5 stars

Overall, I would highly recommend this series to mystery readers, especially fans of Laurie King's Mary Russell series.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Geronimo Stilton

When I was in Italy, I was able to spend a couple of days with my cousin. She's quite a bit younger than me, and her primary language is Italian (which I don't speak). She does speak a bit of English, and told me all about her favorite book character, Geronimo Stilton. Apparently, he is all the rage for elementary school-aged kids in Italy. I told her that I didn't think he was in the States, but he sounded pretty interesting. While in a book store in Venice, I snapped the picture to the left of Geronimo and his most recent book (please don't mind the poor quality - photography is not one of my talents!).

That's where the story ends.

Except, while browsing new books at the library, I found a couple Geronimo Stilton books. Apparently he is in the States! So, I got the first two to see what he was all about.

Geronimo is a rather sophisticated mouse who runs a newspaper in New Mouse City, the capital of Mouse Island. His other great love is adventuring and writing down his "fa-mouse-ly funny, whisker-licking-good tales" for our enjoyment.

In the first book, Lost Treasure of the Emerald Eye, Geronimo, his sister Thea, annoying cousin Trap, and nephew Benjamin go in search of the Emerald Eye. They sail towards Treasure Island, but their ship goes down in a hurricane. Will they make it the island and find the treasure?

In the second book, The Curse of the Cheese Pyramid, Geronimo's grandfather sends him to Egypt where a professor has found a new source of energy. Unfortunately, grandfather has cut costs and Geronimo has to fly on DC (Dirt Cheap) airlines. The airplane looks like it's going to fall apart, will Geronimo even make it to Egypt?

One of the interesting things about this series is that the writing (as in the actual words on the page) is ... well, different. Specific words are emphasized using different fonts/colors/sizes, etc. I thought it was kind of fun, and I suspect that most kids would enjoy it too, though as a kid I think it would have been a major turnoff (I like order and sameness).
Photo of pages 56 and 57 of Lost Treasure of Emerald Eye. Text, ect belong to Geronimo Stilton
crummy photo belongs to KT - you should be able to click on it to make it a bit bigger

The back cover says the books are about a third grade reading level. I suspect that most elementary school will enjoy this adventurous mouse!

PS. I'm moving (again (sigh)), so reading (and therefore posting) will be sporadic throughout the rest of the month.

PSS. This is my 100th post. Yay me!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians

by Brandon Sanderson

from the book jacket:

"Alcatraz Smedry doesn't seem destined for anything but disaster. But on his thirteenth birthday, he receives a bag of sand, and his life takes a bizarre turn. This is no ordinary bag of sand ... and it is quickly stolen by the cult of evil Librarians who are taking over the world by spreading misinformation and suppressing truth. ... Alcatraz must stop them!...by infiltrating the local library, armed with nothing but eyeglasses and a talent for klutziness."

This is a silly book, and I think you have to be in the right mood to enjoy it. I didn't enjoy the first couple chapters at all, so I took a couple day break from it, and I read the rest of the book in one afternoon, finding it hilarious (for the most part). Alcatraz talks to the reader a lot, and he makes fun of pretty much everything (Newbery winners, Michael Crichton, Harry Potter, etc), but the story itself is pretty clever. I think it might even be too clever at times, and I found myself saying "come on! enough with this side commentary!" more than a few times.

I loved that all of the main "good guy" characters were named after famous prisons, or as is explained to Alcatraz, famous prisons were named after the "good guy" characters. I never caught on the the bad guy's being named after mountains. Apparently I don't know enough mountain names. Also, the use of "talents" was pretty creative. I wish my talent for cooking disasters actually led to something good (sigh).

The second book, Alcatraz vs. the Scrivener's Bones, was recently released and I look forward to getting my hands on a copy.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, November 1, 2008

October Book List

Middle Reader
The Shadow World, by Jane Johnson
Dragon Rider, by Cornelia Funke (audio book) (Re-read) *
The Devil's Arithmetic, by Jane Yolen
Erec Rex: The Dragon's Eye, by Kaza Kingsley *
Diary of a Wimpy Kid, by Jeff Kinney *
Peter Pan, by JM Barrie (audio book) (Re-read) *
The Tale of Despereaux, by Kate DiCamillo (audio book) (Re-read) *
Judy Moody is in a Mood, not a Good Mood, a Bad Mood, by Megan McDonald (audio book) (Re-read) *
Savvy, by Ingrid Law

Young Adult
The Dragon Heir, by Cinda Williams Chima
The Hero and the Crown, by Robin McKinley *
The City of Ember, by Jeanne Duprau *
The People of Sparks, by Jeanne Duprau
The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm, by Nancy Farmer
Beauty
, by Robin McKinley *
The Underneath, by
Kathi Appelt
The Prophet of Yonwood, by Jeanne Duprau
The Ruby in the Smoke, by Philip Pullman *

* = a favorite

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Underneath


by Kathi Appelt

When a calico cat is abandoned in the woods, she wanders until she stumbles across a broken-old home where an old hound is tied to a chain. Together, the hound and the calico, raise two kittens in the area underneath the house, where the hound's horrible owner will not find them. Laced within this story, is the story of Grandmother an ancient snake who was buried in a pot over 1000 years ago and is longing for the day of her freedom and revenge; and Gar Face, a man so severely beaten by his father that he is deformed, who is trying to capture a gigantic crocodile.

