Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

by John Boyne

This is a book where the less you know going in, the better it will be. So no summary this time...

**There are some minor spoilers in this review**

I didn't really like this book. I wanted to, but I just didn't.

I found Bruno too naive to be believable. I realize that he was young (9) and that the author was attempting to use childlike innocence juxtaposed to the horrors that were the holocaust, but I thought it went too far. How could a nine year old really not recognize that they had moved from Germany to Poland? And, if he really didn't believe that he had left Germany, why would he accept it as soon as someone he didn't really know told him? I know that many Germans had no idea what was happening in the concentration camps during the war, and for the most part, I believe they really didn't know. However, Bruno's father was the commandant of Auschwitz. He lived outside of the most infamous of the camps, and he really had completely NO idea that at the very least the "residents" were treated poorly? That, getting to the other side of the fence would not be some fun play date?

It was interesting looking at the difference between someone inside and outside the fence. The, pretty much unlimited freedom that Bruno had compared to the misery that was Shmuel's life. And the dynamics of the military family seemed quite believable. I just couldn't ever get over Bruno.

I guess I just hoped for more - maybe my expectations were too high. I think I'm the only person that didn't love this one - there are tons of positive reviews out there, so I wouldn't necessarily take my word for it.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Diamond of Darkhold

by Jeanne DuPrau

It’s been several months since Lina and Doon escaped the dying city of Ember and, along with the rest of their people, joined the town of Sparks. Now, struggling through the harsh winter above ground, they find an unusual book. Torn up and missing most of its pages, it alludes to a mysterious device from before the Disaster, which they believe is still in Ember. Together, Lina and Doon must go back underground to retrieve what was lost and bring light to a dark world.

DISCLAIMER This is the fourth book in the series - there is a very good possibility that there will be spoilers from the first three books in this review.

Back in October I read the first three books of this series (you can see the reviews here) and basically came to the conclusion that the first book was the best. I was super excited to see that my library had finally purchased a copy and patiently waited for my turn.

I actually liked this book quite a bit, possibly even a bit better that The People of Sparks. I know that some people complain that it's the first book in reverse, but it made sense to me that someone would want to go back to Ember. There was some food down there, and the original people of Ember had to get down somehow (I think there might have been a discrepancy here though - the journal that Lina found was in the cave with the river. Why would it have been there if they walked down the hill?). Plus everyone left in such a rush that no one really go to say good bye.

I thought a lot of the story came together rather conveniently, but as long as it's told well I don't really mind. It was nice to have Lina and Doon back and to get to know a couple of the other characters a bit better. I wish the character of Torren was better developed though. He seemed like he was important in book 2 and 4 but, he never really came off as anything other than a spoiled brat.

The biggest complaint I had was with the final chapter. It was soo cheesy, and it kind of outlined exactly what we should have "learned" from reading the story. I would rather figure out a meaning for myself (or just enjoy the story without a meaning) than have it shoved down my throat. Even if it's something that I agree with.

On the whole, I thought it was a fitting conclusion to the series and would recommend it to fans.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Charlotte's Web

by E.B. White
audio book read by E.B. White

An affectionate, sometimes bashful pig named Wilbur befriends a spider named Charlotte, who lives in the rafters above his pen. A prancing, playful bloke, Wilbur is devastated when he learns of the destiny that befalls all those of porcine persuasion. Determined to save her friend, Charlotte spins a web that reads "Some Pig," convincing the farmer and surrounding community that Wilbur is no ordinary animal and should be saved. In this story of friendship, hardship, and the passing on into time, E.B. White reminds us to open our eyes to the wonder and miracle often found in the simplest of things.

I grew up without ever reading this book, but I have fond memories of watching the cartoon on my grandmother's bed. It's been years since then, but it seems to me that the movie stuck fairly close to the book. I am actually rather impressed.

I love listening to authors read their own works. I think there is something special about it. And, I thought Mr. White did a really good job. I love his voice, which is a big positive for a narrator of a book :)

Is it terrible to say that I found Wilbur rather annoying? His voice was whiny, and most of what he says is rather obnoxious. However, I really enjoyed his thought processes as it came to Charlotte. Starting with wondering how he can be friends with someone so blood-thirsty, to the eventual love and devotion he has for someone that always treats him so well (and is so patient with him!). I really liked Charlotte, though I can't say I understand why she took such an interest in Wilbur. She is full of wisdom and big words. I thought it was kind of odd that someone how greets people with "salutations!" has a hard time coming up with good descriptive words. That may be a bit nit-picky though. The other barnyard characters (especially Templeton, who was much grumpier in the book) simply add to this rather enjoyable story.

