Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Magic Thief

by Sarah Prineas

Conn is a simple street thief looking for his next meal (it hadn't been a good thieving day), when he spots an older man walking down a dark alley. Conn snatches a stone from the man and heads off in the other direction. Unfortunately, the man, a wizard called Nevery, catches Conn and is able to save him before the stone kills him. Turns out, Conn has stolen Nevery's locus magicalicus, which is a focus stone that allows a wizard to perform magic. Typically, if someone touches a locus magicalicus that isn't their own, they die. For some reason, Conn doesn't die, and that is enough for Nevery to take a special interest in him. Conn is taken on as Nevery's apprentice and together they must figure out why their town is losing its magic. Without magic, the town will fall into a never-ending winter and for all intents and purposes, die.

Do you remember my post about thieves a while back? The fact that title of this book contains the word thief is pretty much the reason I bought this book. I had some birthday money burning a hole in my pocket, so I went to Borders. While wandering around, I found a book that I knew I wanted (Wizard Heir, which I had already read but didn't yet own) and still had a bit of money left over. When I saw the shiney cover and the title of The Magic Thief, I decided to go for it.

I am so glad I did! This book is a fun light-hearted fantasy and a fairly quick read. For the most part Conn is a delightful character. He is bright, resourceful, and never gave up - even when everyone quit believing in him. It did seem like things came to him a bit too easy (instantly learning to read, remembering complex spells, etc), which was only kind of explained by the magic wanting him to save it (or something, I didn't really understand that bit). It was never fully explained; however, there is supposed to be a sequel out next year, so hopefully we'll learn more about Conn and his impressive gifts then.

Nevery was also a bit odd. I actually liked him - I found him kind of brooding and mysterious. My husband hated how he never believed in Conn. Husband actually went so far as to say that he though Nevery wasn't necessary. I think he was definately necessary, but I do hope we will also learn more about him in the future as well.

We both recommend this first book in a new trilogy (or maybe more).

4 out of 5 stars

Saturday, August 23, 2008

"I need fiction. I'm an addict. This is not a figure of speech."
~ Francis Spufford, The Child that Books Built

I couldn't actually get through the rest of the book - to dry and slow for my tastes - but I thought that quote was fabulous and so very true.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Last Apprentice Series

My husband and I started a new series together this month: The Last Apprentice by Joseph DeLaney. To be honest the covers of these books are quite dark looking - I found the first one kind of creepy - so I have always avoided them. But my husband was fascinated by them, so we checked out the first book from the library for him. He loved it, asked me to read it, and we have now read the first three in the series.

This series is aimed at people ages 10 and up, which is probably about right. However, these books are quite a bit darker and a bit scarier than most other young fantasy out there right now. So, if you have a timid reader, it might not be a bad idea to wait on this one for a few years or at least pre-read it first.

Revenge of the Witch is the first book in the series, and in it we meet Thomas Ward, the seventh son of a seventh son who has been apprenticed to the local Spook. A Spook is someone who rids the area of creatures of the dark (ie witches, ghosts, ghasts, etc), and while a necessary part of society are definately not looked fondly on. The Spook, whose real name is John Gregory, is a fairly strict teacher, and Tom is a bit of a coward. But, as time progresses and Tom learns more, they begin to get on rather well. Through a series of events that are pretty much all Tom's fault, a powerful witch is released from captivity. Tom is able to stop her for a time, but the Spook warns him that she will be back and seeking revenge. Will Tom be ready when she comes?

Very enjoyable first book in a series. It starts of pretty fast-paced and continues that way throughout. Other than Tom (who grows enough to decide to stay an apprentice), there isn't a ton of character development, but the characters we do meet are fun and I was anxious to get to know them better. Tom's Mam is of particular interest - there is definately more to her than meets the eye.

Oh, and I hate the cover of this book. To me it looks like the Spook is missing his leg, and he has a rather creepy face. I never would have started this series based on this cover.

4 out of 5 stars
Curse of the Bane starts off shortly after Revenge of the Witch ends. Tom is continuing his work as the Spook's apprentice, and he has even had his first opportunity to trap a boggart by himself. The Spook and Tom head to Priestown, named for the number of priests (who hate Spooks) there, for the Spook's brother's funeral. While there, they need to tackle the Bane, a creature of the dark, that lives in a labyrinth under Priestown. The Bane is bound to the labyrinth, but he has been gaining in power and it is only a matter of time before he escapes, causing a reign of terror.

