Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Holes by Louis Sachar

Title: Holes
Author: Louis Sachar
Reviewer: Karen
Genre: Mid-Grade Fiction
Rating: Adore
Alerts/Warnings: None
Premise: "As further evidence of his family's bad fortune which they attribute to a curse on a distant relative, Stanley Yelnats is sent to a hellish correctional camp in the Texas desert where he finds his first real friend, a treasure, and a new sense of himself." (King County Library System)
Opinions: This book was a Newberry Award winner back in 1999. I read it upon recommendation of my friend and co-blogger Stephanie and LOVED it. This book is an easy read, but wonderfully done and parts of it are just brilliant. I love that the reason the Yelnats family (by the way Yelnats is Stanley spelt backward) is cursed is because of their "no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing great grandfather." The stories you learn about Kissing Kate Barlow, Sam the onion man, and Stanley's grandfather are fantastic. I think it is fantastic that, though Stanley is wrongly accused of a crime and sent to a boys correctional farm for it, he has the opportunity to set everything straight in the end, not only for himself but for his entire family. The cast of characters that you meat at the correctional camp are brilliant and inventive. The courage and inner strength that Stanley shows to help his friend Zero is heart-warming. Overall, this is a wonderful book and a quick read, so if you have the time please read this book.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Title: The Help
Author: Kathryn Stockett
Reviewer: Stephanie
Genre: Historical Ficiton
Rating: Love
Alerts/Warnings: There is some cursing and issues of racism. Also there is one chapter dealing with a nude man that has some mildly crass language.
Premise: Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.

Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken.

Minny, Aibileen’s best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody’s business, but she can’t mind her tongue, so she’s lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own.

Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed. (goodreads.com)

Opinions: I feel like there is a good probablity that most of you will have read this book already. But I very much enjoyed it. So for the couple(?) of you that haven't read this book. I'm here to tell you what all the hulabaloo is about. (I know you are so excited, aren't you?)

The Help follows 3 women, 1 Caucasian and 2 African American, in the South in 1962. None of them are happy with how they are treated. They all want to rise above what everyone wants of them and to be treated with respect.

So they write a book. A book telling the truth about how African American women are treated in the South. Especially in the homes that they work.

This is a powerful look at racism and love and true acceptance. I love the range of characters and the way the story shows you several walks of life and how people choose to handle the problems that come their way. It is moving and beautifully written. This is definately NOT a book for young adults. But it is well worth the read.

Avalon High by Meg Cabot

Title: Avalon High
Author: Meg Cabot
Reviewer: Stephanie
Genre: Teen Fantasy
Rating: Adore
Alerts/Warnings: Some mild language and a fantasy fight scene.
Premise: To newcomer Ellie, Avalon High seems like a typical American high school, complete with jocks, nerds, cheerleaders, and even the obligatory senior class president, quarterback, and all-around good guy. But it doesn't take Ellie long to suspect that something weird is going on beneath the glossy surface of this tranquil hall of learning. As she pieces together the meaning of this unfolding drama, she begins to recognize some haunting Arthurian echoes, causing her to worry that she has become just a pawn in mythic history. (goodreads.com)

Opinions: I spent a semester in college where we discussed Arthurian legend. I read Malory's "Le Morte de Arthur" in Middle English. I thought there was no way I would ever watch or read anything Arthurian again. Much less enjoy it.

That being said, I enjoyed this book. It takes the Arthur tale and puts it in modern day context with a nice twist. I like Meg Cabot's writing. I like her characterization. I like how you can read it and figure out who the different people are in the school and in the Arthur legend.

Now, in all honesty, I watched the movie first in China. Which I enjoyed. BUT the book is VERY different from the movie. I wish I had reversed it.

Meg Cabot is a very talented writer. She is amazing at getting into the souls of her characters and giving them situations that are true to how they behave and act. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Scumble by Ingrid Law

Title: Scumble
Author: Ingrid Law
Reviewer: Stephanie
Genre: YA Fantasy
Rating: Adore
Alerts/Warnings: Some theivery
Premise: Nine years after Mibs's Savvy journey, her cousin Ledge has just turned thirteen . . .
But Ledger Kale's savvy is a total dud--all he does is make little things fall apart. So his parents decide it's safe to head to Wyoming, where it's soon revealed that Ledge's savvy is much more powerful than anyone thought. Worse, his savvy disaster has an outside witness: Sarah Jane Cabot, reporter wannabe and daughter of the local banker. Just like that, Ledge's beloved normal life is over. Now he has to keep Sarah from turning family secrets into headlines, stop her father from foreclosing on Uncle Autry's ranch, and scumble his savvy into control so that, someday, he can go home.

Starring a cast both fresh and familiar, Scumble brilliantly melds Ingrid Law's signature heart and humor with the legendary Wild West. (goodreads.com)

Opinions: Savvy is one of my favorite books. So admittedly I was very excited about Scumble. And I very much enjoyed it. However, it took me longer to get into it. Now granted, Savvy starts with a hurricane. It's hard to top that.

Scumble takes place 9 years after Savvy. Mibs and Fish are briefly in it. But the book follows Ledge, their cousin who gets his savvy on his birthday just like all of his family. His savvy, however, is making things fall apart.

So his parents decide that it is safe to go across the country to Uncle Autry's ranch for a wedding. And then things start to fall apart, literally.

I really enjoy this idea that we all have an inate talent for something. Whether it's supernatural or not. Once we discover it we have to learn how to control it. I think that is what is so appealing to me. We find what we are good at and develop it so that we have control and use our talent to the best of our ability.

I for one hope that Ingrid Law writes another of these books. I really enjoy them.

Teen Idol by Meg Cabot

Title: Teen Idol
Author: Meg Cabot
Reviewer: Stephanie
Genre: Teen Fiction
Rating: Love
Alerts/Warnings: None
Premise: High school junior Jenny Greenley is so good at keeping secrets that she's the school newspaper's anonymous advice columnist. She's so good at it that, when hotter-than-hot Hollywood star Luke Striker comes to her small town to research a role, Jenny is the one in charge of keeping his identity under wraps. But Luke doesn't make it easy, and soon everyone—the town, the paparazzi, and the tabloids alike—know his secret...and Jenny is caught right in the middle of all the chaos. (goodreads.com)

Opinions: Okay, I know. Teen Idol? Stephanie, are you kidding me? But hear me out.

This is a fun book. It is almost every girl's dream that her movie crush will come to her high school. But Jenny isn't like all the other girls. So when Luke Striker comes to Jenny's high school she is given the responsibility to show him around and keep his secret. Hilarious chaos insues. Especially when Jenny realizes that she is not Mayo but Special Sauce. And seriously the part with the red sequeined lightning bolt dress had me laughing out loud. (Best part: that was based on Meg Cabot's show choir dress in high school. LOVE IT!)

Teen Idol is my go to book when I just need a happy, fun book that I know is clean and will keep me laughing and entertained for a couple of hours. It's super fun. Don't knock it till you try it, deal? Deal.

Savvy by Ingrid Law

Title: Savvy
Author: Ingrid Law
Reviewer: Karen
Genre: YA Fiction/Fantasy
Rating: Fabulous
Alerts/Warnings: None
Premise: "Recounts the adventures of Mibs Beaumont, whose thirteenth birthday has revealed her "savvy"--a magical power unique to each member of her family--just as her father is injured in a terrible accident." (King County Library System)
Opinions: I love the Beaumont family and how each one earns their own "savvy" or ability at the age of 13. Mississipi (aka Mibs) is looking forward to learning what her own ability will be. I mean come on...her grandpa can move mountains, one brother can control electricity, and another can make a water storm. If I were Mibs I would be eager and nervous wondering what my ability would be as well. I love how this story shows the relationships between siblings - hostile at times, and incredibly supportive at others. I love that when there Dad is hurt the siblings will work together, with some unlikely friends, to do anything to get to their father. This is a fabulous book that is inventive, well written, and is about who you are, who you can become, and about family. And I'm so excited cause I just found out that there is a sequel. CAN'T WAIT!!!!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

My Brother Michael by Mary Stewart

Title: My Brother Michael
Author: Mary Stewart
Reviewer: Karen
Genre: Adult Romance/Suspense
Rating: Like (I think)
Alerts/Warnings: Two overheard sex scenes, Some swearing, violence, murder
Premise: "Nothing ever happened to Camilla Haven -- until a stranger approached her in a crowded Athens café, handed her the keys to a black car parked by the curb,and whispered, "A matter of life and death."

