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Showing posts from August, 2011

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

The Invention of Hugo Cabretby Brian Selznick resembles, not so much a book, as a treasure box. Just look at its cover, complete with the lock. Even it's size and heft resemble a box. Don't be fooled by its size though, it is a quick read as more than half of it is pictures. Beautifully detailed emotive pictures. And the prose works with them to magically bring the story to life. You know those times when you finish a book and sit there holding it for a moment knowing you have something precious in your hands? Something that came from the mind of a  master whose genius you could never hope to comprehend? Finishing this was one such time for me.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Orphan Hugo Cabret lives in a wall. His secret home is etched out in the crevices of a busy Paris train station. Part-time clock keeper, part-time thief, he leads a life of quiet routine until he gets involved with an eccentric, bookish young girl and an angry old man who runs a toy booth in the station. Th…

The Floating Islands

Politics. War. A hidden Mage school. Dragons. Did I enjoy The Floating Islandsby Rachel Neumeier? How could I not?

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
When Trei loses his family in a tragic disaster, he must search out distant relatives in a new land. The Floating Islands are unlike anything Trei has ever seen: stunning, majestic, and graced with kajurai, men who soar the skies with wings. Trei is instantly sky-mad, and desperate to be a kajurai himself.  The only one who fully understands his passion is Araene, his newfound cousin.  Prickly, sarcastic, and gifted, Araene has a secret of her own . . . a dream a girl cannot attain. Trei and Araene quickly become conspirators as they pursue their individual paths.  But neither suspects that their lives will be deeply entwined, and that the fate of the Floating Islands will lie in their hands.

The Floating Islands is the story of both Trei and Araene, told in third person limited, going back and forth between them with each chapter. Both T…

Have Some Links (Awesome, Infuriating and Helpful)

The internet has had some attention grabbers this week.

Starting with the awesome:
At least it's awesome if you are a fan of Megan Whalen Turner (and if you are not it is probably because you haven't read her books yet. You should.) A Conspiracy of Kings has been released in paperback and has an extra short story about the destruction of the Gift. You can read it here. (Click on contents then bonus page. It is after the list of characters.)

The Infuriating:
I saw this first one on Eva's Book Addiction:  Ralph Lauren is masquerading their catalog of children's clothing as an interactive picture book. Ick.

On the same day I then saw this post on Book Aunt. This one is about a picture book coming out about a girl who is 14 and overweight, gets made fun of, goes on a diet, and, once she is skinny, becomes uber popular. And yes, that says PICTURE book. Kate pretty much said all there was to say and included a link to a news video. Just click up there and prepare to be disg…

Olive's Ocean

As a parent of small children I am, of course, well acquainted with the works of Kevin Henkes. All parents should be. From his simple picture books like Kitten's First Full Moon, to the more complex picture books like Chester's Way and Chrysanthemum, he is a story time favorite around here. Henkes' brilliance springs from his understanding of children. He gets them and the way their minds work and can express it in a form they identify with. I was a little wary of trying his first foray into MG literature (obviously, it has been 8 years since it was published) because I love his picture books so much I couldn't imagine the novel living up to that brilliance. Channeling the thoughts and emotions of young children is one thing, channeling the thoughts and emotions of a 12 year old girl is another entirely. And yet Henkes managed to do it. Frighteningly well actually.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

"Olive Barstow was dead. She'd been hit by a car on Monroe Street wh…

Leepike Ridge

N.D. Wilson is one of my favorite writers but I've never reviewed any of his books because I read them all before I started blogging. I have been rereading Leepike Ridge  because I 've been using it in a class I teach and thought this would be a perfect time to review it, especially since Wilson's newest book hits the shelves tomorrow. (I can not wait for mine to arrive!)

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
ELEVEN-YEAR-OLD THOMAS HAMMOND has always lived next to Leepike Ridge. He never imagined he might end up lost beneath it! What Tom finds underground will answer questions he hadn’t known to ask and change his life forever.