I liked this book as much as the first, though there was a fairly strong anti-religious sentiment to it. Nothing that would make you stop believing your faith (it's aimed at religion in general), but enough that it is definately there. Both my husband and I commented on it. I would probably read this book with my kid to discuss any questions about the soul and existence after death as they come up, since it's a theme. We also start picking up hints about the Spook's past. He's developing into a rather interesting guy.

4 out of 5 stars
Night of the Soul Stealer is the third book, and is quite a bit larger (length wise) than the first two books. This time there are two competing storylines: Meg, a lamia witch that the Spook is/was in love with, and Morgan a former apprentice that failed to make the Spook's cut. Morgan has since turned to the dark and is able to control spirits; he is trying to awaken Golgoth a former god (for lack of a better term) that controls winter. Tom's father is also very ill.

I don't really want to say much else about this one in an effort to avoid spoilers. We do learn a lot more about the Spook and Tom's Mam in this book, which was by far the best part. Meg's storyline is quite predictable, but it really worked well for the rest of the story. I hated Morgan's storyline though. It was super predictable, and it really didn't seem necessary. Other than helping open up some of the Spook's past, the story itself didn't move forward by this storyline at all.

So far, this is my least favorite in the series. However, it has a feel of a bridge novel. The book in every series that is a bit harder to get through but is necessary to the overall story (maybe like Harry 5). So, we will at least read the next one before giving up all hope :)

3.5 out of 5 stars

There are two other books out in this series: Attack of the Fiend and Wrath of the Bloodeye (which won't actually be released until next week). I could find very little about this series on the web, including the publishers web site; the one source that had any real information was Wikipedia. Typically, I try to avoid taking anything from that site as truth, but it appears that there will be at least 7 books in this series, and we look forward to them all.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Patron Saint of Butterflies

by Cecilia Galante

Honey and Agnes were born within weeks of each other at the religious commune, Mount Blessings, but they couldn't be more different from each other. Honey, an orphan, is constantly trying to rebel from the strict rules that are enforced; whereas, Agnes will do anything in her power, including self mutilation as penance, to become a saint. The commune that they live in has around 260 people in it, and the leaders, Emmanuel (the founder) and Veronica, rule all. When Agnes' grandmother makes a surprise visit to the compound, she discovers a well kept secret and decides to get Honey, Agnes, and Benny (Agnes' little brother) out of there. The results lead Agnes and Honey on a journey to self discovery.

I loved this book. I read it in about a 8 hour block - it would have been in one sitting except my husband wanted to watch a movie with me. It was a touching story of friendship and faith, and it gave (what seemed to be) a realistic view into what life might be like in a sect that is secluded from the world.

The story rotates between Honey and Agnes, and they both have very distinctive personalities. I don't really understand how Honey was able to become as rebellious as she was - she had lived in the secluded world her whole life, but there are a few clues to that. And poor Agnes. I rotated between feeling pity towards her and her brainwashed mind and wanting to strangle her for being so oblivious. Experiencing the "real" world (ie WalMart, McDonalds, etc) through their eyes was kind of an eyeopening experience.

I thought it was interesting that Emmanuel and Veronica, the leaders, were allowed to own TVs and other things of the world that their followers were told only led to temptation. When Honey points out the discrepancy, Agnes waves it off by explaining the leaders are on a higher field away from temptation or something. The discrepancies between the leaders and the followers in religious cults has always interested me - how can someone on the inside not see the problem?

The book did an excellent job of not bashing religion, which is something that could have easily been done given the subject matter.

This book would make a fabulous book club book.

5 out of 5 stars

Thursday, August 14, 2008


by Gary Schmidt

Henry Smith is the youngest of three children in the Smith Family. His "...father told him that if you build your house far enough away from Trouble, then Trouble will never find you." (p 1). Unfortunately, Trouble does find the Smith family in the form of Chay Chouan, a Cambodian immigrant, who strikes Henry's older "perfect" brother Franklin with his truck, sending the Smith family into chaos. Conflicted by anger and guilt, Henry sets of with his dog and best friend to climb Mount Katahdin - a hike that Henry had planned to do with Franklin. Along the way Henry finds more Trouble, fear, anger, and eventually the ability to forgive.

I really loved the character of Henry. His conflict and righteous indignation towards Chay were wonderfully developed. I wish his love/hate relationship with Franklin had been addressed a bit more, especially any guilt he may have felt about the hate. It was apparent that there was a lot to both love and hate about his older brother.

