Friday, December 16, 2011

Ghosts in the Fog by Samantha Seiple

Ghosts in the Fog: The Untold Story of Alaska's WWII InvasionI honestly didn't know anything about the Japanese invading the Aleutian Islands during World War II, so I was intrigued by the subject matter. I found the retelling of personal recollections of events made the story flow well, almost like fiction. What I didn't like was how the author jumped from event to event and I had to double check dates to see how it compared to other events. It seemed rather choppy.

Ghosts in the Fog should be given to those that read everything about World War II they can find. I'm not sure how much the casual reader will stick with it, though. This is an interesting story, and one I didn't know about, but the presentation was only average. C rating.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Astronaut Academy : Zero Gravity by Dave Roman

Astronaut Academy: Zero GravityHakata Soy is the mysterious new boy at Astronaut Academy. He arrived about a month into the semester and isn't willing to share much about himself. Hakata finds himself amidst an eclectic group of students, including a spoiled rich girl with a crush on him, a roommate only interested in sports, a girl with an affinity for always showing up at the right time, and a robot out to destroy him.

The story starts off extremely entertaining and somewhat humorous, but about 100 pages into it, I started to get bored. The constant introduction (or reintroduction) of the characters became tedious, and I just wanted the story to continue. The black and white illustrations are fabulous and add character to the story. They're probably the best thing about it.

This is for fans of graphic novels, especially if you like action/adventure/superhero ones. It had a great deal of potential, but didn't quite live up to what was a fantastic start. I give it a 'C'.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Don't Judge a Girl by Her Cover by Ally Carter (Gallagher Girls #3)

Don't Judge a Girl by Her Cover (Gallagher Girls, #3)The third in the Gallagher Girl series finds Cammie helping to save her friend Macey from an apparent kidnapping attempt while at Macey's father's political convention. (He's the vice presidential candidate.) Enter Cammie's elusive Aunt Abby (a Gallagher Girl herself) who's been pegged to be Macey's Secret Service protection while back at school. Little does Cammie know that there's much more to the kidnapping attempt than first meets the eye. And why does Zach seem to show up at just the right moment again and again?

For those that enjoyed the first two in the series, this is a must-read. Little is shown of the girls' junior year classes, for much of the story takes place outside of Gallagher Academy. With the introduction of Aunt Abby, the reader catches a glimpse of what Cammie's dad was like and a fresh look at Mr. Solomon and even a bit more of her mom. There are many loose ends at the end of the story, which will make the reader beg for the 4th book immediately. But, overall, a fun adventure with plenty of action and suspense to keep you turning the page. A solid read -- 'B' rating.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

Ship Breaker (Ship Breaker, #1)Just looking at this book and reading the description I doubt I would have picked Ship Breaker on my own, but thanks to some major prodding I finally gave it a shot. Oh my! Fabulous story telling here. I doubt the setting or genre really matters. Bacigalupi can flat out tell a great story. One of the best stories I've read in a long time -- A rating.

Everest: You Decide How To Survive! by Bill Doyle and David Borgenicht

Worst-Case Scenario Ultimate Adventure: Everest: You Decide How to Survive!
You are the main character in the book and a member of an expedition to climb Mt. Everest. In the style of the "Choose Your Own Adventure" books, you are given a choice at major parts of the trip. Depending upon your choice, you will actually make it to the summit.. or not. Before starting the story, the reader is given instructions to read the Expedition File at the back of the book. This is an illustrated guide to help you in making the right decisions while reading the story. It's made to look like an envelope with handwritten instructions, maps, lists, and so forth, written by your guides.

I like this one, with all the different possible outcomes. I tried to keep up with the choices, going back and reading both to see what would have happened if I chose the other possibility, but it became too complicated. Most of the ones I did read showed logical possibilities and I think it'll keep the reader interested. I can see one reading it over and over, making a different decision just to see what happened -- and readers would do this even if they made it to the top of the summit in one reading. C+ rating.

Grace's Twist by Melissa J. Morgan (Camp Confidential #3)

Grace's Twist (Camp Confidential, #3)
Grace's Twist is third in the "Camp Confidential" series. This one features Grace and how she must learn to deal with a bully from another bunk. On top of that, she's afraid to let her friends know the reason why she can't audition for the play, nor go with them to the water park. Nothing here to stand out above other books, but those that liked the first two in the series will probably enjoy. I give it a C.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Attack of the Vampire Weenies and Other Warped and Creepy Tales by David Lubar

Attack of the Vampire Weenies: And Other Warped and Creepy TalesThe weenie story collection books are super popular, and I can certainly understand why. Mr. Lubar's oddball sense of humor appeals to many young teens and tweens, especially boys.

As with any story collection, there were some stories I liked much more than others. I especially loved the ones where humor was the star, like the story about the Geography Bee -- so clever to have the boy who doesn't know the answers get them right with his "Oh, man" or "No way"! I also found the section at the end of the book where the author explains his inspiration for each story worth mentioning. Aspiring writers will want to check that out.

