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


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

* = a favorite