I suspect this is a story that you will like more than I. Remember when I talked about not really liking animals as main characters? This book is a perfect example. The book is well written, the animals only talk to themselves (not to people, which I hate), and the story is fairly intriguing, but it just didn't really do anything for me.

I did however enjoy watching the two different types of characters: those that let their anger/hatred control them and those that didn't. It talks about the dangers of anger:

"Anger and hatred, wound together, have only one recourse. Poison. Poison filled Grandmother's mouth, her cotton mouth...Grandmother vowed revenge, a vengeance so bitter it glazed her skin and sharpened her terrible fangs." (p 103)

The story however, is broken up into 1-3 page chapters that kind of bounce around, both between characters and in time. I had a difficult time following the time line because it really wasn't linear. It is also fairly repetitive. Grandmother says the same things over and over, and the story itself repeats a lot of the same things. I can see the reason behind the repetition, but it got pretty old by the end of the story.

There is some fairly horrendous animal abuse (and talk of animal abuse) in this book. It's not necessarily graphic, but it's definately there.

Overall, I thought the story was ok. Most people seem to have liked it more than me though, so don't necessarily take my word for it.

3 out of 5 stars

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Books of Ember

by Jeanne DuPrau

The City of Ember

Lina wants nothing more than to be a messenger. She thinks being allowed to run all over the city all day is a dream come true. Unfortunately, on her assignment day, she's assigned to the Pipeworks, where she will be forced to work everyday underground. Lucky for her, her friend Doon drew messenger and offers to make a switch. Lina thinks that life is pretty grand, but things are not all well in Ember. Food supplies seem to be running low, and the power keeps flickering off, sending the city into total darkness. When her grandmother remembers something that was lost, Lina finds a torn up piece of paper. Will it help save the City?

My husband and I are reading this series together (yay!), and we both really enjoyed this first installment. Husband loved the city and trying to figure out its secrets. I enjoyed the characters quite a bit. I love that Lina is a strong girl character without having to be obnoxious. Her friendship with Doon was fun, and I was so happy when she finally found someone to help her with her paper. Being the first in the series the book doesn't end fabulous. No one is in immanent danger, but I wasn't ready for the story to be over.

4 out of 5 stars

There will be some smallish spoilers to the previous book in the review of The People of Sparks. I just don't know else to do it...Sorry. I don't think The Prophet of Yonwood review has any spoilers.

The People of Sparks

The next book starts right where The City of Ember leaves off. The people of Ember are able to make the daring escape and after days of wandering, stumble across the village of Sparks. Sparks hesitantly accepts the people from Ember (concerned about their large numbers), and the people from the 2 villages try to learn to get along.

Husband had a harder time with this book. He found the people's interactions frustrating (though he realized they were totally realistic). I also think he missed the secret underground world. It took him longer to finish this one, which is a sign he didn't like it as much.

However, I really enjoyed this one. I thought it was an interesting social commentary. While I figured out a lot of what was happening (Tick was particularly easy to figure out), I enjoyed seeing how the characters were able to solve the problems. Doon and Lina grow up quite a bit in the book, and its interesting to watch their reactions to the troubles between the people of Ember and the people of Sparks. I didn't think this book had the same charm that the first did, but I enjoyed it none the less.

3.5 out of 4 stars

The Prophet of Yonwood

The third book in the series is actually more of a prequel. It takes place about 50 years before Ember and features Nikki and Grover growing up in a time of uncertainty. Grover lives in Yonwood while Nicki is visiting and they both try to deal with the consequences of a so-called prophet in the town. The prophet had a vision and kind of loses her mind only mumbling short phrases like "no dogs" or "no lights" that another member of the town takes to be commandments from God. In order to "save" the town, she tries to force everyone to live by these concepts and punishes those that don't.

Husband hasn't read this one yet. He's kind of mad it's not more Lina and Doon.

I didn't like this one nearly as much as the first two. The story is interesting. It feels a lot like a story that could be taking place today with all the uncertainties about everything, though I am pretty sure it is supposed to be sometime in the future. I liked Nicki's struggle with trying to do what was right. I think it's fairly realistic, even if most kids struggle under different circumstances. I guess I was hoping for more Lina and Doon as well. I believe the fourth (and final!) book features them again. I can't wait for my library to get it in.

3 out of 5 stars

Monday, October 27, 2008

My Most Favorite Books: The Tale of Despereaux

by Kate DiCamillo

Despereaux is the youngest, and his family believes that he will die at birth because he is so small, has such large ears, and was born with his eyes open. Obviously there is something wrong with him. His French mother, with a flare for the dramatic, names him Despereaux for the despair in her heart. Despereaux lives and is anything but a normal mouse. For one thing, he doesn't like scurrying to and fro. He also would rather read a book than eat it. And, he falls in love with a human princess, a crime that gets him sent to the dungeons where no mouse has ever returned from alive.

First a side note. I don't really like books where animals are the main character. For whatever reason, it is a complete turn off to me. I also don't like books that talk to the author ("you dear reader..."). I am a strict rule-abider and my 6th or 7th grade English teacher said you should never ever use the word "you" in a paper. Apparently it really sunk in because it really turns me off from books.

With that being said, I loved The Tale of Despereaux. I read it because it won the Newbery award, and after I got over the initial talking to the reader, I couldn't get enough of it. It's one of those books that my husband knows as well as I do because I had to stop and tell him everything, reading him my favorite passages.

