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Showing posts from November, 2011

Dash and Lily's Book of Dares

Wow, was this the perfect example of right book at the right time. I wanted a fun and light Christmas read and decided it was about time I gave Dash and Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan a go. I'm so very glad I did. It was exactly what I wanted, fun, light and Chritmasy, but with also smart and witty. Dash is a cynical jaded teen who has orchestrated a Christmas alone by telling each of his parents he is spending it with the other. During his boring lonely winter break he is perusing the Strand ( that mecca of used book stores ) when he spots a red journal amongst the books by his favorite author. Intrigued he pulls it off the shelf and finds a series of clues leading him through several sections of the bookstore and to an invitation to begin a correspondence with a girl named Lily. To keep it interesting he continues what she has begun with the notebook scavenger hunt rather than just giving her his email address. Lily is an optimistic girl full of h

Jefferson's Sons

I first became aware of Jefferson's Sons by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley when Betsy Bird posted this review of it on her blog back in August. The novel chronicles the life at Monticello for the children Thomas Jefferson had with his slave, Sally Hemings. I was intrigued enough to buy a copy, but also hesitant to read it. There is a reason you don't see many reviews of historical fiction on this blog. I don't read a lot of it because when it is done poorly, as it often is, nothing annoys me more. (I was a History minor.) I have completely avoided the discussion on this book at Heavy Medal because I hadn't yet read the it, though I've heard most people there weren't as enamored with it as some earlier reviewers. (I will try to get to looking at it when the Christmas candy making is complete.) I couldn't resist reading Monica Edinger's thoughts when she posted them as they were about using real people as characters in a book, something that has always made

Happy Thanksgiving!

To all who celebrate it this weekend. This is an incredibly busy weekend for me, hence the lack of reviews. We host Thanksgiving at our house for both our sets of parents. This is also the weekend when I make the candy for all the Christmas festivities we attend and gifts we give (chocolate covered cherries, chocolate covered peanut butter balls, fudge). Needless to say I'm a little busy. I did squeeze in some time to take Bit to see Hugo today and enjoyed it immensely. I will be back on Monday with a review of Jefferson's Sons by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

Catherynne M. Valente's The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making is the book that gets my vote for Best Title of the Year. But a clever title does not always make a clever book. In this case though the contents live up to the package. It is a beautifully written and clever story. It is pretty near impossible to discuss this book without bringing Alice into the mix, and I have made it no secret here that I'm not the biggest fan of Wonderland (or  the Victorian fantasy in general). This isn't Victorian fantasy however, it is modern fantasy with Victorian elements. Neil Gaiman stated it perfectly in his blurb for the book (an endorsement enough in itself, no need to read my review): "A glorious balancing act between modernism and the Victorian fairy tale, done with heart and wisdom." That exactly. Synopsis (from Goodreads): Twelve-year-old September lives in Omaha, and used to have an ordinary life, until her father went to war and her

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Featuring Bit, age 7 I am the mean sort of Mom who is not letting my child inhale all the Harry Potter books in one gulp. I'm making her take her time and space them out. It is working well so far. Since we read the first two it has been about nine months. Yes, I've had to listen to lots of begging but she has also reread the first two books on her own several times in the interim so she came into this one really knowing the characters well and there was a definite difference in how invested she was in the story. The Story Really I shouldn't have to do this, but as a matter of form:  Harry returns to Hogwarts for his third year after having a rather momentous summer. This year everyone is determined to keep Harry safe within the walls of Hogwarts since escaped Azkaban prisoner Sirius Black has escaped and is, most probably, looking for Harry. Harry doesn't only have escaped convicts to worry about though. He also must contend with his old nemesis, Draco

Back When You Were Easier to Love

Back When You Were Easier to Love by Emily Wing Smith is a fluffy light read with an interesting concept. Who doesn't like books with potentially awkward road trips in cool cars? The book certainly delivers in terms of that promise. It also delivers in terms of writing. The style works well for the plot and the imagery is very good. I think there are many teen girls out there who will be able to identify with the main character and enjoy going along for the ride. I don't necessarily think that's a good thing. Synopsis (from Goodreads): What's worse than getting dumped? Not even knowing if you've been dumped. Joy got no goodbye, and certainly no explanation when Zan - the love of her life and the only good thing about stifling, backward Haven, Utah - unceremoniously and unexpectedly left for college a year early. Joy needs closure almost as much as she needs Zan, so she heads for California, and Zan, riding shotgun beside Zan's former-best-friend Noah.

And the Winner is...

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai was just announced as the winner of the 2011 National Book Award for Young People's Literature. This is a novel written in blank verse that follows its young heroine as she flees Vietnam when Saigon falls, spends time in refugee camps, and learns to adapt to a new life in Alabama. It is a wonderful story and Ha is a sympathetic heroine. It is definitely a book well worth reading. You can read my original thoughts here . I read four of the five books that were nominated and don't envy the committee the decision they had to make. The four I read were all excellent and worthy books. Congratulations to Thanhha Lai!

The Trouble with May Amelia

I am clearly missing something here. Jennifer Holm has been honored by three different Newbery committees for her novels Our Only May Amelia , Penny from Heaven , and Turtle in Paradise . Despite never getting past the first third of Our Only May Amelia and pretty much detesting every moment I spent reading Turtle in Paradise , I dutifully checked out a copy of her latest novel, The Trouble with May Amelia , as soon as my library received its copies. It is, of course, generating some award buzz this year. Honestly I just don't get it. If you enjoy historical fiction from the point of view of plucky young girls then there is much to enjoy here. I certainly liked it far more than I have the other works I have tried by this author, but there were still a multitude of things that annoyed me about it. Synopsis (from Goodreads): May Amelia lives in pioneer Washingon State in 1900, and she just can't act the part of a proper young lady. Working a farm on the rainy Nasel River is

Tales of Ancient Egypt

A Review Featuring Bit, Age 7 I can hardly believe we are almost halfway through second grade. Four more weeks and we are done with the term. We are well into our study of ancient cultures that is focusing on Ancient Egypt, and these next four weeks find us immersed in the Middle Kingdom. We have been reading Roger Lancelyn Green's Tales of Ancient Egypt to give Bit some background and understanding of the religious system. The Story Tales of Ancient Egypt is a collection of tales and myths from Ancient Egypt. Go figure. The book is divided into three sections: Tales of the Gods, Tales of Magic, and Tales of Adventure.There are 20 tales in all. Bit's Thoughts   I like Tales of Ancient Egypt because it will help me understand history more. I also like it because I like Egypt. My favorite story was "The Story of the Greek Princess". I like this tale because the people are so clever in it. It is also the story of Troy which I know about from reading The Trojan H


Nightspell by Leah Cypess is a companion novel to her debut, Mistwood ( my review ). It can be read as a stand alone novel, the two only share one character and you don't need to know her story from the first novel to enjoy or understand this one. Synopsis (from Goodreads): When Darri rides into Ghostland, a country where the living walk with the dead, she has only one goal: to rescue her younger sister Callie, who was sent to Ghostland as a hostage four years ago. But Callie has changed in those four years, and now has secrets of her own. In her quest to save her sister from herself, Darri will be forced to outmaneuver a handsome ghost prince, an ancient sorcerer, and a manipulative tribal warrior (who happens to be her brother). When Darri discovers the source of the spell that has kept the dead in Ghostland chained to this earth, she faces a decision that will force her to reexamine beliefs she has never before questioned - and lead her into the heart of a con


"Once upon a time, a demonlike creature with a forty-seven-syllable name made an enchanted mirror. The mirror shattered in the sky. The splinters took to the wind and scattered for hundreds of miles. When they fell to the earth, things began to change....A boy got a splinter in his eye, and his heart turned cold. Only two people noticed. One was a witch, and she took him for her own. The other was his best friend. And she went after him in ill-considered shoes, brave and completely unprepared." (p153,155) Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu is a retelling of "The Snow Queen" by Hans Christian Anderson, yes, but it might be more fitting to say this is an homage to all of Anderson's tales because there are a great many of them incorporated into this one. The heart of  the story is "The Snow Queen" though, or rather, what it symbolizes. Growing up, changing, leaving old friends behind, and discovering who one is as a person. Hazel and Jack have been best friends

Picture Books of 2011

It's Picture Book Month! Did you know? If not, you can read all about it . I don't write about picture books often on this blog, but they are very much a part of my everyday life. In celebration of Picture Book Month, I bring you my favorites of the year. Yesterday the NY Times revealed its 2011 Best Illustrated Children's Books . This post is unrelated to the NY Times list. This post has been scheduled for today for weeks . Great minds think alike and all that. My list is very different from the NY Times one. I don't know what criteria they used. My criteria: I had fun reading/looking at the book and, most importantly, my test subjects approved. My Test Subjects (ages 7 and 3): Apple Pie ABC by Alison Murray Alphabet books are a dime a dozen. This one stands far and above the rest in my opinion. There are words and phrases for every letter, as one expects in an alphabet book. A for apple pie, B for bake it, C for cool it, D for dish it out, and on. All

Here Lies Arthur

I have been in an Arthurian sort of mood this week. If you should ever find yourself in an Arthurian sort of mood then Here Lies Arthur by Philip Reeve is one I would definitely recommend. Be warned that this is one of those stories that tries to place Arthur in his actual historical context. This not Le Morte d'Arthur . Not anywhere close, and that is actually my favorite thing about it. I like it when an author tries to separate the man from the myth, and Reeve does this while adding a clever twist that speaks of the power of story. Gwyna is a child when Arthur's war band comes and destroys her master's home. Fleeing the burning wreckage, she manages to escape by swimming away in the river. Little does she know she has been seen by Myrddin, a bard and storyteller, who travels with Arthur. Seeing that Gwyna will be useful to him in his quest to help Arthur rule all of Britain, Myrddin makes Gwyna his servant. Over the course of her years in Arthur's band, disguised