The Mouse with the Question Mark Tail is a cute read about a young mouse who lives at Buckingham Palace in the days surrounding Queen Victoria's Jubil...moreThe Mouse with the Question Mark Tail is a cute read about a young mouse who lives at Buckingham Palace in the days surrounding Queen Victoria's Jubilee. He is an engaging little mouse and his story includes all of the requisite elements of a mouse tale: an encounter with a cat, a barn scene, some startled royalty, a flight around in the talons of a flying creature, and a discovery of his importance despite his small size. Nothing new or ground breaking, but it is all well written and fun. It would make an excellent read aloud for the 1st-3rd grade crowd. (less)
No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson won this year's Horn Book Award for Children's Fiction. I can understand why. It is a unique and original book in so many ways. Format. Content. Genre. It is also a fascinating story.
"My life was no crystal stair, far from it. But I'm taking my leave with some pride. It tickles me to know that those folks who said I could never sell books to black people are eating crow. I'd say my seeds grew pretty damn well. And not just the book business. It's the more important business of moving our people forward that has real meaning."
If you read the synopsis you may come away thinking this is a non-fiction biography. I did. I was thoroughly confused when it won the Horn Book Award for FICTION. Lewis Michaux was a real person, the great-uncle of the author as a matter of fact. His bookstore was a real bookstore. There is pictoral and documented evidence to support this story. However, the author found some contradictory accounts of his life and places where there were no accounts at all and she extrapolated., making it a work of fiction. The most well documented and sourced work of fiction in history. No lie. There's a bibliography, and not a short one either, not to mention the list of quote sources. It is so well done and clearly straddles a fine line between non-fiction and fiction. I very much admire the author for calling it fiction since there were places she had to make assumptions. At the same time I am glad to have discovered this slice of American History I knew absolutely nothing about. Even without the narrative extrapolations it is clear that Michaux lived a fascinating life and did an extraordinary thing. (less)
"East of the Sun, West of the Moon" is, like Beauty and the Beast, a fairy tale that finds its origins in the myth of Eros and Psyche. This is one of...more"East of the Sun, West of the Moon" is, like Beauty and the Beast, a fairy tale that finds its origins in the myth of Eros and Psyche. This is one of the many reasons I like it so much. This retelling does some interesting things with the original tale. I found all of those things to be 100% creepy and really had a hard time enjoying the story as a result. Yes, the original tale with its girl marrying bear and troll castle would set off the creepy meter of some no matter what. It isn't the original elements that made me uncomfortable though, it was the underlying themes the author wove into the original tale that made it impossible for me to enjoy. The concept of how souls were taken at death and dealt out at birth was not something I could buy into and it made Bear's character hard to accept. I was also made uncomfortable by the whole relationship dynamic between Bear and Cassie.
That being said, it is beautifully written. The descriptions of the Arctic are beautiful and well done. I could feel the bitter cold despite the 90 degree temps outside. (less)
The Inquisitor's Apprentice by Chris Moriarty took be by complete surprise. I was expecting to enjoy it and was patiently waiti...moreOriginally posted here.
The Inquisitor's Apprentice by Chris Moriarty took be by complete surprise. I was expecting to enjoy it and was patiently waiting for my library to order copies. Then on a visit to our local bookstore, I saw it and bought it on impulse. This is a good thing because I didn't enjoy this book, I LOVED it. I recognize it is not a book everyone will like, but it worked for me on every level. As a reader I was engrossed and it kept me thinking. As a mom it is definitely a book I want to have on the shelf for my kids. As a teacher I could see so much potential in it for a great unit study. But it was the reader me who enjoyed it the most. And now I have a new literary crush as well.
Sacha Kessler is a Russian Jewish immigrant living on Hester Street in a magical New York in the late 19th century. Magic practiced by the masses is illegal and the Wall Street Wizards (Morgaunt, Vanderbilk, Astral) use it to stay rich at the expense of the people. Sacha's life is changed forever on the day he witnesses an act of magic and it is discovered he can see magic being performed. Suddenly he finds himself the apprentice of Inquisitor Maximillian Wolf, the most famous of the group of NYPD officers assigned to investigate magical crime. Along with his fellow apprentice, Lily Astral, Sacha is immediately thrown into an investigation centered around an assassination attempt on the famous Thomas Edison, and all the clues are leading very close to Hester Street and Sacha's own home.