Leepike Ridge is an adventure, mystery, treasure hunt, and survival story all rolled into one. There are dubious characters aplenty who are up to no good. There is a worried and beleaguered mother, a man whose been living in a cave for three years, and a very loyal dog. At the center of all of this there is Tom, an ordinary boy who only wanted some peace and …

Thresholds

I can't remember for sure where I heard of Thresholds by Nina Kiriki Hoffman but I'm betting it was from Charlotte's Library. Whatever prompted me to add it to the TBR it recently found its way to the top and I was rather reluctant to start it. I ended up finding it quite good though, bizarre and rather creepy, but good.

Maya's family has just moved to Oregon from Idaho to make a new start for Maya who is mourning the recent death of her best friend. Maya is nervous about the start of school in a new place where she knows no one. On the way she meets a few of her next door neighbors who live in the Janus House Apartments. They are a little strange and everyone at school avoids them. Maya is intrigued by them, especially since she encountered a fairy in her bedroom and suspects the Janus House kids might know something about them. Then something strange and dangerous happens to Maya and she finds herself having to rely on the residents of Janus House for help because she…

The Iron Witch

I was intrigued by The Iron Witch by Karen Mahoney because it a) had a pretty cover and b) was about a girl who survived a horrific fey attack. I was wary of The Iron Witch because I knew it contained a) two guys in the girl's life and b) alchemists. While this certainly isn't one of my favorite books I didn't end up hating it. The writing didn't work for me but I didn't have the problems with it I thought I was going to have.

Summary (from Goodreads):
Freak. That's what her classmates call seventeen-year-old Donna Underwood. When she was seven, a horrific fey attack killed her father and drove her mother mad. Donna's own nearly fatal injuries from the assault were fixed by magic—the iron tattoos branding her hands and arms. The child of alchemists, Donna feels cursed by the magical heritage that destroyed her parents and any chance she had for a normal life. The only thing that keeps her sane and grounded is her relationship with her best friend, Nav…

The Fourth Stall

When Noir meets The Godfather in the bathroom of a grade school you get The Fourth Stall by Chris Rylander. It is an interesting concept and there are many amusing parts to the book. I think that it is quite possible that much of it will go over the heads of its intended audience though. However, I can also see how this might appeal to a certain boy reader who is into super heroes, crime shows, and action moves and video games. (So, most boys really).

Summary (From Goodreads):
Do you need something? Mac can get it for you. It's what he does—he and his best friend and business manager, Vince. Their methods might sometimes run afoul of the law, or at least the school code of conduct, but if you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can pay him, Mac is on your side. His office is located in the East Wing boys' bathroom, fourth stall from the high window. And business is booming.
Or at least it was, until one particular Monday. It starts with a third grader in…

The Folk Keeper

After reading and falling in love with Chime (my review) a couple of months ago. I very much wanted to read Franny Billingsley's other books but gave it some time so as not to be comparing too closely. I have just finished The Folk Keeper and enjoyed it very much. It is impossible not to draw some comparisons to Chime as they have many similarities, but The Folk Keeper is a different in many ways as well. It is also for more simple a story than Chime.

Summary (from Goodreads):
Corinna is a Folk Keeper. Her job is to keep the mysterious Folk who live beneath the ground at bay. But Corinna has a secret that even she doesn't fully comprehend, until she agrees to serve as Folk Keeper at Marblehaugh Park, a wealthy family's seaside manor. There her hidden powers burst into full force, and Corinna's life changes forever...

