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message 1: by April (new)

April Helms | 254 comments Goal for 2008: 150 completed books, of assorted variety and interest.

message 2: by April (new)

April Helms | 254 comments First book! Yay!

1. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini. What a great way to start off my reading list. If the rest of my books are half as good as this one, it will be a great year, in a literary way. I do not recall the last time a book moved me to tears like this. The story centers around Amir, the son of a wealthy Kabul businessman, and his friendship with Hassan, the son of the family's servant. A terrible event ties their fates together in unpredictable ways. The author's writing is pure poetry at times, and I love his use of words. But what really makes this book sing are the characters. There are few "villians" in this; most of the characters -- and all of the main ones -- are very well fleshed out. I especially found myself (sometimes despite myself) especially liking Amir's father. He comes across at first as a hard man, and could have stayed in that almost hackneyed stereotype of the tough-as-nails, heartless father. But there's more to Baba than that -- a lot more. And while Baba gets frustrated with his son -- there are times when the son deserves it! Amir is well-written, too. Even as the book is told from his point of view, the reader can see his weaknesses as well as his strengths.

message 3: by April (new)

April Helms | 254 comments Books 2-9 of 150:

2. Rashi's Daughters: Book 2, Miriam, by Maggie Anton. Another excellent read. I really liked Miriam from the last novel, so it was great finding out more about her. Miriam suffers a terrible loss, and struggles through the book in recovering. She also meets a handsome man with many secrets. She also is finding her place in the community, both as its midwife and as someone trained to perform the ritual circumscision on infant males -- which is not without controversy. While the first novel touched more on the day-to-day, this book brings up more complicated issues such as homosexuality and the views on it in the middle ages -- which may be surprising to some readers. It also touches on disability, hemophaelia and (I think) cerebral palsey. I was a little surprised to see "diabetes" used -- I always thought this a more modern term (older references I've seen always just said "sugar in the blood," or just "sugar",) but I admit I don't know for certain. Regardless, this is minor, and not integral to the story. Can hardly wait for the third book now.

3. White Oleander, by Janet Fitch. This was hard to put down. Very poetic writing; I just loved the symbolism, especially with the flowers. Summary: Astrid finds herself in the foster care system after her mother is sentenced to jail for murder. She develops a sort of love/hate relationship with her now-absent mother while going from foster home to foster home. Astrid tries to find acceptance and love in these temporary houses, and her growing up process is largely a tragedy.

4. The Book Thief, by Marcus Zusak. This story seemed to go a lot faster than its 500+ pages would seem to allow. "The Book Thief" is the story of Leisel, a young German girl growing up in Hitler's Germany, who steals books to educate herself, and, later, to provide reading material for her foster family's secreted-away Jewish occupant. This is all told from the point of view of a *very* interesting narrator. The story itself is pretty gritty, but there are some moments of surprising humor.

5. The Road to Balinor, by Mary Stanton. A young princess and her unicorn are stranded from Balinor on "our" world, with no memory of who they are. They must discover who they are and avoid the evil Shifter, who seeks to conquer Balinor and the Celestial Valley, the home of powerful unicorns. I had read Stanton's Heavenly Horse of the Outermost West and Piper at the Gate, and was curious about her other books. I know as a little girl, who adored unicorns and horses, I would have devoured this series. As an adult...this was OK. I was rather startled to find out that this book was written after Heavenly Horse and Piper, for it felt like the work of a beginning writer, still trying to find her voice. This wasn't a bad read, but the dialogue and wording just felt clumsy at times. Heavenly Horse and Piper at the Gate were far better written.

6. The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman. OK, I finished it this time -- and I still preferred the movie *ducks fast* OK, that was probably sacrilidge for a lot of you, but I thought the movie was better done. It was easier to follow, flowed more smoothly and the excess exposition was snipped. I was grinding my teeth at the too-lengthy dialogue between Sarafina and Lee Scoresby. I think Pullman forgot that showing is far better than telling. All in all, a tolerable read with some interesting ideas, but I don't think I will ever be a fan of this series.

7 and 8. The Spiderwick Chronicles: The Seeing Stone, and Lucinda's Secret, by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black. OK, with these two books I begin to see why this is so popular. I was lukewarm towards the first book, but things begin to pick up with the second and third installment. In The Seeing Stone, Jared and Mallory must rescue Simon, and discover that the wee folk are after their Uncle Spiderwick's field guide. In Lucinda's Secret, they find out more information about the field guide and their uncle. They also discover new creatures and may have made a new enemy. Spiderwick isn't Harry Potter, but it is a fun ride.

9. The Young Man and the Sea, by Rodman Philbrick. Philbrick wrote this as a bit of a nod to "The Old Man and the Sea." Frankly, I enjoyed Philbrick's tale far more. Young Skiff Beaman, confronted by his severely depressed father and a lack of money, decides to take matters into his own hands and works to raise funds to repair their boat. He -- and his neighbors -- find out he is more capable than he thinks. When things go awry, Skiff takes the ultimate challenge to bring money to his father -- and to heal their relationship. I loved Skiff -- he's very practical and blunt. He has a temper at times, which sometimes serves him well and sometime creates trouble. But you have to admire his grit and nerve.

message 4: by April (new)

April Helms | 254 comments Books 10-15:

10. A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula Le Guin. This was one of the books mentioned in The Ivory Tower and Harry Potter, and I thought I'd check it out. Well, it's not Harry Potter. It doesn't have quite the charm and detail of Rowling's work. But it is an interesting story. In a nutshell, a young wizard named Sparrowhawk must deal with the consequences of accidentally unleashing a dark force while he is an apprentice. As he grows older, he must learn how to defeat this being that seems to have no true name -- and in his world, this is a serious disadvantage, for knowing the true name of things is the source of a wizard's greatest powers.
I think my lukewarm reaction to this book was having listened to it on tape. Do not listen to this one on tape; the narrator is irritating. He is so hyper at times he is hard to understand, and at times he sounds like he is choking on...something. Ick.

11. Eat. Pray. Love. by Elizabeth Gilbert. What is not to like about this personal tale of recovery, renewal and rebirth. Gilbert relates her years through depression, a messy divorce and her trip to Italy, India and Indonesia as she seeks to heal. The writing style is very charming and easy to follow. She pokes light fun at time in the situations she is in, and has no difficulty laughing at herself and her own foiables. Especially loved Richard from Texas, the "vow" to be The Quiet Girl in India, and her week-long bike trip through Indonesia.

12. Froggy Gets Dressed, by Jonathan London. A cute picture book for younger children (although I have to agree with another reviewer at another site that the mother frog *is* rather mean.)Young Froggy wakes up to discover its snowing outside, something he has never seen before. His mom tries to talk him into going back to bed, since frogs hibernate during the winter, but Froggy wants to go out. However, he keeps forgetting essential pieces of clothing to play out-of-doors in the frosty weather.

13. Al Capone Does My Shirts, by Gennifer Choldenko. A 12-year-old boy moves to Alcatraz Island during the Great Depression after his father finds a job there. He contends with not only having a whole new life, but dealing with his autistic sister and his parents' hopes for her. A fantastic coming-of-age story, with a great cast of characters. There's the protagonist, "Moose" Flannagan, who is pretty perceptive and smart -- a lot smarter than he's often given credit for. There's his sister, Nat, who seems to live in a world of her own, filled with buttons, rocks and lemon cake. But just when you think she is lost, she comes out of her shell, if briefly. Will it be enough for her to be accepted at a prestigious school for "difficult" children? The rest of the island's children round out a sort of extended family, and their peers' notions about the infamous inhabitants on the island are hilarious. I listened to this one on tape; the narrator was excellent. He captured the characters, especially Moose, Nat, Theresa and the Warden, very well.

