Sunday, September 12, 2010

Beneath My Mother's Feet

Book Talk: Nazia has always been a good, obedient daughter, but when her father gets injured at work, everything starts to change.  At first neighbors bring food to help her family, but the longer his recovery takes the more people begin to doubt that he is still really injured, and the more Nazia's family is left to cope on their own.  Then one day even her mother loses faith in her father, and she takes Nazia out of school to help her work as a maid!  Nazia thinks that once her father finds out, he'll save her and things will return to normal, but instead things just get worse.  Nazia's family needs her and she wants to obey her mother, but will her obedience mean a lifetime working as a maid, being mistreated by cruel employers and just barely scraping by?  Or will she be doomed to go from constantly obeying her mother to being under the heel of a mother-in-law?  Will she ever get the chance to be on her own and do what she pleases?  Is it worth taking that chance if it means abandoning her family?  Sometimes it seems like she will always remain beneath her mother's feet.

Rocks My Socks: I love Nazia's spirit and intelligence.  I also enjoyed seeing her grow from her youthful naivety into a strong-willed woman.  She sees a lot of the worst of people and the world, but rather than let it defeat her, it spurns her on to find a way to break the cycle she seems stuck in.  Her independence is admirable as well--I always respect the 'I don't need a man' philosophy!  Mostly I loved looking at the familiar dilemma of pleasing your family versus being true to yourself from the lens of a different cultural perspective.  There are interesting details and cultural insights throughout, as the author lived in Pakistan for several years and has a degree in psychology as well as English, which lends an interesting perspective to the book.

Rocks In My Socks: The book felt a bit heavy-handed and sappy at times with its 'even from a dirty hovel with an empty stomach you can still see the stars' attitude.  The plot was also nothing terribly original.

Every Book Its Reader: I'd recommend this to ages 12 and up.  It's a great book for anyone interested in learning about Pakistani culture, or for anyone who enjoys Oprah book club type books (you know what I'm talking about!)  The book does revolve heavily around a female experience and perspective and the male characters are mostly of the good-for-nothing variety, so I'd say it's geared more towards girls, but could be enjoyed by more liberal-minded boys as well.

Beneath My Mother's Feet by Amjed Qamar

The Name of This Book is Secret review

Book Talk: Cass is prepared for anything.  Her backpack is constantly at her side, and well stocked with everything from snacks to rope to a silver Mylar space blanket.  Just like her namesake, Cassandra, she is always predicting doom without anyone believing her.  But unlike the ancient Greek figure, the doom Cass predicts never actually comes.  That is, until one day when she meets a boy named Max-Ernest  who is constantly talking, and who helps her to uncover a real mystery.  With every secret they uncover, the closer they come to solving it, and the closer they come to their own doom.  Before you read this book, be warned: knowledge is power, but secrets can be dangerous.  Max-Ernest and Cass are foolish enough to throw themselves headlong into mystery, risking life and limb--but are you?

Rocks My Socks: The narrator!  I love how unreliable he is, and all of his meta-commentary.  I also love the hilariously hyperbolic characters--like Max-Ernest's parents who couldn't agree on one name so ended up giving him two.  They eventually divorce but are unwilling to leave the house, so they split it down the center  and pretend that the other is not there.  I also love the little tip of the hat to surrealist artist Max Ernst, which is very appropriate for this book.  I enjoyed solving all the little puzzles throughout--they weren't particularly hard, but it is meant to be juvenile fiction.  Synesthesia also plays a major role in the narrative, and I always find that fascinating.  Lastly I love the appendix at the back which includes a recipe for Cass' trail mix, how to make a compass, a circus slang glossary, and instructions for a basic card trick.  I'm a sucker for appendices!

Rocks In My Socks: The plot was predictable and the constant interruptions reminding the reader how secret and dangerous the narrative was did start to get a bit old after a while.  There are a lot of amusing gimmicks in this book, but there are also A LOT of amusing gimmicks in this book, and after a while despite their cleverness it gets a bit, well, gimmicky.

Every Book Its Reader:  I'd recommend this to ages 9 and up, and especially to anyone who enjoyed the Lemony Snickett series.  If you don't like narrators who address readers directly and play tricks on them, then this book is definitely not for you!  Anyone who likes humorous mysteries or solving small puzzles within the narrative will enjoy this book.  The book is pretty gender-neutral, so fun for everyone!

The Name of This Book is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Iron Thunder Review

Book Talk: Tom's father is dead and he doesn't even know exactly how or where.  All he knows is that his father died fighting for the union and now he has to find a job to support his family.  A small, thirteen-year-old like Tom can't afford to be picky, so when he's offered a job building a new ironcald ship under Captain Ericsson he takes it, even though everyone calls the ship Ericsson's Folly. No one can see how a ship made of metal will ever be able to float.  But the longer he works there, the more faith he has in Captain Ericsson and his ironclad ship.  And he's not the only one--spies are coming at him in the street to try and get information.  Should he take their money and betray the Union his father died fighting for or should he risk sailing on the iron ship and hope he doesn't end up on the bottom of the sea?  Will the boat even be finished in time to save the Union cause?  Captain Ericsson may be a genius, but he has a touch of madness to him as well.