I wouldn't say any of the stories were particularly scary, but some were definitely creepy. (Especially if the story featured one of your phobias, like spiders or snakes.) Some were just plain silly, but in a fun way. I didn't find the collection particularly memorable, but I don't hate it either. Personally I give Vampire Weenies a 'C', but I can see where others will rate it much higher.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan (The Heroes of Olympus #2)

The Son of Neptune  (Heroes of Olympus, #2)
I have been dying to read The Son of Neptune ever since I finished The Lost Hero last year. It was pure torture to have to wait an entire year to find out what Percy was doing while he was "lost" in the first book of the spin-off series. When the story begins, Percy is being chased by two Gorgons wearing Bargain Mart smocks. He apparently has lost his memory and doesn't know how he ended up in California, nor why these monsters are attacking him. (Nor how he knows what they are and how to battle them.) He knows something weird is happening because these "ladies" won't stay dead. They keep coming back and attacking him. After battling them one more time, Percy notices a metal door on a hill guarded by two teens wearing Roman armor, purple t-shirts and jeans. Knowing this is where he should be, he heads their way. Percy is then introduced to the Roman version of Camp Half-Blood and is sent with two new friends on a quest of their own.

Little is seen or heard from many of our Camp Half-Blood favorites as this story really focuses on Percy and the Roman camp. We know they are out there looking for Percy, but it's only happening in the background. That's okay though. I was more than intrigued with the Roman way of life and this latest threat to the world as we know it.

All I can say is that Riordan has a magical touch with these stories. What is there to say about a book where the reader becomes so involved in the characters and story that when you close the book, your first thought is 500 pages is too short. I love the little touches of humor that are inserted into the story. Like, who can't help but laugh when is run by -- you guessed it -- Amazon warrior women? Or, how Thanatos has an iPad to sort his lists of souls and Skyping with Pluto?

Yes, I loved, loved this story and now I'll be waiting rather impatiently for book three. Ahem. Anyone know a way to speed up time? 'A' rating from me.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol

Anya's GhostAnya is a Russian immigrant teen who just wants to be accepted by her peers. She doesn't like the way she looks, is embarrassed by her mother, and doesn't want to do anything that would make her stand out as different from all the kids at school. She hates that her mother wants her to befriend the nerdy Russian boy at her school and the fatty Russian food her mother makes. When Anya falls down a well, she meets the ghost of a girl who died in the well 93 years ago. When Anya is rescued, little did she realize that the ghost followed her home. Soon Emily becomes Anya's best friend, helping her in school, giving her clothing advice, and advice on boys. Anya think this is the best thing that's happened to her, and she's finally going to fit in. Except for one little problem -- Emily has her own agenda and it's not exactly what she's told Anya.

The story is fabulous. The twist was unexpected and made for a chilling read. The illustrations are fantastic, and fit the dark mood of Anya in the beginning and then darker when the truth about Emily was revealed. I loved this one and I can see this appealing to many. A rating.

Laika by Nick Abadzis

Laika tells the story of Sputnik 2, focusing on the dog who traveled to and died in space. Some embellishments can be found here, but overall gives the reader an idea of what happened in the days and months leading up to the launch of Sputnik 2, and how a dog was chosen to be the 1st from Earth to travel to space.

I really enjoyed the illustrations here, for I probably wouldn't have wanted to read it without them. The dog, Laika, is especially adorable with the white mark on her face. She looks questioning and curious, but almost sad at the same time. Kind of like how I felt while reading her story. Fans of the graphic format will especially like it. My grade? B.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Eight Keys by Suzanne LaFleur

Eight KeysElise is starting sixth grade and nothing seems to be going right in middle school. Her best friend, Franklin, is embarrassing. Her locker partner, Amanda, makes fun of Elise and smashes her lunch every day. The school work is hard and she's fallen behind. When Elise finds a key hanging in the barn with her name on it, she begins unlocking a puzzle left behind by her deceased father -- literally unlocking, since the puzzle is the contents of the rooms behind eight locked doors upstairs in the barn. Each room helps Elise in her journey to better understand herself and what is important in her life.

I was a bit worried that there would be too many similarities with Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass, when I realized the story was about a puzzle left behind by a dead parent. But, after finishing the book, I think that's about all that was similar. Suzanne LaFleur ties in the awkward changes each preteen experiences when dealing with new friends, old friends, and even includes a confrontation with a bully. Elise uses the messages left to her by her father as a way to accept the new, while still embracing and appreciating the old.