The ride was Camilla's first mistake..." (Good Reads)
Opinions: I just reread this book for the third or fourth time and I have to say my opinion has changed over time. When we initially wrote our Top 100 book list over a year and a half ago this book was on the list (I even own it). I've been reading Mary Stewart books since a pre-teen and like I said this is not the first time I've read this book. The last time I read it was before I was married a good 10+ years ago. I still love seeing Greece through the eyes of the main character. I first fell in love with Greece because of Mary Stewart's descriptions in this book, and I still long greatly to visit this incredible and ancient land because of this book. I love the main character's struggle to find strength within herself after having ended a previous marriage. I love Simon and learning about the history of his brother Michael and what happened during World War 2 in Greece. My ultimate favorite character is a teenage boy by the name of Niko that we see periodically through the story. His vibrant energy is only matched by the kinds of clothes that he wears.

Where my attitude has changed in regards to this story is the reference to sex in the book that I don't recall so vividly from previous read throughs. Pardon me if I spoil a part of the story, but I feel compelled to explain why it bothered me. There are two scenes in the book were the main character is uncomfortably nearby when another pair of characters is having sex. Concerning how graphic it could be, I would say it was fairly clean and brushed over to some degree (I mean the main character does everything to ignore it this side of plugging her ears and saying "I'm not listening".) The biggest concern is the second time this happens it ends in the death of one of the characters because that person had learned too much about what their partner was involved in and the partner couldn't let the person live. So as romance books go the description is moderately clean, but I still felt it was highly disturbing to me at this stage in my life. As such, even though I LOVE the rest of the story, I feel compelled to take this book off of my Top 100 list and sell my copy. That is just my personal opinion. I still love Mary Stewart as an author and leave the decision up to you whether or not you choose to read this book.

Clementine by Sara Pennypacker

Title: Clementine
Author: Sara Pennypacker
Reviewer: Stephanie
Genre: YA Fiction
Rating: LOVE
Alerts/Warnings: None
Premise: Clementine is having not so good of a week.

* On Monday she’s sent to the principal’s office for cutting off Margaret’s hair.
* Tuesday, Margaret’s mother is mad at her.
* Wednesday, she’s sent to the principal...again.
* Thursday, Margaret stops speaking to her.
* Friday starts with yucky eggs and gets worse.
* And by Saturday, even her mother is mad at her.

Okay, fine. Clementine is having a DISASTROUS week. (goodreads.com)

Opinions: Clementine is quirky and funny. Think Ramona Quimby. People are always asking her to pay attention. Yet they don't understand, she is paying attention to what she wants, not what they want her to. Clementine is a cute book that follows Clementine during a week in her life as she deals with haircuts and coloring, a war against pigeons.

Sara Pennypacker is quite talented at creating a unique voice for Clementine that feels fairly accurate for a hyperactive third grader.

I love this book and so does my son. There are enough illustrations to keep him entertained and the story is fun and twisty enough to keep his attention when there aren't pictures. But 4 year old aside, I was entertained.

This is a fun story. I enjoyed it very much.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

Title: The Invention of Hugo Cabret
Author: Brian Selznick
Reviewer: Stephanie
Genre: YA Graphic Novel (?) Picture Book (?)
Rating: Worship
Alerts/Warnings: None
Premise:Orphan Hugo Cabret lives in a wall. His secret home is etched out in the crevices of a busy Paris train station. Part-time clock keeper, part-time thief, he leads a life of quiet routine until he gets involved with an eccentric, bookish young girl and an angry old man who runs a toy booth in the station. The Invention of Hugo Cabret unfolds its cryptic, magical story in a format that blends elements of picture book, novel, graphic novel, and film. Caldecott Honor-winning author-illustrator Brian Selznick has fashioned an intricate puzzle story that binds the reader like a mesmerist's spell.(goodreads.com)

Opinions: Have you ever picked up a 500 page book and thought, "Great, this'll give me something to read for an hour." Then you read it in less than an hour and think, "Shoot, now what am I going to do?"

Okay, so that happened to me when I read this book. I was working for a bookstore and saw it the day it came in. I needed something to read during lunch, so I decided to start it during lunch and then read it over a couple of days. It didn't work out that way, and I'm so glad that it didn't.

This book is told as much by the illustrations as it is my the words. It takes place in a train station in Paris and discusses the classics of film and automatons and building things.

I have to say that I didn't expect this story to be so beautiful nor the illustrations to touch me like they did. I LOVE this book and think you should give it a shot. I mean, what the hay, right? How many people can say they read a 500 page book in an hour? :)

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Spells by Aprilynne Pike

Title: Spells
Author: Aprilynne Pike
Reviewer: Stephanie
Genre: Teen Fantasy
Rating: Love
Alerts/Warnings: There is some violence, mild sexual references and some swearing.
Premise: Six months have passed since Laurel saved the gateway to the faerie realm of Avalon. Now she must spend her summer there, honing her skills as a Fall faerie. But her human family and friends are still in mortal danger--and the gateway to Avalon is more compromised than ever.

When it comes time to protect those she loves, will she depend on David, her human boyfriend, for help? Or will she turn to Tamani, the electrifying faerie with whom her connection is undeniable? (goodreads.com)

Opinions: "Spells" is the sequel to "Wings". I very much like the idea behind these books. Laurel as a faerie trying to protect her family and friends from Trolls who are trying to take over Avalon.

It's fascinating and very well written. I like that we get to see more of Laurel as a fae and her trying to fit in to both these worlds she is being placed. It is definately interesting to see the pull she gets from both sides.

Overall, it's a great book. There are more "alert" moments in this book than in Wings. But I very much have enjoye this series and am anxious to read the next book in the series.

The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma by Trenton Lee Stewart

Title: The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma (Book 3 of the Mysterious Benedict Society Trilogy)
Author: Trenton Lee Stewart
Reviewer: Karen
Genre: Mid-Grade Fiction
Rating: Adore
Alerts/Warnings: None that I recall
Premise: "When an unexplained blackout engulfs Stonetown, Benedict Society members Reynie, Kate, Sticky, and Constance follow clues on an adventure that threatens to separate them from their families, friends, and even one another." (King County Library System)
Opinions: I just have to say that Kate is by far my favorite character in this book. She is spunky, brilliant, and ingenious. I still love Reynie, Sticky and Constance, but Kate is my favorite. I love that we get to enjoy the company of Mr. Benedict more and I think the things we learn about Constance are absolutely brilliant. Isn't it annoying how little I'm telling you so that you have to go find out for yourself? ;-) Mr. Curtain does do what he can to capture the society as well as get the whisperer back in his hands and the kids must work together to save the day...but will they? (There, was that enough more to intrigue you.)

I also really enjoy how well Mr. Stewart does in tying up the trilogy. I felt completely satisfied with the ending. So overall, yes I think you need to read this entire series...so go to the library now and check it out. Then tell me if you agree.