Despereaux has such an amazing spirit about him. Even though everyone is constantly putting him down, he continues to do what he thinks is right - listening to music, reading stories, and rescuing princesses. I love that he promises to serve and honor the princess. He just made me smile.

I also love the symbolism of the darkness and the light. How even the evil rats can feel the goodness that comes from the light. I'll end with one of my favorite quotes:

"Stories are light. Light is precious in a world so dark." (p81 of the hardcover edition)

5 out of 5 stars. Highly recommended.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Erec Rex: The Dragon's Eye


by Kaza Kingsley

Erec's family is kind of...diverse. He lives with his foster mother and five siblings that all have some sort of special need. Erec himself has a glass eye, and occasionally, Erec will get "feelings" that force him to do something. So far, the feelings have always ended up doing something positive, but Erec has to follow through with whatever he is "told" to do and fears the day he is forced to do something horrible. When he wakes up one morning to a babysitter in the house, Erec gets a feeling that he needs to find his mother. So, after sneaking out of the house, Erec eventually finds himself transported to another world, where he is entered into a contest to help find their next kings/queens (there will be three total).

I really enjoyed Erec Rex. It kind of sounded like a wannabe Harry Potter, but I thought Erec stood its own. There are some similarities, but I think they are more related to fantasy than to Harry Potter (orphan who discovers another hidden world, etc) Erec is an interesting character with a lot of backstory that I am looking forward to finding out. He is strong and able to figure a lot of things out on his own, but he is also flawed. There are several scenes where he nearly loses his life because of major mistakes that he makes.

I didn't find the surrounding cast quite as strong. His mother is still very much a mystery. I am hoping that in the next book we will learn more about her and her secrets, though I suspect it won't happen for a few more books. I believe there are to be 8 books total in the series. His friend Bethany was also kind of a question for me. Hopefully we learn more about her as the series progresses as well.

I also really enjoyed all the references to Greek/Roman/Celtic mythology. I caught quite a few as I was reading and later I read an interview by the author where she told of several more. I love books that successfully refer to myths, fables, etc without it taking from the story.

** small SPOILER**


The author also said that Erec is kind of a Hercules (or Herakles as the Greek's spelled it) character, and the next books will be about Erec grappling the 12 tasks required to become a king. Kind of cool sounding.

**End SPOILER**

I look forward to the sequel Erec Rex: The Monsters of Otherness.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Friday, October 17, 2008

Peter Pan


by J.M. Barrie

Read by Jim Dale

Everyone knows the story of Peter, so I don't think I need to do a summary. How's that for lazy?

I love this story. It's quite different from the Disney movie; in fact, I think it's not necessarily appropriate for all children. Most children won't recognize some of the things that bother me (like the fairy orgy reference), but they will likely recognize the swearing (Tink uses a few inappropriate words) and violence. Michael compare's his father to a pirate that he killed and was sad to see how much smaller his father was. Lots of death and no remorse. However,we don't actually see the violence (just the bragging after), and I really do find it a fun story. I'll probably wait to share it with slightly older kids though.

I have read Peter Pan before. If I re-read a book, it's often in audio format (I don't have the attention span to listen to new books...)

I was surprised as I listened how often Hermione Granger (of Harry Potter) kept popping in my head. I like Hermione and all, but it just didn't make sense. Finally it occurred to me that it was Hermione's voice that I was thinking of, and I realized that Jim Dale (who also does that audio books for all 7 Harry Potter's) used the same voice for Wendy and Hermione. After that realization, I enjoyed listening to the story and tried to not worry when I realized how much Hook sounded like Snape and Mr. Smee sounded like Wormtail. It was kind of funny.

With that little aside. This reading was really well done. Jim Dale is delightful to listen to; he does an excellent job of having distinct voices for all the characters.

4 out of 5 for the story
and 5 out of 5 for the audio

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Diary of a Wimpy Kid


by Jeff Kinney

In Diary of a Wimpy Kid, we meet Greg Heffley who is using the book as a journal (not diary like the dumb cover says) because his mom wants him to. Not because he wants to share his feelings or anything. Greg records his thoughts on the first year of middle school (grade isn't identified, but I would assume 6th grade) and the ups and downs it provides.

Told through simple writing and illustrations, this story is quite funny. I even found myself actually laughing out loud a couple of times. The jokes are clever and the illustrations are fabulous.

I didn't particularly like Greg. He's kind of a jerk, but he seemed like a real character and I couldn't help wanting to know what would happen next. I even think there is some potential for some growing up and becoming less of a jerk in the other two books in the series.

This book would be fabulous for 5-7th grade boys (and possibly girls) who are reluctant readers.

4 out of 5 stars

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Last Apprentice: Attack of the Fiend


by Joseph DeLaney

(I read the version published in England, but other than a few terms, I don't think the story is any different)

Attack of the Fiend begins shortly after Night of the Soul Stealer ends. The Spook has decided to take Tom and Alice to Pendle in an effort to rid the area of the covens of witches that reside there. As the Spook explains it "Often the witches bicker and argue but when they do agree and meet together with a common purpose, their strength is greatly increased...You see that's right at the heart of the threat we face - that the witch clans may unite" (p 17). The trio teams up with the Spook's friend, a priest called Father Stocks, in an effort to rid the area once and for all of the witch families that live there. Their plans are thrown off when Tom's family becomes involved and it becomes a race against time to prevent the witch clans from uniting and summoning the Fiend (aka the devil) himself.

