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! 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
, 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