Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Wrath of the Bloodeye

by Joseph DeLaney

book 5 in the Last Apprentice series

you can see my reviews of books 1-3 here and book 4 here

from amazon.com:
Thomas Ward has spent two years as the Spook's apprentice. He's faced unimaginable peril, and survived. But a new danger has emerged: an ancient water witch, Bloodeye, is roaming the County intent on destroying everything in her path. To strengthen his skills, Tom is sent to the far north to train with the demanding Bill Arkwright. Arkwright lives in a haunted mill on the edge of a treacherous marsh, and his training methods prove to be harsh and sometimes cruel. Will Tom's new bag of tricks be enough to overcome a critical mistake that leaves him confronting Bloodeye on his own?

I've been sitting on this review for a while. I want to review it, especially since I've reviewed the first 4, but at the same time I can't really say much without spoilers. If I haven't convinced you to read it yet, this review won't convince you either.

So, I will say that I liked this book a lot. It might be my favorite in the series. Other than book 3, each successive book gets better - I love when that happens!

My favorite part of this book is that it gives you a lot to discuss. In a sense, it would make a great book club book (but not in the sense that you really need to read the first 4 first). Lots of questions that don't really have answers are brought up. Can you use something only slightly bad/forbidden if it will help you fight the overall bad/forbidden thing? Or should you avoid all appearance of evil so you yourself don't become corrupted?

I am excited to see what the author goes next.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Moonstone

by Wilkie Collins

Legend has it that the moonstone was stolen from the statue of a Hindu god, and that three guards have dedicated their lives to recovering the moonstone. When, through a series of events, the moonstone ends up as Rachel Verinder's birthday present, she is ecstatic. Unfortunately, within 12 hours of her receiving the gift the moonstone disappears, seemingly without a trace.

This novel was first published in 1868, but it feels very readable. Dickens published not too much earlier than Collins, but his works take a lot more effort for me to read. I loved that aspect of this book.

I can't quite decide if I liked the fact that the narrator changed for each piece of the story. I really prefer to stick with one character for the majority of a book, but I for the most part I enjoyed the different narrators, so I think I will lean towards liking it.

The first narrator, Gabriel Betteredge, is a grouchy old man who I found rather hilarious. I've read other reviews that hate how sexist he is (and he definitely is!), but I mostly just laughed and read the really bad passages to my husband. The second narrator, Miss Clack, reminded me so much of someone I knew in high school that it was both hilarious and disturbing. She was constantly trying to convert her heathen relatives, and her "humility" truly added to her character. A lot of her passages were also read aloud to my husband. The rest of the narrators didn't have the same dramatic flair that the first two had, but I enjoyed reading their sections more.

I don't really feel like this was a great detective novel. There is a detective (Sergeant Cuff), but he is only present for the first part of the story, and while he makes some correct predictions and presumptions that's as far as it goes. He doesn't really solve the mystery because he isn't around to solve it. The book however is a pretty good mystery. While I figured out the who fairly early on, I really had no idea the how until it was pretty much spelled out for me.

An enjoyable read. 3.5 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Al Capone Does My Shirts

by Gennifer Choldenko
read by Johnny Heller

It's 1935 when Moose Flanagan and his family move to Alcatraz Island. His father is an electrician/guard on the island, and the family is hoping to save money to send his older sister, Natalie, to a special school. Moose spends his time wishing he were back "home", but eventually befriends the kids on the island and tries to stay out of the trouble the Warden's daughter is always dragging them into.

I think the title of this book would have drawn me in as a kid - I had a thing for reading about criminals - but I think I might have been disappointed. The book really isn't about Capone at all. He's mentioned, and the kids all want to see/meet him, but he's not a central character.

However, I really did like Moose. He was a good kid. I loved that he took such good care of his sister. Despite how difficult it must have been for him. Mrs. Flanagan drove me crazy. I hated that she put so much responsibility on Moose and was unwilling to allow him to do normal things by himself (like stay after school to play baseball), though I realize it is a totally realistic approach that many parents would have enforced.

My favorite part of the book though was just learning about the island and its little colony. I think I knew that guards lived there, but I never realized that families lived there. It was fun to watch Moose go from fascinated by everything on the island to seeing convicts on the docks and just keep moving. It was day to day life. I also didn't realize that there was a ferry that ran throughout the day to and from San Fransisco. I think I always assumed that supplies were shipped in once a week or something. I pictured Alcatraz to be a sad isolated place, and while it most definitely was for the convicts, it doesn't sound like it was for the rest of the island's inhabitants.

There's a lengthy authors note at the end explaining that the story is totally made up (with a few true events - like the rule that if an inmate hit a ball out of the park it was an automatic out), but that the guards and their children did live on the island. Did you know that Capone opened the first soup kitchen? According to the author's note he did. It is a fairly fascinating little bit of history.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

by Sherman Alexie

Junior was born with water on the brain and survived a dangerous surgery at 6 months. Even overcoming these obstacles, he's awkward, stutters, and suffers from seizures. He pretty much is constantly beat up by everyone on the rez, and life really isn't all that great for him. After a book throwing incident, Junior decides to attend high school off the reservation where he will be the only Indian (as they are referred to in the book) other than the mascot.

Not a very good description...

I really enjoyed this book. I read it in nearly one setting, though some of that was due to illness which confined me to one space. I just simply enjoyed it and wanted to see what was going to happen to Junior.