I love the magical New York Moriarty created here. The concept of the magic of the city and the people were brilliant. Her world building is excellent. As an alternate history it relies a lot on the actual history of industrial New York but she has painted the world with enough detail that (I think) you can read it without needing to know that actual history. In many ways the world building reminded me a lot of Diana Wynne Jones and Megan Whalen Turner in that Moriarty in no way condescends to her readers. She throws them into the world as it is and expects them to have the intelligence to catch up. I can actually see the real history being more of a stumbling block for an adult reader than a child reader. Children who enjoy fantasy are used to being dropped into worlds where they are unfamiliar with many aspects and there are different words and languages being used. The NY Moriarty has created would be viewed by them as a just another of these worlds.
The plot is fast paced and intricate. It is a mystery above all else, but also the story of a boy trying to reconcile his place in the world. Through it themes of gender, race, culture, religion, and economics are explored. There is so much fodder for discussion here. I could see this book working well paired with Flesh and Blood so Cheap and a study of this actual time period. I really feel like Moriarty balanced the themes well here. There is a definite sense that the the Wall Street Wizards, Mordaunt in particular, are the bad guys. She also plays with stereotypes quite a bit as well, but the underlying message is the reality of the situation is far more complex. There are several threads in the story left dangling and the end is definitely a set up as this is the first in a five book series.
Sacha is an interesting hero and one that is easy to identify with. He is a very genuine 13, not really a child but not yet an adult. He feels a great responsibility to his family and loves them greatly but is ashamed of the conditions they live in. He is a Russian Jew and an American. I enjoyed the interactions he and Lily had in this book and how a tentative friendship begins to develop between them. I am looking forward to seeing how his character grows and unfolds in the future volumes. I am also very much looking forward to seeing more of all the supporting characters, particularly Inquisitor Wolf (my brand new literary crush). When Charlotte reviewed this she had this to say about him, "He reminded me a bit of Lord Peter Whimsey, crossed with Howl, with a dash of Eugenides, mainly because he is very, very good at not revealing all that is going on inside his brilliant mind." That description is so perfectly apt that I can do no better.
So The Inquisitor's Apprentice has made a last minute entry into consideration for my top reads of 2011. I am eagerly anticipating any news of the next volume in this story. (less)
This is an excellent extra resource for Bible study though the title is a bit deceiving. The story is not Untold because it is in the Bible. However t...moreThis is an excellent extra resource for Bible study though the title is a bit deceiving. The story is not Untold because it is in the Bible. However this resource takes the letters of the New Testament and places them in chronological order using Acts and historical detail to fill in the background of each one. I have been using this book for Bible study for several months and will go through it again in a couple of years. Viola does, at times, make blanket statements that one must look into a bit further which is why I'm not giving it 5 stars. I loved reading the letters in chronological order rather than grouped by author and the historical background for each was top notch and definitely shed some new light on what they contain. The best part for me was when you would get to the point on the page that said, "Pause and read Romans" or "Pause and read Galatians". It is not very often that one sits down and reads an entire book of the Bible through in one sitting we. We parse it up into smaller bits far too often. Reading the books as a whole is an entirely different experience. I highly recommend this to anyone interested in studying Scripture.(less)
Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King is a bizarre book. It is in fact one of those books I normally don't finish. Or if I do I'm annoyed that I did. Not this time. Nope. Despite the highly bizarre and inexplicable weirdness that sometimes doesn't make any sense I ate it up as if it were made of dark chocolate with flecks of hot peppers inside. I can't say I was completely satisfied at the end but the experience was delightfully strange.
The line between dreams and reality in this book is incredibly vague. Lucky can fall asleep anywhere, particularly if he is stressed, and go into the dream world in which he experiences all kind of adventures with is POW MIA grandfather in Vietnam. He awakes and is always left with some memento from the dream. He has a box under his bed full of them. Then there are the ants. They show up when Lucky is having his face smashed into concrete by Nader at the pool. They then follow him everywhere. The Greek chorus in the play of Lucky's life. They comment. They pantomime. They amuse. So bizarre. This sort of surrealism is usually too much for me. What made the difference this time?