Belles on Their Toes by Frank Gilbreth Jr. and Ernesting Gilbreth Carey

Title: Belles on their Toes
Author: Frank Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey
Reviewer: Stephanie
Genre: YA Biography
Rating: Love
Alerts/Warnings: A couple of curse words and some smoking.
Premise: Life is very different now in the rambling Gilbreth house.When the youngest was two and the oldest eighteen, Dad died and Mother bravely took over his business. Now, to keep the family together, everyone has to pitch in and pinch pennies. The resourceful clan rises to every crisis with a marvelous sense of fun — whether it's battling chicken pox, giving the boot to an unwelcome boyfriend, or even meeting the President. And the few distasteful things they can't overcome — like castor oil — they swallow with good humor and good grace. (goodreads.com)

Opinions: This is the sequel to "Cheaper by the Dozen". It takes off where the first one ends and follows the family through all of the children getting married.

I like "Belles on their Toes" better than "Cheaper by the Dozen" for a couple of reasons. 1) It's in chronological order. So I'm never confused as to where they are or how many kids there are. 2) As the children get older, more and more interesting things happen that happen to be quite funny.

Having read both of these books many times, I have to conclude it would have been crazy growing up in the Gilbreth family. And I have a lot of respect for the parents (especially since I've become a mom). I like that this one highlights the mom and shows how much love and respect the kids have for her. Also how determined they were to stay together and work together to do so.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey

Title: Cheaper by the Dozen
Author: Frank Gilbreth Jr. and Ernesting Gilbreth Carey
Reviewer: Stephanie
Genre: YA Biography (kind of)
Rating: Love
Alerts/Warnings: A couple of curse words.
Premise: No growing pains have ever been more hilarious than those suffered loudly by the riotous Gilbreth clan. First there are a dozen red-haired, freckle-faced kids to contend with. Then there's Dad, a famous efficiency expert who believes a family can be run just like a factory. Finally there's Mother, his partner in everything except discipline. How they all survive such escapades as forgetting Frank Jr. in a roadside restaurant or going on a first date with Dad in the backseat or having their tonsils removed en masse will keep you in stitches. You can be sure they're not only cheaper, they're funnier by the dozen. (goodreads.com)

Opinions: This is such a fun book about this large family. It is not in chronocological order, so it takes a little bit to get used to where they are and how many kids are alive at the time. But I love that it gives a look at this very quirky huge family of two people who brought about change in motion study.

I have read this book many times over the years. I've seen 2 of the movies made about this book. Honestly, neither are all that accurate. ESPECIALLY the one starring Steve Martin. I enjoyed it, but don't go in expecting anything like that movie.

I enjoy the book more and more as the kids get older and start dating. It's funny and cute and just worth the time to read.

The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey by Trenton Lee Stewart

Title: The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey (Book 2 of the series)
Author: Trenton Lee Stewart
Reviewer: Karen
Genre: MidGrade Fiction
Rating: Adore
Alerts/Warnings: none that I can recall
Premise: "Reynie, Kate, Sticky, and Constance, all graduates of the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened and members of the Benedict Society, embark on a scavenger hunt that turns into a desperate search for the missing Mr. Benedict." (King County Library System)
Opinions: I've read some reviews about this book that discouraged me. Some people criticize that this story is just not believable. In my opinion, suspend reality and just enjoy it. I loved reading more about Reynie, Sticky, Constance and Kate as they travel the world trying to save their beloved mentor, Mr. Benedict, from his evil twin Mr. Curtain. They must fight against the Ten Men - so called for the number of weapons they tend to use - and search out clues for Mr. Benedict. Along the way the fearsome four must also overcome issues within themselves that may stop them in their endeavor if not overcome - ego, trust, etc. So in spite of some other negative reviews, I still personally highly recommend this book.

Just Ella by Margaret Petersen Haddix

Title: Just Ella
Author: Margaret Peteresen Haddix
Reviewer: Stephanie
Genre: YA Fantasy
Rating: Adore
Alerts/Warnings: None
Premise: It's a familiar story: In spite of the obstacles put in her way by her wicked stepmother, Ella goes to the ball, sweeps Prince Charming off his feet, and is chosen to be his bride. Now she's comfortably ensconced in the palace, awaiting marriage to the man of her dreams. It's happily ever after time, right?
Wrong! Life for Ella has become an endless round of lessons and restrictions; even worse, Prince Charming turns out to be more like Prince Boring. Why can't she talk with him the way she can with Jed, her earnest young tutor?

Slowly, Ella comes to realize she doesn't want the life she fought so hard to win. But breaking her engagement proves more difficult -- and dangerous -- than escaping her stepmother's tyranny. (goodreads.com)

Opinions: Years ago when I was working for a bookstore I would often find myself helping people find books for young adults and teens. (Shocking, isn't it?) I still remember the day that a 12 year old girl asked me for the sequel to Ella Enchanted. I was so confused because I knew there wasn't one. So after a good chunk of time I found this book. I'm still not sure this was the book she was looking for, but because of her, I read this book. So I am grateful to her.

I like fairy tales. I'll admit it to anyone who asks. My problem with fairy tales is the idea that at the end when the princess and prince marry that they will live "happily ever after". And honestly that is my issue with the Cinderella tale. She knew this guy for less than 3 days. Who is this guy? And what kind of creep is he that he wants to marry someone based on how she looks?

So the appeal of this book is that you see that everything might not have been what you thought it was. The Prince could be boring. Lessons all the time. No choices.

I really love a firey heroine who takes control of her own life and destiny. This is a great story about how you need to know what you want and be strong enough to go for it. And when it counts, admit that you are wrong and change your direction.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Secondhand Charm by Julie Berry

Title: Secondhand Charm
Author: Julie Berry
Reviewer: Stephanie
Genre: YA Fantasy
Rating: Worship
Alerts/Warnings: Some fantasy violence.
Premise: In a secluded village, magic sparkles on the edges of the forest. There, a young girl named Evie possesses unusually strong powers as a healer. A gypsy's charms—no more than trinkets when worn by others—are remarkably potent when Evie ties them around her neck. Her talents, and charms, have not escaped the notice of the shy stonemason's apprentice. But Evie wants more than a quiet village and the boy next-door. When the young king's carriage arrives one day, and his footman has fallen ill, Evie might just get her chance after all . . . (goodreads.com)

Opinions: I don't like snakes. At all. Period. End of Story.

HOWEVER. I loved this book. And honestly there weren't a ton of snakes in the book. But the few snakes did skeeve me out some. (I'm a bit too squeemish about snakes.)

Okay, moving away from the snakes.

Evie is a great character and I love that we follow her journey. I found myself suprised many times throughout the book. I think that this story was so different and well told and I was suprised by the twists that it took. I love the idea of serpentinas (as long as there was no possible way that I could ever be or run into one). It was so different that I loved it. It was not something I would have ever considered, but I liked it so very much.

This is Julie Berry's 2nd novel. The first, The Amaranth Enchantment, was equally well done. I have nothing but positive things to say about Julie Berry. And I hope she continues to write, because I will be a fan for as long as she does.

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

Title: The Mysterious Benedict Society (Book 1 of the Mysterious Benedict Society Series)
Author: Trenton Lee Stewart
Reviewer: Karen
Genre: MidGrade Fiction
Rating: Fabulous
Alerts/Warnings: None that I can recall
Premise: "After passing a series of mind-bending tests, four children are selected for a secret mission that requires them to go undercover at the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened, where the only rule is that there are no rules." (King County Library System)
Opinions: I love Reynie. What kid doesn't go through feeling like they are out of place, or don't fit in. I love that he works one-on-one with a tutor to excel in his brilliance. I love that he takes a chance and takes the very odd tests to get into the society. I love the group of kids that are part of the society (I mean their names alone are masterpieces - Sticky Washington, Constance Contraire, and Kate Wetherall). Each one unique, each one with his/her own realm of expertise. I love that they work together to solve the mystery of the nefarious plans going on at the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened. This is a great tale of self-esteem, cooperation, friendship and so much more. Please take time to read this one.

Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn

Title: Ella Minnow Pea
Author: Mark Dunn
Reviewer: Stephanie
Genre: Fiction
Rating: Adore
Alerts/Warnings: Some mentions of corporal punishments towards citizens of the island
Premise: Ella Minnow Pea is a girl living happily on the fictional island of Nollop off the coast of South Carolina. Nollop was named after Nevin Nollop, author of the immortal pangram,* “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” Now Ella finds herself acting to save her friends, family, and fellow citizens from the encroaching totalitarianism of the island’s Council, which has banned the use of certain letters of the alphabet as they fall from a memorial statue of Nevin Nollop. As the letters progressively drop from the statue they also disappear from the novel. The result is both a hilarious and moving story of one girl’s fight for freedom of expression, as well as a linguistic tour de force sure to delight word lovers everywhere. (goodreads.com)

Opinions: What an quirky fun idea for a book! I thought it was entertaining and interesting look at what would happen if letters are lost from use. Not only is is interesting to think about would happen if you were no longer allowed to use the letter z or q or a or j. Think of all the words that you can no longer use if you lose even one letter.

I think that this book appealed to me on two levels. 1) It was an interesting look at a totalitian government that is completely ridiculous. However, I find the idea intriguing that there are so few people in the community that see the terribleness of the leaders. I do think that it is a fascinating look at governmental rule and how much power we give our leaders and the trust that we give them to take care of our society.
2) It appeals to me as a lover of words. I love that as the letters disappear from the statue, they disappear from the novel. So that soon it becomes so degraded it becomes hard to say anything.

This is a delightful book that makes you think and ponder language and politics. An interesting combination to be sure, but it makes for a fun read.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

She Walks in Beauty by Siri Mitchell

Title: She Walks in Beauty
Author: Siri Mitchell
Reviewer: Stephanie
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: Worship
Alerts/Warnings: Talks about tennements, addiction, brief mention of having a child out of wedlock. The thing that people might find the most troublesome are the issues that are mentioned around the corsets and female body parts not staying where they are supposed to. (This is a novel of society in the 1890's. I have done a great deal of research into this time period and everything is accurate and non graphic. There are mentions of all the things I listed above, but I honestly felt it was accurate and was done in a tasteful way so as to give the necessary information to create a real world, but not so heavy handed so as to offend or distract. But that's my opinion. Take it as you will.)
Premise: For a young society woman seeking a favorable marriage in the late 1890s, so much depends on her social season debut. Clara Carter has been given one goal: secure the affections of the city's most eligible bachelor. Debuting means plenty of work--there are corsets to be fitted, dances to master, manners to perfect. Her training soon pays off, however, as celebrity's spotlight turns Clara into a society-page darling. Yet Clara wonders if this is the life she really wants, especially when she learns her best friend has also set her sights on Franklin De Vries. When a man appears who seems to love her simply for who she is, and gossip backlash turns ugly, Clara realizes it's not just her heart at stake--the future of her family depends on how she plays the game. (goodreads.com)

Opinions: I loved this book. I thought it was a very accurate look at the life of a debutante in the late 1800's. It is disturbing how society wanted a woman to look, to act, to be. We follow Clara who has a brilliant mind and spitfire spirit. Clara has no desire to be a debutante. She has little desire to dance, flirt and woo her way into the heart of the city's most eligable bachelor. Yet, she has little choice. She is a woman in the 1890's. So she does as her father and aunt demand.

This is a really interesting book about trying to be true to yourself and doing what your family wants. I mentioned above that I've done research on this time period (when I was in college for a class project and paper) and I can honestly say that in my opinion it is one of the most brilliantly accurate books about the 1890's that has been written in the twentyfirst century (at least that I have read).

I loved the characters and how they dealt with each other. I also loved the love story and how it all turned up. I found myself surprised several times. This is a wonderfully, fantastic book. I very much enjoyed it. (Can you tell that I liked this book?)

As Easy as Falling Off the Face of the Earth by Lynne Rae Perkins

Title: As Easy as Falling Off the Face of the Earth
Author: Lynne Rae Perkins
Reviewer: Stephanie
Genre: YA Fiction
Alerts/Warnings: None
Premise: Train.





He'll get there.

Won't he?

Opinions: The premise has you intrigued, doesn't it? Honestly, I read that and I wanted to read the book. Which is funny, cause I usually want to know more about a book. But this one was really interesting. Ry is on his way to camp and opens a letter and discovers that his camp has been cancelled. So he gets off his train looking for cell phone reception and the train leaves him. Thus begins Ry's journey to get home. He goes on every type of transportation possible trying to get home.

I liked Ry's character, but I liked Del more. (Del is one of the people Ry meets.) Even more than that, I like the overall theme of searching for the people you love. This is a beautifully written story. I liked that Ry found good people to help him and that the author didn't take the idea that a young kid was going all over the country by himself. Or that he wasn't taken in by thugs or something. I like the simplicity of this book and the physical journey as well as the emotional one.

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

Title: The Westing Game
Author: Ellen Raskin
Reviewer: Karen
Genre: Junior Mystery
Rating: Adore
Alerts/Warnings: None that I can recall
Premise:"This Newbery Medal-winning novel now features updated cover artwork. The mysterious death of an eccentric millionaire brings together an unlikely assortment of heirs who must uncover the circumstances of his death before they can claim their inheritance." (King County Library System)
Opinions: This book is amazing. Even though it is written for younger kids I love this book as an adult. I love the way Ellen Raskin weaves the clues and gets apparent strangers to work together to try and solve the mystery of Sam Westing's death. The winner then wins millions of dollars. I love Turtle with her sassy braids and her brains. I love the humor and play on words and the way she unfolds the clues. Whether or kid or a kid at heart, if you love mysteries this book is for you.

Pollyanna Grows Up by Eleanor H. Porter

Title: Pollyanna Grows Up
Author: Eleanor H. Porter
Reviewer: Stephanie
Genre: YA Fiction
Rating: Adore
Alerts/Warnings: None
Premise: The sequel to Pollyanna finds the effervescent orphan on the verge of womanhood. Her crippled legs cured, Pollyanna takes her glad heart to cheer new friends in Boston before travelling to Europe with Aunt Polly and Dr Chilton. But growing up brings sorrows as well as joys, and when she returns after six years, with Dr Chilton dead and Aunt Polly fallen on hard times, even Pollyanna has trouble maintaining her usual cheerful outlook. (goodreads.com)

Opinions: So we get to see Pollyanna again. She is as delightful as ever. She moves to Boston for a season while her aunt and uncle travel abroad for business. While there, we meet new people and see how Pollyanna learns to love and give all she has to others. Then six years pass and we get to see Pollyanna as a woman. She is still cheerful and full of life, yet a bit more mature.

As stories go, I like this story more than the first Pollyanna book. It's a delightful story and very compelling to see how Pollyanna reacts to things as an adult. I have to say the thing that I dislike about this book is Pollyanna's aunt. She drives me up the ding dang wall. But I also understand why her character behaves the way she does, (most of the time).

All in all, this is a delightful companion of books that helps you look for the good and realize that life isn't as bad as you might think it is.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The First Girls of Baxter Academy by Pamela Roskin

Title: The First Girls of Baxter Academy
Author: Pamela Roskin
Reviewer: Stephanie
Genre: YA Historical Fiction
Rating: Love
Alerts/Warnings: Some mild language and mentions of female monthly cycles.
Premise: The year is 1971, and Baxter Academy is perfect just as it is: it’s got the history, the prestige, and the beautiful New England campus. It’s just missing one thing—female students! But Becky (the women’s libber), Maggie (the hippie chick), Sheila (the day student), and Louise (the senator’s daughter) are about to give the academy exactly what it has always needed.