I think readers who appreciate an introspective story will enjoy this one. B rating.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Daytona 500: The Thrill and Thunder of the Great American Race by Nancy Roe Pimm

The Daytona 500: The Thrill and Thunder of the Great American RaceThe Daytona 500 gives readers a history of the Daytona race and how it developed into one of NASCAR's premier races. It also highlights major drivers and notable events. I like how the information is basic enough for those that don't know much about NASCAR, but also provides some information on the changes in design, engines, etc. over the years that will also appeal to fans of the sport. Great use of colorful photographs and includes a glossary of NASCAR terms. B rating.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Level Up by Gene Luen Yang and Thien Pham

Level UpLevel Up is a graphic novel that tells the story of a young man trying to live up to his deceased father's expectations for his life, when he really just wants to play video games. I loved how the story was told as if it was a video game itself, with the chapters portrayed as "levels." I give it a B.

The Magic Thief (Magic Thief #1) by Sarah Prineas

Stolen (Magic Thief, #1)
When Conn attempts to pick the pocket of a wizard, he never imagined the changes that would occur in his life. The wizard, Nevery Flinglas, takes Conn as an apprentice. Thrust into the world of the wizards, Conn soon learns of a threat to the town's supply of magic and his own suspicions lead him into danger.

The first of a trilogy, The Magic Thief is a good fantasy/adventure for intermediate grade levels. With the main theme dealing with good vs. evil, the reader is only positive of one character's stand. Plenty suspenseful and action-packed, it will appeal to both boys and girls, regular readers of fantasy and those not as familiar with fantasy. I give it a B.

How Lamar's Bad Prank Won a Bubba-Sized Trophy by Crystal Allen

How Lamar's Bad Prank Won a Bubba-Sized TrophyWhen people first meet Lamar they think he must play basketball or at least football, but no -- Lamar bowls. He's a fabulous bowler too. Too bad his success at the bowling alley is overshadowed by his brother's accomplishments on the basketball court. But Lamar isn't going to let that get him down. There's a spot on the mantle reserved for his first trophy and he's aiming to succeed at the bowling alley, especially when he learns his idol, pro bowler Bubba Sanders is coming to town. When one of Lamar's pranks goes spectacularly wrong, he must try and repair the damage and get back in the good graces of his friends and family before Bubba arrives.

Crystal Allen is a refreshing new voice in children's literature. I adore these characters and read this book in no time. I loved how Lamar was a bowler. He could have excelled in any sport or activity other than basketball and this book would have worked, but the bowling just made it so unique. Lamar's relationship with his best friend, Sergio, seems real, with all the highs and lows friends go through. I can't wait to get some of my kids' reaction to this story. It's an A book for me.

Life Cycles (Living Processes) by Richard Spilsbury

Life Cycles (Living Processes)

As part of the Living Processes series, Life Cycles delivers what it advertises. It clearly outlines life cycles of different types of animals. The layout makes it easy to read and is pleasing to view with the photos and illustrations. Includes glossary and index.I give it a B.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Templar's Gifts (The Book of Tormod #2) by Kat Black

A Templar's Gifts (The Book Of Tormod)

An action-adventure set in the Middle Ages, Tormod has returned home after the death of Alexander, the Knight's Templar to whom he'd been apprenticed. We learn that Tormod is gifted with visions that lead him to leave home once again in order to elude the men searching for him.
Obviously, this is the second book in a series, because many references were made to events and characters from the first tale. I would recommend reading book one before A Templar's Gifts. You could still read this one and not find it confusing, but you would miss out on much. B rating.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Gathering (Darkness Rising #1) by Kelley Armstrong

The Gathering (Darkness Rising, #1)
Maya lives with her parents in the wildlife park just outside the small town of Salmon Creek, which is owned and operated by the St. Cloud Corporation. Maya thinks it's ideal that her dad is the park ranger, since she gets to live there in the park and be that much closer to nature. You see, she's always felt more alive when she's in nature and has a special connection to animals. When a new boy comes to town, she learns more about her paw print birthmark and a possible reason for her connections. Add to that Maya's best friend's drowning death, a mysterious person in town asking questions, several cougar encounters, and the threat of wildfire and you can tell that Maya has plenty to keep her busy.

Be aware that this is the first book in what I assume will be a series. Many questions are left unanswered and the story ends with a major cliff-hanger. That said, I enjoyed the story quite a bit. Maya wheedled her way under my skin, and wouldn't you know, I want to find out more about her. Even though some events in the story were predictable, I'm still curious to know what exactly is going on at Salmon Creek with the St. Cloud Corporation and how it relates to Maya's past. (I do have my suspicions!) Although it has a totally different vibe, I'd say any fan of Stiefvater's Shiver will find lots to like in The Gathering. B rating

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Score! : The Action and Artistry of Hockey's Magnificent Moment by Mark Stewart and Mike Kennedy

Score is a history of scoring in the game of hockey. It describes different kinds of shots, the stars of the sport throughout the years and the most memorable shots. 
Not knowing much about hockey, I found it most informative and interesting. There are plenty of pictures, but not an overabundance of them and they don't distract from the information in the text. Hockey fans and newbies like me will find much of interest here. B rating.