Corinna is a fascinating heroine. She has disguised herself as a boy so she might be a Folk Keeper. Everyone knows only boys can be successful Folk Keep…

Into the Woods and Up a Tree

A couple of weeks ago Betsy at Fuse 8 wrote a post on the Fantasy worlds of 2011 and their desirability as a destination. It had me thinking about the fantasy worlds that I wanted to be a part of as a child. I thought about writing a post right away but school preparations and other things got in the way. Eva at Eva's Book Addiction was able to write one though and I like what she had to say about the desirability of any Fantasy world:
"Most of those magical lands just aren't SAFE!  From Oz to Wonderland, they're brimming with nasty characters, treacherous landscapes, and tricky tests of character.  Sure, natural-born Gryffindors live to push the boundaries, conquer bad guys, and hurl themselves in the path of danger, but we Hufflepuff/Ravenclaw hybrids crave a quiet life." As a child (and fellow Hufflepuff/Ravenclaw hybrid) I completely agreed with this. The fantasy worlds I wanted to visit were pretty tame. And as an adult the ones I would like to visit I wou…

Three MG Mini Reviews

I have been catching up on all the contemporary realistic fiction for 9-13 year olds I have been meaning to read and not gotten to. Here are some quick reviews on three of them.


A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban:
All ten year old Zoe wants is to be a piano maestro playing at Carnegie Hall, but her father bought her an organ instead. I think I would have enjoyed this book far more as a child than I did as an adult. Urban managed to capture the way children think very well. Zoe's imaginings of piano glory are devoid of the hours of practices she will have to put in. She expects to be a prodigy and is quite astonished to learn she is not. However, she does persevere and does not quit and I liked this. As an adult though I got way to hung up on Zoe's parents and what was going on there. That situation was just too strange and unresolved for me. Most kids think their parents are odd so I don't think they would have as hard a time getting around that.

Bobby ver…

Snow White and Rose Red

I have been on a retelling kick the past couple of weeks. It is my way of fortifying myself before reading a bunch of contemporary fiction for 9-12 year olds so I can finalize the book report list for the literature class I'm teaching. Snow White and Rose Red by Patricia C. Wrede was mostly enjoyable for me but I can see how it would not be enjoyed by everyone.
This novel adaptation of the Grimm tale takes place in an Elizabethan London suburb right on the edge of the forest containing the border to Faerie and manages to pull in a little from the story of Thomas the Rhymer. So lots going on. The princes in the tale are the sons of the Faerie Queen and Thomas. The youngest is transformed into a bear because of the machinations of some wizards trying to steal power from Faerie. His plight is not helped by the fact that there are powers in Faerie who want to see a break with the mortal world and feel the need to get rid of the Queen's half mortal sons. Fortunately, Bla…

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness

Andrew Peterson is one of my favorite singer/songwriters. I was naturally intrigued to discover he penned children's fantasies as well. I am going to say that his talent as a lyricist is greater than his talent at narrative prose, but that doesn't tell you much as he is a superior musician. I very much enjoyed the book too. On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness (Adventure. Peril. Lost Jewels. And the Fearsome Toothy Cows of Skree. The Wingfeather Saga Book One) 
A long title, and kind of a ridiculous one, but the book does have a hint of the ridiculous in it. The story takes place in the land of Aerwiar (a name derived from "here we are") and has a variety of odd creatures with odder names. Quirky is the word used to describe it on the back of the book. When I began to read I felt that Peterson had built a tower of quirky so high it was in danger of toppling into the realm of cutesy. I try to avoid cutesy at all costs and almost stopped reading as a r…

The Swan Maiden

The Swan Maiden by Heather Tomlinson is a novel that uses the idea of a girl who can transform into a swan via a magical swan skin. This is not a direct retelling of any specific swan maiden tale, but uses elements prevalent in several, and sets it against a backdrop of medieval France. It has many fairy tale staples in it. The impoverished man seeking to perform a task to gain the hand of a maiden, magic, transformations, enchantresses. If you go into it keeping in mind that it is really just a long form fairy tale and are not expecting much more you may enjoy it. I didn't have this mindset going in and it really didn't do much for me as a result. Hardcover on left, paperback on right. Synopsis (from Goodreads): In the quiet hour before dawn, anything can happen. Doucette can dream of being a creature of flight and magic, of wearing a swan skin like her older sisters. But she must run the castle household while her sisters learn to weave spells. Her dream of fly…