This was a fun, quick read (or listen). I can see myself reading it to any future kids we may end up with.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Has anyone seen the new(er) movie with Dakota Fanning? Is it worth checking out?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Animal Vegetable Miracle: A Year of Food Life

by Barbara Kingsolver

Shortly after their move from Virginia, Kingsolver, her husband and two children decide to live for a year eating things grown in her local area. There are a few exceptions: grains and olive oil as well as a "freebie" each family member gets. Other than that, they will try to grow or buy locally anything they need to survive.

I really enjoyed this book when it was focusing on the memoir portion, the stories of her family trying to adjust to a new lifestyle. I loved the story about Lilly mourning the death of her chicken and comparing her love of the chicken to the love she had for her mother. And, the story about how the only month of the year that anyone in their tiny community locks their doors is August because they are afraid people will dump zucchini on them. Funny, realistic, enjoyable to read stuff.

Unfortunately, a lot of my enjoyment was hampered by what I would consider some fairly heavy handed preaching. Kingsolver states that she's not trying to convert anyone, but I'm not sure what else she could be doing.

I also didn't really like how she acted like anyone, in any walk of life, living anywhere can do what they did. I'm not sure she even really believes it's true since she waited until they lived on a farm in Virginia (as opposed to while they were still in Tucsan, AZ) to begin the project. I believe there are simply areas of the nation that don't grow enough food locally to really survive on (at least as we eat today). Also, even just switching over to free-range/organic animal meat is quite expensive. I looked at our local grocery store and it was twice as much per pound to buy the organic/free range meat. We lived for along time on a student budget and there is no way we could have ever afforded to eat if we had tried to live exclusively organic.

I do think a lot of interesting and rather important topics are addressed in this book, and like I said, I really enjoyed the story aspect quite a bit. I enjoyed the recipes and look forward to trying some of them out (you can find them here). Also after reading this book, I have the strongest desire to make my own cheese. I doubt I would ever do it in an effort to provide all the cheese we eat, but it just sounds like a fun experience.

I enjoyed aspects but really was turned off by others, so I will probably go with 3 out of 5 stars

Friday, January 16, 2009

David Macaulay

who's not to be confused with David McCullough (he's the one that wrote 1776).

My husband has a learning disability that made learning to read difficult for him. As a result of the struggles, he didn't particularly like to read when he was younger. The only book he has ever talked about with fondness from his pre-7th grade days (or so) is The Way Things Work by David Macaulay.

He would check this book out from the library and spend hours pouring over the pages. He admits that there were a lot of things he didn't really understand, but it was so interesting to him that he just kept coming back to it.

When I heard that our local library (in connection with the local art museum) was hosting an author's night featuring David Macaulay, I knew that we had to attend.

We got there a bit early and purchased a copy of The New Way Things (as it's the only version still available) as well as a book called Castle that was the other book he remembers loving as a child. Funny that the two were by the same author.

Mr. Macaulay mostly talked about his newest book, The Way We Work, which is all about the ins and outs of the human body. He did a great job making the subject matter accessible. He worked on this newest book for about 6 years (!) and showed early drawings as well as some of the drawings that actually made it into the book.

My favorite part was when he talked about how he drew even before he understood what was really happening. He said something along the lines of: "I teach myself by drawing" and went on to say that while reading and writing are a very important part of learning, he thinks we need to incorporate other ways. For him, the "other" way is to draw whatever it is he is studying.

Personally, I would have hated being forced to draw as I was learning a new concept, but my husband commented that he thinks he learns the same way. Until he's had a chance to work it out physically, he doesn't really understand a concept. Which, is probably the reason we own approximately one billion legos.

Macaulay infused a lot of fairly dry humor into his talk, and we both really enjoyed ourselves. If you ever have a chance to hear him speak, I would highly recommend it.

And, for those of you with struggling young readers (who have an engineering-type mind - it's definately not for everyone) The New Way Things Work or The Way We Work may be worth looking into.

You can learn more about David Macaulay and his books at his website.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


by Christopher Paolini

Following the colossal battle against the Empire’s warriors on the Burning Plains, Eragon and his dragon, Saphira, have narrowly escaped with their lives. Still there is more at hand for the Rider and his dragon, as Eragon finds himself bound by a tangle of promises he may not be able to keep.