The Doomsday Box by Herbie Brennan (Shadow Project #2)

Opal, Michael, and Danny return in another Shadow Project adventure. This one adds time travel to their astral projection abilities and a new member is added, Fuchsia, who has her own special abilities. The crew partners with the CIA to try and prevent a modern day outbreak of the black plague. The mission sends them back in time to the Soviet Union in 1962 at the height of the Cold War, where they must outwit the KGB and a mole in the CIA to prevent nuclear war.

This will appeal to fans of teen spy adventures, like the Alex Rider or CHERUB series. The kids are sent off on their mission almost immediately and the reader is immersed into non-stop action. I was uncomfortable with the nonchalant way the group acted while in the USSR. I mean, if they are trying not to be noticed, why yell out in English in Red Square? Oh well, it probably will bother me more than other readers. I loved the Epilogue, as it's such a perfect ending. I just wish the end of the mission didn't seem so rushed. I wanted more explanation and I wasn't totally satisfied with how the case was completed. I can't really say much more without spoilers. Overall, a satisfactory read and I know that fans of the first Shadow Project book will be pleased with this one. B- rating

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet by Erin Dionne

The Total Tragedy of a Girl Named HamletHamlet Kennedy just wants to fit in. Eighth grade is hard enough without being in the spotlight, but thanks to a genius little sister and her Shakespearean professor parents that's exactly where she finds herself. Okay, it's weird enough having to live with a name like Hamlet, but how would you like to have a class with your seven-year-old sister? When Hamlet's English and History teachers decide to do a 'Salute to Shakespeare' unit, Hamlet just knows her parents will parade through her school in period costumes and embarrass her further.

The Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet is all about fitting in, or rather, not standing out. Many a middle school student spends three years trying to be just like everyone else. For Hamlet, there's no way she can do it. Having her little sister in the same school, much less the same class is a major reason. I loved how she desperately tries to seem like her neighbor, while knowing that there's no way she can. Her cringe of embarrassment at having her classmates actually see her mother's odd dress is exactly how many eighth graders feel about their parents. Most parents aren't as exaggeratedly embarrassing as Hamlet's, but I know most middle schoolers feel exactly the same way as Hamlet about their own parents. How Hamlet resolves her feelings and eventually embraces her uniqueness will have readers cheering.

A fun read about the highs and lows of being in middle school, The Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet will be a must read for anyone who dreams of just fitting in. I give it a B+.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Dagger Quick by Brian Eames

The Dagger Quick Kitto believes that he will follow his father into the business of making barrels, but secretly wishes he could become a sailor instead. He was born with a club foot and he knows that limits him in the eyes of the world. When he meets his uncle, the infamous pirate William Kidd, Kitto's life is thrown into turmoil. His father is murdered, his brother and stepmom are kidnapped, and Kitto joins forces with his uncle to get revenge on the man behind it all -- the Jamaican Governor.

As advertised, The Dagger Quick is action-packed adventure. Plenty of battles, hand-to-hand combat, thrilling rescues, and treachery abound. It's a quick read, and episodic which would make for a good read-aloud. While Kitto is a well-developed character, I kept wishing that as much attention was paid to some of the other characters as well. Unfortunately, for me, many of the secondary characters were stereotypical and flat. I can see where more will be revealed in further stories about Kitto, so it may just be a "book one" flaw. All will be revealed in time. I give it a C+, a fine adventure story.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Dark City (Relic Master #1) by Catherine Fisher

The Dark City (Relic Master, #1)The Dark City is the first in a four part continuing story centered around Galen and his apprentice, Raffi, and their search for mysterious relics that may contain the secret to saving their world. Being members of the Order, the group with ties to the ancients and outlawed by the ruling group, the Watch, the duo must constantly beware of being captured by the Watch, especially when their search leads them to the city of Tasceron, which is controlled by the Watch.

This is a balanced mix of fantasy and adventure, with a few suspense-filled twists added. Knowing that this was book one of a planned four-book series even before I started reading helped to keep me appeased when the story ended with a cliffhanger. I'm glad the books are being published in four consecutive months, so that I don't have to wait an interminable period before getting the next one to read. Believe me, you won't want to wait long, either.

I don't think this is as well written as Incarceron, or maybe I just know what to expect from Ms. Fisher. I haven't been as surprised with some of the twists as I might have been, nor do I think this story quite intrigued me as well. But, if one starts it knowing that it's not like Incarceron, maybe it won't be a disappointment. The Relic Master series will appeal to middle school level kids, especially ones looking for an adventure that continues over several books. I give it a solid B.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Matched by Ally Condie

Matched (Matched, #1)I'm so impressed with the Dystopian stories being published nowadays for teens. What seemed to be a minor trend a few years back when *everything* seemed to be about vampires, has exploded into the mainstream and THEN current trend after the success of The Hunger Games trilogy. Everytime I pick up another book set in the future where all is not as perfect as it seems, I'm sure that this will be the one to disappoint me. Such was my frame of mind when I picked up Matched.