Rocks My Socks: Normally I don't much care for war novels and I get bored quickly during battle scenes, but this one held my attention throughout.  I found the historic details fascinating and I like the specificity of it--focusing on the building of the Monitor and its famous battle against the Merrimac instead of trying to encompass the entire sweep of the Civil War.  I also love the additions to the text--the pages of headlines to provide context and the actual photographs and drawings from that period mixed in with the illustrations for the story.  There's also a glossary, further information on the real events in the book, and a bibliography at back, which I always appreciate.

Rocks In My Socks: The characters weren't very complex or layered.  I didn't feel particularly attached to any of them.  The story was really more about the Monitor than Tom.

Every Book Its Reader: I'd recommend this to 8-12 year-olds with an interest in historical fiction or the Civil War.  The amount of detail about the period would make it a great read to supplement and personalize a unit on the Civil War.  The novel is geared towards boys more and has very little female presence, but that's war novels for you.

Iron Thunder, by Avi

Tender Morsels Review

Book Talk: Life for Liga has been heading downhill ever since her mother died.  Life seems nothing but a series of violent catastrophes, but just when she thinks that she can take it no longer she is transported to another realm where she can raise her own children in peace.  Life may not be eventful, but at least it's safe.  That is, until the barriers begin to break down.  Suddenly Liga's children encounter harsh reality for the first time in their lives.  Is a life in this exciting and dangerous new world worth the threat that it poses?  Is life in your personal paradise worth living if it means forsaking the real world?  This re-telling of Snow White and Rose Red is at turns haunting and inspiring and is sure to leave an impression.

Rocks My Socks:  The fantastic occurrences and characters in this novel made me consider reality in a way that only fairy tale can.  People are turned into bears, dandelions into gold, and fantasy into reality, but the accumulated result of these impossibilities is a truth that is deeper and stronger than that found in non-fiction accounts.  I enjoyed seeing the familiar elements of the story of Snow White and Rose Red altered to fit this new narrative.  I loved the characters and the way the fickle nature of their world kept me constantly guessing at what would happen next.  Mostly, though, I love the way it made me weigh the risks of going out into the world against the benefits to be found there.  A valuable lesson for an introvert like me.  I also love the strength and independence of the Rose Red character. 

Rocks In My Socks:  This is no Disney re-telling.  This is a fairy tale that follows the original Grimm tradition and is much more brutal than what we're used to in modern times.  Liga is raped by her father, gang raped, forced to abort children, and tries to kill one after it is born--none of which are spoilers because that all happens within the first two chapters! I also don't like what they do with Liga's character--she never really seems to get to have a life of her own.  She's used by her father, and then used by her children and she seems fine with that.  I wanted her to assert herself and gain some kind of independence and happiness of her own at the end, but in the fine fairy tale tradition happiness seems to only be for the young.

Every Book Its Reader:  Given the violent and disturbing nature of parts of the narrative I'd recommend it to older teens and adults.  It's great for fans of fairy tales retold, but only if they can handle taking it black.  No sugar or milk in this one.  The narrative revolves around the female perspective mostly, but could be enjoyed by open-minded males as well. 

Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan

Snakehead Review

Book Talk: Perseus lives a quiet life on a small island with his mother, until one day he meets a beautiful princess on the run from her parents.  Before long, Perseus' own father, Zeus shows up to complicate his life further and set him on a quest to kill Medusa, whose looks can literally kill.  The old gods of the islands are on the decline as the new Olympian gods rise, but where do humans stand?  Are they ever anything more than the play things of these gods, subject to their whims?  Is it possible for a mortal to assert his own will in the face of divine intervention?  Will he be able to complete his fated quest?  Will he be able save the princess from her own fate?  Perseus doesn't know that if can, but he knows that he must try.

Rocks My Socks: In addition to re-telling the myths of Perseus and Andromeda there is also a lot of interesting information about ancient Greek politics and society.  It reminds me of Mary Renault, but for children.  I also love the female characters in this book; they are strong and layered and full of life.  I always enjoy it when, during re-tellings, famous romantic couples are allowed to actually meet and get to know each other and fall in love over a longer period of time than it takes to kill a dragon and steal a kiss.  There's also some good substance to the book and commentary on current events using the lens of the past that are rather thought-provoking, which I always enjoy.

Rocks In My Socks: There are some more modern elements and view points incorporated into the text which are a bit annoying in that they are anachronistic, but seem to be done intentionally.  Mostly it's in a more modern perspective, which I don't really mind being incorporated into historical fiction.  Others are obviously just meant to be jokes, though, like the 'invention' of various modern foods by the chef at the tavern.  It also doesn't sit right with me that the lovely, intelligent Andromeda resigns herself to her fate, but I guess Halam had to get her to her proper place in the story somehow.

Every Book Its Reader: I'd recommend this book to teens who enjoyed the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series.  Although set in ancient times, there are enough similarities in pacing and subject matter that fans should enjoy this story about Percy's namesake.  There's great, strong characters of both sexes, so both boys and girls will have great characters to identify with, and the romance is pretty understated.  Adults who enjoy fairy tales and myths re-told will find plenty to satisfy them as well. 

Snakehead by Ann Halam