The girls thought the biggest challenge would be getting into the school—little did they realize they would have to fight so hard to stay. Luckily, they have each other to see them through the most amazing and adventurous year of their lives when they become the very first girls of Baxter Academy. (goodreads.com)

Opinions: Okay, this was another China book. I was looking for something to read, and it was there for $1. I thought, "Huh. That sounds interesting. For a dollar, I'll try it." So I did. It was a compelling mix of female characters. All of them are at the school for different reasons. One is dying to go. One has no where else to go. One is on scholorship. The last is there because her father needs a daughter there to help turn the school back into boys only. A feminist book to be sure. Please don't let that put you off. I mean Feminist, not Fem-nazi. It is a interesting look at our society in the early 1970's. It is well-written and often very funny. I enjoyed it tremendously.

Roxanne by Jane Claypool Miner

Title: Roxanne
Author: Jane Claypool Miner
Reviewer: Stephanie
Genre: Teen Historical Romance
Rating: Love
Alerts/Warnings: None (no seriously! NONE!)
Premise: From small town girl to Hollywood star, her heart would belong to only one boy. Theirs would be the greatest love story Hollywood had ever known.Roxanne has come from a small town to Hollywood with one dream: to become a star. And she will do anything to succeed: change her looks, her name, and her friends.She has to decide if she should succumb to John Randolph, the movie producer's son, who can introduce her to all the right people. Or if she should follow her heart to Gary Marlowe, a glittering star who has eyes for all of the beautiful bit players and extras on the set. But Roxanne knows she is not going to settle for being just another extra - to Gary or to Hollywood ... she's going to have it all! (goodreads.com)

Opinions: Okay, I know. I know. This is a romance novel. But I promise you, it would be rated G if it were made into a movie. There are a couple of kisses and that is all. It is very tame.

Roxanne is an Oklahoma girl who's mother has a dream that Roxanne will be a movie star. So they pack up and move to Hollywood. Roxanne struggles to make a name for herself in the movies, while she also tries to figure out who she really loves. It is a fun and interesting look at Hollywood during the Depression. And honestly, it is just a fun book.

NOTE: Roxanne is out of print. So don't hate me for reviewing this book. You can get it at some libraries, on amazon or if you live close to me and, you know, have my phone number, I'll lend it to you. Cause I'm just that awesome.

Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter

Title: Pollyanna
Author: Eleanor H. Porter
Reviewer: Stephanie
Genre: YA Fiction
Rating: Adore
Alerts/Warnings: None
Premise: When orphaned 11-year-old Pollyanna comes to live with austere and wealthy Aunt Polly, her philosophy of gladness brings happiness to her aunt and other members of the community, somewhat to their surprise. (goodreads.com)

Opinions: Have you seen the movie 'Pollyanna' with Hailey Mills? It was made in the 1950's? Okay, so I have. It was one of my favorites growing up. Several years ago, I read the book. I really liked it. I thought it was fun. Then when I was in China I read it again. (Yes, another China book.) I truly believe that there are times in our lives when books really hit a chord and for me Pollyanna hit me like a freight load of bricks. How wonderfully refreshing to read a book about a girl who does nothing but look for the good in everything. By the end of this book I found myself doing the same and I have to admit, if for no other reason than to get a good dose of Pollyanna's optimistic attitude, than it is worth it to read this book. The plot is a little weak, but the strength of character more than makes up for it.

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

Title: Ella Enchanted
Author: Gail Carson Levine
Reviewer: Karen
Genre: Teen Fantasy
Rating : Adore
Alerts/Warnings: None
Premise: "That fool of a fairy Lucinda did not intend to lay a curse on me. She meant to bestow a gift. When I cried inconsolably through my first hour of life, my tears were her inspiration. Shaking her head sympathetically at Mother, the fairy touched my nose. 'My gift is obedience. Ella will always be obedient. Now stop crying, child.' I stopped. So begins this richly entertaining story of Ella of Frell, who wants nothing more than to be free of Lucinda's gift and feel that she belongs to herself. For how can she truly belong to herself if she knows that at any time, anyone can order her to hop on one foot, cut off her hand, or betray her kingdom and she'll have to obey? Against a bold tapestry of princes, ogres, giants, wicked stepsisters, and fairy godmothers, Ella's spirited account of her quest to break the curse is a funny, poignant, and enchanting tale about an unforgettable heroine who is determined to be herself." (King County Library System)
Opinions: This book is a brilliant retelling of the classic fairytale Cinderella, but in the truly masterful way of author Gail Carson Levine. This book has all the main characteristics of the original fairytale, but with humor, strong female characters, and unusual twists and turns. One of my favorite characters is the fairy cook, Mandy. She is brilliantly written and uniquely done. Then there is Ella, who strives to be strong and defy her curse in anyway she can. I love that she becomes friends with Prince Char first and they get to know each other rather than instantly falling in love. I love that Ella has the ability to mimic languages and voices, which helps her out of more than one tough situation. I also love that she takes it upon herself to find Lucinda and/or the cure to the curse instead of just mopping around bemoaning her fate. Though I love the movie staring Anne Hathaway, the movie can never touch the beauty and the details of the original novel. Filled with magic, fantasy, love, and humor, it is no wonder that this story received a Newberry Honor.

Ellen Tebbits by Beverley Cleary

Title: Ellen Tebbits
Author: Beverley Cleary
Reviewer: Stephanie
Genre: YA Fiction
Rating: Adore
Alerts/Warnings: None (Unless you have issues with girls talking about long underwear in a completely innocent way. But it does mention underwear.)
Premise: Ellen Tebbits has an embarrassing secret that she'll never share with anyone. That is, until she meets Austine—and discovers that Austine has the exact same secret! Soon the girls are best friends who do everything to­gether—attending dance class, riding horses, and dodging pesky Otis Spofford, the neighborhood troublemaker.

But then Ellen does something terrible . . . and now Austine isn't speaking to her. Ellen desperately wants her best friend back. How can she show Austine how sorry she is?

Opinions: I really like this book about friendship and trying to fit in. Ellen is a completely likable and believable character. I honestly could relate to her as a girl. That is what I think Beverley Cleary excells at. She can write believable characters in realistic situations, but with enough zing to be entertaining. This is why I believe she is such a beloved author.

Anyways, Ellen Tebbits (the book) follows Ellen through a year where she makes a new friend and then learns about forgiveness and acceptance.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Magyk by Angie Sage

Title: Magyk
Author: Angie Sage
Reviewer: Stephanie
Genre: YA Fantasy
Rating: Adore
Alerts/Warnings: Some fantasy violence and darkness
Premise: The seventh son of the seventh son, aptly named Septimus Heap, is stolen the night he is born by a midwife who pronounces him dead. That same night, the baby's father, Silas Heap, comes across a bundle in the snow containing a new born girl with violet eyes. The Heaps take this helpless newborn into their home, name her Jenna, and raise her as their own. But who is this mysterious baby girl, and what really happened to their beloved son Septimus? (goodreads.com)

Opinions: This is the first book in a very interesting series. I have to admit that the first time I read this book, I was a little confused for the first 50 pages or so. But then I figured out the timeline and figured out what was going on. At that point I started to really enjoy this book. A series of random events thrust several people together to keep the Princess safe. I like that Angie Sage has made a magical world and has set definitions for magyk and explains in concisely and matter of factly.

Admittedly, this is my favorite book in the series so far. I like how she weaves several stories together and how she has made a new world where the minor characters are just as important as the main ones. It is an interesting multiple perspective book.

