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
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


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


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.