Friday, February 27, 2009

Sammy Keyes

by Wendelin Van Draanen

Sammy Keyes is 13. She has to sneak into her house because her mother dumped her on her grandmother and they live in a old-person home where no children are allowed. She gets to deal with Heather Accosta, the 7th grade bully. Sammy is also kind of a detective. Not that she goes looking for trouble, she just always happens to be there when it happens.

The first in the series, Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief starts off with a bang. Well, more like a wave. Sammy, through a pair of binoculars, watches a man stealing money out of a purse in a hotel room across the street. The thief looks up, sees her, and she panics and waves at him.

I listened to this book as I cleaned, and I found I enjoyed it so much I actually found extra little things to clean, so I could listen longer. Sammy is delightful. She gets in lots of trouble, and she's a fairly thoughtless teenager a lot of the time (I hate the way she treats her Gram, though she does usually feel bad about it), but she's clever and funny. If I had read her as a kid I am sure that I would have wanted to be Sammy. I always wanted to be Nancy Drew, and Sammy really is a lot more realistic (though I will always love Nancy).

I also love Sammy's Gram. What a fun adult to have raise you. Too bad it's not under better circumstances.

The second book, Sammy Keyes and the Skeleton Man begins a bit scarier. It's halloween and Sammy along with her friends Dot and Marissa go to the spooky Bush House to knock and run. But when they get there they are nearly run over by a man dressed in a skeleton costume. Sammy and her friends end up finding the "Bush man" tied up and unconscious. On top of trying to help the Bush man, Sammy is also dealing with drama at school. Heather Accosta has convinced one of the most popular boys in school that Sammy is in love with him, and Sammy is after revenge.

This one was just as fun as the first. There's a real strong anti-smoking theme throughout, but it's done in a way that doesn't really feel overwhelming.

Sammy's method of revenge against Heather is pretty awesome. I can't imagine having the courage to do it, but I would like to wish I would have.

Sammy is a fun listen. I hope my library has all of the books on CD (I think there are 10 out) because the reader is fabulous. If not, I will definitely be picking up the books!

Highly recommended.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Wuthering Heights

by Emily Bronte

I don't really have anything nice to say about this book. I've spent the last two weeks forcing my way through, and I just can't find anything redeeming about it, especially the characters. There isn't a single character that I even sort of like. But, it's been a week since I've reviewed a book, and I feel like I should say something.

So, here's my attempt at a 5-word review:

Selfish brats end up dead.

Has anyone read Wuthering Heights and enjoyed it? Obviously I was missing something, please feel free to enlighten me. I am at a complete loss.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


by David Macaulay

This is kind of a non-review. More of a discussion.

This picture book was the only book (other than The Way Things Work) that my husband enjoyed reading on his own as a kid. We bought it when we met the author at a signing recently, and I finally got around to reading it.

As an adult, I can appreciate what the book is trying to do: teach you how castles were built in England long ago. As a kid I am 100% sure I would have hated this book. The pictures, while fabulous, are black and white sketches, as opposed to full-color disney-style pictures. As a kid black and white = adult = boring. While I can appreciate them today (and I actually did enjoy them quite a bit), I would not have appreciated them even a little as a kid. And the story, really isn't a story so much as a description of each section of the castle as it was built. It's well done, but even today I found it a bit dry and ended up reading it in two sittings.

Contrast that with my husband who, as a reluctant reader, devoured this book. He checked it out every single time they went to the library. He read it over and over, and today he still thinks it's fabulous (and thinks I'm strange and offensive for differing from his point of view!).

I guess my point is to show how getting the right book in the hands of a reluctant reader might be all it takes to help turn them into a reader. This book would have done nothing for me as a child, but to my husband it opened his eyes to building and castles. Two of his most favorite things, even today. And, what higher recommendation is there than that?

PS my husband wants me to note that he doesn't consider Castle the book that helped him become a reader. At least if you define a reader as one who seeks out new books. That didn't happen until he discovered epic fantasy (Tolkein, Eddings, Jordan) in middle school. This book just encouraged him to practice at (and begin to really learn) a skill that he was lacking in and further fed his imagination.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Spiderwick Chronicles

by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi
read by Mark Hamill

This is really one story following the Grace kids after they move to a ramshackle old mansion owned by their (crazy) Aunt Lucinda. In the first book, Simon, Jared, and Mallory find a field guide of magical creatures compiled by their uncle, Arther Spiderwick. In the second book the kids have their first real adventure with magical creatures, and see them for the first time. In the third book we finally meet crazy Aunt Lucinda and learn that there is more to the story of Arther's disappearance than we originally thought. In the fourth book the kids are still trying to figure out what to do with the field guide (this book has a fairly violent scene with lots of murder (not of the kids) near the end). In the fifth and final book, the kids face Mulgarath, the evil ogre who has been making their lives miserable. The entire series takes place within a couple of weeks of the first book.

First, I have to say that if I had read the first book when it was originally published, I would have felt totally ripped off. It's not a story in and of itself, it's the introduction to a story. I was shocked by how short each of these "books" were. The Harry Potter series has seven books with one overarching story (Harry v. Voldemort), but each individual book contains its own story. Not so with Spiderwick. They are literally one story broken up into five segments.