Ella Enchanted

A review featuring Bit (Bibliophile in Training), age 7

Cinderella has never been one of my favorite fairy tales. The main character is just too passive. Then I took my children's literature course for my degree and discovered Ella Enchanted and fell in love. It remains to this day my favorite fairy tale retelling, containing one of my favorite literary couples of all time. I loved it so much I made my AG students read it every year during our supplemental reading instruction time. I still haven't gotten over what they did to it when they turned it into a movie. WHATEVER YOU DO, DON"T SEE THE MOVIE. I have been waiting to introduce it to Bit with much anticipation.
The Story
Ella was "gifted" at birth by the fairy Lucinda with obedience. Ella is compelled to obey every command she is given. This makes her a puppet, but a not nice well mannered one. She fights the curse with all her might and makes life as difficult as possible for people who order her…

The Wednesday Wars

I was a little hesitant to pick up The Wednesday Wars   so soon after falling in love with Okay for Now (my review).  I don't know why. Schmidt is one of those writers that you can instinctively trust to deliver a good book. While both books share characters they are not really connected and it would be unjust to compare them to one another so I will try not to. Holland and Doug are very different boys with very different stories. They share the same time period, the same school (until Doug moves), and . Their voices are very different though, shaped by their different and each finds an interest unusual for boys their age. experiences and ways of life. Schmidt is to be commended for writing two such distinct, very real, sympathetic characters.
Hardcover copy on left, paperback on right.
Every Wednesday afternoon the 7th graders of Mrs. Baker's homeroom go their separate ways for the last period of the day. Half to the temple for Hebrew lessons, half to Saint Adelbert&#…

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda

"The big question: Is Origami Yoda real? Well, of course he's real. I mean, he's a real finger puppet made out of a real piece of paper. But I mean: Is he REAL? Does he really know things? Can he see the future? Does he use the Force? Or is he just a hoax that fooled a whole bunch of us at McQuarrie Middle School? It's really important for me to figure out if he's real. Because I've got to decide whether to take his advice or not, and if I make the wrong choice, I'm doomed!"
So begins Tommy's case file, a notebook in which he has compiled the stories of his fellow students and their encounters with Origami Yoda. Origami Yoda inhabits the finger of 6th grade weirdo Dwight and is dispensing advice to students. Advice that couldn't possibly really be coming from Dwight because Origami Yoda is way smarter than he is. It is very important to Tommy, whose social future depends on whether or not Origami Yoda gives good advice. In The Str…

Okay for Now

2012 Newbery buzz began about Gary D. Schmidt's Okay for Now in pretty much the same breath the 2011 winners were announced. Schmidt has had two books win Newbery Honors in the past. I haven't read either of those, this is my first experience with Schmidt's writing, which is unequivocally deserving of the praise and buzz this book has received.
Synopsis (from publisher's website):
As a fourteen-year-old who just moved to a new town, with no friends and a louse for an older brother, Doug Swieteck has all the stats stacked against him. As Doug struggles to be more than the "skinny thug" that his teachers and the police think him to be, he finds an unlikely ally in Lil Spicer—a fiery young lady who smelled like daisies would smell if they were growing in a big field under a clearing sky after a rain. In Lil, Doug finds the strength to endure an abusive father, the suspicions of a whole town, and the return of his oldest brother, forever …