I also thought that Chay was an interesting character and the snippets that we saw from his point of view really added to the story.

There's a lot to this book. Themes of forgiveness, racial tension, family, true friends and more run throughout, and it's easy to almost get overwhelmed by everything that is being presented. It is also a fairly slow moving book, so it might be easy for people to give up and quit before getting almost anywhere. It's a book that I definately recommend reading for long stretches at a time, as opposed to a chapter or two every night. I didn't love it as much as The Wednesday Wars by the same author, but I would definately recommend it.

4 out of 5 stars

PS Why do all of Gary Schmidt's books have such unattractive covers? Of the three books that I have read by him, I wouldn't have picked one up based on the cover:

PSS I am getting my wisdom teeth out in about an hour, so will be the last post for a bit. Pain killers tend to knock me out...

Monday, August 11, 2008

A Question...

...that has been bothering me for ages.

At the end of some books, why is there a page with a paragraph similar to this:

This book was edited by Cheryl Klein and designed by Alison Klapthor.

The Text was set in Adobe Jenson Pro, a typeface designed by Robert Slimbach in the 1990s for Adobe, which was adapted from the original book typefaces designed by Nicolas Jenson in the 1470s. The display type was set in P22Michelangelo, designed by Denis Kegler and Richard Kegler at P22 type foundry in association with the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

The book was printed and bound at RR Donnelley in Crawfordsville, Indiana.

The production was supervised by Susan Jeffers Casel, and the manufacturing was supervised by Jaime Capifali.

(Text from the last page of the hardcover edition of A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce)

I am particularly interested in the explanation of the font that was used and its basic history.

Like I said, it's been bothering me for ages (I tend to be fairly obsessive). It's especially bothersome because similar paragraphs are not included in all books, so it must not be a requirement by copyright companies (or something)...

Any ideas?

Friday, August 8, 2008

The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food

by Jennifer 8 Lee

(the 8 stands for prosperity in Chinese)

In 2005, an unusually large of people got 5 out of 6 numbers from the Powerball drawing correct. The one thing tying many of these people together is the fact that they had chosen their numbers based off a numbers found in a fortune cookie. Lee, a reporter, decided to follow the trail of the fortune cookies by visiting the winners, the restaurants they ate at, and eventually where the fortune cookies were made. Along the way she tells the story of chop suey (100% American), General Tso's Chicken (mostly American), the history of fortune cookies, and various other random facts about American-Chinese food. Lee also spends several years visiting many states and something like 23 countries trying to find the best Chinese restaurant in the world (outside of China).

Overall, this book had a lot of interesting useless information. Not useless in a bad way, but in a "I don't know that I will ever need to know this" kind of way. The P.F. in P.F. Chang's stands for Paul Fleming while the Chang is a variant of Chiang the names of the co-founders of the restaurant. The Kosher Duck Scandal of 1989 was interesting, though I am not sure I would have called it a scandal - more like a problem that might have been covered up - or something. Basically in Orthodox Jewish communities there are people that actually monitor what is served in kosher restaurants to make sure they remain kosher. When, during a shortage of kosher ducks, a Chinese restaurant continues selling duck based meals, an alarm is sounded. Nothing really gets anywhere though - the restaurant is cleared and the "whistle blower" is sent packing.

I thought the information about fortune cookies was the most interesting. If the book had been an essay just with her information about the history of the fortune cookie, I think I would have enjoyed it a lot more. I did figure out the connection between the Chinese and the Japanese Interment camps (as relating to the fortune cookie, not to the interment) way before her big "ah ha!" moment near the end. I've also been craving a fortune cookie since reading the book...

My biggest complaint about this book was its length. There was way more information than was ever needed. Several stories I read and wondered why they were included - like the family that moved from NY to Georgia and opened a Chinese restaurant and the hardships they faced. Other than showing how difficult it is to own/run a family restaurant, I don't know what I was supposed to gain from the story, and it certainly didn't add to the book as a whole. At nearly 300 hundred pages, I suspect the book would have been better overall if maybe a third or so had been cut out in the editorial process. It just kind of dragged.