Cassia is excited and nervous to finally meet her match. She's eager to see who the Society has chosen as her perfect mate; and an excuse to eat such delicacies as cake and dress up in finery at the banquet isn't bad either. Cassia lives in a world where the Society makes all her decisions for her -- where she lives, what she wears, what she eats, where she works, even when she will die. Her life seems perfect, she's with her loving family, she's matched with someone she's been best friends with forever. What more could she want?

Seeing the flash of someone else when looking at information about her match, Cassia begins to question all that the Society has told her. Suddenly, everything isn't so perfect after all. What if the Society was wrong and they chose her wrong match? If they were wrong about this, what else could be wrong?

There's lots to love about this story. It doesn't take long for me to get sucked into Cassia's world and wonder along with her about her life. As she struggles to decide who is a better match, Xander or Ky, I feel her anguish. I so want her to make the right choices, but I too have no idea what the right choice should be.

Matched will appeal to a wide audience. Fans of SF, adventure stories, and romance will all find something to like here. It's easy to recognize that this will be the first in a series, the ending leaving many plot details hanging. My grade? An 'A!' I for one will be impatiently waiting for the next!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Ancient Rome: An Interactive History Adventure by Rachael Hanel

Ancient Rome: An Interactive History Adventure (You Choose Books)With a format similar to the Choose Your Own Adventure stories, Ancient Rome: An Interactive History Adventure informs the reader of what life was like in Ancient Rome. The reader is able to choose to experience Rome as a wealthy Roman, a woman, or a poor Roman citizen. As the story unfolds, the reader makes one decision after another which affects the following actions. For example, the reader can choose to be a Roman Senator and then is asked to either support Pompey or Caesar. What happens next is contingent upon what decision the reader makes.

By presenting the facts in a story format and forcing the reader to become actively involved in the outcome, the reader discovers information about Ancient Rome's history, culture, and government without realizing it. This is ideal for reluctant readers and those that don't generally want to read non-fiction. While I applaud the format, it does limit the detailed information included. It leads to just a brief overview of life in Ancient Rome, and the reader would need additional sources for reports. My grade? A 'C.'

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Touchdown Trouble by Fred Bowen

Touchdown Trouble (Fred Bowen Sports Story Series)Sam is excited when his football team, the Cowboys, beat their rivals, the Giants, with his last second touchdown, and are the only undefeated team in their league. When the whole team gets together at Sam's house for a celebratory viewing of the game on video, they discover that the touchdown shouldn't have counted. Now, they will have to decide whether or not to inform the league, the other team, and their coach about their discovery.

I love watching football, but I rarely read books about football. I think it's because the descriptions don't tell me enough to visualize the play most of the time. Or, maybe, I just don't want to read a play-by-play transcript of a game. What I like about Touchdown Trouble is how the story really isn't the game itself, but what happens at the game to affect all of the players afterwards. It's nice to have a story where the characters are faced with an ethical dilemma, but I wish that the outcome wasn't so clear from the onset. I wanted to be left in suspense a bit on what decision the boys would make, rather than know even before I got there how the vote would end.

Yes, it's a bit predictable, but I still think fans of sports books will love to read. It's probably best suited for 5th-6th graders at the oldest, although some slightly older may want to read. I give it a 'C' rating.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Off To War by Deborah Ellis

Off to War: Voices of Military ChildrenDeborah Ellis interviewed the children of service members from the United States and Canada on their thoughts and opinions. We learn of their feelings about having a parent serve in a war, their life at home and how it differs from the average child, whether they plan to join the military, and what are their goals in life. Interviewed are children of varying ages, backgrounds, and situations, so the reader gets a wide spectrum of views.

I enjoyed reading the first four interviews or so, but then felt like I was hearing the same thing over and over. I wanted to notice what made this child or family different from the previous one and I didn't see much. I can see some readers becoming bored and not finishing the book, but I hope they will at least skip to the last two stories. One was an interview with a child whose father died in Iraq and another whose father is a conscientious objector to the war. To me, these last ones were the most fascinating, and maybe that's because they stood out from the others.

I did sense an underlying anti-war message from the author, but one I think she tried to minimize. I got the feeling that she tried to be as neutral as possible about the issue. I'm glad I read the book, for it does give one much to ponder. I just wish I could have been more engaged with the stories of these children. I give it a 'C.'

Monday, April 4, 2011

Incantation by Alice Hoffman

IncantationI'm not sure how many YA novels have been written about Jews who hid their religion during the Spanish Inquisition, but this is the first one I've read.

In Incantation, Estrella's whole life transforms when she discovers the secrets of her family. Years before, in order to avoid persecution, her ancestors pretended to convert to Christianity, but secretly practices their faith. When the family is betrayed by someone thought to be a friend, Estrella must make some decisions that will change her life forever.

