Wednesday, February 27, 2008

River Secrets

by Shannon Hale

River Secrets is Shannon Hale's third Bayern book, following The Goose Girl and Enna Burning. This time we follow Razo as he travels to Tira with a group of Bayern's Own and an ambassader from Bayern in an attempt to prevent further war between the nations. Razo is followed by self-doubt - he is the smallest member of Bayern's Own and "the Own's worst swordsman" - as he tries to find his way in this strange country.

I really liked this book. It might even be my favorite Shannon Hale book, and to think I almost didn't read it. Like I reviewed previously, I wasn't a huge fan of Enna Burning. I thought it was quite dark compared to Hale's other works. River brings everything back to where it should be - a fun, light-hearted, page turner.

I loved Razo's character development in this book. He struggled with realistic self-doubt throughout, but gained confidence as time went on. It helped that his friends and leader were also subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) encouraging him along the way. The scene near the end where he realized he has grown was priceless. I also really liked how difficult it was for Enna to recover from the war. It made sense that she would feel guilty and doubt her abilities. The scene near the end where she is able to control her power was wonderful. I was so excited and happy for her. I also found Dasha a delightful and clever character, and thought his Radiance was fabulous. I would love to know someone like him in real life.

The mystery of who was setting up the Bayern was fun. I did figure it out (barely) before Razo (me being an armchair sleuth and all), but it had me guessing for most of the book. The other side stories were also enjoyable. **SPOILER ** My favorite being Finn's learning of a harp to propose to Enna. I actually had a roommate proposed to in the same manner. The fellow's voice was probably just as bad or worse than Finn's. My other roommate and I almost died trying not to laugh, while the girl being proposed to cried throughout. Oh true love. **END SPOILER**

Overall, highly recommended! Oh, and I suggest you read all the Bayern books, but especially Enna in order to really grasp what's happening in this one.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


by Neil Gaiman

Stardust is the story of Tristan, who ventures beyond the wall in an attempt to win his true love. It just so happens that the other side of the wall isn't England anymore - it's a whole new world called Faerie which is full of magic and mythical creatures. It has everything a good story has: a good dose of pretend, action, adventure, and a bit of romance thrown in for good measure.

This is definitely an adult story. There are some adult situations and language. Not a lot of either, but enough that I wouldn't be comfortable sharing with my youngish teenage sisters.

Other than the few scenes that made me squirm, I really enjoyed the story. The use of magic and pretend throughout is enjoyable, and the characters are fun. Mr. Gaiman is definitely creative.

Now it's time for a confession. I actually liked the movie adaptation better than the book. For one, it was cleaner. I didn't blush once. There is something hinted at, but you don't see or hear anything that made me uncomfortable. Besides that, I thought the flow of the movie was better than the book. I missed the hairy little man (did he ever get a name?) in the movie, but enjoyed how much more time (at least that we saw) that Tristan and Yvaine spent on the flying ship. The dance and fencing lessons were fun, and it was enjoyable to watch their feelings for each other change. I didn't necessarily appreciate the fact that the pirate in the movie was a "whoopsie," but I found it more funny than uncomfortable.

I didn't like how the witches were dealt with in the movie. The fight scene was a bit long, and kind of silly. I liked that in the book Yvaine's heart had already been given away, so she was of no use to the witch anyway. It made it a bit less violent, but was still a believable resolution.

Overall, Stardust is a fun story with some adult situations. The movie is a great story minus the uncomfortable situations. I enjoyed both.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Castle in the Air

By Diana Wynne Jones

Castle in the Air follows Abdullah, a young carpet merchant, in his attempt to rescue the girl of his dreams, Flower-in-the-Night. Abdullah must deal with good and bad Djinn, a magic carpet, a grouchy thief/soldier, and two cats.
I picked this book up because it is dubbed the sequel to Howl's Moving Castle, a book that I thoroughly enjoyed. I am not really sure that sequel is a fair name because it doesn't really feature any of the characters from the Howl's; Howl and Sophie eventually show up, but it's not until the last third of the book or so. Also, the story takes place somewhere in the middle east as opposed to England, so while it's technically in the same world, it doesn't feel like it.