Never Sit Down in a Hoopskirt and Other Things I Learned in Southern Belle Hell

I call the south home but I am not from here. Minus a three year stint in New Mexico I have lived here since I was 16. My parents are originally from Michigan. The places I have the most memories of I lived prior to here were England, southern California and upstate New York. I was little prepared y'all. Things are different here. Wedding are different, funerals are different, life is different. There are things I have come to appreciate about this region I call home:  the availability of sweet tea in restaurants, sweet potato casserole, Mayfield Dairy products, the Blue Ridge Parkway, the beaches, being surrounded by so much history. There are still things that have me boggled about the place: the array of desserts people insist on making from citrus fruits, the need to throw anything edible into a deep fat friar, how slow everyone moves, the entire state of South Carolina. And while I love the history I don't really see the need to cling to it like it is a life…

Fly By Night

On the cover of Fly by Night by Frances Hardinge there is a banner that reads: "Imagine a world in which all books have been BANNED!" I left the book on the table one day and Bit found it. Probably intrigued by the girl and her goose on the cover she picked it up and read this aloud. She slammed it back down and said, "I don't want to imagine that world, I would hate that world." Which is, of course, the point, but she's too young to appreciate that. Fly by Night has a very Dickensian feel to it. Mosca Mye is a clever orphan with an instinct for survival and she has to survive in a world of shady adults and dangers. Adults with names like Eponymous Clent, Linden Kohlrabi, Lady Tamarind and Captain Blythe. This book is a word lovers delight. Hardinge plays with names and is a master of figurative language. The descriptions in the book bring the world of The Fractured Realm to life. The realm is a fully realized one with a detailed history that is…

Sibling Stories

I have been thinking a lot about stories with strong sets of siblings lately. I have been reading The Penderwicks to Bit, rereading Harry Potter, and we recently checked out the Ramona and Beezus movie to watch so it is not hard to see why it has been coming to my mind. I love stories where the siblings are different yet incredibly close. I only have one sibling myself, my sister (who is awesome). She is my best friend yet we are very different. She is the extroverted, sensitive, artistic, flighty, dramatic one. I am the introverted, practical, nerdy, sensible, bossy and controlling one. And if I just made us sound like Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, that is not too far off the mark. I am enjoying watching my children's sibling relationship evolve too. It is fascinating to think about the bonds brothers and sisters share. My sister and I can fight like cats and dogs one minute and be laughing together like mad women the next. My husband, an only child, was completely f…

Inside Out and Back Again

I am not crazy about blank verse poetry. I don't understand why someone would sit down to write a novel and choose that format to tell the story. I don't understand why many readers get all excited about it.  I'm sure it is some sort of hitch with my own brain but I usually can't connect with the characters as well and I find the story awkward and stilted. This was not the case with Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai Inside Out and Back Again tell the story of Ha, a 10 year old Vietnamese girl. It begins a couple months before the fall of Saigon and covers a year in Ha's life as her family flees their country, lives in two refugee camps, and begins a new life in Alabama.

Ha is a wonderful narrator and very sympathetic. At the same time she has a smart sarcastic tone that is usually hard to convey with blank verse. Part of my sympathy for her came from knowledge. I taught in a school that had a large refugee population. I can picture exactly how Ha…

Farsala Continued

Last week I reviewed the first book in Hilari Bell's Farsala Trilogy, Fall of a Kingdom. I didn't say this then but the reason I put off reading this trilogy for so long was the titles of the final two books, Rise of a Hero and Forging the Sword. Because how stereotypically fantasy are those two concepts? I am mentioning this in case any out there may have had similar thoughts, because those titles are actually very tongue in cheek and there is more to them than their words imply.
Rise of a Hero picks up where Fall of a Kingdom leaves off. Jiann is commanding an army of ragtag peasants. Soraya, after spending time with Suud people learning their magic, is determined to find her mother and brother. Kavi is risking his life traveling around the countryside gathering information and encouraging the people to resist. For if Farsala can fight the invading Hrum for one year they will earn their freedom. Giving hope and heart to the resistance is the legend of Sorahb, the…