Airs Above the Ground by Mary Stewart

Title: Airs Above the Ground
Author: Mary Stewart
Reviewer: Karen
Genre: Adult Romance/Mystery
Rating: Fabulous
Alerts/Warnings: Some swearing, some violence
Premise: "Vanessa March never thought to look for her missing husband in Vienna--until she saw him in a newsreel shot there at the scene of a deadly fire. But her hunt for answers only leads to more sinister questions in a mysterious world of beautiful horses." (King County Library System)
Opinions: I LOVE this book. I am a huge fan of Mary Stewart and have been reading her books since I was ten. They are full of mystery and suspense with just the perfect touch of romance. There is mystery around a double murder, drug smuggling, an old horse with a questionable past, a missing husband, and is set in the Swiss Alps. What an awesome combination. I love that the main character is a female veterinarian who is searching for truth about her absentee husband. I love that her desire for truth leads her into the depths of a massive mystery. I love that she is accompanied by a seventeen year old son of a friend whose seeking his own brand of freedom. This unlikely pair make a unique detective duo that have a quirky bond and sense of humor. I even love the way Mary Stewart describes the scenery - it was so vivid that I long to be there in reality even now. Even though this book was written in the 60s it is still a fabulous read for our day.

Dogs Don't Tell Jokes by Louis Sachar

Title: Dogs Don't Tell Jokes
Author: Louis Sachar
Reviewer: Stephanie
Genre: YA Fiction
Rating: Adore
Alerts/Warnings: None
Premise:Twelve-year-old jokester Gary Boone knows he was born to be a comedian, it's the kids in his class who think he's just a goon. Winning the school talent show would be Gary's dream come true, but on the big night his dream nearly backfires--with hilarious results.

Opinions: This is a funny book. There are parts of this book that are just plain silly, but there is a learning aspect of the book. I like that Gary knows what he wants to do and follows his dream to become a comedian. No matter what anyone else says. It is fun, quirky and honestly has a suprise ending. (I really didn't see it coming, and that's something for me.) It's a fun book and the only downside is that after I read it I decided to tell jokes (some from the book) over and over until I drove everyone around me nuts. It's a fun book for both boys and girls.

14 Cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy, Thomas Gonzalez (Illustrator), Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah (Collaborator)

Title: 14 Cows for America
Author: Carmen Agra Deedy, Thomas Gonzalez (Illustrator), Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah (Collaborator)
Reviewer: Stephanie
Genre: Picture Book
Rating: Worship
Alerts/Warnings: None
Premise: In June of 2002, a very unusual ceremony begins in a far-flung village in western Kenya. An American diplomat is surrounded by hundreds of Maasai people. A gift is about to be bestowed on the American men, women, and children, and he is there to accept it. The gift is as unsought and unexpected as it is extraordinary. A mere nine months have passed since the September 11 attacks, and hearts are raw. Tears flow freely from American and Maasai as these legendary warriors offer their gift to a grieving people half a world away. Word of the gift will travel news wires around the globe. Many will be profoundly touched, but for Americans, this selfless gesture will have deeper meaning still. (goodreads.com)

Opinions: There are very few picture books that I have been so incredibly moved by. And honestly, this one far surpassed any others. This is a beautifully moving story about helping Americans heal after the tragedy of September 11th. Not only is this a beautiful story, but it is true. I think that is why it is so amazing. On top of that, the illustrations are gorgeous. I have to say that this is one of those books I read regularly to my kids, but keep high up so that it stays nice. This is a book I want to have to read to my grandkids and greatgrandkids. It shows the good in people and the kindness you can show to those around us. I love this book very very much. I hope you take the time to read it. It's a picture book so it will take you less than 5 minutes. But it is worth it. So very worth it.

Talk of the Town by Lisa Wingate

Title: Talk of the Town
Author: Lisa Wingate
Reviewer: Stephanie
Genre: Christian Fiction
Rating: Adore
Alerts/Warnings: None
Premise: The show American Megastar is the hottest thing on television but its associate producer, Mandalay Florentino, is worried. She's just arrived in the tiny town of Daily, Texas, to arrange a surprise "reunion concert" for hometown finalist Amber Amberson. Only it turns out everyone in town seems to know the secret. And paparazzi are arriving. Word from Hollywood is that Amber has disappeared with a "bad boy" actor. Can anything go right in this tumbleweed town? Imagene Doll loves her town of Daily, Texas, but things are lonely without her beloved husband. Life seems dull. At least until that fancy-dressed woman pulls into town, looking terrified and glamorous all at once. Soon life's not the least bit boring as Imagene and the rest of Daily find themselves at the center of a media maelstrom--with a young girl's future on the line. (goodreads.com)

Opinions: There are a couple aspects of this book that are completely unbelievable. BUT those things aside, I really liked this book. It was kind of like American Idol with a twist. I like that we get the perspective of Daily, Texas native Imagene Dall and Hollywood associate producer Mandalay Florentino. You get the perspective of both the big city and the small town. I liked the romance in the story, and honestly there were several parts that were very suprising to me. Plus there were laugh out loud funny parts that had my husband asking what was so funny.

Okay, and in all honestly, I probably wouldn't have picked this book up in America. (Yes, it's another China book.) But I'm so glad that I did read it. I thought it had a sweet message, a sweet romance and plenty of humor. It was a great balance and I very much enjoyed reading it.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Christy by Catherine Marshall

Title: Christy
Author: Catherine Marshall
Reviewer: Karen
Genre: Adult Historical Fiction
Rating: Adore
Alerts/Warnings: Some violence and death
Premise: "Young Christy Huddleston begins a new life in the mountain hamlet of Cutter Gap as a teacher at a mission school where she comes to know and care for the wild highland people." (Pleasant Grove Library System)
Opinions: I read this book as part of book club and was hesitant about reading it at first. The descriptiveness can be overwhelming at times, but the story completely endearing. Christy is an intriguing character, full of her own preconceived notions about life when she leaves her privileged upbringing to help those less fortunate than herself as she goes to work as a teacher. She soon finds herself being taught instead and growing greatly from her time with the wonderfully vivid mountain folk. The trials that she and the other characters endure are at times heart wrenching and called for lots of Kleenex on my part. Then there is the love story aspect where Christy must decide between two incredibly different men. Overall, I found this story a completely engaging read and was grateful that my book club suggested we read it.

Toby Tyler or Ren Weeks with a Circus by James Otis

Title: Toby Tyler or Ten Weeks with a Circus
Author: James Otis
Reviewer: Stephanie
Genre: YA Fiction
Rating: Adore
Alerts/Warnings: None
Premise: Classic story of a little orphan boy who runs away to join the circus, only to learn, unhappily, that his new employer is a cruel taskmaster. 30 illustrations enhance a story that will tug on the heartstrings of readers of all ages as they enter the world of an old-time traveling circus. (goodreads.com)

Opinions: Yes, this was a China book. I had read it years ago, but didn't remember it. So when I saw it was free, I read it. It was entertaining. It is a great story about learning how the grass isn't always greener on the other side of the fence. Toby thinks that life would be better with the circus, but he soon realizes that the circus isn't fun if you have a cruel employer. This heartwarming tale about finding good people to trust and learning to find the good in your life is a wonderfully uplifting story when you need one. But truly life does stink for Toby for quite awhile. But it gets better at the end. Also it is pretty different from the movie (which I loved too) but it's good in a different way.

Invitation to the Game by Monica Hughes

Title: Invitation to the Game
Author: Monica Hughes
Reviewer: Stephanie
Genre: YA Science Fiction
Rating: Love
Alerts/Warnings: none
Premise: It's the future, and most jobs are done by machines. Now that school is over, Lisse and her friends are consigned to a bleak neighborhood for the permanently unemployed. Then they receive an invitation to the Game, which transports them to a paradise. Is it a dream or a computer simulation? Each time they play the Game, the new world seems more and more real...

Opinions: I have to say that I love books about societal structures. I love books where you see how a society is built and how people make it better or live with the worse. For me, this book is fascinating. I love that you get to see how this group of friends try to make a life for themselves in the world and then how after they start playing the Game, how the Game seems to become more like the real world. It is an interesting look into a what if. And honestly, I'm not going to tell you the what if so I don't spoil the book. But I loved this book.