And his mom, Ginny, Jodie, Charlotte, his dad, even his uncle. This book has characters. Oh does it ever.
Through these characters there are many themes being explored. Suicide, bullying, exploitation, the idea of a dysfunctional family, mental illness, the crimes of war, the crimes of high school. The characters are what make the book though and every single theme is funneled through their lives in such a way that they are never what the book about. The book is about Lucky. One teenage boy who is trying to survive high school long enough to experience his first kiss. A boy who has been pushed to the edge but is learning how to pull himself back from it. To keep his balance. He won my heart in every way. Even with all the strange.(less)
This has a fun concept, but I couldn't help but feel it was only half of a book. True a sasquatch escapes and is found so it does have something of a...moreThis has a fun concept, but I couldn't help but feel it was only half of a book. True a sasquatch escapes and is found so it does have something of a plot arc, but it was mostly just set up for what I'm assuming is going to be a series of books about the kids working as apprentices for the Imaginary Vet. I didn't feel like I got to know either of the characters well and was left wanting more in the end. (less)
I don't enjoy animal books. Occasionally a book will come along that causes me to eat these words (The Tale of Despereaux, The...moreOriginally posted here.
I don't enjoy animal books. Occasionally a book will come along that causes me to eat these words (The Tale of Despereaux, The Cheshire Cheese Cat). Usually animal books simply remind me of all the reasons I don't enjoy animal books. The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate doesn't quite fall into the category of the former, but it is far removed from the latter.
What impressed me the most about this novel was the characterization, which says a lot considering I'm not easily impressed by animal characters. In the beginning of the story Ivan is a pretty content gorilla. He is content because he lives in the moment, not giving much consideration to the past or the future. He is a little snarky and doesn't give much thought to the world outside of Ivan. Much like the kids who will be reading his story. Once he begins to examine his life and see it through the eyes of young Ruby he begins to question things. The questioning leads to a desire to make a difference which leads to Ivan discovering the best way to use his own personal talents to make that difference. He has to face major changes to his life and environment. This is a coming of age story told from the point of view of a gorilla. Way to go Katerine Applegate! I had no idea that could be done, never mind done so well. The other animal characters are endearing, but not as interesting. Bob, the stray dog who is Ivan's best friend, provides comedy relief. Stella, the older elephant, provides the sadness and motivation for change. Ruby serves her purpose by being adorable and engendering sympathy.
I appreciated how the humans were characterized in the story. There are good humans, there are bad humans, but it is not as simple as good/bad. George is definitely one of the good guys. He cares for the animals. He wants what is best for them, but he also has a family and he needs his job, so doesn't work as quickly or effectively as he should to intervene on the animal's behalf. Mack is definitely one of the bad guys. What he has done to Ivan, Ruby, and Stella is inexcusable. Yet even he is shown as a person with complex feelings and motivations. He is not a mustache twirling villain with a evil laugh. He is human.
This is a book about the ethical and proper treatment of animals. By giving them personality and emotion, Applegate has given animals everywhere a voice. If your child reads this book, expect questions about the treatment of any animal you see in any type of captivity. This book is one that may lead to activism in young ones. Not a bad thing at all, especially when you consider the number of animals that are mistreated by their owners and handlers for the sake of profit. I liked how Applegate, while addressing zoos are not the best place for wild animals (the wild is), acknowledged the important and often life saving role they play. There were a couple of points where I felt I was being lectured, but this may be the adult in me.
The language of the story flows well and is to the point. The book doesn't waste words and is a quick and easy read. It is one of those books that make an ideal read aloud, particularly for younger elementary students.
While I think this book has plenty of child appeal, as well as being excellently written, I'm currently testing that theory. Bit saw the cute baby elephant and surly looking gorilla on the cover and immediately wanted to read it too. (less)
Beswitched by Kate Saunders has two elements I love: a boarding school and magic. It made it on to my TBR for that reason. It moved its way to the top when it was shortlisted for this year's Cybils.