I found Junior an interesting character. Some of the things that he did seemed unbelievable to me, but most of the story seemed like a fairly realistic coming of age story. My favorite scene in the book is near the end when Junior's basketball team is facing the team from the reservation and Junior realizes that the kids on his team all have a distinct future: college, jobs, etc. Whereas, the kids on the reservation team don't. They will all continue to live on the reservation and (likely) be poor and drunk like their parents before them. And then there's Junior trying to figure out where he belongs in those two worlds.

This book is supposed to be based loosely on Alexie's own life, which helps add to the story. You can read his biography on his website.

Finally, while I enjoyed the story a lot, it is crude in parts. I skipped several pages where he talked about things that I didn't want to read about. There is some language, though not as much as I was honestly expecting. So, if that kind of thing bothers you, you might want to skip this one.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Trumpet of the Swan

by E.B. White

from amazon.com:
Although he lacks a voice in the traditional "Ko-hoh!" sense, trumpeter swan Louis learns to speak to the world with a trumpet stolen from a music store by his father. With the support of an unusual boy named Sam, who helps Louis learn how to read and write, the swan has some rather unswanlike adventures and ultimately wins the love--and the freedom--of a beautiful swan named Serena.

I had never heard of this book before looking for Charlotte's Web at the library and noticing it. I think this is probably the most overlooked of the three classic children's books that White wrote, but I have to admit it was my favorite of the three.

The story starts with Sam Beaver discovering a lake near where he and his father camp/hunt during the summer. Sam is an inquisitive boy and soon notices two trumpet swans who have built their nest on this lake. Eventually Sam meets the swan's babies (called signets) and the story of Louis the signet without a voice takes over.

Louis takes what life has given him and does the best he can with it. I love that he has a disability (which is referred to as a defect in this book - possibly the reason it's not as popular?) and uses it to his advantage. By learning to play an actual trumpet to communicate he is able to earn money to pay back his father's debts etc. He is also the only swan he knows that can read or write.

I wish that Louis had found someone other than Serena to marry. She had flatly rejected him when he didn't have a voice, but fell madly in love with him once he did. However, Serena is who Louis wanted, so I guess it's for the best?

There are lots of hard to believe things about this story (how did Sam recognize that Louis wanted to learn to read? can a swan bill really make the mouth formation required to play a trumpet? etc) but it was easy for me to suspend reality and just enjoy the story.

3.5 out of 5 stars

PS A warning for those that may listen to this book: once Louis gets his trumpet any "trumpeted" parts are played by an actual trumpet and it is LOUD! I enjoyed the use of the trumpet, but was about blown out of my chair the first time it happened :)

Saturday, March 7, 2009

a couple middle readers

Near the end of last month, when I was moaning over Wuthering Heights, I picked up a few early/middle reader books from the library. I love these types of books. They are usually creative and they never take long to read. Exactly what I needed.

I find that they are hard to review. So, I am cheating and doing a couple of short reviews stacked in one.

The Adventures of Sir Lancelot the Great, by Gerald Morris

from amazon.com:
Many years ago, the storytellers say, the great King Arthur brought justice to England with the help of his gallant Knights of the Round Table.
Of these worthy knights, there was never one so fearless, so chivalrous, so honorable, so . . . shiny, as the dashing Sir Lancelot, who was quite good at defending the helpless and protecting the weak, just as long as he'd had his afternoon nap.

Did you know that Sir Lancelot was a French prince before joining the Round Table? I didn't.

This book is basically a collection of short stories. Each chapter stands fairly well on its own, making it a nice read aloud. My favorite story had to do with Lancelot being tricked into taking his armor off and hanging out in a tree for the afternoon. Silly stuff.

This would be a great addition to any knight-lovers library.

Ibby's Magic Weekend, by Heather Dyer

from Amazon.com:
When straight-arrow Ibby visits her two troublemaking cousins in their chaotic country house, she learns of an old box of magic tricks they found hidden in the attic. Ibby thinks magic is nothing but sleight of hand...until her cousin Francis shrinks to the size of her thumb!

I didn't know anything about this book when I picked it up. I grabbed it because the title was written in silver shiny writing.

The story is fairly straightforward and very predictable, but I enjoyed it. Watching the kids figure out each trick (and watching Ibby lighten up!) was fun. I love the contrast between the adults who all say that magic is just slight of hand, etc and the kids who figure out that magic is really, real.

I didn't enjoy this one quite as much as Lancelot, but it was still an enjoyable quick read.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

February's Books

Picture Books
Castle, by David Macauley
The House in the Night, by Susan Marie Swanson and Beth Krommes

Juvenile Fiction
The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman
The Spiderwick Chronicles, book 1: The Field Guide, by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi (audio book)
The Spiderwick Chronicles, book 2: The Seer Stone, by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi (audio book)
The Spiderwick Chronicles, book 3: Lucinda's Secret, by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi (audio book)
The Spiderwick Chronicles, book 4: The Irondwood Tree, by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi (audio book)
The Spiderwick Chronicles, book 5: The Wrath of Mulgarath, by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi (audio book)
Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief, by Wendelin Van Draanen (audio book) *
Sammy Keyes and the Skeleton Man, by Wendelin Van Draanen (audio book) *
Uh Oh, Cleo, by Jessica Harper
The Maze of Bones, by Rick Riordan
Sir Lancelot the Great, by Gerald Morris *

Young Adult
Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging: Confessions of Georgia Nicolson, by Louise Rennison (audio book)
Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher
Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, by JK Rowling (audio book) (re-read) *

Adult Books
Middle Passage, by Charles Johnson
Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte