Saturday, March 29, 2008

What's in a Name Challenge - COMPLETED!

With the completion of Water for Elephants, I have successfully finished Annie's What's in a Name Challenge! Thanks, Annie, for such a great challenge!

Here is my final list of books read for the challenge (links link back to my reviews):

Place: Pompeii: Lost and Found by Mary Pope Osborne
Weather Event: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
First Name: Bella at Midnight by Diane Stanley
Plant: Weedflower by Cynthia Kadohata
Color: Black Ships by Jo Graham
Anima: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Water for Elephants for Sara Gruen

I have a love/hate relationship with Water for Elephants. I finished many scenes in this book and had to put it down and take a deep breath and seethe for a few minutes before I could pick it back up again. After one particular reading session, I wanted to hurl the book across the room. But I persevered, and in the end I was glad I had.

The characters in this book are so well-developed that I felt like I could reach out and touch them. Especially the star of the show, Rosie the elephant. I so wanted to be next to Rosie and touch her wrinkled skin. Look into her oh-so-human eyes.

But a word of caution. If you are strongly affected by elderly neglect or cruelty to animals, you should enter into this book with care. There are some heart-wrenching scenes in this book that tore me apart. I have a close friend with whom I share many of my books, but I have strong reservations regarding passing this book on to her, because I know that these two topics are very dear to her. I'm just not sure she could handle them. Suffice it to say that train circuses were much more concerned about making a profit than in the ethical treatment of their animals and workers.

This fulfills the "animal" category of Annie's What's in a Name Challenge.

Other reviews can be found at:
Reading Adventure

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Once Upon a Time II Challenge

How can I resist? Ever since I started reading book blogs, about 6 months or so ago, I've heard people refer to Carl's Once Upon a Time Challenge. This one sounds, well, magical.

You can read all about the challenge by clicking the image above. The quests all sound yummy.

I'm going to attempt Quest the First: Read at least 5 books that fit somewhere within the Once Upon a Time II criteria. They might all be fantasy, or folklore, or fairy tales, or mythology…or your five books might be a combination from the four genres.

As with all of the challenges I've signed on to, I'm limiting myself to books I already plan to read, or at least have on hand. For this one, I have the following books in mind:

  • The Sea of Monsters (2nd in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series) by Rick Riordan
  • Princess Academy by Shannon Hale
  • The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray
  • Stardust by Neil Gaiman
  • The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly
  • American Gods by Neil Gaiman
I'm actually reading Dragon Slippers right now, which would count, but as it's a re-read, I'll not count it. I may end up finding myself reading others that fit, but for now some combination of the books above seem like a pretty firm list.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

LibraryThing Early Reviewers

Woo hoo! I snagged yet another LibraryThing Early Review copy! This time I'm getting Venetian Mask by Rosalind Laker. I've gotten really lucky with this program and have read some excellent books. I'm really looking forward to reading this one, too!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Hubert Invents the Wheel by Claire and Monte Montgomery

For some reason, this book was shelved in the Young Adult section of my local library. Huh?

Hubert is an Ancient Sumerian teenager who likes to invent things, just like his mother, who disappeared after an unfortunate umbrella incident. His father, Gorp, is less than thrilled with Hubert's inventive nature. When Hubert invents the wheel, all is well until the Assyrians steal the idea and suddenly life as the Sumerians know it is threatened.

This was a very cute book. And besides just a good story, it has educational value, too. Besides learning about an ancient culture (however comedically portrayed), you (or at least kids) will learn new vocabulary words, a bit about technology, and even some math concepts. This would be a great cross-curriculum book for teachers to use, probably 4th or 5th grade level (although some of the math concepts may be more advanced - maybe that's why it was considered YA?).

That said, when I wasn't reading it, it didn't call my name, and I had a hard time picking it up again. When I would pick it up, I would enjoy it, but I was often reluctant to pick it back up. Not sure what that was about.

I can best describe the style of this book as being like an animated Disney movie - I kept picturing The Emperor's New Groove as I was reading. Interestingly, I noted that the illustrator, Jeff Shelly, used to work for Disney. It was silly in the same ways, and the cartoon style of the drawings just magnified the similarities. This isn't a bad thing, just an observation.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is the story of Lily, a Chinese girl/woman, set during the 19th century. After a diviner sees how perfect Lily's feet are, she fetches a matchmaker from a nearby village who thinks Lily is a perfect choice for a laotong ("old same") match with a girl from another family in her village. A laotong match is between two girls who share 8 "sames," which include year and month of birth, size of their feet, social status, among other things. This bond is a lifelong commitment, stronger even than the bond of marriage, and it is quite an honor.