I enjoyed this story quite a bit better than the last one in this series. It felt like the story was progressing, and while Tom was still making some of the same dumb mistakes (ie leaving without telling the Spook what he was up to), he used a lot more thought and has grown a lot as a character. It was interesting reading his concerns about how he has changed since becoming the Spook's apprentice and whether those changes have all been for the best.

We also meet Tom's brother James in this story, and it was sure nice to have a nice brother around for a change. Jack may have been trying to look out for his family or whatever, but he sure treats Tom poorly, though that comes back to bite him in this tale as well.

I don't really feel like I can talk a lot more about the story without giving spoilers, so I will leave it at that. But, I really enjoyed this one, and I look forward to reading the fifth one, Wrath of the Bloodeye, soon!

4 out of 5 stars

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Dragon Heir


by Cinda Williams Chima

Warning: There are a few spoilers to The Wizard Heir in the summary of the book (ie the first paragraph). Sorry!

Starting off a few weeks after the events of Second Sister, things are not good in the Weir community. No one knows what happened to the covenant and it looks like a wizard war may be brewing. Meanwhile, Jason Haley is stuck in Trinity with nothing to do. He's not a powerful enough wizard to lead (like Seph), and he doesn't have the strength of a warrior (like Jack and Ellen), so he's feeling left out and is just itching to do something for the cause. He ends up sneaking off to Raven's Ghyll where he finds a hoard of treasure, which he is able to steal and bring back to the sanctuary in hopes that something will help make the difference for the "good" guys. One of the things that Jason steals is the dragonheart, a powerful yet mysterious stone that might just be what the "good" guys were looking for. As the battle comes to a head, will Jason, Seph, Jack and crew learn how to control the dragonheart? Do a ragtag bunch of teenagers actually have a chance between hundreds of powerful wizards?

Not my best summary ever. Sorry. I had a really hard time coming up with a description of this book...

I've come to the conclusion that I don't like books that focus on too many characters. Books don't necessarily need to be in first person, but they can't jump from perspective to perspective. It drives me crazy! I think that was my biggest problem with this book. First we follow Jason, then Maddie, then Jason, then throw in some Jack, Jessamine Longbranch, Bryce Roper, Warren Barber, Leesha, etc and it was too much for me. I had a hard time remembering what was happening to who when we last left them, and I just didn't enjoy it as much as the first two which focused primarily on one character.

There were other problems with this book as well. It felt like the entire book was a building to the climax, but then the climax wasn't that exciting. We built, and built, and built, and then it all kind of resolved itself. I will admit that the way the wizards were taken care of surprised me, and I actually really liked it, but it was over in just more than a page. It just didn't live up to the epic battle scene I felt we had been groomed for.

Also, where the heck were Linda and Hastings? What were they thinking? I don't understand how the two of them, who are supposed to be so bright, etc had NO idea of what was happening in Trinity and left it all up to a bunch of teenagers. It didn't fit their characters at all, especially Linda's - she seemed to always be involved with everything the first two books.

There were aspects of this book that I liked as well. I loved learning a bit more about Maddie, and Nick's backstory was really interesting. It would be fun to have a prequel written from his perspective because there is so much more to him than initially meets the eye. And the ending with the Dragonheart was interesting and not what I had been expecting - I like when that happens.

On the whole, it was an ok story. It seemed to drag quite a bit (due to all the building), but it does more or less wrap up the story that began with The Warrior Heir which I appreciated.

3 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

September Book List

Middle Reader
Sounder, by William H. Armstrong

Young Adult
Saving Zoe, by Alyson Noel
Gilda Joyce, Psychic Investigator, by Jennifer Allison
Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City, by Kirsten Miller *
Fly by Night, by Frances Hardinge
Deeper, by
Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams
The Spook's Battle, by Joseph DeLaney (published as The Last Apprentice: Attack of the Fiend in the US) *

Adult
The Pelican Brief, by John Grisham

* = a favorite

I was out of town most of this month, so not too much reading done. I do feel special reading Deeper though because it's not yet available in the States :)

Monday, September 22, 2008

Fly By Night


by Frances Hardinge

Mosca Mye has a pretty hard life. Her parents are dead; while alive her father was a radical; her uncle mistreats her; and (worst of all) in a world where it is forbidden, she can read. She doesn't really have much hope until one day when a stranger shows up in town. This stranger can spin words unlike nothing Mosca has ever seen and she decides to set him free (he's been arrested) and set off to work with him. Once they've escaped they become involved in a fairly complex plot which includes spying, animal fights, an illegal printing press, and possibly the fate of a nation.

I'm not really sure how I feel about this book. I debated writing a review at all. I enjoyed the language/writing of the story - it's beautiful - and I enjoyed the heart of the story. However, the story gets really bogged down with all of the political talk. I love politics both in real life and books. I think it's fascinating watching how one little thing over here can have huge consequences over there, but in this story I just couldn't follow what was happening. I felt like I had too little and too much info at the same time. Too little info for what was being given to me, yet the information I was given was almost overwhelming and bogged down the story a lot.