The interesting facts were interesting, but getting there took a lot of work sometimes. If you are really into Chinese food/general immigration trends for people from China, give it a shot. Otherwise, I am not sure it's completely worth the effort.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Books as Gifts

I almost always give books as gifts to anyone younger than 12. Anyone older than 12 is still likely to get a book, if I can find something I think they will like, but it is not a guarantee they will get one. My little brother hates this concept. He's nearly 14 years younger than me, so I had more or less developed this philosophy by the time he was old enough to actually want gifts for Christmas/birthdays. One year he even told me that it would be "Ok" if I didn't always give him a book.

When I met my oldest nephew for the first time, he was around 4 months old. I brought him a touch and feel book about diggers (like tractors, etc), thinking that he would like it when he was older. I handed the book to his folks and his mom said "Oh, that's great. I've been meaning to buy him a book." This was his first book. Ever. I couldn't believe it. I realize at 4 months he wasn't really interested in books either listening or reading, but I still can't believe it. Now he always gets at least one book for Christmas (his birthday is Christmas Eve, so I tend to vary up the gifts between the two).

Here are some of my favorite books to give as gifts:

Moo, Baa, La La La, by Sandra Boynton
Blue Shirt, Green Shirt, by Sandra Boynton
Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown

1-2 year olds
Pajama Time, by Sandra Boynton
Oh My Oh My Oh Dinosaurs!, by Sandra Boynton
Gallop!, by Rufus Butler Seder
Kitten's First Full Moon, by Kevin Henkes (how I wish this was a board book!)

3-4 year olds
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
, by Judith Viorst
Fancy Nancy, by Jane O'Connor (I'm not really a fan of the sequels)
Corduroy, by Don Freeman
Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak
Curious George, by H.A. Rey

As more kids are added to the mix, and as my nephews (and someday niece) get older, I'm having a harder time coming up with new ideas. Any suggestions?

What are some of your favorite books to give?

Saturday, August 2, 2008

My Most Favorite Books: Moo Baa La La La

by Sandra Boynton

This silly board book takes you through several animals and what they say. The very first page is a picture of a cow, and reads "A cow says moo." and each subsequent page lists animals and their sounds. The best part (and most fun to read aloud) is the line "And 3 little pigs say la la la!" Later, we are informed that pigs actually say "oink all day and night."

I don't really know how to review this book because there really isn't a lot to review. The pictures are very simple and the text is short and to the point. Perfect for babies, which is why it is one of my favorite books to give at baby showers (the other is Blue Shirt, Green Shirt also by Sandra Boynton - she's one of my favorite picture book authors).

I did read a funny review on Amazon that said something like she wished Sandra Boynton hadn't said that pigs say "la la la" because now her son is at the play ground playing with pigs and he always says "la la la" while the other kids say "oink" or snort, and all the mothers look at her funny. I have no idea how this could be true (it is clarified that pigs say oink afterall), but I think it's hilarious!

I highly recommend this book for all new mothers (and their children).

* Laura H - I know you want me to do The Book Thief, and I will. soon. hopefully. I am waiting for a friend to return my copy first!

Friday, August 1, 2008

July Book List

Picture Books
Henry's Freedom Box, by Ellen Levine and Kadir Nelson
The Biggest Frog in Australia, by Susan L. Roth
When Grandma Came, by Jill Paton Walsh and Sophy Williams
Daddy, by Susan Paradis *
What Daddies do Best and What Mommies do Best, by Laura Numeroff
Saint George and the Dragon, by Margaret Hodges and Trina Schart Hyman

Middle Readers

Someone Named Eva, by Joan M. Wolf *
The Thief Lord, by Cornelia Funke
(audio book) (re-read) *
The Buddha's Diamonds,
by Carolyn Marsden and Thay Phap Niem

Young Adult
Me, the Missing and the Dead, by Jenny Valentine
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, by E. Lockhart *
Princess Ben, by Catherine Murdock *
A Curse Dark as Gold, by Elizabeth C. Bunce
The House of Scorpion, by Nancy Farmer
The Midwife's Apprentice, by Karen Cushman (audio book)
The Case of the Left Handed Lady, by Nancy Springer *
Wildwood Dancing, by Juliet Marillier
Genius Squad, by Catherine Jinks
Ever, by Gail Carson Levine
Sweethearts, by Sara Zarr
Trouble, by Gary Schmidt *

Adult Books
Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley (audio book)
Home, by Julie Andrews

* = a favorite

Wow. I read a lot of books this month, though I didn't review that many. There are actually a review for a few of these in the works, but there's no way I will get to them all. Oh well. Maybe next month...