14. I Am America (and so can you!) by Stephen Colbert. The television commentator takes his humor to the printed page. Colbert's humor translates better on television, but this book is still amusing. Some of the humor was raunchier than I expected, but those moments were few and far between. Regardless, he leaves few things untouched.

15. Musicophilia, by Oliver Sacks. This book was amazing. After reading it, I really want to track down some of Sacks' other works, such as Awakenings and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. He gives interesting commentary -- both from his own perspective and from what he has observed in his patients -- on music. I'm just floored at the number of things that can enhance or interfere with someone's enjoyment of even a simple tune, and it's nothing short of astonishing that things seem to go right as often as they do, with everything that can go wrong. Sacks relates stories on how music therapy, if only temporarily, can open the door to communication and fluidity to those with autism, Parkinsons, Alzheimers and other forms of demential. He also goes into disorders, such as Williams syndrome, which can be best described as practically a polar opposite of a condition such as autism or conditions in the spectrum of autistic disorders. In brief -- individuals with Williams Syndrome are often very articulate, very friendly, and many have a very deep-seated apprecation for music. Some even have phenomenal musical talents. But ask them to do something like tie their shoe, or draw a triangle -- they can't do it. Then Sacks also edscribes individuals with no sensitivity or response to music whatsoever, and even sites a few instances where certain types of music actually trigger seizures or other health maladies. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in psychology, music or music therapy.

message 5: by Cynthia (new)

Cynthia (calvamom) | 72 comments I love Ursula LeGuin and you are right, she is better read than listened. She was one of the best fantasy writers before J.K. Rowling was out of diapers. No negativity toward Rowling implied, she clearly had the sense to learn from the masters of the genre.

message 6: by April (new)

April Helms | 254 comments Books 16-20:

16. Breath, by Donna Jo Napoli. I stumbled across this book trying to find another. The tale takes place in the Middle Ages and centers on Salz, a young boy plagued by horrible coughing spells. The only way he can clear his lungs and breathe is to stand on his head. But Salz also is one of the few to not sucuumb to a mysterious illness that strikes the townspeople and, later, the farmers in and near Hamilyn. What has caused the illness? And can a mysterious and colorful piper whom Salz encounters truly help? A take on the Pied Piper tale, with some Medeival history and folklore thrown in. The author explains all in notes at the end. I read a thorough synopsis on the book and kind of knew what was happening. Modern readers will probably piece much of it together, as Salz almost does. Still a neat read, though.

17. Trouble Don't Last, by Shelley Pearsall. I've been wanting to read this one ever since reading Pearsall's excellent "Crooked River" a couple years ago. Eleven-year-old Samuel, a slave on a Kentucky farm, is awakened one night by Harrison, an older slave who helped raise him. Before he knows it, Samuel is on the run with Harrison, looking to get to Canada. Along the way, Samuel discovers who he is and what is important to him. An excellent read, with great author's notes at the end (which includes a map).

18. Tangerine, by Edward Bloor. Read about this book in The Ivory Tower and Harry Potter. 12-year-old Paul lives in the shadow of his older brother Erik, and his family's Eric Fisher Football Dream. Despite being legally blind without his glasses, Paul sees all too clearly that things are not right with Erik. When the family moves to a small Florida suburb called Tangerine, where mysterious weather phenomenon occur with frightening regularity, things seem to come into sharper focus. Paul makes some unlikely friends on the Tangerine Middle School soccer team, and through the year makes some important discoveries about his past. This was a really neat story, and shows you can write gripping, even gritty stories without using sex or profanity. One one quibble is that we never find out about the strange lightening strikes; we are only left to wonder if Paul is right.

19. Worldweavers: Gift of the Unmage, by Alma Anderson. One of the fliers I saw for this book stated "Look Out, Harry Potter. The Yanks Are Coming." But while this book was good (excellent, even) it actually reminded me more of Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising Series, with more of a Native American twist instead of Welsh lore. Thea, the seventh child of two seventh-child parents, was expected to be a mage with tremendous power with such a promising background. To her family's disappointment, it seems she has no magical ability whatsoever. Thea's father sends her to a mysterious tutor as a last resort, before sending her to the Wandless Academy for those without magic talent, or cannot use it for one reason or another (twins Tess and Terry, who later become Thea's friends, are actually allergic to magic). Will Thea learn her own brand of magic? And will she be able to face the dark forces that imperil her world, a feat that have felled some of the most powerful mages of the land?

20. The Ghost, The White House and Me, by Judith St. George. KayKay Granger is not thrilled at first to be living in the White House, now that her mother has been elected president of the United States. But when she finds out about the possibility that her new home is haunted, she decides to investigate further. A cute story, despite a couple leaps of logic and a plot hole or two (like KayKay's wondering/realization that her nerdy classmate might be dyslexic -- a bit of a stretch given her age and her having only seen him on a couple occassions). I like the history tidbits on presidents included within the fun parts of the book.

message 7: by April (new)

April Helms | 254 comments How are the other Earthsea novels? I'm curious to read more -- with the emphasis on the word "read."

message 8: by April (new)

April Helms | 254 comments Book reviews (books 21-24)

A bit of a fantasy theme this time around:

21. Going Postal, by Terry Pratchett. The best Pratchett book I've read so far. The wit and observations in this absurd and all too pointed story are unreal. Moist von Lipwig, a petty thief, finds himself in the gallows and falling into...a government job. He finds himself the new postmaster of Anhk Morpork, a position that has had its share of ill luck. He finds himself not only going against years of traditional malaise, but of Big Business, operated by Gilt, whose clack machines have rendered the postal system obsolete due to the speed in which it can transport messages. When the machinery isn't breaking down, that is. Anyone who's ever been frustrated by Big Business, bureaucracy and general inefficiency will love this book.

22. The Sisters Grimm: Magic and Other Misdemeanors, by Michael Buckley. Well, nothing like starting at the end of a series. Thankfully, this provides enough info so I didn't get lost. It's a decent story, older gradeschool and tweens should enjoy this. I thought the writing a bit clunky at times, and many of the "twists" rather obvious. I admit I didn't see the ending coming.

23. Darkwing, by Kenneth Oppel. A prequel to the Silverwing Trilogy. VERY prequel: the action takes place during the very final days of the dinosaurs (saurians) and the rise of the birds and mammals. Dusk, a young chiropter, is different from the others of his kind. Will the others trust him and his unusual gifts as the saurians disappear and new, bigger problems emerge? Dusk is reminiscent of Griffin, and his sister Sylph reminiscent of Luna (from the Firewing series), and there are themes that reminded me of Johnathan Livingston Seagull. Darkwing is similar in tone to the dark Firewing; this is best saved for tweens and older. But it is an interesting tale, and I suspect Oppel is going to tell how the war of the Birds and Beasts (alluded to in the trilogy) started, and the bats' role. I also like the swaths of gray in the story -- even the villians are sympathetic. The naysayers and challengers to Dusk's father's authority often have good points -- and are frequently right.

