Tuesday, April 28, 2009

My One Hundred Adventures

by Polly Horvath

summary from Amazon.com:
Jane, 12, longs for adventures, maybe a hundred of them. Not too much happens at the beach where she lives with her younger siblings and her mother, a poet with a fondness for putting up jam. As the summer slips by, adventures do find Jane—but they come with people attached. Her newfound relationship with preacher Nellie leads to a trip in a hot-air balloon and a foray into the world of healings and psychic revelations. Mrs. Parks’ thrombosis (or is it bursitis?) and a desire to get to California result in an all-night automobile ride that ends because Mrs. Parks’ bottom gets sore. And throughout the summer there’s a procession of possible fathers: the free spirit, the poet, the Santa look-alike, the man in a suit who gets tossed in the ocean by a whale. With writing as foamy as waves, as gritty as sand, or as deep as the sea, this book may startle readers with the freedom given the heroine—independence that allows her to experience, think about, and come to some hard-won conclusions about life. Sometimes Jane’s duped, sometimes she’s played; but if hope fades, it returns, and adventure still beckons. Unconventionality is Horvath’s stock in trade, but here the high quirkiness quotient rests easily against Jane’s inner story with its honest, childlike core.

This book was a bit too whimsical (or something) for me. A family of five living on the beach and just kind of making it through life. Twelve year old Jane has never before thought about who her father may or may not be, but as men start appearing she realizes they could be him. Jane's voice didn't sound anywhere near 12 (much older), so it was hard to remember she was young as she made some pretty stupid mistakes.

I thought the language of the story worked well and several times caused me to stop and think. A (brief) example:
"No one ever really understands a family but the people in it and even they each understand it differently." p68
Unfortunately, I just couldn't get into the story.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Princess of the Midnight Ball

by Jessica Day George

Summary from Jessica's site:
Returning home from the war, young Galen finds work with his mother’s family in the royal gardens. There he learns that the king’s twelve daughters have a secret: every night they dance their shoes to tatters, but no one knows how or why. When prince after prince tries and fails to find the answer, and the family is haunted by accusations of witchcraft, Galen decides to help. Armed with a pair of silver knitting needles and an invisibility cloak given to him by a strange old woman, he follows the princesses and unlocks the secret of their curse.

I'm not sure I've ever read the Twelve Dancing Princesses fairy tale, and the two fairy tale books we have at home don't contain it, so I have no idea how closely this story follows the original. But, there are 12 sisters. While they all have their own personalities, it was hard to keep track of them. In fact, other than knowing Rose, Lily, and Jonquil were the oldest three and Petunia was the baby I can't actually tell you where anyone else in line fell. However, I don't think that aspect actually took much from the story. The sisters we really need to know about I had no trouble keeping track of.

I never fully realized what it was about the bad guy that made him so bad in the first place. He is definitely evil by the time we see him but more of his back story would have been appreciated.

I thought it was kind of strange that the main character of this book was a boy. It worked, but it's not what I would have guessed based on the cover, title, etc. That being said, I found this to be a delightfully fun, light read.

4 out of 5 stars

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Book Blogs Search Engine

Probably everyone knows about this, but I thought I would do a quick post about it anyway...

Fyrefly created a google search engine that specifically searches book blogs. It's a great way to find what other people are saying about a book.

You can find the engine here.

You can make sure your book blog is included in the search by checking Fyrefly's list here. If it's not, be sure to let her know so she can add you.

And finally, you really ought to stop by Fyrefly's blog and thank her for her hard work!

Friday, April 17, 2009

A Northern Light

by Jennifer Donnelly

It is 1906 and Mattie Gokey is trying to learn how to stand up like a man -- even though she’s a sixteen-year-old girl. At her summer job at a resort on Big Moose Lake in the Adirondack mountains, she will earn enough money to make something of her life. But Mattie’s worries and plans are cast into a cold light when the drowned body of Grace Brown turns up – a young woman who gave Mattie a packet of love letters, letters that convince Mattie that the drowning was no accident.
summary from Jennifer Donnelly's site

I saw this book at Half-Priced books and thought it looked interesting, so I put it on hold at the library.