While I enjoyed the story overall, I had a really hard time getting into it. I found Abdullah kind of annoying, and I didn't really care for his adventure much. I guess I had gone into it expecting something and got something else instead.

By the end of the story (once Howl and crew showed up), I could see how the stories are similar and have some of the same elements of fantasy and fun. I loved that the good genie enjoyed being bad so much; I was pleased that the Wizard Suliman and Lettie were married; and I was happy that Howl and Sophie still fight all the time :).

Overall, the book was mostly just ok. If you enjoyed Howl's Moving Castle you might enjoy this one with the understanding that the characters in the first play a minor role (until the very end) in the second. People that like stories like Aladdin, etc will probably also like this story.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Some Picture Books

I don't really know how to review pictures books. Most pictures books don't have a sophisticated plot (which is how it should be), so I can't really talk about that, and I have absolutely no artistic ability. I know what I like, but I can't even really tell you why. So, I am not really sure how to talk about them. However, I have read some really fun picture books lately, so I am going to give it a shot. Here are a few picture books that I have really enjoyed lately:

The Man Who Walked Between the Towers
by Mordicai Gerstein

This book tells the incredible true story of Philippe Petit's tightrope walk between the two towers of the World Trade Center in 1974. The story is amazing and told in very few words. The author does a good job of letting the pictures and the words work together. I also really enjoyed the pictures. I really felt like I was able to get a grasp of the sheer height of the towers from several of the expandable pictures. It was pretty incredible. Overall, I enjoyed the story thoroughly and highly recommend it.

Pretty much any book by David Wiesner. The two covers featured here, Sector 7 and The Three Pigs, are probably my favorite of his books, but I have enjoyed all of the books by him that I have read. I love his smooth artwork. I know that as a kid I would have liked the pictures because they are realistic, which was my thing.

Sector 7 is a wordless book. I wasn't sure if I would like a wordless book because I have little imagination, but I really enjoyed it. I thought it was easy to tell what the story was, and it was kind of fun listening to different interpretations of the same pictures.

The Three Pigs starts off like a traditional Three Little Pigs story, but there is a twist that is quite delightful. I don't really want to give it away because it was really fun to discover it for myself, but don't be fooled by the initial simple storyline!

Tuesday is another wordless book. Well, there are a few words, but it is basically wordless. My husband really enjoyed this one and calls it "the frog book." I enjoyed the pictures a lot, especially how each individual frog seemed to have a personality - like the frog that waves to the guy in the kitchen. It was just cute and funny.

Kitten's First Full Moon
by Kevin Henkes

This is a very simple story about a silly little kitten who thinks the moon is a bowl of milk. The pictures are also very simple black and white pictures depicting what the kitten is doing/thinking. I loved the pictures, and the expression that the kitten has when she falls in the water cracks me up. The story is simple (and short!) enough that I think really young kids will be willing to listen to it. I read it to a group of two year olds the other day and they thought it was hilarious and acted various things out (like wiping their mouth when she licks the bug). It was an enjoyable read for us all.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Hugo Cabret

By Brian Selznick

Hugo Cabret is an orphan secretly living in a Paris train station where he makes sure all of the clocks run properly. Hugo has a secret that he needs to complete in order to “find” himself, but in order to do so, he must steal to get the items necessary. He is eventually caught steeling, but with the help of Isabelle and her godfather Georges, Hugo is able to complete the machine (his secret) and help uncover Georges secret as well.

Hugo recently won the Caldecott medal and might seem a bit intimidating because of its size – over 500 pages. The book is totally worth it, and the medal is well deserved. A good chunk of the story is told through pictures, which keeps the story moving right along. The text is very easy to read, and I found the story simply fascinating; it captured my imagination.

I loved the pictures in this book. I am not sure as a kid I would have liked them; they are all pencil drawings, and I was more a fan of the smooth Disney style pictures. However, the pictures are amazing and I think the pencil drawings add to the story. Disney style, smooth pictures would not have worked as well. My 11 year old brother really liked the pictures – so this might not be an issue for most kids; I didn’t have much taste or imagination as a kid.

I found the information about automatons fascinating. I had no idea that machines like that existed 100 years ago.