24. Artemis Fowl: The Opal Deception, by Eoin Colfer. The darkest book in the series so far. The vengeful pixie Opal Koboi hatches a devious plot to get even with Holly Short, Artemis, Butler and the others who foiled her plans earlier. Holly must find Artemis -- who has been mindwiped and remembers nothing of the fairy world -- to save him and enlist his help to save the fairies.

message 9: by April (new)

April Helms | 254 comments 25. The name of this Book is Secret, by Pseudonymous Bosch. Well, the whole concept of the book is that the plot, characters, setting, etc. are all supposed to be secret. It involves a couple kids, mysterious adults, and all sorts of -- gee, shock city -- secrets. Fans of the Lemony Snickett books will probably love this. I'm not a big fan of Snickett, and I found some of the "oh, don't read any more" style humor a bit irritating after a while. Also, most of the mysteries were not that big a shock. But some of the concepts are neat. I'm not sure I would have enjoyed it as much had I not read Oliver Sack's Musicophelia recently, for one of the main plot points deals with a condition mentioned in Sack's book.

26. Elijah of Buxton, by Christopher Paul Curtis. I really enjoyed Curtis' Bud, Not Buddy, and was excited to find out about this latest book. "Elijah" did not disappoint. Elijah is an 11-year-old boy, and the first in Buxton to be freeborn (loved the story about Frederick Douglass, heh heh). Buxton, in Canada, was a good-sized settlement consisting mostly of freed and escaped African Americans. As someone born free, some of the stories and the struggles his parents and the adults went through are just that -- stories -- to Elijah. But he discovers the horrors of slavery when he travels down to Michigan in an attempt to retreive money stolen from a neighbor by another resident. The ending is bittersweet, and not at all what I expected. But it fit, for Elijah sees firsthand the hardships endured by slaves.

message 10: by April (new)

April Helms | 254 comments 27. The Kingfisher Book of Great Boy Stories, chosen by Michael Morpurgo. This would be a nice way to introduce younger readers to some of the more classic stories, such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Treasure Island, Peter Pan and more. Morpurgo selects short snippets from these and other books, along with color illustrations. These are not meant to be full stories. I don't think some of these are even a full chapter; if I have a critique, I thought some of the stories were condensed a little well. Peter Pan and the Chronicles of Narnia felt especially chopped off.

28. The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick. Amazing. I was a little surprised, as most were I suspect, when this lengthy tome won a Caldecott, which is generally reserved for shorter picture books. But this book is mostly told through hundreds of images, with short sections of text providing the filler. I felt as if someone had taken an especially detailed storyboard from a silent movie and turned it into book form. I can't imagine how long it must have taken the author to finish this, with all the incredible art. Hugo Cabret, an orphaned clock attendant, finds his life and his secrets becoming more endangered as he struggles to survive -- and to honor his father's memory. I loved the sprinkle of factual information with the fiction (this really is not historical fiction, however).

29. Reaching for Sun, by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer. Josie Wyatt, a girl with Cerebral Palsy, seeks to find her place and assert her independence in a world that fixates on her disability. An interesting feature about this story is that it is told by interconnected poems, divided by the seasons. A really neat, heartwarming story, and a quick, easy read for more reluctant readers.

30. Hurt Go Happy, by Ginny Rorby. In a nutshell, the book centers on Joey, a teen girl who became deaf as a young child. Her mother refuses to let her learn ASL. But Joey, with the help of Charlie, and a chimpanzee named Sukari, she begins to not only learn ASL, but begins to realize the possibilities around her. But this book deals with more than just a young girl overcoming barriers. Many issues, including domestic violence and animal cruelty, are woven in for a thought-compelling read.

Also read, but did not include in the challenge count:

* Martina the Beautiful Cockroach, retold by Carmen Agra Deedy, ilustrated by Micahel Austin. Based on a Cuban folktale. A great book, in general, but a nice story to use for those teaching their children Spanish. Martina is ready to give her leg in marriage, but she is shocked by her grandmother's suggestion on picking the suitable suiter. Very cute! Older grade schoolers will be able to grasp the meaning of the Spanish words from context with little difficulty. Fun to read one-on-one or for a group.
* First The Egg, by Laura Vaccaro Seeger. A wonderful book for younger children (2-5). The bold, colorful pictures are straightforward (it almost looks like a child's finger-painting). Great for teaching cause and effect, and where things come from (the egg becomes a chicken, the seed becomes a plant, etc.)
* Los Gatos Black on Halloween, by Marisa Montes, illustrated by Yuri Morales. A very cute story, told in a mix of Spanish and English, for Halloween. Even more timid children will be reassured by the twist at the end. The glossary at the end is a nice touch.
* Henry's Freedom Box, by Ellen Levine, illustrated by Kadir Nelson. Based on a true story about Henry "Box" Brown, who put himself in a cargo box and mailed himself to Philedelphia -- and freedom. There's a lot to like -- Nelson's rich illustrations, the simple, straightforward text a child will understand. But what I liked best was how the story goes into Henry's past, into what he has lost and why he wants to be free. It would have been very easy to gloss over this and get to the "exciting" part. Kudos for giving the reader some background first.
* Knuffle Bunny Too, by Mo Williams. On her first day of school, Trixie discovers her special, unique Kniffle Bunny may not be so unique after all. In the adventures and mishaps that follow, Trixie learns about friendship. Love the illustrations -- the colorful people over the monotone pictures.

message 11: by April (new)

April Helms | 254 comments Books 31 and 32:

31. The Blind Side, by Michael Lewis. I am, at best, a casual sports fan. I freely admit that I'm a fair weather fan of my local teams. This was one of those "broadening my horizens" selections. That said, I found "The Blind Side," about the life of Michael Oher, considered now to be one of the most promising prospects for the NFL, a good read. True, some of the technical football stuff sailed over my head like a place kick (just what is a four-four forty, anywho), but anyone can follow and appreciate the story. Oher came into the spotlight from the most unlikely circumstances. One of 13 children, he grew up on the streets -- literally -- of Memphis. His father was absentee (later, he was murdered when Oher was in high school), his mother addicted to drugs. Michael and his siblings largely slipped through the cracks of the system. It wasn't until the efforts of a caring neighbor, who managed to get Michael into a conservative private school, that Michael's fortunes changed. Despite his upbringing, Michael had a few things going for him: he had a photographic memory; he was intelligent (despite earlier IQ tests, which pegged him as being boarderline mentally retarded); and he was a naturally gifted athlete. His life improved when he was noticed by Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy, who eventually legally adopted him. Through their efforts and the use of a tutor, Michael, who's previous attendence at schools can be described, at best, as erratic, went from a 0.6 average as a sophomore, to earning As and Bs by the time he was a senior. The book was both inspiring and sad. It shows how much can be accomplished, even in "hopeless" cases. But I think the author says it best: "Pity the poor kid...who was born to play the piano, or manage people, or trade bonds." It makes you wonder how many other Michaels there are out there who will be forever as written off because they have no immediately noticeable talent?