I found this book enjoyable. Mattie is a gifted writer, and her teacher encourages her to go to school in New York City. Unfortunately, her mother has passed away, her brother has taken off, and Mattie feels like she needs to stick around and take care of her 3 sisters and their father. Plus, there's handsome (but dull) Royal Loomis who would like to marry Mattie.

Weaver, Mattie's best friend and the only black kid in the area, is also a fascinating character. I wish he hadn't been so bull headed - he was a bright kid. It didn't necessary ring true that he would cause some of the problems he did, yet his desire for fairness and rightness is incredibly endearing. I hope he does go to law school and succeeds at his dreams (even if he is a fictional character...)

I enjoyed the passages about reading (I copied several quotes down, returned the book to the library, and succeeded at deleting said quotes. Sigh.). There is a great conversation between Mattie and her teacher about how Jane Austin is a liar :)

I have never read An American Tragedy, which is kind of a background story, but I generally know what happens. I found the letters that Grace leaves in Mattie's control.

My biggest beef with this book was the back and forth between Mattie's past and the present. This format seems to be real popular at the moment, but it just doesn't work for me. We get to an interesting part and suddenly we switch time periods. It's frustrating for me. I've never attempted it, but I would imagine the story would be just as good if we had started at the beginning and ended at the end instead of jumping back and forth.

I'm glad I picked this one up. It's historical fiction, and it's a great coming of age story.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Girl Who Could Fly

by Victoria Forester

Mr. and Mrs. McCloud lead very simple, normal lives. Though, later in life they do have a baby. Piper is not nearly as normal. In fact, Piper can fly. And once word gets out she's taken to a special institute for kids just like her.

I really liked this one. Piper is a lovable character (though her speech patterns were a bit overdone and got old). She is spunky and bright, and she really just wants to make a friend. The other kids in the institute are also a lot of fun. Evil genius, Conrad was interesting - I figured pieces of him out immediately, but he was able to pull off a few surprises.

Dr. Hellion, the director of the institute, is fabulous. I love the immediate friendship that is developed between Piper and Dr. Hellion. I wish we had learned a bit more about her (though some of that need was satisfied right near the end).

The writing of this one is somewhere in between. There are areas where I thought the writing was beautiful and flowing. And, there were other areas where it read like an action scene in a movie.

The ending for this one is fairly open. I felt like the ending works, yet there are still quite a few unanswered questions (most especially who is J??) so a sequel may or may not be coming.

Anyway. This one is aimed at a slightly younger set (maybe 9 and 10 year olds?), but I found it quite enjoyable and would recommend it.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Punk Farm

Recently, I had some time (like 2.5 hours) to kill at the library. I was downtown waiting for my husband to get off work. So, after looking around at all the books I want to read, I headed up to the picture book section and picked books randomly to read.

One can read a lot of picture books in about an hour.

My most favorite from Friday's adventure was Punk Farm, by Jarrett Krosoczka.

It's basically about a group of farm animals that, at night when the farmer has gone to bed, perform punk concerts. Their song? Old MacDonald had a Farm. So fabulous. I was cracking up.

This isn't a book I probably would have picked up on my own, but after seeing a video by Krosoczka on the Children's Literature Book Club blog, I've wanted to read something by him.

Definitely worth checking out.

I've posted the video mentioned above below. Be warned, it's a bit long, but if you make it to the end, be sure to read the credits to see who all the various people are. Many are popular YA authors/picture book writers/illustrators.

BOOK BY BOOK: the making of a monkey man from Jarrett Krosoczka on Vimeo.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Princess Diaries

by Meg Cabot
read by Anne Hathaway

I'm kind of embarrassed to type this review. The Princess Diaries isn't really my kind of book. At all. If for no other reason than the cover is pink, and I'm not really into princesses. At least not the kind found outside of fairy tales.

However, I thought it was hilarious. Mia cracked me up. Sure, she's fairly self-centered, and a lot of her problems would have gone away if she would have just been honest (usually a huge peeve of mine!), but she made me laugh.

There are some major problems with the book - most especially that the story is so far out of left field that it's not even remotely believable. Plus, listening to Mia whine can be a little much (and do teenage girls really obsess about breasts that much? Seriously) But, I listened to it for enjoyment, and I did enjoy it.