I also thought it was strange that one of the main themes of this book was against the suppression of facts, specifically through banning books and making it illegal (or something) to read that so many of the characters could read. Other than the people in Mosca's uncle's village, I think every character we met could read. If this is the case, why was Mosca ostracized for this "rare" ability?

Like I said above. When I wasn't bogged down trying to figure out what on earth was actually happening, I enjoyed the story. Mosca had a lot of spunk, and though I disagreed with most of her actions, I thought she was a fun character to follow. I also loved (loved, loved) her pet goose Saracen. He's hilarious. He doesn't talk, and really isn't a prominent character, but when he is doing his part, he does it well.

I'll end with a couple of my favorite bookish quotes from this story filled with them:

"Everybody knew that books were dangerous. Read the wrong book, it was said, and the words crawled around your brain on black legs and drove you mad, wicked mad." (p 15)

"Words were dangerous when loosed. They were more powerful than cannon and more unpredictable than storms. They could turn men's heads inside out and wrap their destinies. They could pick up kingdoms and shake them until they rattled. And this was a good thing, a wonderful thing. . ." (p 479-480)

probably 3 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Kiki Strike, Inside the Shadow City


by Kirsten Miller

For the first 12 years of Ananka Fishbein's life, she lived a rather dull existence, though she didn't really realize it at the time. That boring life changes one morning when she wakes up to see a portion of the park outside of her window has sunken into the ground and a creature of some sort appear from the hole only to hop right back in. Ananka ends up checking out the hole and discovering an entrance to a secret city, known as the Shadow City. Later, Ananka meets tiny Kiki Strike, a strange elfish-type girl with white hair. Together with some rogue girl scouts, Kiki and Ananka attempt to map the underground world and find that even good plans can't account for everything...

What a fun book! If I had been willing to try it when I was younger (I pretty much stuck to the series I knew and loved), I think I would have loved it. The beginning is a bit slow; there's lots of introductions and you chase Kiki around trying to figure out who she is, but once the action really starts it's there pretty much until the end. I loved that throughout the book you never really knew who to trust and what their motives were. The rogue girl scouts had awesome skills, such as: forgery, explosives, mechanical genius (for bugs, tracking devices, etc) and a master of disguise. Though I didn't necessarily like the characters of the scouts all that much (especially Luz - I found her more than a bit obnoxious), they were a fun group to follow.

My favorite part of this book is the tips Ananka gives girls who would like to become "dangerous." Some of my favorite tips include:

How to Prepare for Adventure
...
7 Chewing Gum Fresh breath should be a priority for everyone. However, gum also comes in handy if you want to jam a cars ignition or stick notes in secret places. (p 85-86)

How to Tell a Lie
...
4. Make it Sound Embarrassing Few people will doubt a story if it sounds like something you'd rather not admit... (p 175)

How to Spot a Fake Diamond
...
3 See Through Imposters Write the word fake in tiny letters on a piece of paper. Place your "diamond" facedown on top of the word. If you're able to read through the stone, odds are you've found your answer. (p 341-342)

Lots of good information to keep in the back of your mind.

4 out of 5 stars

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Reading & Blogging for Darfur


I kind of briefly mentioned this before, but I thought I would dedicate a post to it.

Natasha over at Maw Books is hosting a huge contest in the hopes of raising both funds and awareness for the people of Darfur. She includes links and videos with information about what is happening over there.

It looks like there will be some great prizes, including some signed books by various authors, and it's pretty easy to enter. You can read all about it here.

I encourage you all to at least check it out!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Gilda Joyce, Psychic Investigator

by Jennifer Allison

Gilda is a girl with many talents and interests. After her father dies of cancer, Gilda decides to become a psychic so she can have one last conversation with him. One of her other great loves (after reading Harriet the Spy) is investigating others. Oh, and she's a budding novelist as well. Gilda's best friend is headed to band camp for the entire summer, and Gilda isn't particularly interested in sticking around the house by herself, so she manages to get herself invited to her mother's cousin's house in San Francisco. After she arrives, Gilda is thrilled to learn the house might be haunted, and sets out to meet a ghost and possibly solve a mystery.

When I tried explaining this book to my husband, he said "oh, like Psych," which is one of the few television shows we actually watch on a regular basis (or at least did when we had cable). And, the description does make it sound like Psych, but it isn't really anything at all like Psych. Gilda wants to be psychic and is jealous of people who can actually see ghosts, etc. She even has a manual that she uses to train herself to be psychic. Gilda is also a very poor investigator. Her methods are more along the lines of follow a wild idea until you can go no further and start over, than look for clues and come up with theories from there. Her cousin even mentions something along those lines, though I can't seem to find the quote.

Don't get me wrong, I actually enjoyed this story quite a bit. Gilda is hilarious, though she can be a bit over the top and somewhat rude from time to time. She seems like some sort of cross between an outspoken 9 or 10 year old and a mature teenager. Both sides shine through at various parts of the story.

My favorite part of the book is when Gilda is writing something. Whether it's a letter to her father, a proposed novel, or a suggestion to the obituary writer, her writing is fabulous. I also love her descriptions of her disguises - they are totally outrageous, and I wish I could see her in any of them.

And, just as an aside: there is some pretty strong language, which I felt was kind of out of character for Gilda, and quite a bit of talk of suicide (though I wouldn't say that it is glorified or anything) in this book.