32. The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain, written and illustrated by Peter Sís. "The Wall" is a sort of pictoral autobiography and commentary from Sis, who grew up in Prague. It showed his life through the years -- both good and bad -- through mostly black and white illustrations. I loved the symbolism in the colors: red for fear, a splash of color for dreams. This book works on many levels: a young child can concentrate on the main line of text and the illustrations and get a rudimentary grasp on the oppresiveness of the Soviet-controlled Prague. Older children can follow the greater amount of text, interspersed with the art, to piece together more of the history and the time periods. It reminded me in many ways of Maus.

message 12: by April (new)

April Helms | 254 comments 33. Sharkman Six, by Owen West. Chalk this one up as another "expand my horizons" type of pick. While not something I would have ordinarily picked as a casual read, I did find it hard to put down. Lt. Gavin Kelly, a Marine trying to live up to the legacy of his grandfather and live down the perceived legacy of his father, is sent to Somalia on "Operation Hope." It is obvious Kelly is dealing with his own demons from the Persian Gulf War, and he chafes at the red tape and international protocol he and his men must contend with. Things start to go wrong from the first few moments of arriving in Somalia, after one of his men shoots and kills someone who turns out to be a hired bodyguard for the media. Kelly must decide which code to honor: that of protecting his men, or that of upholding military law. The armed forces are constantly harried and challenged by the Somalia warlords, who seem to have no rules save their own. I'm not sure how much of this is true from experience and how much is fictionalized (I know the characters and immediate situation were fictional), but the fact that West is a former Marine speaks volumes, and if half of what he hints at are actually true problems in overseas conflicts, this will make the blood boil. I suspect it's mostly true, and the problems covered here are mind-boggling. The scenes of battle -- both present and flashback -- are harrowing and grim. If I have a nit, it's that sometimes the switch from past to present tense is a bit abrupt and hard to follow.

34. The Hidden Queen, by Alma Alexander. There are a lot of tales out there of the young prince or princess who must leave home in the face of a dangerous usuper, only to return again to reclaim the throne in a blaze of glory. That is, in very oversimplified terms, the basic premise of The Hidden Queen (by the way, the actual reclaiming must occur in the sequel, Changer of Days, which is on my list). But there are a few refreshing twists. The biggest is Sif, the illegitimate son of the late king, who died in battle. Sif takes the throne after taking command of the army and routing the Tath. The only one who stands between him and the crown is Anghara, the nine-year-old heir apparant. Sif is rather tragic; I get the impression he could have been a good leader, and there was a valid reason for a lot of people to want to see the adult war hero on the throne rather than a child. I know this is fantasy, but anyone who's read any history knows that the reigns of child rulers tend to be short, brutal, contentious and chaotic. But Sif becomes consumed with destroying Anghara and, later, anyone who possesses the mysterious ability of Sight. He reminds me somewhat of Henry VIII (or maybe Shakespeare's Macbeth), an intelligent man who destroys himself through his arrogance and obsessions. You don't often see a "villian" of this role who is somewhat sympathetic (at least at first).

Anghara is forced to flee for her life, and her journey takes her into many places where, by many teachers, she hones her own Sight. It's neat watching her turn from a child who lets others lead her way into someone who begins to blaze her own path. It will be interesting how she deals with her half-brother in the next book. She's very powerful, and very mature. But she's been dealt a lot of pain through the hands of Sif, will her own rage and power threaten to consume her as well?

message 13: by April (new)

April Helms | 254 comments Books 35-44

35. Johnathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke. It's very long, so make sure you have some time to dedicate to reading it. But it is worth it. Will leave a more complete review on my Goodreads Account and livejournal page.
36. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie (illus. by Ellen Forney) Junior is an aspiring cartoonist. But his life on a very poor, troubled reservation ("the rez"), coupled with his medical problems, seem to doom him to a directionless existance. A chance incident with a teacher gives him the idea to transfer to another high school just outside the reservation, in a predominantly white, wealthy neighborhood. Indeed, as he observes, he is the only Indian outside the school's mascot. He is branded a traitor by nearly everyone else in his own neighborhood, including his closest friend Rowdy. Junior also has the traditional problems of being the fish out of water at the new school as well. But he learns to adjust to his new world and learns to appreciate his expanded opportunities, even with the tragedies that occur during the course of that school year. An excellent read, with several of Juniors cartoons and illustrations throughout to emphasize his feelings and thoughts. There is a lot of humor, but keep a couple hankys handy. There is a lot of sadness as well, and the heartbreaking realities of the problems with "the rez," especially alcoholism, are just sad.

37. Gathering Blue, by Lois Lowry. Kira is a girl born with a twisted leg, in a society where disability is seen as a liability. But her mother persuades the others to allow Kira to live and thrive. But Kira's troubles -- and a new path -- begin after her mother dies. Kira's special gift of weaving spares her a certain death sentence, and she is appointed by the governing board to complete a task only she can do. But during the course of her work and meeting new people, Kira discovers several unsettling things about her world, which she tries to uncover. This is a companion book to The Giver, and to Messanger (which I have not read yet). This book was It's interesting to compare The Giver and Gathering Blue, to contrast the two societies which seem so different on the surface, but are essentially the same. Again, Lowry tells a well thought out, well imagined tale that made me think...still makes me think...long afterwards.

38. The Wednesday Wars, by Gary D. Schmidt. Holling Hoodhood has just started seventh grade, and things don't seem to be going very well. For starters, there is his family. His father insists on everyone being on their best behavior, for the goals of Hoodhood and Associates. There's his older sister, who seems bent on disturbing these goals for her own idealistic dreams. Then there's Mrs. Baker, Holling's teacher. She seems to have it in for him. She wants him to read Shakespeare -- outside of class! Of course, things aren't always as clear cut as they seem, and Holling finds himself of a series of adventures, including working with a Shakeseare company. A very sweet, mostly funny story (LOVED the rats), punctuated by periods of seriousness and reflection (the book takes place in 1967, during the Vietnam war).

39. My Name is Gabito: The Life of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, by Monica Brown, illustrated by Raul Colon. This is a children's book that tells about the life and imagination of Columbian storyteller Gabriel Garcia Marquez, or "Gabito." It emphasizes imagination, and Gabito's ability to tell colorful tales, which are emphasized by the lush, colorful illustrations. A neat book for younger school age children, either for single, quiet reading or for a story time.

40. Frida: Viva La Vida! Long Live Life, by Carmen T. Bernier-Grand. A good book for older elementary schoolchildren on Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. It includes pictures of her, her poetry, her paintings and a biography and timeline. Kahlo's life, her pain (she died tragically young, she was in a terrible bus accident as a teen and her marriage to artist Diego Rivera as quite tumultuous) and her ultimate optimism are seen in her writings and her work.

41. Kami and the Yaks, by Andrea Stenn Stryer, illus. by Bert Dodson. Kami is a young Sherpa boy who lives in the Himalayas. His family takes care of a heard of Yaks, which are used for carrying packs for mountain climbers (among other things, I'm sure). One day, Kami, who is deaf, realizes that the yaks have not come back from the mountains. Despite a brewing storm, Kami goes to find them. A neat story on persistance and bravely, and beautifully illustrated in sepias and blues. A couple times, the text was a bit lost, especially the white text on a lighter or "busy" background. It's not a problem with a single, or one-on-one read, but may make this book a bit of a challenge for a larger storytime.

42. Good Masters! Sweet ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village, by Laura Amy Schlitz, illus. by Robert Byrd. This was such a neat book, and I love the story about how it came to be. It was born out of a classroom project, where the author, a librarian at a school, wrote a series of monologues for a class studying the Middle Ages. The characters in this collection of mini-stories, which are loosely linked, range from a lord's nephew, to working class children such as a falconer and a glassblower's apprentice, to a beggar. There are useful notes in sidebars throughout to explain Medieval terms that may be unclear or obscure. The illustrations really make this book -- done very much in the fashion of Middle Age miniatures.