I like the way Alice Hoffman writes. The story is deceptively simple -- emotions are laid bare, straightforward. Before the reader notices, bam!, he's sucker-punched and his gut's in knots. As he turns the pages, he hopes for a twist to make things better for Estrella and her family, knowing that it was unlikely to occur.

Definitely recommended for fans of historical fiction, Incantation rates a 'B' from me.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland About two years ago, I set out to read or reread many of those books considered classics. As part of that goal, I selected Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. Before now, I'd only read selections from the book, but never the entire story.

 I found the story charming, especially the poems/songs. Yes, it's silly and nonsensical, but that's part of the fun. I can just imagine someone creating a story such as this to entertain some children, adding in something sillier just to get a stronger reaction from your audience. (Think of the movie, "Bedtime Stories.")

Don't read this expecting to find something exactly like the Tim Burton film or the Disney animated film. Instead read it if only to know the inspiration of both films. I thoroughly enjoyed it and would recommend it to those that want to read something that's silly and fun. It's a 'B' book for me.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Kiss in Time by Alex Flinn

A Kiss in Time
Ever since I read Beastly, I've wanted to read more from Alex Flinn. Especially another retold fairy tale. I got my chance with A Kiss in Time.

What if an American teen boy is in Belgium as part of a European tour his parents forced on him? What if he comes across an abandoned old castle when he slips away from the tour for a day? What if he happens to find a sleeping princess in that castle and awakens this princess who has been asleep for over 300 years? What if she now thinks he's her true love and that they should marry? What happens when she goes home to Miami with him?

This contemporary retelling of Sleeping Beauty answers these questions and more. It's funny, but with serious undertones. Talia's struggle to accept and adapt to all the changes brought about in 300 years add a humorous tone tot he story. While Jack's dysfunctional relationship with his family is only emphasized when Talia is added to the family dynamics. While the story is engaging, there are a few spots where I felt like it dragged a bit. But, fortunately they didn't last and it quickly picked up again.

A Kiss in Time doesn't quite match Beastly in my opinion, but it's still a great story. I'd recommend it for anyone who likes to read retold fairy tales. It's a 'B' book for me.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan

Tales From Outer SuburbiaIn Tales from Outer Suburbia, the reader will find a collection of short stories about suburban living. But, its not any suburban living that any one of us will find familiar. Shaun Tan writes about the odd, the strange, or just plain weird. I doubt that my imagination would come up with anything this inventive, even if I had an infinite amount of time to plan it.

These stories and pictures remind me of something you might find in a Chris Van Allsburg picture book -- something that's so strange that you can't get it out of your mind. Before I knew it, I was adding on to the story, thinking up 'what if' scenarios, or wondering where on Earth that story idea came from. This collection is short, less than 100 pages with beautiful illustrations. It's a must read for those that pride themselves on finding the 'different' stories, the gems that can be found by looking on shelves other than the bestseller shelves. I thoroughly enjoyed this collection and would love to use one of the stories with a class. I give it a 'B.'

Lincoln Through the Lens : How Photography Revealed and Shaped an Extraordinary Life by Martin W. Sandler

Lincoln Through the Lens: How Photography Revealed and Shaped an Extraordinary Life
I've read plenty of biographies of Abraham Lincoln, so any new ones I read need to have a unique viewpoint or hook. In Lincoln Through the Lens, Martin Sandler ties important events in Lincoln's life to photographs taken of him. This is by no means a thorough examination of Lincoln's life, but I still think it's worth a look. Some of the photos selected for use are rare and readers will enjoy viewing these.

While probably not the best choice if you're looking for information for a report (except for supplementary information), the casual reader will find it fun to peruse. I give it a 'B.'

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Sons of Liberty #1 by Alexander Lagos and Joseph Lagos, art by Steve Walker

The Sons of Liberty #1
Two runaway slaves, Graham and Brody, develop supernatural powers and use their special powers to thwart the slave catcher chasing them. Set in Colonial American, right before the American Revolution. The story is peppered with historical figures, like Benjamin Franklin, but isn't based on any actual events.

I wish I had read a description before beginning to know what this story was about, since I expected it to be based on true events rather than this fantasy adventure. It wass too bizarre to fit with the historical setting for my taste, but others might disagree. I think those that devour graphic novels starring superheroes will find this one appealing. For me, it was just weird and disappointing. I give it a 'C.'

A Career as a Plumber by Simone Payment (Essential Careers)

A Career As a Plumber (Essential Careers)

I wouldn't normally pick up a book on plumbing to read, but I picked this new one up to peruse and ended up reading it. It's a nice overview of a plumber's job. The reader learns what sort of training and education is needed to become a plumber, what kinds of jobs a plumber does and what the prospects are in the near future for someone choosing this career. It's a good choice for those working on a report on a career, as the information is presented in a clear fashion and the page layouts are pleasing to the eye. Plenty of color photographs adorn each page, and only add to the attractiveness of the book. Many additional resources are given in the back of the book, including contact information for plumbing and construction unions and trade organizations, suggestions for further reading and a bibliography. Links for web sites with information can be found on a page set up by the publisher.

