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.


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) *

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 :)