43. An Abundance of Katherines, by John Green. Colin Singleton, a brainy high schooler with a passion for anagrams and girls named Katherine, has been dumped 19 times. All of them who were named Katherine. After being dumped by Katherine XIX, Colin goes on a road trip with his best friend, Hassan. Together, they travel to Tennessee, in search of finding their place in the world. On the way, Colin attempts to work on a mathematical formula to predict the future of a relationship (The Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability). A sweet, quirky coming-of-age story, with a lot of chuckles (love the pig incident), a lot of thought and even a working math theorem (at least, for the story).

44. Feathers, by Jacqueline Woodson. Frannie's winter when she is in sixth grade proves to be eventful. First, a new boy, whom everyone nicknames Jesus Boy, comes into their class of predominantly black students. Frannie wonders why his family has moved to "their" side of the tracks. Other people in Frannie's life -- her brother, Sean, who is deaf, her mother and father, her best friend and the school bully -- are are shown to have surprising weaknesses, and strengths. A short, hopeful and thoughtful story.

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April Helms | 254 comments Books 45 to 49

45. To The Nines, by Janet Evanovich. Arguably the funniest Stephanie Plum book yet. I don't know how Evanovich does it, but readers see various common themes through each book -- but she manages to put a different spin on them every time. Of course Stephanie is confronted with a dead body. Of course she's torn between the equally hunky Joe Morelli and Ranger. Of course she has family problems to deal with, racheted up another notch with her sister's pregnancy. No cars are destroyed in this one, but poor Ranger must be glad to have a sizable crew working under him because...ah, but that would be telling. In this installment, Stephanie and Ranger are paired up to find Samuel Singh, who has skipped town in violation of his visa bond. But things turn more sinister as Stephanie slowly unravels a mystery behind an unsettling game -- a game where the hunter becomes the hunted.

46. The Irish Sports Pages, by Les Roberts. I've read most of the Milan Jakovich novels by now, and this is the (so far) last one written in the series. It's definately the most "gray area." Milan, private detective, is asked by a high-profile Common Pleas judge to find a small-time con man and retreive various articles stolen from her -- including an envelope filled with pictures. But when the con man turns up dead, Milan gets pulled in deeper than he would like in an ethical quagmire, and he has to decide how far he is willing to go to get that envelope. This is probably the most interesting book, as we see Milan shedding some of his morals, for better and worse. Definately spooky -- and realistic -- how much he has changed over the course of the series. There were some annoying editing problems ( I don't think we needed to read how the local Don thought that Milan "hung the moon" twice, for example), and I'm not crazy about the resolution of the envelope situation -- I thought that was glossed over rather quickly. I guessed pretty quickly whodunit (at least the murderer, there were a lot of hints), although I really liked how Milan eventually figured it out.

47. Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Stuart Little, by Peggy Gifford. A short and cute read, good for older elementary school. It can also be appreciated by anyone who has ever stalled until the last moment on a summer school reading assignment. It is the last day of summer, but Moxy is more concerned with her dreams of fulfilling objectives in her career list. Or her upcoming part as a petal in a swim ballet. Or spending time with her friends. Or even cleaning her room. Anything but picking up and reading a story about a mouse. But her mom starts threatinging her with consequences. Will Moxy be able to finish before school starts?

48. One Whole and Perfect Day, by Judith Clarke. Lily has always been the practical, organized one in the family. She helps out her hardworking mother, and until recently her brother Lonnie. But her "nan's" idea for a party for her soon-to-be 80-year-old "pop" worries her. Pop and Lonnie don't get along, and Lily worries that mom will bring one of her elderly clients home with her. On top of that, Lonnie suddenly has a new girlfriend, who may not fit in with the family. Lily also is worried about the new and very impractical feelings she has for the cute Daniel Steadman. Can the party really be perfect, with all of these complications? A very sweet read, with great characters who grow through the course of the story. You have to suspend belief on a couple of the plot points, but in a story this charming, that is not a difficult task. The points of view jump back and forth between several characters, which is a bit hard to follow at first. It smooths out towards the middle and end, though

49. Repossessed, by A.M. Jenkins. A demon (who prefers the term Fallen Angel thankyouverymuch) is tired of the humdrum, pointless existance it has in Hell and decides to possess the body of a suburban teen as a vacation. The Fallen Angel decides to live his new life to the fullest, experiencing about anything and everything a human can before someone wises up to his absence. If you can over the strange notion of a demon being more conscientious and empathetic than a human, this is actually a very humorous and insightful read.

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April Helms | 254 comments 50. Book of a Thousand Days, by Shannon Hale. When Dashti, a lowly mucker girl, becomes a maidservant to a high-born young lady, her life takes a turn for the strange. Both find themselves locked in a tower after Saren refuses the marriage proposal by a villianous man. This, I guess, is somewhat based on a Brother's Grimm tale, although I had never heard of it, much less read it, until now. Dashit is a very likeable character, and it's great watching her change from a meek servant who thinks little of herself to a strong, self-assured young woman. The ending is a little predictable (it *is* based on a fairy tale, after all) but the journey to that ending is very interesting and engaging.

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April Helms | 254 comments 51. The Arrival, by Shaun Tan. I haven't seen a wordless book this imaginative since "Flotsam." I read/viewed this book twice, and picked up on several new things the second time. Tan's book, which tells in pictures about an immigrant's journey to a new land, is something that can be viewed again and again, with the reader finding something new each time. The pictures are done in sepia tones and black and white, and the imagary is so increadible: the shadow of a dragonline beast at the beginning. The strange foods, animals and structures in the new land -- illustrating how new and foreign things may seem to a newcomer. What's really neat is you not only get the main character's story, but the stories of several other immigrants as well. It's cliche, but in this case, it fits: a picture is very much worth a thousand words here.

52. Harlem Summer, by Walter Dean Myers. Mark picks up a summer job at "Crisis," an African American publication. But he also wants to get closer to famed musician Fats Waller, and quickly agrees to assist Fats in a sidejob. Unfortunately, things go wrong in this job, and soon Mark and his friends find themselves in hot water with the local gangsters. Combines an engaging and often humerous tale with actual historical figures such as the aforementioned Fats Waller, Langston Hughes, W.E.B. DuBois and Dutch Schultz. The appendix, with a brief biographical description and pictures of the people and places mentioned, were a nice touch.

53. How to Steal a Dog, by Barbara O'Connor. Young Georgina Hayes is living in a car with her younger brother Toby and her mother after her father leaves and they are evicted from their apartment. Georgina struggles to keep the family circumstances secret while her mother works to jobs to raise enough money to get more permanent lodgings. But when Georgina finds a lost dog poster, with the owner offering a $500 reward, she hatches an idea to kidnap a dog, wait for the owner to offer an award, then return it for the cash. She learns however, that appearances can be deceiving, and she has to make a decision when her plans don't quite unfold as she expects. A sweet story, with an undercurrent of sadness -- it's very believable.