If the thieving is of concern to you, please don’t let it be. Hugo hates that he has to steal and mentions it several times. He also talks about how he only steals when he has to, like when there is no other food for him, or the cogs needed to finish his automaton. If he can, he takes food from the trash instead of from the store.

Overall, I highly recommend this book to kids of all ages. Because of its award winning status, it may be difficult to find at the library, but it’s worth the wait.

** The picture is of Hugo and Isabelle looking over Paris and belongs to Brian Selznick**

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Team of Rivals

By Doris Kearns Goodwin

I read this book back in January, but I thought I would wait to post a review until Lincoln's birthday (which is today!).

Team of Rivals centers around the four men seeking the Republican nomination of 1860: William Henry Seward, the presumed front runner; Salmon Chase; Edward Bates; and Abraham Lincoln, an unkown with little chance. The story continues, addressing all four men (though with a definate emphasis on Lincoln) and their roles in Lincoln's cabinet until Lincoln's assasination.

I loved this book. I found it completely fascinating and very readable. I know a lot of facts about Lincoln like: he ran for and lost a senate seat twice, he participated in what became known as the Lincoln-Douglass Debates, he was the president during the Civil War, he wrote the Emancipation Proclamation, and he was assasinated. All facts people know from middle or high school history. However, I didn't really have the context of any of these events, and this book was able to give context to all of them and many more.

For example, while he did lose two senate races, it was back in the day when the legislature decided who would be the senator's from their respective state, NOT the people directly. As a result, I don't think losing the Senate races were actually as big of a defeat as I was always led to believe during school. There is reason to believe (based on the information in Rivals) that Lincoln could have won a Senate seat by popular election.

Also, did you realize that Jefferson Davis was sworn in as president of the confederacy on February 9, 1861, while Lincoln was sworn in on March 4, 1961? Somehow, I had always thought Lincoln had been president for a while (a year at least) before all the problems with the south errupted. He was thrown right into the thick of things.

Lincoln seemed to be an honest, genuine man that did what he thought was best for the country. I have more respect for him now than I did before reading the book.

The book also had a lot of interesting facts about the other three men. However, since I didn't actually know anything about any of the men, the information about them was not quite as enlightening for me as the information about Lincoln was. I did kind of feel that the author had something against Chase, however, Chase did a bunch of pretty horrible things that I don't think can really be excused away, so I am not sure that I would have handeled my representation of him any different.

I highly recommend this book to history/politics buffs. It's long - over 700 pages - but easy to follow and very intersting.

Thursday, February 7, 2008


By Stephenie Meyer

I finally jumped on the bandwagon and read Twilight, though I didn't exactly do it willingly. It's this month's book club pick, and I made a goal to read all of the picks, so I was kind of forced.

The book focuses on Bella, a junior in high school, who moves to a tiny little town on the Olympic peninsula to live with her father. She eventually (by eventually, I mean almost instantly) meets and falls in love with Edward, who just happens to be a vampire.

I am not a huge fan of romances or vampires, so I was pretty sure that I wouldn't like this book at all. After finishing the book, I can see why it is so insanely popular with the teenage/young adult female crowd. I can also see why some people absolutely hate it. I think I fall somewhere in between. It was an ok story - not fabulous but certainly not the worst thing that I have ever read. I found it very readable. It was in fact oddly addicting - when I would start reading, I tended to read for 100 pages or more without realizing it. The writing wasn't fabulous and lyrical, but it somehow worked. There was one line that I thought was fabulous. Edward and Bella are in the car having a "discussion" about their relationship minutes after Bella confirmed that Edward was in fact a vampire:
"Are you crying?" He sounded appalled. I hadn't realized the moisture in my eyes had brimmed over. I quickly rubbed my hand across my cheek, and sure enough, traitor tears were there, betraying me.
(emphasis on traitor mine) I have found myself thinking the exact thing about tears before.