This isn't something a person would probably pick up for pleasure reading, but it can be a valuable resource for a report. I give it a 'C,' since it's more of an informational resource than entertaining.

Cloaked in Red by Vivian Vande Velde

Cloaked in Red
When I pick up a Vivian Vande Velde book, I know I'm going to be reading something that takes a unique view on a familiar theme, plot or idea. Cloaked in Red is no exception, being a collection of short stories, all based on the traditional fairy tale of Little Red Riding Hood. I loved the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) humor and jokes written into the stories, primarily related to the traditional Little Red Riding Hood tale or other fairy tales or even the Grimm brothers. If the reader isn't familiar with these stories, some of that humor may be lost on them. Most of the stories in this collection are extremely short and that's probably my biggest complaint. I wanted more. More details, more descriptions, more background, more story. I know, these are short stories based on a short fairy tale, but I've become so spoiled with all the novels published recently based on fairy tales.

While I love a couple of these stories, overall it's just average fare. That's why I give this story collection a C. I'd recommend this only to those that love reading retold fairy tales.

Monday, March 21, 2011

We Have a Katniss for ‘The Hunger Games’

When we were off for a week of spring break there was big news about 'The Hunger Games' movie ...

EXCLUSIVE: Lionsgate Confirms Jennifer Lawrence As Katniss In 'The Hunger Games'

So, Jennifer isn't who I had pictured as Katniss when reading The Hunger Games, because she's older than Katniss and she's blond! Of course, the blond hair can easily be fixed for the movie. I'm willing to give her a chance and wait and see how she does in the movie, especially since the director says she blew him away at the audition. Now, I can't wait to see who is cast as Peeta! All I can say, is no one that's 'known' really matches how I envision him, so I really hope it's an unknown. Probably not, but we'll just have to wait and see.

What do you think? Do you like the choice of Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss or who would you have cast? Who is your pick for Peeta? Do you have any favorites for other characters?

To read more about this, check out Scholastic's On Our Minds blog.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Scorpia Rising

I'm getting excited for the release of the last Alex Rider book, Scorpia Rising, which will be on March 22. I've already preordered my copy, which I'll add to the library once I've read. Are you excited? Who is counting the days?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Capture by Kathryn Lasky (Guardian's of Ga'Hoole #1)

The Capture (Guardians of Ga'Hoole, #1)After the movie was released last fall, I realized I needed to get some of the Guardian's of Ga'Hoole series for the library. I vaguely remember when the series was first released, and several students eagerly reading them, but they never seemed to fully get my attention. The visually stunning trailer I viewed at the movies last summer was enough to get my attention and I finally read the first book in the Guardians of Ga'Hoole series, The Capture.

Soren is a young owl who is taken from his home and brought to St. Aegolius. He's told that it's an orphanage, but he's suspicious of the true motives in bringing all of the young owls there. All these young owls are put into a program of re-education, where they are brainwashed into forgetting all about their past and learn to blindly follow the rules. Soren and his friend Gylfie secretly resist this and seek to discover the real purpose of St. Aegolius, placing their own lives in peril.

I was surprised with how this story starts. From the blurb on the back of the book, I expected it to start either with his capture or already capture. Instead, there are several chapters where we view Soren's life with his family. The reader gets a realistic view of an owl embedded within this fantasy-adventure. You learn about what an owl eats, how he learns things from his mother, and so forth. I think I was just impatient to get to the real action of the story, so it seemed to be a slow start. Once Soren is captured and the intrigue starts, the pace increases and I finished it in a flash.

Fans of animal fantasies will flock to this book, for it has everything they're looking for. A solid start to the series, I give it a B.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Texas Turns 175!

By Bonnieblue.png via Wikimedia Commons 
  • 175 years ago, Texians took a giant step in forming the Republic of Texas. On March 2, 1836, the delegates attending the Convention of 1836 in Washington-on-the-Brazos adopted the Texas Declaration of Independence. At the same time, Mexican leader, Santa Anna, was leading the siege of the Alamo, which eventually fell on March 6.

  • The Texas State Library & Archives will have the Texas Declaration of Independence and the William B. Travis letter from the Alamo on display in Austin until April 21. If you get a chance to make the trip, you should take the opportunity to view these rare documents. You will be one of a small group of people to actually see these items! For more information see - Texas State Library & Archives.

  • The AMS library has many books on the Texas War for Independence and the Republic of Texas. Some that I found interesting:

The Texas War of Independence 
by Richard Worth
Marshall Cavendish Benchmark, c2009

This book tells the story of the Texas War of Independence and the Mexican War from the viewpoint of Mexican Americans. The efforts of Mexicans to preserve their empire in the southwest against a large migration of Anglo settlers who believed they were fulfilling the Manifest Destiny of the United States are detailed here. At First, the clash between Anglos and Mexicans led to the independence of Texas. Finally, it resulted in the U.S. invasion of Mexico and the takeover of the southwest, which became part of the United States.