54. Evolution, Me and Other Freaks of Nature, by Robin Brande. Mena finds herself an exile in her church, her school and even at home when an incident she is behind brings hefty lawsuits against all those entities. Even the knowledge that what she did was the right thing is cold consolation when her former friends shun her. A bigger battle, however, is brewing in her high school -- evolution vs. creationism -- and Mena unwittingly gets thrust in the center. Brande's book brings up some interesting issues and counterissues in this very current hot topic, as well as other issues of religious ideals vs. society mores. There are two flaws, though. One is it comes dangerously close to saying Christians= blind bigots (except Mena) and non-Christians= enlightened. There is another Christian character that goes counter to this, but that doesn't come out almost until the book's end. I hold no particular faith, but I found myself wishing there was another Christian character, a peer of Mena's -- one who also disagreed with Mena's former friends -- who could have acted as a bit of a counterbalance. Another detail that disturbed me was that the church was sued and the families involved in ****spoiler**** were sued, but the school distict wasn't held accountable. I don't want to give away too much, but it struck me that the school was just as culpable as the other entities, if not *more* so.

55. The Salamader Spell, by E.D. Baker. A prequel to Tales of the Frog Princess. Grassina, as the second oldest princess, is told she must content herself to her life as it is, while her older sister Chartreuse is trained to rule the kingdom. But when a curse turns their mother, The Green Witch, into a disagreeable hag, Grassina finds unexpected means and powers to help defend the kingdom from lurking threats. A charming book, and one I had no trouble following despite never had read any of the other books in the series. It's for preteens, but it isn't "dumbed down" like some other books I have read in this genre. I only had two small nits: one, is that the lovey-dovey talk between Grassina and her true love area a bit much. Yes, I know they are under a spell -- it was still overboard. Also, connected with that, it would have been more believable if Grassina were 15 or 16, not 13. At 13, boys and girls are just getting over the notion that the opposite sex has cooties. Otherwise, it was very sweet.

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April Helms | 254 comments 56. Stardust, by Neil Gaiman. The book for the month of May in bookof_themonth club on Livejournal. A charming book on the adventures of Tristan, who sets out to find a falling star to win over his lady love -- and finds more than he bargained for. I saw the movie, and was pleasantly surprised at how close the movie stuck with the book. Both are enjoyable, in their own way.

57. A Treasury of Great American Scandals, by Michael Farquhar. History buffs will love this one. It tells short stories about our leaders and their all-too-human foibles. A couple stories are actually kind of sweet (Andrew Johnson and the mice), a couple others are actually kind of sad (Ben Franklin's relationship with his son; to call it "strained" would be an understatement). But most will leave you chuckling and shaking your head in disbelief. Ultimately, though, it's almost heartening -- when we think things couldn't get worse in the present day, there's nothing like a peek at history to put things in perspective.

58. A Dictionary of Bullshit, by Diane Law. Hilarious. Anyone who has ever held a job, or will hold a job (and is older) should read this. I'm not sure what was better, the funny-factor, or how dead on Law is on the surperfluous business lingo we all (me included) insist on using and abusing. Especially loved the entries for "heads up," "employee satisfaction" and "job security." Also includes little interactive games for creating your own job title and sentences using the words in this dictionary to the "greatest" advantage. Another great thing about this book: bosses and underlings alike are skeward.

Also read, not for the book challenge (but including here because I really liked it!):

Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal, by Paul Fleischman and Julie Paschkis. This is just a neat, neat picture book. The authors took several Cinderella stories (and equivelents) and combine them into one story. It would seem hard to follow -- but it's not. Countries used include Iraq, France, Ireland, China, Japan, India Russia and the Appalachians (to name a few). Great for younger school-aged children and fans of the Cinderella story.

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April Helms | 254 comments
ningerbil59. Shakespeare's Daughters, by Sharon Hamilton. An ABSOLUTE must-read if someone is studying Shakespeare, or is a fan of his work. Hamilton compares father-daughter relationships in Shakespeare's plays, Capulet and Juliet, Prospero and Miranda, Ophelia and Polonius, Lear and his three daughters and even Portia's ties with her deceased father. I especially like how many of the plays are contrasted (Hamilton compares the fates of Juliet and Miranda, for example).

60. Making Money, by Terry Pratchett. A sequel to "Going Postal." Personally, I liked "Going Postal" better, but this was still very funny. Our "hero" Moist Von Lipwig has managed to get the post office in ship-shape. He is respected. He is well-off. He is even engaged. So what's wrong?
He's bored.
So Lord Vetinari offers Moist the opportunity for a job change: taking over the banking system. As a result Moist gets more than he bargained for.

61. Incognegro, by Mat Johnson and Warren Pleece. A graphic novel geared towards older teens and adults. Another good example that "graphic novels" are not "book lite." The story and themes, told in pictures and words, is heavy-hitting. Zane Pinchback is black, but his light complexion allows him to pass for white. He uses this to go "incognegro" to report on lynchings in the south and write stories for the New-York-based Holland Herald. But his skills and wits are put to the ultimate test when his own brother is arrested for the murder of a white woman.

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April Helms | 254 comments 62. Blue Jasmine, by Kashmira Sheth. I had actually been looking for her newer book and couldn't find it, so I got this one in the meantime. Seema, 12, has just found out that her family is moving from India to the United States. The story is a fairly typical one -- outsider learns to adjust and goes from the fish out of water to swimming with the school. It does have a couple twists, though. One is when a family emergency calls them back to India. Seema realizes how much she has changed, but also how much her roots are still a part of her. Loved the dynamic between Seema and Raju, her cousin and best friend, and Seema and Mukta, a poor outsider.

One thing I didn't like was the dynamic between Seema and Carrie, who arrives at the American school well into the school year. The whole relationship between the two -- first adversarial, then friendship --seemed rather contrived.

Other than that, this was an enjoyable read. The glossary of expressions was helpful, although most of the words' meanings could be gleaned from the context of the story.

63. Lavinia, by Ursula K. LeGuin. The premise of the story is that it takes part of the Aenid by Virgil, and tells it from Lavinia's point of view. The result was a bit disappointing. There was a lot to like -- loved the research done on the time, and how it was NOT set in an opulent kingdom, but a realistic-feeling provincial, even poor area. Also, when LeGuin is on a role, her words and word images are poetry themselves. She creates a sympathetic character in Lavinia, who's plight could define the phrase "caught between a rock and a hard place." Lavinia goes from meek, unquestioning maiden to someone who learns to stand up for herself and lead others.

The disappointing aspects were that the jumps in time in the narration were a bit jarring. Especially towards the beginning, I had a hard time pinpointing what time in the story Lavinia was talking about. The beginning also was too weighty and long, too slow. I think 30-50 pages could have been trimmed from the beginning, and many of the problems could have been solved.

64. Pinkerton's Secret, by Eric Lerner. A fictionalized account of the relationship between Allan Pinkerton, who founded the Pinkerton Agency, and Kate Warne, the agency's first female detective. The action of the novel is set right before the Civil War, when the Pinkerton Agency really started to take off, conducting undercover work to root out Confederate spies. The story is told from Allan Pinkerton's point of view. I don't know enough about Allan Pinkerton to say how much of his personality is the author's conjecture and how much of it is based on fact, but it felt real. Pinkerton was an honorable man, but a very flawed man. He could be very impatient, and hated sitting still when an operative was in trouble (in fact, once this leads to trouble). I thought one of the more interesting relationships was between Pinkerton and President Abraham Lincoln. Lerner strikes a nice balance here -- we obviously see quickly that Pinkerton does not think highly of the president, and we do see where Lincoln may have made mistakes. But -- we also see where Pinkerton errs as well. Warne also is a very interesting character, who often provides the coolant to Pinkerton's hit-headedness. My one nit was the use of the "F-bomb." Not so much because it was used, but because too often it didn't seem necessary and just detracted from the story. Otherwise, a good read. I learned a lot from this book, and a little cursory reading on Pinkerton, that I never knew before.