Flora is a behaving like a spoiled brat at the beginning of the novel though in a way most MG readers will be able to identify with. She does improve, but it took a little too long for me to ever really warm to her as a character. The story is an interesting one and I like the contrast between modern life and 1935 life. The magic that pulls Flora to 1935 was performed by three of her classmates, fortunately the one she is sharing a dorm with so she has help. I couldn't help but feel really sorry for the other Flora who had lived in India all her life and suddenly found herself in modern day England with no one to explain to her what had happened or why. She has no significance to this story but I couldn't help but feel really sorry for her.
Despite its short length I found myself getting bored several times. There's not a lot of action and a lot of school detail. Normally I would by okay with that, but for some reason I just couldn't be made to care. It was probably due to my dislike for the characters more than that the story was boring itself. I knew the twist at the end was coming, but I think there are many MG readers who will be delightedly surprised with the way it all turns out.
Beswitched was entertaining enough, but not a book I could love. I tried to get Bit to read it to see what she thought. Our library has the version with the cover shown on the right and she took one look at it and said, "Ugh. That's very pink. I don't think I want to read that." There was no changing her mind. (less)
Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins is a Newbery winner of the past decade that for whatever reason I hadn't read yet. I thought it was about time to change that. I can see why the committee liked it.
Synopsis (from author's website):
The people in this book are fourteen years old, and there is romance, but it’s mostly the kind of romance where one person looks at another person and that person looks at the first person, but their looks miss each other, maybe only by a second, and they don’t connect. There is a a scene in the Hitchcock movie Strangers on a Train where the wacko guy does this with his hands and says, “Criss Cross.” He’s talking about something else (murder) but I’m talking about those just-missed opportunities to connect. This might sound discouraging, but I think it’s actually encouraging to know that we came pretty close, and if we keep trying, we’ll get it right.
In the beginning I really thought I was going to love this book. It has the sort of language I revel in. And revel in it I did. I appreciate how this book was written.
He looked at the musician again who didn't seem so ordinary anymore. His music had transformed him, or revealed a part of him that was plugged into the cosmic life force. A life force that seeped in, through, and under the music, like God in the Communion wafer. An everyday kind of life force, though, that could do this in a song about a chicken. More about earth than heaven. Also girls really liked it.
She knew that she would have to talk. She should have been able to do it. But she had developed a black hole in her brain. She could be in the middle of a normal conversation with a boy and the instant she thought of him that way-as a boy-the black hole sucked all her words away. Except a few stupid ones. The stupid ones stayed in there.
There was a lot to love about the language, but in the end the book was simply to episodic for me to connect with any of the characters. It is a book about connection or the lack thereof. About almost but not quite connecting with another person. So this may have been the author's intention. It kept me too distant to really care though. It turned out to be a good thing as if I had cared I would have been over the top infuriated by the end. As it was I was too detached to really care.(less)
This Dark Endeavour by Kenneth Oppel is a "prequel" to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. It is going to be impossible for me to discuss the book independent of its source material, particularly as I just finished rereading and analyzing Frankenstein in preparation for teaching it this fall. It is certainly a testament to Oppel's work that I thoroughly enjoyed it right on the heels of the original novel.
This Dark Endeavour delves into the idea of dual natures, one's tame side and one's wild side. Konrad is an addition to the story, a source of Oppel's own imagination, but he provides a contrast to Victor. The idea being identical twins are two halves of one whole. Victor is the younger brother, and feels continuously inferior to his twin who learns faster, is better at sports, and has won the affection of Elizabeth. He loves his brother though and will go to any lengths for him. Oppel made no attempt to make Victor likable. He is conniving, jealous, selfish, and reckless. Yet there is something about him that makes him sympathetic. Maybe it is his love for his brother and his relationship to Elizabeth and Henry. They keep him human.