First is Eragon’s oath to his cousin Roran: to help rescue Roran’s beloved, Katrina, from King Galbatorix’s clutches. But Eragon owes his loyalty to others, too. The Varden are in desperate need of his talents and strength—as are the elves and dwarves. When unrest claims the rebels and danger strikes from every corner, Eragon must make choices— choices that take him across the Empire and beyond, choices that may lead to unimagined sacrifice. Eragon is the greatest hope to rid the land of tyranny. Can this once-simple farm boy unite the rebel forces and defeat the king?

I've been really copping out on summary's lately, haven't I? Oh well.

I had read some pretty bad reviews of this book before I started reading it, so I wasn't too sure going in how it would go. I think starting with such low expectations probably helped the cause.

I think I liked the book overall. It was too long, and there are several new loose ends he brought in. If he doesn't clear them up by the end of book for (the final book), I will think this book was about twice as long as it needed to be. Otherwise, it's probably only a couple hundred pages too long.

I didn't like:
  • How much time Eragon spends in the beginning pondering about being a vegetarian and how killing any creature would make him so sick. I am happy to know that he changed his habits, but it got a bit preachy. This doesn't hold as true for his guilt about killing people, though I thought that got a little tired after a while as well.
  • how violent the book is. Lots of blood and gore.
  • the chapters from Saphira's perspective. I really liked her in the previous two books, but I found her obnoxious when she was the narrator.
  • the length. It really did need to be edited better. I read the author's note at the end about how much longer it was originally. I can't imagine!
  • that Eragon continued to make oaths to everyone. Even when it got him in trouble, and even when they were more hassle than anything else. It drove me crazy that he hasn't learned or grown from his previous mistakes!
I liked:
  • that it felt like this one had a solid ending. Yes, the story is not complete, but I don't feel like I'm hanging.
  • that the female characters are mostly strong - you don't necessarily see that a lot in the fantasy I've read.
  • that we learned more about Brom's past (though, I didn't like several of the details at all).
  • Eragon's new sword.
I guess I disliked more than I liked, but I still enjoyed the story overall. If you're a fan of the Inheritance series I would probably recommend it. If not, I would probably avoid it. It is in many ways the same as the first two.

3 out of 5 stars.

Monday, January 12, 2009

14 Percent of U.S. Adults Can't Read

I don't usually post news articles (well, I have never actually posted any), but I saw this one on the Yahoo! homepage and thought I would share:

14 Percent of U.S. Adults Can't Read

I'm not really sure what to do about it, but the article makes me so sad. Even for people who don't read as a hobby, reading is such a necessary skill to function in our society.

Friday, January 9, 2009

David Copperfield

by Charles Dickens

I spent a long time trying to think of a brief summary (the book is well over 800 pages - I don't want to take the whole review summarizing!) and finally looking for one online. I'm not sure a good brief summary exists, but here is one from Amazon:

David Copperfield is the story of a young man’s adventures on his journey from an unhappy and impoverished childhood to the discovery of his vocation as a successful novelist. Among the gloriously vivid cast of characters he encounters are his tyrannical stepfather, Mr. Murdstone; his formidable aunt, Betsey Trotwood; the eternally humble yet treacherous Uriah Heep; frivolous, enchanting Dora; and the magnificently impecunious Micawber...

Before Christmas, the Seattle-area got snowed in. Roads were closed, church/school was canceled, life pretty much stopped for a few days. In those few days I read all of the unread books in my house. The grocery store and library finally reopened the day before Christmas Eve, but the roads were still treacherous and I'm a chicken, so I walked. First, I hit up the grocery store to buy essentials. Sadly, the essentials filled my back pack, so I didn't have room (or the strength) to get many books. As a result, I needed to pick a book I knew would last for at least a week on its own. Hence, I came to read David Copperfield.

With that fascinating introduction, I will admit that David Copperfield has been on my TBR list for quite a while, and that I enjoyed it immensely. As with all of Dickens' works (that I have read) the first few chapters were a bit slow. I believe that some of that is just adjusting to the language/writing of the time. However, on the whole, I thought the story and plot moved right along.

David was an interesting character, and I enjoyed watching him figure things out. I did think it was odd how often he wept though. Was it common for teenage boys/grown men to weep during the Victorian age?

I loved Mr. Micawber. The scene near the end between Micawber and Uriah was fabulous. I actually laughed out loud. I also loved David's aunt, and the fact the she constantly throughout his life referred to his sister that disappointed her. The other characters, Peggoty, Mr. Peggoty, David's mother, etc were also interesting and developed. Though, I was glad when we stopped seeing Mr. Peggoty because I found him difficult to understand.