The Castle in the Attic by Elizabeth Winthrop

Title: The Castle in the Attic
Author: Elizabeth Winthrop
Reviewer: Stephanie
Genre: YA Fantasy
Rating: Love
Alerts/Warnings: Some fantasy violence
Premise: William has just received the best present of his life. It's an old, real-looking stone and wooden model of a castle, with a drawbridge, moat, and a about the castle. And sure enough, when he picks up the tiny silver knight, it comes alive in his handWilliam can't wait to play with it—he's certain there's something magical. Sir Simon tells William a mighty story of wild sorcery, wizards, and magic. And suddenly William is off on a fantastic quest to another land and another time—where a fiery dragon and an evil wizard are waiting to do battle . . . . (goodreads.com)

Opinions: This is one of those stories I read ages ago that I have never forgotten. I still think about it and ponder the magic of it. I am not a huge fan of toys being alive when you aren't around (ie The Doll's House or Toy Story). I mean they are entertaining and all, but that just kind of creeps me out. So this story appealed to me that the knight was really alive. He just didn't come alive until William held him. This is an adventure story about playing to your strengths and doing good for all unselfishly. I have loved this book for years and am anxious for my son to be old enough to read it with me. (The fantasy violence is still much for him, but he's young.)

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Freckle Juice by Judy Blume

Title: Freckle Juice
Author: Judy Blume
Reviewer: Stephanie
Genre: YA Chapter Book
Rating: Adore
Alerts/Warnings: None
Premise: Andrew wants freckles more than anything else, so Sharon offers to sell him her secret freckle recipe. When Andrew turns green from the recipe, and blue from his own freckle-making brew, it's doubtful he'll ever wish for freckles again! (goodreads.com)

Opinions: I read this a LONG time ago and really liked it. I thought it was funny and creative and interesting. Plus I have a blue freckle, so it was a little funny that Andrew had blue freckles. Last week I read this book to my son who thought it was the greatest book ever. He laughed all the way through it and thought it was funny. And you know what? Even though I didn't laugh as much as my son, I still very much enjoyed it. I liked that it had a lesson, but that it wasn't hit you over the head lesson. It was more of a slight tap on the head lesson. I highly recommend this book.

The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley

Title: The Blue Sword
Author: Robin McKinley
Reviewer: Karen
Genre: Junior Fantasy
Rating: Fabulous
Alerts/Warnings: Violence associated with battle
Premise: "Harry, bored with her sheltered life in the remote orange-growing colony of Daria, discovers magic in herself when she is kidnapped by a native king with mysterious powers." (King County Library System)
Opinions: First off all I love that the female lead's name goes by the name "Harry". I just do. I'm funny that way. I also love Corlath, the king of the hill people. Even though he initially kidnaps Harry I find that he's easy to get to know and really like. McKinley does a fantastic job in her creation of the land of Damar. I feel like a part of it as I read this story. I love Harry's journey to find her own inner strength and to become the heroine she was destined to be. I love the trials she faces and the lessons she learns. Robin McKinley is a brilliant fantasy author. She has re-written several of the classic fairytales in her own unique style, but The Blue Sword has to be my all time favorite's of hers. Please take time to read this book.

The Star Maker by Laurence Yep

Title: The Star Maker
Author: Laurence Yep
Reviewer: Stephanie
Genre: YA Fiction
Rating: Adore
Alerts/Warnings: Minor mentions of gambling (with some negative consequences) and bullying/teasing/namecalling
Premise: If only Artie had kept his mouth shut.

But his mean cousin Petey was putting him down, so Artie started bragging.

Now he has to come up with enough money to buy firecrackers for all his cousins by the Lunar New Year.

Luckily, there's one person he can count on . . . Uncle Chester!

Newbery Honor Book author Laurence Yep celebrates family and Chinese New Year traditions in this story of a boy and his uncle who discover that age doesn't matter when it comes to helping out a friend. (goodreads.com)

Opinions: Part of the appeal of this book for me was that the characters are all Chinese and it is dealing with Chinese Americans in San Fransisco. Now I fully admit that I enjoy lots of things Chinese at the moment. So that being said, I liked this book. It wasn't a long book (took me less than an hour to read). Nor was it a book that I think will change the world in any drastic way. But I loved the quietness of it. It was a pleasant story of Artie who figures out what is important to him and what does and does not matter.
I liked the prologue and the epilogue that talk about the reality of Laurence Yep's childhood and how he lived and celebrated his Chinese heritage (This book is based on Mr. Yep's childhood). This is a quiet book, but a very beautiful book. I like that it gets to the point and doesn't drag it out. I very much enjoyed reading it.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy

Title: The Scarlet Pimpernel
Author: Baroness Emmuska Orczy
Reviewer: Karen
Genre: Adult Historical Fiction
Rating: Fabulous
Alerts/Warnings: Some swearing, some description of violence associated with the French Revolution
Premise: "In 1792, during the French Revolution's Reign of Terror, an English aristocrat known to be an ineffectual fop is actually a master of disguises who, with a small band of dedicated friends, undertakes dangerous missions to save members of the French nobility from the guillotine. His friends and foes know him only as the Scarlet Pimpernel. But a ruthless French agent is sworn to discover his identity and hunt him down." (King County Library System)
Opinions: This is a fantastic story about love and overcoming pride. It is also a wonderful and slightly unusual look into aristocratic society and how they dealt with the French revolution from not only the French aspect, but from the English who did what they could to help those in need. The story is a bit difficult to get into at first due to the various dialects used to show differentiation in social classes. If you can get past that then this book is hard to put down and full of wonderful twists and turns.

Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand

Title: Seabiscuit
AuBoldthor: Laura Hillenbrand
Reviewer: Stephanie
Genre: Biography
Rating: Love
Alerts/Warnings: There is some mild language and there is a chapter that talks about the practices of jockey's to stay small that is highly disturbing. While it is interesting to the history, it is not necessary to the story. So if you feel squemish, skip this chapter.
Premise: Laura Hillenbrand has woven together the many strands of lives that improbably create a phenomenon -- in this case, no raging storm, but legendary racing history. The little horse, Seabiscuit, with his crooked legs and sad tail, was at first thought lazy, but with the help of a trinity of men -- his trainer, his owner, and a jockey -- would make racing history and find a place in the hearts of thousands of fans in Depression-era America. Laura Hillenbrand has done what only great writers can do: She has taken a story that in other, less capable hands would be fodder strictly for the racing crowd, and written as dramatic and informative a biography of a horse and of 1938 America as you'll find. When you read this book, an America mired in the Depression and searching for something to believe in comes alive. The faith of those Americans in the little horse with heart will awaken your own, and when you read Seabiscuit's racing scenes, even the most skeptical reader will find themselves jumping up and down, shouting at Seabiscuit to "Run!" (goodreads.com)

Opinions: I really like this book. I don't particularly like biographies (I think I've said that before.) However, I love the way Laura Hillenbrand writes. She weaves the information and story together in such a way that I don't think about the fact that I am reading a biography. Yes, there are chapters on just information that don't move the story along, but they are so fascinating that I didn't care. There is one chapter that gave me the squeemies, but it was also very factual and gave a very accurate look into the sport of horse racing. I really enjoyed this book and have read it many times since it was published in 2002. And if you’ve seen the movie, the book is much better. (Although I do have to say, I liked the movie too.)

Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink

Title: Caddie Woodlawn
Author: Carol Ryrie Brink
Reviewer: Stephanie
Genre: YA Historical Fiction
Rating: Love
Alerts/Warnings: None
Premise: At age 11, Caddie Woodlawn is the despair of her mother and the pride of her father: a clock-fixing tomboy running wild in the woods of Wisconsin. In 1864, this is a bit much for her Boston-bred mother to bear, but Caddie and her brothers are happy with the status quo.