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April Helms | 254 comments Books 65-69

I have a strange mix of books for this time around:

65. Changer of Days, by Alma Alexander. The follow-up to The Hidden Queen. A great follow-up, which kept me up waaaay too late trying to finish it (thank heavens for caffeine!) I'm glad that despite the actions of the last book, Sif remains a human, even sympathetic character. He's one of the most interesting villians I've read, because he actually does have a conscience(even if he doesn't always LISTEN to it). The heroine Anghara gets put through the ringer after her capture causes her to lose her Sight. She and Kieran journey to the desert to seek healing (like the increased politics shown, especially with the a'sen'thari).

66. Erie Wrecks and Lights, by Georgann and Michael Wachter. This is the book I was talking about in my last May post. I like local history, and have a casual interest in ships and shipwrecks. This book contains the highlights of Lake Erie events, plus a listing of lighthouses around the lake, both active and inactive. There were a few technical terms I had to look up, but for the true shipwreck and/or lighthouse fan, this is a great book to have for quick reference. It's amazing some of the events in Lake Erie (I was particularly shocked how often the ships seemed to run into the lighthouses...eek!) and some of the odder things that can be found at the bottom (such as two construction machines). The authors' writing is crisp and consise, very technical. Most of the entries are no longer than two pages -- a good springboard tool for students doing a local history report, for example. The authors are very upfront if they are not certain on the identity of a ship, and gives evidence for (and sometimes) against. Loved the bibliography and list of web pages. Only nit is there were several typos -- nothing serious enough for me to question the accuracy of the book, just mildly annoying.

67. The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde. Read this as part of the Book of the Month for the bookof_themonth club through LiveJournal. Bibliophiles -- you MUST read this one! Oh my gosh it is hilarious. While Fforde occassionally goes for the easy chuckle (Jack Schitt, Paige Turner, Toad News Network), a lot of the jokes are literary ones. Thursday Next, a special operative in literary detection, lives in an alternatve universe where the Crimean war was never resolved, genetic cloning is common place (a popular pet is the dodo bird) and literature is taken very seriously (tempers flare and fistfights start over the issue of who *really* wrote Shakespeare's plays?). When a very astute and evil villian commits the ultimate crime -- kidnapping a main character from a classic novel -- Next must stop him before the literary world is changed forever. I haven't read "Jane Eyre" -- I may have to put that one on my list. I saw a black and white movie based on the novel, which was watchable, but I'll withold final judgement until I've read the book.

My favorite thing: I loved the bookworms!

68. Three Girls and Their Brother, by Theresa Bebeck. When three attractive teens are photographed for the New Yorker, they become the next "It" girls, propelled into the dangerous world of fame and stardom. Things take a sudden turn when the youngest -- the most reluctant to accept the new-found celebrity -- finds herself in a position where she has the potential to eclipse her more ambitious sisters. The story itself is told from four different perspectives, dividing the book into four distinct parts. We see the action through the eyes of Daria, Polly, Amelia and Philip. What they author does amazingly well is to set up four very distinct voices for these characters, and we get a sense of who they are -- not just from their own words, but their reactions to those around them and their actions towards each other (one of the more interesting comparisions regards to Maureen, an agent. One of the sisters thinks of her as an "elegant" lady; the others detest her). The frightening thing is that while the story is sad in many ways -- you get the sense that it could have been much worse. What keeps their lives from unraveling is each other. I kept reading thing, hoping that some of these things would never happen in real life, yet realizing they probably do.

69. Ballerina Dreams (a true story), by Lauren Thompson, photographs by James Estrin. A very sweet and inspiring book. It is a photographic essay, with brief descriptions throughout, of five little girls who are getting ready for their first ballet recital. Their expressions as they don the pretty pink tutus, and put on their tiaras and wave their wands while giggling as only little girls can is priceless enough. What makes these five even more special is that each of them has cerebral palsy or another neuromuscular disorder that makes movement more difficult. The little girls take ballet classes as part of their therapy, and the text chronicles the progress and challenges the girls face.

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April Helms | 254 comments 70. Tasting the Sky, by Ibtisam Barakat. This is a story on the memories of the author's childhood in Palestine from 1967 to 1971. Wow, this was a powerful read. The author shares a lot of her tragedies, mixed in with sweeter, comic moments. Her being seperated from her family while being evacuated from their home. Her love for "Alef" (the letter "A") and his family of letters. Her closeness to her brothers. The fears of the soldiers and of being killed. The illnesses. Brakat's writing has a lyrical quality to it, almost like poetry.

71. When Heaven Fell, by Carolyn Marsden. Nine-year-old Bihn and her family gets a surprise when her Ba Ngnoi (grandmother) tells her that she has an aunt who was sent to America at the end of the Vietnam War and was adopted by an American family. The new aunt is coming to visit, and Bihn's family prepares and talks about what the aunt will be like and what she may bring. It's pretty obvious that there is soon to be a major culture shock -- for both sides. When Di Hai comes, she isn't at all what Bihn and the others expect. The issues that come up, and this historical footnotes, are very enlightening. The writing in the story at times is a bit clunky (for example, the very opening sentence describes how Bihn is sheltered from the sun by three walls and umbrella, then the very next sentence it says the umbrella's canvas had all rotted away. My first thought was "gee, that's not much protection, and couldn't that have been better described?"), but the characters are very likeable.

72. Rickshaw Girl, by Mitali Perkins, illustrated by Jamie Hogan. Naima is a talented artist in her community, known for her creative alpana patterns that Bangladeshi women paint in their homes on special occassions. But her talent doesn't help her poor family, nor does it assist her father who drives a rickshaw even during breaks to bring in much-needed income. She envies her neighbor, a boy, who can also drive a rickshaw and help his family's finances. This was a neat story with a sort of unexpected and heartening ending, with information on the loans available now for women who want to need to start their own businesses for income. The illustrations were a nice touch as well.

73. Bound, by Donna Jo Napoli. It's amazing how many different spins and tellings can be made from the same folk or fairy tale. This story is a reincarnation of "Cinderella," set in ancient China. Xing Xing is the "Cinderella," working to assist her Stepmother and half-sister Wei Ping. Once nice thing I liked about this telling is that while the Stepmother could be mean, she also could be nice and was generally a sympathetic character (except, arguably, for the very end). Wei Ping is as much a victim as Xing Xing, as she goes through the foot binding process in hopes that she can secure a wealthy husband. It's nice to see Xing Xing's growth as well, from the subservient girl always seeking Stepmother's approval to the girl who choses her own fate and takes matters into her own hands.

74. Revolution is Not a Dinner Party, by Ying Chang Compestine. The author uses some of her own memories and experiences (which she outlines in an author's notes at the end) in her story of Ling, a girl growing up towards the end of the dictatorship of Mao Zedong. The story itself is pretty riveting, and I remember thinking how un-unique Hitler is in terms of evil dictators. Truly frightening. I know some questions, however, have come up about the accuracy and plausibility of some of the actions. I really don't know enough about this time period in China to issue a judgement on this. Indeed, I know embarrassingly little about China's Cultural Revolution.