In sum: The characters are fabulous and well developed, the plot is interesting and plods along at an enjoyable pace, and I fully recommend this book to all.

4 out of 5 stars.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Clementine's Letter

by Sara Pennypacker

Clementine has finally figured 3rd grade out. She and her teacher have devised some "codes" to help her remember to focus an other such things. Sadly, her teacher has been nominated to go to Egypt for the school year and leaves his class with a substitute in charge. Poor Clementine doesn't know any of the new rules and does her best to prevent her teacher from winning the contest.

I'm pretty sure I've mentioned before how much I love Clementine. She is simply fabulous. The library only had a CD of this third installment (why do libraries do that? Do people really prefer the book on tape to the actual book that much more?), so I listened to this one. I have to admit that I didn't love the narrator, Jessica Almast. I think most of the problem was that Ms. Almast is an adult and she just couldn't capture Clementine's third grade spirit.

Other than the narration though, I really liked this book. I love how clever and creative Clementine is - even when she's not trying to be or being mischievous. I think one of my favorite descriptions in a book ever is her describing Antiques Roadshow. (remember I listened to it, so these won't be exact quotes)

"My parent's favorite show is a show about junk. These people take their junk and sit in a room. Then the host comes and tells them if their junk is worth anything. Sometimes he says 'oh, this would have been worth so much if you hadn't fixed it up' and the people say something like 'oh, it's ok, we still love our junk.'"

She goes on to describe the whole thing, and I thought it was so funny. She ends by declaring this show B-O-R-I-N-G, Boring! I love seeing the world through her eyes.

I also really like Clementine's parents. We don't really see much of them, but they are supportive and around. I like that they try to work with her instead of always getting angry when she gets into mischief (which is a lot). I like that they are normal(ish). I just like them.

If you enjoy books aimed at the younger crowd (2-4th grade or so), I highly recommend you check out the Clementine series.

4 out of 5 stars.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

December Book List

Early Reader
Geronimo Stilton: Cat and Mouse in a Haunted House, by Geronimo Stilton (audio book)

Geronimo Stilton: I'm too Fond of my Fir!, by Geronimo Stilton (audio book)

Middle Reader

The Bizarre Bouquets: an Enola Holmes Mystery, by Nancy Springer
The Enchanted Castle, by E. Nesbit (audio book)
The Mouse and the Motorcycle, by Beverly Cleary (audio book)
The Candy Shop War, by Brandon Mull
The Boy Who Dared, by
Susan Campbell Bartoletti *
The Penderwicks, by Jeanne Birdsall *
The London Eye Mystery
, by Siobhan Dowd

Young Adult
Inkdeath, by Cornelia Funke
The Swan Maiden, by Heather Tomlinson
The Bronze Bow, by Elizabeth George Speare
Madapple, by Christina Meldrum
The Ranger's Apprentice: The Ruins of Gorlan, by John Flannagan (audio book) (re-read) *

Adult Fiction
Death of a Red Heroine
, by Qui Xiaolong
Memorial Day, by Vince Flynn

Non Fiction

The Last Lecture
, by Randy Pausch and Jeffrey Zaslow

Night, by Elie Wiesel

* = a favorite

Book Lists

One of my very first posts was a list of books I enjoyed in 2007. This year it was a bit easier, since I actually kept track of everything I had read, and had already written reviews for books I loved. Here are my Top Ten books from 2008. Please note that most of these books weren't actually published in 2008. They are simply books that I read and enjoyed for the first time in 2008.

In no particular order:

The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick

A Crooked Kind of Perfect
, by Linda Urban

The Adoration of Jenna Fox
, by Mary E. Pearson

The Patron Saint of Butterflies, by Cecilia Galante

Leepike Ridge, by N.D. Wilson

The Wednesday Wars
, by Gary Schmidt

Gallop, by Rufus Butler Seder

Kiki Strike, Inside the Shadow City
, by Kirsten Miller

Someone Named Eva
, by Joan M. Wolf

Kitten's First Full Moon
, by Kevin Henkes

While those were my top 10, there were other books that I enjoyed for the first time last year Here is a list of the runner's up:

Three Cups of
Tea, by Greg Mortenson
the Heir trilogy (even if the last one didn't live up to my expectations)
The Time Travelers, by Linda Buckley-Archer
The Bronze Bow, by Elizabeth George Spear

Happy New Year everyone!