3.5 out of 5 stars. I will definately be looking for the sequel Gilda Joyce and the Ladies of the Lake at my library.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

My Most Favorite Books: The Book Thief

by Markus Zusak

Liesel Meminger was nine years old when she stole her first book. She couldn't even read, but after watching her brother be buried, she simply felt the urge to take the book. Soon, her kind-hearted foster father, Hans, is teaching her to read, and she is stealing books from whenever they need saving. Including from a Nazi book-burning. Set during WWII, Liesel is a non-Jewish German living in Germany.

I found this book before I knew about the wonderful world of book blogs. The word thief is in the title, which means I was automatically drawn to it, and there is something about the cover that continued to draw me in. It still took months for me to find the book, but I finally got it for my birthday last year.

I have to admit that I was slightly turned off to it when I first started reading it. The language is very artsy feeling and it took me a while to adjust to it. Once I adjusted, I loved the lists and random facts that the narrator threw in. There is something very appealing about how sparse and yet fulfilling the language is. For example, in the very first chapter, the narrator explains what the story is about:

"It's just a small story really, about, among other things:
* A girl
* Some words
* An accordionist
* Some fanatical Germans
* A Jewish fist fighter
* And quite a lot of thievery"

Quite random sounding, and yet all of those things are important to the overall story.

I also loved the characters. From Liesel, who I rooted for, to her grouchy (yet, loving) foster mother Rosa. I thought her best friend Rudy's goal to be just like Jesse Owens (and the oft mentioned "Jesse Owen's Incident") was fabulous. Simply put, I just couldn't get enough of this book.

The inside book flap says "Markus Zusak....has crafted an unforgettable novel about the ability of books to feed the soul." and I agree with that assessment 100%.

5 out of 5 stars. Highly recommended

Thursday, September 4, 2008

They like me...

...they really like me. Or at least one person does.

Susan, from Bloggin' 'bout Books, awarded me with the Brilliante Weblog Award. It's my first award, and I am pretty excited about it. Especially since Susan's blog is one of my favorite book blogs.

Here are the rules for the award (as copied and pasted from Susan's site):

Recipients are supposed to give the award to 5 of their favorite blogs - as far as I can tell, they can be any kind of blogs. Leave a comment on the blog letting the author know they have received the award and encourage* them to pass it on.

Here are five of my favorite blogs, though not in any order:

Maw Books
- Natasha reviews a pretty wide range of books, and I've found that I agree with her most of the time. She also has a gigantic contest happening right now in an attempt to help raise money and awareness for the people of Darfur; you can read more about it here.

ChainReader - Chain Reader also reads a pretty wide range of books. She tends to read a lot more classics that I do (she's so brave), and I love reading her reviews; she's particularly good at 4 word reviews. Oh, and she thinks Cornelia Funke might be becoming one of her favorite authors, which shows her good taste in books :)

Good Clean Reads - Kim not only reviews books, but she rates their content for sex, violence and profanity. Even though I don't necessarily agree with all of her ratings, it's nice going in to a book with an idea of how much sex and profanity to expect (for some reason violence doesn't turn me off to the same extent as the other two - possibly because I really don't read many books with real violence).

And, to add a little variety to my book blogging life:

A Year of Crockpotting - This is one of my favorite cooking blogs. Stephanie's goal for the year is to use her crockpot for one meal/treat/something everyday. We've tried several of the recipes to varying degrees of success (I loved the baked potatoes). Today's recipe for a Brownie in Mug sounds fabulous.

Everyday Food Storage - I found this one after my kind-hearted father gave me six #10 cans of wheat for my birthday. We don't own a wheat grinder, so I was searching for recipes that would help make the wheat more useful than a space occupier. There are lots of great tips for various food storage stuffs, including two for wheat that don't use a grinder.

*I don't really like forwards, and I feel like the rule requiring the award to be passed on makes it kind of like a forward, so if any of the winners don't want to pass it on, it won't hurt my feelings.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

August Book List

Picture Books
The Seven Silly Eaters, by Mary Ann Hoberman
How I Became a Pirate, by
Melinda Long and David Shannon *
Chicky, Chicky, Chook, Chook, by Cathy MacLennan
Do Like Duck Does!, by Judy Hindley
Beetle Bop, by Denise Fleming
Toot and Puddle, by Holly Hobbie *
Where Did Bunny Go?, by Nancy Tafuri
Orange Pear Apple Bear, by Emily Gravett *

Early Readers

Judy Moody Goes to College, by Megan McDonald *


Middle Readers

Lunch Money, by Andrew Clements (audio book)
Ida B...and her Plans to Maximize Fun, Avoid Disaster and (Possibly) Save the World, by Katherine Hannigan
Yellow Star, by Jennifer Roy
Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, by Judy Bloom (audio book) (re-read) *
Horns and Wrinkles, by Joseph Helgerson

Young Adult

Zel, by Donna Jo Napoli
The Patron Saint of Butterflies, by Cecilia Galante *
Julie of the Wolves, by Jean Craighead George
The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch, by Joseph DeLaney
The Last Apprentice: The Curse of the Bane, by Joseph DeLaney
The Magic Thief, by Sarah Prineas *
The Last Apprentice: Night of the Soul Stealer, by Joseph DeLaney
House of Many Ways, by Diana Wynne Jones
The Time Paradox, by Eoin Colfer

Graphic Novel
Artemis Fowl, by Eoin Colfer, Andrew Donkin, and Giovanni Rigano

Non-Fiction

The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food, by Jennifer 8 Lee

* = a favorite

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Magic Thief

by Sarah Prineas

Conn is a simple street thief looking for his next meal (it hadn't been a good thieving day), when he spots an older man walking down a dark alley. Conn snatches a stone from the man and heads off in the other direction. Unfortunately, the man, a wizard called Nevery, catches Conn and is able to save him before the stone kills him. Turns out, Conn has stolen Nevery's locus magicalicus, which is a focus stone that allows a wizard to perform magic. Typically, if someone touches a locus magicalicus that isn't their own, they die. For some reason, Conn doesn't die, and that is enough for Nevery to take a special interest in him. Conn is taken on as Nevery's apprentice and together they must figure out why their town is losing its magic. Without magic, the town will fall into a never-ending winter and for all intents and purposes, die.