I found the characters fairly shallow - especially Bella. She was so annoying and whiney and just bah! Especially for the first 1/3 of the book. She never really grew on me, but I can see that there is potential for her to become less annoying. Edward seemed fairly one-dimensional and I thought it was kind of creepy that he used his "powers" (for lack of a better term) to get Bella to do what he wanted. Doesn't that seem like an abusive situation waiting to happen? I also didn't think Charlie was very believable. I understand that this was a man that hadn't lived with anyone and didn't necessarily know how to be a father, but I can't believe that he would be so laid back about everything. Maybe it's because I've always had a very protective father, but I just didn't believe that Charlie could be so...out of it.

The Vampire thing was not as big of a deal as I was afraid of. Edward and family are definitely vampires, but there was no bloodsucking (that we witnessed) and I never felt like it was creepy.

Overall, the book was mostly just ok - it didn't change my life, but I also don't regret reading it. I think I would recommend it to my sisters that love highschool romances. I don't think I will be reading the sequels, though once the series is complete, I might consider it.

Monday, February 4, 2008

January 2008 Book List

Picture Books

The Princess Knight, by Cornelia Funke, illustrated by Kersten Meyer
Read anything good lately? by Susan Allen and Jane Lindaman, illustrated by Vicky Enright
Knuffle Bunny, by Mo Willems
Sector 7, by David Wiesner
Gallop!, by Rufus Seder

Early Readers

Beck Beyond the Sea, a Disney Fairy book
Our Liberty Bell, by Henry Jonas Magaziner and John O'Brien

Middle Readers
Igraine the Brave by Cornelia Funke
Peter and the Secret of Rundoon, by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson

Young Adult
Maniac Magee, by Jerry Spinelli
Enna Burning, by Shannon Hale

The Memory Keeper's Daughter, by Kim Edwards
Team of Rivals, by Doris Kearns Goodwin

I realize it looks like I read a lot of picture books. And, it's true, I did read quite a few this past month, considering I don't have any kids. I am trying to become a bit better rounded in my reading of children's lit, and picture books are a huge part of that genre. Of the picture books listed above, Gallop!, and Sector 7 were my favorite.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Peter and the Secret of Rundoon

by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson

This is the third book in the Starcatchers trilogy, and what a great ending it was. In this trilogy, Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson have recreated the Peter Pan story, his origins, what really happened to Peter's parents, why he can fly, etc. It's creative and funny. I think the entire series would be a fabulous read-aloud to younger children.

DISCLAIMER: If you haven't read the first two books, there might be some spoilers in the rest of this review, though I don't think it gives away any large plot points.

In this last book, we finally meet up with all of the lost boys, retrieve some more starstuff, destroy Lord Ombra, and say goodbye to the Astor's for forever. As with the other two stories, there are several story lines happening at once: Peter being kidnapped by the Others, Lord Astor and Molly attempting to get to Peter before the kidnapping, and the Mollusks being attacked by the evil and dangerous Scorpion tribe.

The Peter/Astor story lines were fun and exciting and I had a difficult time stopping while I was reading them. I actually liked the idea that Peter's parents didn't purposely abandon him, though I didn't think it was ever clear exactly what happened to them (*spoiler: Did they get sent up in the original rocket?? end spoiler*).

The Mollusk storyline didn't settle as well for me. Possibly because I wasn't as familiar and in love with the characters. It was interesting, and I was concerned for their welfare, but it just didn't work as well. Fortunately, this storyline, while important, was not the central storyline and I never felt bogged down by it.

I thought the overall conclusion worked well and set up the story for the "real" Peter Pan story to take place.

Another aspect of the series that I also really like that Tink's original naughty temper was kept throughout the series. Because she has become a favorite character, sometimes her personality is softened in other Peter books. An example of her delightful (aka snotty, rude, etc) personality shining through (Tink is in italics, since only Peter and Lord Astor can understand her):

"We can use the cannon to distract the men in the front, but the rear gate is likely to have guards. If you go in alone..."
Excuse me? chimed Tink
"I won't be alone," said Peter.
"But what about the arrows?" said Molly...
Does she ever stop nagging?
(page 446, hardcover ed.)

I think her personality is captured perfectly, and for some reason I really like her personality.

If you are a JM Barrie purist, you probably won't like the Starcatcher trilogy, but if you like Peter Pan and a good, clean adventure, then I highly recommend all three books in the trilogy.