 13 Days to Glory : the Siege of the Alamo 
by Lon Tinkle
Texas A&M University Press, c1985

A day-to-day chronological investigation of the siege of the Alamo in 1836, discussing the circumstances that led each person to be inside the abandoned mission during the battle that claimed the life of frontiersman Davy Crockett.

What are some of your favorite books or resources on Texas History?

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Feeding the World by Anne Rooney (World at Risk)

Feeding the World
Part of the "World At Risk" series, Feeding the World,  gives general information about how food is produced all over the world, both for export and home consumption. The reader learn about some of the coming difficulties facing farmers because of global warming, a growing world population and possible food shortages. This would be good for a report or for some basic instruction on how the world's food market works. My grade? A C.

Anne Frank: The Anne Frank House Authorized Biography by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón

Anne Frank: The Anne Frank House Authorized Graphic Biography
A biography told in graphic format, Anne Frank, tells the story of Anne's life from her birth, to her life in the Secret Annex, to her tragic death in a Nazi concentration camp, to the lasting legacy of her diary. I wasn't sure that the comic format would be an appropriate way to showcase Anne's life, since some artist's styles are too campy. Not so, with this one. There's an adjustment in style when switching from life in the Secret Annex to updating major events in Nazi Germany and the war. The illustrations with the Nazis are drawn with harsher lines, seem more angular, so the reader immediately understands the horrors associated with the Nazis.

The story is complete and I applaud the inclusion of the importance of the publishing of Anne's diary. By presenting her story in this graphic format, Anne's story is now much more accessible for those that might be put off by the size and difficulty of Anne's diary. I give it a 'B+.'

The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan (The Kane Chronicles #1)

The Red Pyramid (Kane Chronicles, #1)
I'm a huge fan of Riordan's Percy Jackson series, but for some reason it took me over six months to finally pick The Red Pyramid up to read. Frankly, I didn't enjoy Carter and Sadie as much as Percy and gang, and I really can't say why. I could see similarities in the writing style and even in the way the plot developed, but just didn't have the same excitement and energy.

I know, I know, it sounds like it's a terrible book, but that's not so. It's still a very readable adventure-fantasy, once the story gets going. I just didn't love it, nor did I love the Egyptian mythology that's the basis for the Kane Chronicles. It's possible that I set my expectations up too high and the next book in the series will be the one to snatch me. We shall see. All in all, not a bad one, just not the one for me. I give it a 'B-' rating.

Fairest by Gail Carson Levine

Fairy tale set in the same world as Ella Enchanted (although a different kingdom), where beauty and song are valued. Fans of Ella or fairy tales will enjoy this one.

As an aside, I will say the songs written in the story are enhanced by listening to the audio book. I lucked into listening to it (after I'd started reading) and found the singing memorable. I give the story a B+.

Washington at Valley Forge by Russell Freedman

Washington at Valley Forge

Washington at Valley Forge tells the story of how the Continental Army spent the winter of 1777-1778 at Valley Forge. Descriptions of the horrible living conditions, freezing temperatures, starvation, and disease faced by all who spent the winter there gives the reader a better understanding of the difficulties overcome by Washington and his men. Just about every page features an illustration to compliment the text, while not overpowering it.

As typically found with any book by Russell Freedman, the story is well-researched, presented in a logical and simple way, but not dry or boring. In fact, I found the book to read like a novel with vivid descriptions. I'm not sure how many casual readers will actually pick up this book, but I hope to get it in the hands of some non-fiction and biography lovers. My grade? A solid 'B.'

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

New Year. New Me. ... Uh, I Hope!

I'm finally back and almost to full strength following my surgery in November. I only read 4 books in the last six weeks, which clearly shows how ill I was feeling.  Thankfully, the surgery went well and now I'll be able to get back into the swing of things.

Now that 2011 is here, I've decided to set a goal of reading 20 books a month.  I hope I'm able to do it, especially since I have lots of new books waiting to be read.  Any suggestions on books I should put at the top of ol' Mt. TBR? I've just started Cornelia Funke's RECKLESS and I've downloaded on my Kindle a YA adaptation of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, called PROM AND PREJUDICE, to read next.  Oh, and I'm listening to THE RED PYRAMID by Rick Riordan.  I had to start over, since it's been so long since I started it.

New edition of 'Huckleberry Finn' to lose the N-word -

New edition of 'Huckleberry Finn' to lose the N-word -

I'm not sure what to think of this. My first reaction is one of horror and a definitive no. If an author's published work is edited here, what's the next classic to be edited? Will we want all books edited to remove anything that might not be politically correct in today's society?