75. King of the Holly Hop, by Les Roberts. Yay! Another Milan Jacovich novel, after a too-long drought. This one is quite different from the other books in the series. Of course, there is still a murder, and Jacovic still getting in over his head. "King of the Holly Hop" is not quite so action-packed and more psychological and reflective. I don't mind this -- indeed, I rather liked it -- but fans of hard-hitting action might be bored. In a nutshell: Milan is at his 40th high school reunion, encountering the friends and "class types" I think we all had going through our school years. One of his classmates is murdered, and Milan is hired by the chief suspect, celebrity Tommy Wiggins, and his lawyer to get Wiggins out of the hot seat. Along the way, Milan discovers things about the murdered man and his school mates that he feels were better left undiscovered.
I'm really curious about one thing: for anyone else who has read this, did you get "whodunit" as fast as I did? From the character's introduction, I was thinking, "you know, I bet that it will turn out that [SPOILERSPOILER] did it." I usually don't get the guilty party that fast (although I have a decent track record for guesses, I suppose) and was wondering if I was just plain lucky or if other readers picked up on it too.

76. Ten Big Ones, by Janet Evanovich. Stephanie Plum has been in some messes. A psychotic killer. The blown-up funeral home. The who-knows-how-many totalled cars. But this latest case has our intrepid bounty hunter rethinking her line of work. When Stephanie finds herself at the scene of a crime, and able to identify the culprit, she soon finds a nasty Trenton gang after her. Other calamities include her attraction to Ranger and Joe Morelli, her overindulgance of Tastycakes and donuts catching up with her, and her sister's pending wedding. Best scenes: the whole opening and the first dinner scene, where Albert Kloughn is describing his pride at becoming a father. The ending is great, and completely unexpected. A little abrupt, but it's funny. There is a plot thread that goes a bit out there, even for comedy, but the end result is so hilarious it's easy to forgive.

77. One Thousand Tracings, by Lita Judge. One word: "Wonderful!" The author takes the memories of her own mother and grandmother to shape this illustrated tale of how everyday Americans helped those in Europe recover after World War II. It was an interesting and moving history lesson (I had never heard this side of the story, especially about the foot tracings those in Europe would send so they could get better, used shoes sent to them). Judge has even incoprorated the letters and pictures sent to her family during that time by those requesting assistance. These are intermingled with her lovely watercolor renderings.

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April Helms | 254 comments Piffle-- sorry, I just saw this post. I've never read the others.

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April Helms | 254 comments 79. Rising Stars, by J. Michael Strazinski. Somehow, I managed to check out and read the last book first. Oops! Complete accident. So, now I know the ending in this really neat, really gripping graphic novel. Now...I need to read the previous ones.... Fans of Babylon 5 and Heroes will like this. Basically, it's about a group of children who were in utero when a meteor hit. These children were given various superhero powers. The problem is, how will they be used -- especially when they discover that the death of one special enhances the survivors' own powers?

80. Twelve Sharp, by Janet Evanovich. Probably the most serious book so far, although there are still some good laughs (my favorite moments involving Lula, Sally Sweet and their band.) Ranger's daughter goes missing, and Stephanie tries to assist, as only Stephanie can. Except Stephanie has her own bull's-eye painted on her, by one of the most twisted villians yet.

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April Helms | 254 comments 81 and 82, in tandem:

"Uglies" and "Pretties" by Scott Westerfeld. I highly recommend these. I kept hearing these titles over and over again, so I thought I'd take a look. Or a listen-- my best friend and I listened to these on CD while doodling and (later) working on a couple jigsaw puzzles. I already have ordered "Specials" if that's any indication.

These books are set in a fururistic world, where it is traditional for a teen, once they turn 16, to undergo a major cosmetic surgery so they can become Pretty. In "Uglies" Tally Youngblood, our intrepid heroine, is counting the days until her makeover, so she can move on to New Prettytown to be with her best friend Paris and to party and have fun all the time. Her plans are halted when another friend, Shay, has run away to The Smoke. Tally is charged with finding her, or staying ugly forever. The ending of "Uglies" feels a bit contrived, but the story is so good, it's pardonable.

It's hard to give a synopsis of "Pretties" without giving away spoilers, but it's just as good, albiet darker, than the first. What I really like about the series so far is that Tally really struggles with her decisions. For example, The Smokies have their points, but it is obvious that their community would have run into serious problems sooner or later. This very controlled world that Tally lives in was created for a reason, and it has its benefits. But I also get the impression that it's beginning to unravel, and not just because of a handful of rebels. I have a feeling that a major shoe is going to drop about Tally's world, and it's going to make the previous revelations minor in comparison.

The voice actress (whose name escapes me): It's funny, but at first, I did not like her voice. But as Uglies went on, it grew on me. By Pretties, I really couldn't remember why I didn't like her voice. She's not the best reader I've ever heard, but she's competent.

message 25: by April (new)

April Helms | 254 comments I don't think I'll make it to my original goal of 150, but I'll be happy with 90.

83. Specials, by Scott Westerfeld. The final book in the Uglies trilogy, concerning Tally Youngblood. Tally has been transformed into a special, and joins a clique of "special" Specials led by Shay. Their mission from Dr. Cable: Destroy the Smoke once and for all. Tally has her own mission, though: heal Zane, so he can join the Specials. This was the best in a great series, full of action and huge twists. One twist (can't say what) my best friend and I got partially right, but there were other surprises. The ending was a bit "neat," but given the scope and tragedy in one scene, it didn't bother me too much. Besides, we get the start of another series in this universe, which shows that things are far from wrapped up....

84. Extras, by Scott Westerfeld. This looks like the start of a new story arc in the "Uglies" universe. I do hope this becomes another trilogy, although this wrapped up more neatly than the others. Westerfeld has a lot of commentary about our society with the first three, but its a lot more blunt here. The story takes place several years after Tally helps dissolve the old "Ugly/Pretty/Special" system. The action in Extras takes place in a city where merits and importance depends on your fame. Society is divided by who is "famous" and who is an extra, like Aya Fuse, who is an unknown 15-year-old. However, the budding Kicker (loosely translated: a sort of reporter) sees a group of girls pulling crazy stunts, without advertising what they do. She feels if she kicks their story, her face rank will move up. But in trying to find the story, Aya uncovers far more than she bargained for.

85. Coraline, by Neil Gaiman. Yes! Was able to finish it this time! An interesting story, about a young girl who discovers a parallel world. She must rescue her parents and the other children trapped there, kept prisoner by The Other Mother. Loved the scene Gaiman recreates, with its colors and mental imagry. I was debating whether this would make a good movie. On one hand, it would make for a different and visually stunning book. On the other hand, it could scare the heck out of the younger and more intimidated populations. A cool thing: just when you think the story is wrapping up -- surprise!

86. The Tales of Beedle the Bard, by JK Rowling. I got this on Thursday, but it's a testiment on how nuts that day was (and this week, for that matter) because it didn't even come out of the box until today. But it was worth the wait. The one tale, about the three brothers, was told in Deathly Hallows. The others are new. The stories themselves are like the wizarding equivalent of fairy/morality tales. What's even better are the commentary and footnotes by Albus Dumbledore, who gives the reader insight about the stories. More tidbits are given about Harry Potter's world, more names dropped. It was a nice early Chrismtas gift!

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