The whole idea of the dual nature is also evident in Elizabeth. She is pious, devout, and practical. But she has a wild impetuous side too. And yes, this leads her to have conflicting feelings for the two brothers. She is attracted to Konrad's steady devotion, yet Victor's wildness also draws her, though she is more wary of this. As she says at one point, "There is a passion in you that scares me." So this book has a love triangle. Sort of. I'm usually opposed to love triangles, but this one didn't bother me so much. I don't know if it was the male point of view or just how Oppel presented it. I do like how Oppel added color to Elizabeth. Victor is recognizable from the original, Elizabeth is not. I don't consider this to be a bad thing.
I enjoyed the banter and dialogue between the four friends and how it developed their characters so well, such as in this conversation about their futures. This is only one little slice of a greater whole that set up their characters perfectly for the story that lay ahead: I thought a moment and then said, "When I see the stars, I think of the planets that must orbit them, and I would like to travel among them. And if we could do so, would we not be gods?" "A modest goal, then," said my twin. "Victor just wants to be a god." Laughing, I elbowed him in the ribs. "I'm imbued with high hopes and lofty ambitions. And if I can't travel between planets-" "Always good to have a back-up plan," Henry interjected. "-then I will create something, some great work that will be useful and marvelous to all humanity." "Yes, perhaps,"I said, thinking more seriously now. "An engine that will transform the world-or a new source of energy. It seems scientific discoveries are being made every day now. In any event, I will be remembered forever."
There is a fair bit of foreshadowing there too. Oppel used foreshadowing quite a lot in the course of the story. He also used dreams and letters as integral parts of the plot, giving a nod to the original novel I quite enjoyed. The plot is action packed and fast paced keeping the reader completely engaged.
I think this is a book that would appeal to both boys and girls and is a good read whether you have read Frankenstein or not. Almost everyone is familiar enough with the story for it to resonate.
The sequel, Such Wicked Intent, is due out August 21.
I read Rachel Neumeier's The Floating Islands (my review) and really enjoyed it, so when I saw people begin to talk about her latest book House of Shadows I knew I wanted to read it. I bought it rather than wait to see if my library would ever get it, and boy am I glad I did. I was able to read this wonderful story that much sooner.
Did you read the synopsis? No? Doesn't matter. This book is about a lot more than that and, in fact, does not focus nearly as much on Karah and Nemienne as it would lead you to believe. True the story starts with them and they are used to introduce us to the world, but there's a lot more going on. And two other characters of far more import. (Or maybe they just seemed that way to me.) Taudde and Leilis. Don't get me wrong. Nemienne and Karah are both important to the story, but Taudde and Leilis were what kept me reading and wanting more. I loved both of them so much. Taudde is a conflicted foreigner torn between his honor and a need for vengeance. Leilis is a bitter ensorcelled young woman who has given up on her dreams, but uses her wits to her best advantage with the life she has been left. I could have read a book all about these two and been quite happy. But that would have been a typical book, and Rachel Neumeier's books are anything but typical and so she made this one more. The shifting viewpoints and all the angles shown of every story give a richer fuller picture of what is going on. At the same time, Neumeier manages to surprise the reader from time to time. It's marvelous. The world these characters live in is rich in beauty and detail. I would love to read more about these characters and their countries.
Also there are mages, sorcery, politics, and a dragon. So you know, it's all awesome. If you are someone who breaks out in a cold sweat at the thought of reading High Fantasy, if all the strange long names and places distract you, if you don't like kingdom intrigue and political plotting, then this book isn't for you. If however, like me, you will read anything so described and are over the moon excited when it delivers everything you could want and more, then read this book.
House of Shadows is being marketed as adult but has a definite cross-over appeal for a YA audience which is why I chose to review it here. Nemienne and Karah are both in their teens, and the other characters are in their 20's. (less)
I like Ruth White's writing style, but this book was way over the top: child abandoned by dad before birth, left by mom with relatives she's never met...moreI like Ruth White's writing style, but this book was way over the top: child abandoned by dad before birth, left by mom with relatives she's never met, aunt has cancer, religious exploration, dad returns to reveal he never knew he had a daughter, mother returns for awkward reunion with dad and daughter, first love has to move unexpectedly, then(view spoiler)[first love dies in car crash (hide spoiler)] I KID YOU NOT. Really the rest of it could have been forgiven if not for that last one. All in 160 pages. It was far too much.(less)