Lily narrates the story as an 80-year-old woman looking back on her life. Lily meets her laotong, Snow Flower, when she is 6 years old, and the story takes us through their entire relationship, in which a terrible secret is revealed and their relationship is tried.

I loved this book. It's the first book in a while that I have truly gotten lost in, with the outside world passing me by. It should be some indication of how into this book I was that I had 50+ pages left last night and actually read them all without falling asleep! This is a true testament from me!

If you liked Memoirs of a Geisha, then I definitely think you will enjoy this book.

Other reviews can be found at:
Bookin' It
Reading Adventure

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Thinking aloud

I'm 2.5 books shy of completing the 2007-2008 Texas Bluebonnet nominees, and I've come to a surprising realization. This is not the level of children's/YA books I like to read. Out of the 17 books I've read so far, I can confidently say I really liked 3 of them. Others were cute, but more often than not I found myself thinking "I would have liked this better as a kid."

Compare that to my reaction to the books I've been reading off the Name that Book list that is for high school students. Out of the 23.5 books I've read off that list so far, I've really liked 11 books. Of the remaining 12.5, I've enjoyed most of them to some degree. There are only 2 that I would say I really didn't care for that much. (That said, I don't think I would say I've disliked any of the Bluebonnets, I just didn't care for them one way or another.)

I always say I love children's books, and regardless, I am a huge supporter of children's literature. But I think I can safely say I love picture books, and I enjoy upper level children's books. That middle section that encompasses beginning readers through approximately 5th grade level (broad generalization here) really leaves me pretty cold. There are, of course, exceptions.

So, I've decided that I'm not going to read the Bluebonnet list for 2008-2009. Instead I'm going to read from the Tayshas list, which is intended for 9th thru 12th graders. I may pick up a Bluebonnet here and there, and I will still read some children's books to stay current (who knows if I might one day decide to go back to being a children's librarian, which I loved), but for this year, I'm going to focus on YA. The Tayshas list is much longer - it is purely a recommended reading list with no expectation that anyone should read everything on it - consisting of 60 books. I narrowed it down to which books I already have and which ones are available from the library, which brought it down to a little over 30. Totally doable.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Ghost's Grave by Peg Kehret

I give this book a good, solid "meh."

Twelve-year-old Josh finds himself spending the summer with his great aunt (by marriage) Ethel instead of playing on an all-star baseball team, and he's none too happy about it. However, his summer starts to perk up when he 1) meets the ghost of a coal miner who died more than 100 years before and 2) he finds a stray mama cat and her kittens. After agreeing to help the ghost reunite his amputated leg bones with the rest of his body, things get exciting.

To be fair, I would have loved this book when I was a child. This is exactly the type of book I was drawn to. But I think the problem is that I've read too many mysteries now. I found the book terribly predictable, and, thus, disappointing.

The Ghost's Grave was a quick read - I think I read it in 4 sittings and could have easily finished it in a day or two if I didn't have other things going on. But it wasn't one I couldn't wait to pick back up. So, I give it a solid 3 stars out of 5.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

The Translator by Daoud Hari

While The Translator may be a quick read, it is most definitely not an easy read. My first reaction when I saw this book listed as an Early Reviewer option on LibraryThing was that it sounded depressing and definitely not a "light" read. And I was right. But my second thought was that something dreadful is going on in Darfur, and I am woefully uninformed. So I requested it. I'm very glad to have gotten this book and to have become just a bit more informed about the monstrosities going on a world away from my comfortable, middle-class home in America.

A friend of mine reviewed this book yesterday and was disappointed that the focus was more on Hari's imprisoments than stories of actual people in Darfur. I see where she's coming from, wanting to hear more, but at the same time, this is Daoud Hari's memoir, and that is what he had to share. I think hearing about how he was beaten mercilessly over and over is enough to give me an idea of what conditions are like all over Sudan.
This book is not sophisticated. English is not Hari's first language, and it shows. The book is probably at no more than an 8th grade reading level, if that, which is a sharp contrast to the subject matter. But Hari tells his story with brutal honesty. I could have lived without the random humor thrown in - but I guess that shows the side of Hari that enabled him to survive through some very difficult times.