I listened to the book on CD, which I think was the right choice - it's easier (for me) to understand stream of consciousness type stories when I hear them as opposed to try to read them. I thought Anne Hathaway did a good job, and I really enjoyed the voices she used for several of the characters.

I'm not sure if I will read/listen to the others in the series (I think there are like 10), but I'm not necessarily opposed after what I've read listened to so far.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The President's Daughter

image from Ellen Emerson White's website

A new, old series by Ellen Emerson White

The first three books in this series were published in the 1980's (hence the old). When the fourth (and final?) book was published in October 2008, White updated the first three and republished them (hence the new).

The premise is that Meg Powers' mom is the first woman president of the United States. That means that 17 year old Meg and her younger brothers move to the White House, get a security detail, deal with the press, and deal with threats to their mother and themselves. I'll do a quick summary of each book. I don't think I've listed any real spoilers (especially not something you wouldn't get from a book cover), but you can skip the summaries if you're worried.

The first book: The President's Daughter features the campaign and the first few months at the White House. We get to know Meg's snarky personality. She's pretty funny and it was fun getting to know her.

The second book: White House Autumn is the rest of the first year in the White House. Meg's mom survives and assassination attempt, and Meg (and family) have to deal with it: The fear, the increased security (and lack of privacy), etc.

The third book: Long Live the Queen starts with Meg preparing to graduate and head off to college. Unfortunately, she is kidnapped by terrorists and ends up in the fight for her life.

The fourth book: Long May She Reign begins about 3 months after the kidnapping. Meg is damaged, both physically and emotionally and she's trying to gain back some semblance of a life.

I really liked the first three books a lot. They aren't fantastic, but it's a story I totally fell in to. I am positive that I would have devoured this series as a teen. Lots of drama (the violent (but not graphic), suspenseful kind) mixed with a little politics. Love it. I read each in a little more than a day. I just couldn't get enough.

The characters, especially Meg and her family are well developed. I loved their imperfect and realistic relationships. The balance the president tries to find of being the leader of the free world and also a mother. I also enjoyed watching them grow and change as each new crisis was thrown at them.

I didn't love the fourth book as much. It's long. Like 700 pages long (twice that of the other three books), and I just don't think it needed to be. There is a lot of talk about the pain Meg is in, how tired she is, how difficult it is for her to continue functioning. While I realize that this is completely realistic to the situation, it just got boring to read after a while. She never let us forget. The book is a bit more political, there is no doubt which party the Powers family supports. While I don't really care, it just felt unnecessary to the plot. More like a statement that we should know and believe.

There is also a dramatic increase in the amount of swearing (there's lots!) and she and her boyfriend seems to have a relationship based solely on physical properties with lots of innuendo and dirty talk. I will admit that I'm a prude, but it made me uncomfortable, and I thought detracted from the story. Meg is strong and smart. I can't really picture her with such a shallow jerk, though I will admit that he did at least try. Sometimes.

There are some real interesting new characters, and I did enjoy getting to spend a little more time with Meg, the Powers family, Preston, et al, but I am not 100% sure that one must read this book in order to complete the series. It was originally written as a trilogy.

So, for my two cents: if you enjoy some politics and a little suspense (the third book is quite suspenseful, and gritty) the first three are definitely worth checking out. The last one was enjoyable but the language, etc was a bit much for me.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

March Books

Juvenile Books
Ibby's Magic Weekend, by Heather Dyer
The Wrath of the Bloodeye, by Joseph DeLaney *
The Trumpet of the Swan, by E.B. White (audio book)
Al Capone Does my Shirts, by Gennifer Choldenko (audio book)
Roller Skates, by Ruth Sawyer
Rowan Hood: Outlaw Girl of Sherwood Forrest, by Nancy Springer (audio book)

Young Adult Books
The Siege of Mackindaw, by John Flannagan *
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
White House Autumn, by Ellen Emerson White
Storyteller, by Edward Myers
Long live the Queen, by Ellen Emerson White

Adult Books
The Private Patient, by PD James
The Moonstone, by Wilkie Collins

Well, I was doing pretty well this month reviewing most of what I read. But, then I kind of stopped. Or something. I have pending reviews (in my mind - not in blogger) of several of the books above, so hopefully the posting will resume shortly...

Until then, happy April fools!