Anyway. Once I got over the initial disgust, I enjoyed the story quite a bit. The kids are interesting (though not super well developed), and I love the idea of living surrounded by magical beings without knowing it. Also, the idea of moving into a large rundown mansion is fun. Think of all the exploring (and trouble) that could happen!

Since I listened to the books, I didn't get to enjoy the pictures that probably make the books even better. But, the reader did a good job and I enjoyed the book on the whole.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Thirteen Reasons Why

by Jay Asher

At first, Clay is excited when he finds a package addressed to him on his doorstep, but he soon realizes that he might not actually want to listen to the tapes he's been given. The tapes come from Hannah Baker, a girl who killed herself several weeks previously. On the tapes she lists thirteen people and what they did that helped lead her to the decision to take her own life.

** This is more of a discussion than a review, so you probably don't want to read it if you haven't read the book. There aren't really any spoilers, but it probably won't make a ton of sense **

I'm not sure what to say about this book. While reading it, I couldn't stop. I wanted to know what was going to happen next, and specifically what it was that Clay had done to Hannah.

However, at the same time I didn't really like the book. It's heavy. It covers a lot of topics: bullying, rape, and suicide and while it's all done well, it was hard to read. I also couldn't really get over the tapes themselves. Most of the events mentioned are small. I can appreciate that as a teenager life seems much harder than it actually is, and therefore even the smallest thing can feel like an enormous mountain, but would you really want to cause the level of guilt that these tapes are going to cause?

I also felt real bad for her teacher/counselor that she hopes would rot in hell. I won't deny that he could have handled their meeting better, but I don't think he should be blamed for her decision. Especially since she had made so many of the preparations for her suicide before hand. Did she really want his help?

I wish we could have seen more of Hannah's past as a way to explain why she might have been more susceptible to spiraling out of control than her classmates. Not everyone who has a false rumor spread about them will kill themselves, and one should definitely not kill oneself for such a reason (I do realize that it was the combination of events that led to the suicide, not just the rumor that started everything). I also thought that something should have been added at the end for people considering suicide. The number for the suicide hotline is listed just under the author's biography, but if you don't read those you'll miss it.

I'm not sure if I would recommend this one. It's an interesting read. I thought it was well done, and I haven't been able to get it out of my head since finishing it nearly a week ago. But, it's hard and left me with a lot more questions than answers.

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Sorcerer of the North

the fifth book in the Ranger's Apprentice Series (see my review for book four here)

by John Flanagan

from the publisher:
Time has passed since the apprentice and his master, Will and Halt, led the Araluens to victory against invaders, and Will is now a full-fledged Ranger with his own fief to look after. The fief seems sleepy— boring, even—until the king is poisoned. Joined by his friend Alyss, Will is thrown headfirst into an extraordinary adventure propelled by fears of sorcery, and must determine who is trustworthy to the king and who is trying to take his throne. Will and Alyss must battle growing hysteria, traitors, and most of all, time.

Book 4 was the end to the first story arc, so other than a few obvious spoilers (like Will hasn't died yet), there aren't any spoilers to the rest of the series in this review.

I was a bit hesitant going in, since Will is a full-fledged Ranger, which I assumed meant no Halt. And, in the beginning there really wasn't much of anyone other than Will and the people living in his new Fief; however, Will is soon called on a special mission by Halt and we get to see a bit of Halt throughout the rest of the book.

The story itself is rather simple, but the adventure aspect is still strong. I loved that Will was able to come up with creative solutions to his problems in his fief, and I am curious to see what he does to solve the problem with the king. He still has some flaws, which I hope stick around because having someone who never makes a mistake will certainly get old quickly. I was also excited to learn more about Alyss and see some of the activities that she has learned. I am very interested in seeing where their relationship leads. I did miss Horace for most of this book and hope he has a larger roll in the next.

The biggest complaint is the MAJOR cliffhanger ending. It isn't quite as traumatizing as the second book's ending, but close. The story really isn't anywhere close to being concluded, and the sixth book won't be published until August so be warned!

4.5 out of 5 stars highly recommended (but read the first 4 first!)

As a promotion for book 6 being released, Penguin has released an online version of the first book. Click here, for to read the entire first book. It will only be available for a few more weeks (until Feb 15), but it's worth a look!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

January Book List

Picture Books
Angelo, by David Macaulay

Juvenile Fiction

Tink Takes Charge, a Disney Fairy Book
Geronimo Stilton: Four Mice Deep in the Jungle, by Geronimo Stilto (audio book)
Clementine's Letter, by Sara Pennypacker (audio book) *
The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, by Jeanne Birdsall *
The Tales of Beedle the Bard, by JK Rowling
Paws off Cheddar Face!, by Geronimo Stilton (audio book)
Charlotte's Web, by EB White (audio book)
Rosetta's Big Day, a Disney Fairy Book
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw, by Jeff Kinney *
I Juan de Pareja, by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino
The Diamond of Darkhold, by Jeanne DuPrau
The Gods of Manhattan, by Scott Mebus

Young Adult
Brisingr, by Christopher Paolini
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, by John Boyne
Shift, by Jennifer Bradbury *
Ranger's Apprentice book v: The Sorcerer's Apprentice, by John Flanagan *
The President's Daughter, by Ellen Emerson White

David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens *
A Great Deliverance, by Elizabeth George

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, by Barbara Kingsolver