Personally, I think this is an excellent introduction to the situation in Darfur, but not the place to stop. Read this and find out more and speak out.

Also reviewed at:
Leafing Through Life
Bookin' It
nothing of importance

The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory

It seems like it took me forever to get through this book, but really, I enjoyed it! This is the 2nd Gregory book I've read now, and I'm really looking forward to reading more.

Everyone and their mother knows the premise of this book, I suppose, given its popularity and the release of the movie last week. Mary Boleyn is the sister of Anne Boleyn. Both girls are pawns for the powerful Boleyn and Howard families, and Mary is the first sister to be dangled before the king (even though she is a married girl of the ripe age of 15!). This is the story of Anne's rise to her role as Queen of England, from the viewpoint of Mary.

There's a lot of controversy as to the historical accuracy of this book, but I enjoyed it for what it is - historical FICTION.

I've heard mixed reviews of the movie, but I'm dying to go see it anyway. I suppose it will have to wait until at least next weekend, now, though.

This book counts as one of 4 books 450 pages or longer for the Chunkster Challenge.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz

As is often the case with Newbery Award winners (in my opinion), this book has great literary value, but won't appeal to kids, at least not as pleasure reading. I quite enjoyed the book, but Laura (age 11) took one look at it, and said, "That looks boring!"

Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! was written by a librarian to accompany a unit on the middle ages at her school. The kids were doing all sorts of projects, and she wanted to contribute something they could perform. The result was a series of mostly monologues, each one by a different resident of a medieval village. My favorite pieces in the book, though, were the 2 pieces that were intended for 2 actors.

Reading this book was one thing, seeing it performed would be another altogether. I think my daughter would have a different opinion entirely if she took the book in the vein in which it was intended, that of performance art.

Other reviews:
the hidden side of the leaf

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Half Price Books

Recently, I got a performance award at work and yesterday I received my $25 gift card in the mail. I took advantage of the hour Eli was in gymnastics and headed over to Half Price Books for a little browsing (as if I need more books). I found 4 books and only had to pay $.35 out of my pocket. I got:

Cordelia Underwood: Or, the Marvelous Beginnings of the Moosepath League by Van Reid
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Island of the Sequined Love Nun by Christopher Moore
Moloka'i by Alan Brennert

I own the 2nd in the Moosepath League series, Mollie Peer: Or, the Underground Adventure of the Moosepath League, which I bought several years ago after seeing it in my Book Lover's calendar, not realizing it was part of a series. This is the first time I've happened across the first book, so I snapped it up!

I'm pretty sure we have American Gods somewhere around here, but I haven't seen it in ages and have really been wanting to read it. Yes, I know it's available for free online this month, but I also know there is no way I'm going to get it read in that length of time!

I loved A Dirty Job by Moore, so I've been on the lookout for other books of his to snap up.

Moloka'i is on the Name that Book list. I've now got 5 titles on that list that I have picked up cheap waiting to be read.

The Spiderwick Chronicles by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black

We recently read all 5 books in the Spiderwick Chronicles for bedtime. These books were so enjoyable, and they were really quick reads. We really wanted to finish them before the movie came out (or at least while it was still playing), and we managed that. More on that below.

The story goes like this. The Grace family (Mallory, Simon and Jared (twins), and their mom) move into a very old house belonging to their Aunt Lucinda, who is in the "nuthouse." Their parents are having marital problems, thus the move. Jared discovers a field guide to magical beings written by his great-great-uncle Arthur Spiderwick (Lucinda's father), and crazy things begin to happen. They must keep the field guide out of the hands of the ogre Mulgarath or else.

As I said, we all really liked the books.

I had heard great things about the movie and had high expectations when we saw it today. As a stand-alone movie, it was very entertaining, but it strayed very far from the plot of the books. Well, no, if you take the basic plot, it's the same. Keep the book away from Mulgarath. But very important parts were left out (like the entire 4th book) and unnecessary details were added (did they really need to say that the dad had moved in with another woman, for example). All of the main characters were there, but the movie only vaguely resembled the great books we just read. I wouldn't say don't see the movie, just be forewarned that a lot is changed.