Opinions: This is the first novel I was ever given and ever read all on my own. I know, crazy that I remember that. But this book was an important step as a reader. This was the first book that was mine. It wasn't the libraries, it wasn't my sisters. It was mine. It was personal to me. So does this jade my review? Maybe. But I've read it many times since and I can read it for just reading it and I still think it is a great book.
The book follows Caddie through one year in her life as she grows from a tomboy into a strong young woman. It gives a great example of being a strong woman as well as a glimpse of life in the frontier. It is great storytelling. The writing isn't amazing, but the story is compelling and fun.

Giraffes Can't Dance by Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees

Title: Giraffes Can't Dance
Author: Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees
Reviewer: Stephanie
Genre: Children's Picture Book
Rating: Worship
Alerts/Warnings: None
Premise: the giraffe longs to dance, but his legs are too skinny and his neck is too long. His knees buckle whenever he tries to twirl. At the Jungle Dance, the warthogs waltz, the chimps cha-cha, and the lions tango. "Giraffes can't dance," they all jeer when it's Gerald's turn to prance. But there is one little creature who believes in Gerald. "Everything makes music," the cricket explains, "if you really want it to." So Gerald starts swaying to his own sweet tune. (goodreads.com)

Opinions: I love this book. It is such a great book. My kids love it too. My 4 year old always brings it to me and asks to read about poor Gerald. But I love this book for several reasons. 1) The story is great. I love that it teaches that it is okay to be yourself and to find the true place you fit as opposed to the place where everyone thinks you should. 2) The illustrations are amazing. These watercolors are truly suprising (at least to me) that they are watercolors. I love just looking at this book. 3) The rhythm of the book is appealing and feels like a dance to me as well.
I am so glad we have this book in our home library and it is one of the books I would recommend to add to your picture book library. (Even, if I didn't have kids, I would buy this one. Cause I love it so. But I'm a bibliophile. So.....do whatever you want. I won't know. Unless you tell me. And that would be fun. Do you own this book?)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Leepike Ridge by N.D. Wilson

Title: Leepike Ridge
Author: N.D. Wilson
Reviewer: Stephanie
Genre: YA Ficiton
Rating: Love
Alerts/Warnings: Some mild violence and a corpse.
Premise: Eleven-year-old Thomas Hammond is in for the ride of his life when he's swept downstream and underground aboard a crumbling raft of Styrofoam. Washing up on a dark subterranean "beach," his only companions are an impulsive dog named Argus and a corpse, from which he takes a flashlight and an all-too-limited supply of batteries. What Tom finds under Leepike Ridge—a castaway, four graves, a tomb, and buried treasure—will answer questions he hadn't known to ask and change his life forever. Now, if he can only find his way home again. . . .

Opinions: I came across this book randomly and fell in love with it. So I shared it with my husband and he loved it too. N.D. Wilson is an amazing writer. He tells good stories and writes them well. He has amazing imagery and dialogue. I am truly amazed by how talented he is.
Leepike Ridge is an adventure story, with a little bit of mystery. Its high intensity is balanced with some humorous moments as well. I like that it is not just a treasure hunt book. It deals with real people and emotions. It talks about bravery and cowardice. It is a unique book and I thoroughly loved reading it.

Dave at Night by Gail Carson Levine

Title: Dave at Night
Author: Gail Carson Levine
Reviewer: Stephanie
Genre: YA Historical Fiction
Rating: Love
Alerts/Warnings: None
Premise: When orphaned Dave is sent to the Hebrew Home for Boys and treated cruelly, he sneaks out at night and welcomed into the music- and culture-filled world of the Harlem Renaissance, where he discovers the power of friendship

Opinions: Dave is a young boy who is orphaned and his uncle is willing to take his brother, but not him. So Dave is sent to the Hebrew Home for Boys. There he meets the brothers and he is treated cruelly by the staff. But he can't control his need to escape. So he discovers a way to go out at night to see the world. In the world he becomes involved in the Harlem Renaissance. In both the HHB and with his new friends he learns about love and true friendship.
This is an amazing book based on some of the experiences Gail Carson Levines' father had as a boy. So there is a touch of truth in this book. But it feels like more than a touch. It is beautifully done and a very moving story. I enjoyed it very much. I like that it gives you a look at serveral different lifestyles and situations. Also it taught me about the Harlem Renaissance. (I knew the Harlem Renaissance had occured, but I didn't know exactly what it was.) I really loved this book.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Title: Jane Eyre
Author: Charlotte Bronte
Reviewer: Karen
Genre: Adult Historical Romance/Classic
Rating: Fabulous
Alerts/Warnings: Some violence/Death
Premise: "
Opinions: This is a beautiful, but dark, tale of love and honor. I love to follow Jane as she discovers herself and the path the she wants to follow in life. I love the incredibly complex characters throughout the story and the twist of mystery within. This is not a frivolous story, but one of people who feel so real, people who make mistakes and poor choices and must pay for them. This is a story of a hard life and how to endure it and come out on top. If you want to read a story about a woman of great strength than read this book.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Candymakers by Wendy Mass

Title: The Candymakers
Author: Wendy Mass
Reviewer: Stephanie
Genre: YA Fiction
Rating: LOVE
Alerts/Warnings: None
Premise: Four children have been chosen to compete in a national competition to find the tastiest confection in the country. Who will invent a candy more delicious than the Oozing Crunchorama or the Neon Lightning Chew?
Logan, the Candymaker's son, who can detect the color of chocolate by touch alone?

Miles, the boy who is allergic to merry-go-rounds and the color pink?

Daisy, the cheerful girl who can lift a fifty-pound lump of taffy like it's a feather?

Or Philip, the suit-and-tie wearing boy who's always scribbling in a secret notebook?

This sweet, charming, and cleverly crafted story, told from each contestant's perspective, is filled with mystery, friendship, and juicy revelations. (goodreads.com)

Opinions: Okay, here it is. This is the second of my two favorite books on perspective. Aren't you SO excited to know what it is? I know. I know. I'm that kind and good to let you in on this. :)
The Candymakers follows four contestants who are trying to make the best new candy for a contest. There are sections in the book following each of the contestants and you get to see their side of the situation. You learn why Logan freezes up and what is in Miles' backpack. You get to see why Philip is so standoffish and why Daisy has a best friend named Magpie.
This book is fun and entertaining. Not only do I like the multiple perspectives, but I like the story. I love me my Wendy Mass. She has a quirky style and a good understanding of characters and motivations.
PS I didn't feel this way, but my husband thought it was a little slow at the beginning. I have to disagree, but I wanted to give a heads up. If you think it's slow, keep reading. It really is a great story.

Stars Collide by Janice Thompson

Title: Stars Collide
Author: Janice Thompson
Reviewer: Stephanie
Genre: Christian Fiction
Rating: Adore
Alerts/Warnings: None
Premise: Kat Jennings and Scott Murphy don't just play two people who are secretly in love on a television sitcom--they are also head over heels for each other in real life. When the lines between reality and TV land blur, they hope they can keep their relationship under wraps. But when Kat's grandmother, an aging Hollywood starlet with a penchant for wearing elaborate evening gowns from Golden Age movies, mistakes their on-screen wedding proposal for the real deal, things begin to spiral out of their control. (goodreads.com)

Opinions: I liked this book. It is a cute book about a girl who works on a TV show. It is funny, but not as funny as the "Weddings by Bella" series. I definately loved Grandma and I think that is one of Janice Thompson's strengths. She builds believable and likeable characters. There was very little that was suprising to me, but I enjoyed it. I thought the romance moved a bit quickly, but once I got to the end I better understood why it moved the way it did. This was heavier of the Christian aspect than "Fools Rush In" but I didn't feel that it was overpowering the story. All in all, an enjoyable read.