Do you remember my post about thieves a while back? The fact that title of this book contains the word thief is pretty much the reason I bought this book. I had some birthday money burning a hole in my pocket, so I went to Borders. While wandering around, I found a book that I knew I wanted (Wizard Heir, which I had already read but didn't yet own) and still had a bit of money left over. When I saw the shiney cover and the title of The Magic Thief, I decided to go for it.

I am so glad I did! This book is a fun light-hearted fantasy and a fairly quick read. For the most part Conn is a delightful character. He is bright, resourceful, and never gave up - even when everyone quit believing in him. It did seem like things came to him a bit too easy (instantly learning to read, remembering complex spells, etc), which was only kind of explained by the magic wanting him to save it (or something, I didn't really understand that bit). It was never fully explained; however, there is supposed to be a sequel out next year, so hopefully we'll learn more about Conn and his impressive gifts then.

Nevery was also a bit odd. I actually liked him - I found him kind of brooding and mysterious. My husband hated how he never believed in Conn. Husband actually went so far as to say that he though Nevery wasn't necessary. I think he was definately necessary, but I do hope we will also learn more about him in the future as well.

We both recommend this first book in a new trilogy (or maybe more).

4 out of 5 stars

Saturday, August 23, 2008

"I need fiction. I'm an addict. This is not a figure of speech."
~ Francis Spufford, The Child that Books Built

I couldn't actually get through the rest of the book - to dry and slow for my tastes - but I thought that quote was fabulous and so very true.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Last Apprentice Series

My husband and I started a new series together this month: The Last Apprentice by Joseph DeLaney. To be honest the covers of these books are quite dark looking - I found the first one kind of creepy - so I have always avoided them. But my husband was fascinated by them, so we checked out the first book from the library for him. He loved it, asked me to read it, and we have now read the first three in the series.

This series is aimed at people ages 10 and up, which is probably about right. However, these books are quite a bit darker and a bit scarier than most other young fantasy out there right now. So, if you have a timid reader, it might not be a bad idea to wait on this one for a few years or at least pre-read it first.

Revenge of the Witch is the first book in the series, and in it we meet Thomas Ward, the seventh son of a seventh son who has been apprenticed to the local Spook. A Spook is someone who rids the area of creatures of the dark (ie witches, ghosts, ghasts, etc), and while a necessary part of society are definately not looked fondly on. The Spook, whose real name is John Gregory, is a fairly strict teacher, and Tom is a bit of a coward. But, as time progresses and Tom learns more, they begin to get on rather well. Through a series of events that are pretty much all Tom's fault, a powerful witch is released from captivity. Tom is able to stop her for a time, but the Spook warns him that she will be back and seeking revenge. Will Tom be ready when she comes?

Very enjoyable first book in a series. It starts of pretty fast-paced and continues that way throughout. Other than Tom (who grows enough to decide to stay an apprentice), there isn't a ton of character development, but the characters we do meet are fun and I was anxious to get to know them better. Tom's Mam is of particular interest - there is definately more to her than meets the eye.

Oh, and I hate the cover of this book. To me it looks like the Spook is missing his leg, and he has a rather creepy face. I never would have started this series based on this cover.

4 out of 5 stars
Curse of the Bane starts off shortly after Revenge of the Witch ends. Tom is continuing his work as the Spook's apprentice, and he has even had his first opportunity to trap a boggart by himself. The Spook and Tom head to Priestown, named for the number of priests (who hate Spooks) there, for the Spook's brother's funeral. While there, they need to tackle the Bane, a creature of the dark, that lives in a labyrinth under Priestown. The Bane is bound to the labyrinth, but he has been gaining in power and it is only a matter of time before he escapes, causing a reign of terror.

I liked this book as much as the first, though there was a fairly strong anti-religious sentiment to it. Nothing that would make you stop believing your faith (it's aimed at religion in general), but enough that it is definately there. Both my husband and I commented on it. I would probably read this book with my kid to discuss any questions about the soul and existence after death as they come up, since it's a theme. We also start picking up hints about the Spook's past. He's developing into a rather interesting guy.

4 out of 5 stars
Night of the Soul Stealer is the third book, and is quite a bit larger (length wise) than the first two books. This time there are two competing storylines: Meg, a lamia witch that the Spook is/was in love with, and Morgan a former apprentice that failed to make the Spook's cut. Morgan has since turned to the dark and is able to control spirits; he is trying to awaken Golgoth a former god (for lack of a better term) that controls winter. Tom's father is also very ill.