The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy

Featuring Bit (Bibliophile In Training), age 7

I first read The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall when Bit was just learning to toddle around. I was instantly in love and looked forward to the day that I could introduce her to this wonderful story. In the mean time I devoured and loved the two Penderwick novels that followed. I have been waiting a long time to read this story with Bit but she was reluctant, convinced it was going to be boring due to its lack of dragons and magic. I told her to give it at least three chapters and then if she didn't want to finish it we didn't have to. Instead of wanting me to stop she only wanted to keep reading and reading.
The Story
Rosalind, Skye, Jane, and Batty Penderwick are off to spend three weeks of their summer vacation at a place called Arundel cottage with their widowed father. They are looking forward to peace, soccer drills, flower picking, and outdoor adventures. They are unprepared when they discover the cottage is a pa…

Fall of a Kingdom

It took me some time to get into Fall of a Kingdom by Hilari Bell. This was not entirely the fault of the book. I was on vacation with the family and this book was not an easy one to relax with. Once I was in the car on the way home I was able to give it my full attention and became much more interested.  It is a book about kingdom politics and has a con artist as one of its main characters so how could I not be?
Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Stories are told of a hero who will come to Farsala's aid when the need is greatest. But for thousands of years the prosperous land of Farsala has felt no such need, as it has enjoyed the peace that comes from being both feared and respected. Now a new enemy approaches Farsala's borders, one that neither fears nor respects its name and legend. But the rulers of Farsala still believe that they can beat any opponent.
Three young people are less sure of Farsala's invincibility. Jiaan, Soraya, and Kavi see Time's Whee…

Scumbling Your Savvy

I love the words savvy and scumble. I can't help but want to use them on my kids when they act too smart. "Hey! You better scumble your savvy!" Savvy and Scumble are not only delightfully fun words but delightfully fun books as well. But in Ingrid Law's books they refer to something a lot more wonderful and dangerous than a too smart mouth.
The members of certain families out there are born with special powers, or savvies. A savvy is a knack for something, but for a special something, like moving the earth and making mountains or starting a storm or producing electricity or making every endeavor perfect. A savvy makes itself known on a person's thirteenth birthday and can have disastrous results depending on the savvy.  From that point a person has to learn how to scumble, or control, the savvy. Mibs, the main character of Newbery Honor Book Savvy, has her thirteenth birthday turn out even worse when her father is in a terrible accident preceding the …

13 Treasures

No one else can see the evil fairies that rouse Tanya from her sleep, torturing her at the slightest mention of their existence, but they are as real to the 13-year-old as anything she's ever known. She cannot rid herself of them, nor can she ignore them. But it is her insistence on responding to them that has her banished to her grandmother's secluded countryside manor. There is much to explore and even more to fear in the woods surrounding the estate. But, the forest isn't the only source of dark secrets, and Tanya soon finds herself entangled in a mystery that could trap her in the fairy realm forever. (Synopsis of 13 Treasures by Michelle Harrison from Goodreads)
"Faeries," Tanya whispered, running her finger lightly over the old-fashioned spelling on the page. It seemed to suit them somehow, these strange creatures that hounded her.
It does suit Tanya's creatures because they are Faeries. The dangerous ones. The ones you don't wa…

Incarceron (with a little Sapphique)

A prison that needs no guards because it regulates itself. A prison that once you enter you never leave so eventually the prison contains, not the original prisoners, but their descendants. Incarceron by Catherine Fisher has an almost irresistible premise. It is a unique setting for a fantasy novel and Fisher imported into it traditional fantasy tropes. There is a quest, a missing heir, plenty of ruffians who ambush our intrepid heroes, and an evil sorceress(?). Despite the prison setting there is also a journey (because it is required).  I really enjoyed how Fisher merged the futuristic setting with the traditional fantasy elements. Reading Incarceron was an intense and exciting experience.  Incarceron was created to be a prison, but also a a Paradise. All the undesirables were sent with a group of wise scholars into its mazes of ducts, streets, metal forests, and halls. Incarceron was programmed to provide all they needed and to regulate its world.  Now, centuries later…