I don't really want to say much else about this one in an effort to avoid spoilers. We do learn a lot more about the Spook and Tom's Mam in this book, which was by far the best part. Meg's storyline is quite predictable, but it really worked well for the rest of the story. I hated Morgan's storyline though. It was super predictable, and it really didn't seem necessary. Other than helping open up some of the Spook's past, the story itself didn't move forward by this storyline at all.

So far, this is my least favorite in the series. However, it has a feel of a bridge novel. The book in every series that is a bit harder to get through but is necessary to the overall story (maybe like Harry 5). So, we will at least read the next one before giving up all hope :)

3.5 out of 5 stars

There are two other books out in this series: Attack of the Fiend and Wrath of the Bloodeye (which won't actually be released until next week). I could find very little about this series on the web, including the publishers web site; the one source that had any real information was Wikipedia. Typically, I try to avoid taking anything from that site as truth, but it appears that there will be at least 7 books in this series, and we look forward to them all.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Patron Saint of Butterflies


by Cecilia Galante

Honey and Agnes were born within weeks of each other at the religious commune, Mount Blessings, but they couldn't be more different from each other. Honey, an orphan, is constantly trying to rebel from the strict rules that are enforced; whereas, Agnes will do anything in her power, including self mutilation as penance, to become a saint. The commune that they live in has around 260 people in it, and the leaders, Emmanuel (the founder) and Veronica, rule all. When Agnes' grandmother makes a surprise visit to the compound, she discovers a well kept secret and decides to get Honey, Agnes, and Benny (Agnes' little brother) out of there. The results lead Agnes and Honey on a journey to self discovery.

I loved this book. I read it in about a 8 hour block - it would have been in one sitting except my husband wanted to watch a movie with me. It was a touching story of friendship and faith, and it gave (what seemed to be) a realistic view into what life might be like in a sect that is secluded from the world.

The story rotates between Honey and Agnes, and they both have very distinctive personalities. I don't really understand how Honey was able to become as rebellious as she was - she had lived in the secluded world her whole life, but there are a few clues to that. And poor Agnes. I rotated between feeling pity towards her and her brainwashed mind and wanting to strangle her for being so oblivious. Experiencing the "real" world (ie WalMart, McDonalds, etc) through their eyes was kind of an eyeopening experience.

I thought it was interesting that Emmanuel and Veronica, the leaders, were allowed to own TVs and other things of the world that their followers were told only led to temptation. When Honey points out the discrepancy, Agnes waves it off by explaining the leaders are on a higher field away from temptation or something. The discrepancies between the leaders and the followers in religious cults has always interested me - how can someone on the inside not see the problem?

The book did an excellent job of not bashing religion, which is something that could have easily been done given the subject matter.

This book would make a fabulous book club book.

5 out of 5 stars

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Trouble


by Gary Schmidt

Henry Smith is the youngest of three children in the Smith Family. His "...father told him that if you build your house far enough away from Trouble, then Trouble will never find you." (p 1). Unfortunately, Trouble does find the Smith family in the form of Chay Chouan, a Cambodian immigrant, who strikes Henry's older "perfect" brother Franklin with his truck, sending the Smith family into chaos. Conflicted by anger and guilt, Henry sets of with his dog and best friend to climb Mount Katahdin - a hike that Henry had planned to do with Franklin. Along the way Henry finds more Trouble, fear, anger, and eventually the ability to forgive.

I really loved the character of Henry. His conflict and righteous indignation towards Chay were wonderfully developed. I wish his love/hate relationship with Franklin had been addressed a bit more, especially any guilt he may have felt about the hate. It was apparent that there was a lot to both love and hate about his older brother.

I also thought that Chay was an interesting character and the snippets that we saw from his point of view really added to the story.

There's a lot to this book. Themes of forgiveness, racial tension, family, true friends and more run throughout, and it's easy to almost get overwhelmed by everything that is being presented. It is also a fairly slow moving book, so it might be easy for people to give up and quit before getting almost anywhere. It's a book that I definately recommend reading for long stretches at a time, as opposed to a chapter or two every night. I didn't love it as much as The Wednesday Wars by the same author, but I would definately recommend it.

4 out of 5 stars

PS Why do all of Gary Schmidt's books have such unattractive covers? Of the three books that I have read by him, I wouldn't have picked one up based on the cover:


PSS I am getting my wisdom teeth out in about an hour, so will be the last post for a bit. Pain killers tend to knock me out...

Monday, August 11, 2008

A Question...

...that has been bothering me for ages.

At the end of some books, why is there a page with a paragraph similar to this:

This book was edited by Cheryl Klein and designed by Alison Klapthor.

The Text was set in Adobe Jenson Pro, a typeface designed by Robert Slimbach in the 1990s for Adobe, which was adapted from the original book typefaces designed by Nicolas Jenson in the 1470s. The display type was set in P22Michelangelo, designed by Denis Kegler and Richard Kegler at P22 type foundry in association with the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

The book was printed and bound at RR Donnelley in Crawfordsville, Indiana.

The production was supervised by Susan Jeffers Casel, and the manufacturing was supervised by Jaime Capifali.

(Text from the last page of the hardcover edition of A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce)

I am particularly interested in the explanation of the font that was used and its basic history.

Like I said, it's been bothering me for ages (I tend to be fairly obsessive). It's especially bothersome because similar paragraphs are not included in all books, so it must not be a requirement by copyright companies (or something)...

Any ideas?