Monday, March 28, 2011

Clockwork Angel Review

Book talk: After Tessa Gray buries her aunt in America, she sets off for Queen Victoria's England and the only family she has left.  But when she steps off the ship instead of her brother, she finds two ladies who introduce themselves as the Dark Sisters.  They imprison her and teach her how to use powers she didn't even know she had.  Soon she's pulled into the dark world of the Downworlders where she meets creatures she thought only existed in novels.  As she dines with angels, attends a vampire party, and runs for her life from clockwork creatures, she can't help but wonder at who she's become and the strange new world she's entered.  But as everything she thought she knew is shattered she realizes that come what may, she can never turn back.

Rocks my socks: The novel stars a spunky heroine with a passion for literature who finds surprising strength within her as she encounters vampires and all manner of magical creatures.  What's not to love?  It even comes complete with a brooding misunderstood romantic interest with a checkered past, which I know I shouldn't enjoy as much as I do, but at least he's only fictional.  And isn't indulging in feelings and actions that would be harmful in real life part of what fiction is for?  I need my poor romantic choices catharsis to get it out of my system, or at least that's how I justify it to myself.  I started this novel Sunday afternoon when I should have been writing a paper for grad school but the power went out so I picked it up to pass the time until the internet came back on.  Then the internet came back on and I clearly had to finish the chapter first, and then read just one more, and one more until it was 1am and I had finished the novel but my paper wasn't even started.  Curse you Cassandra Clare and your compelling narrative--you've set my whole week back!  I couldn't help myself though, the novel was just the perfect balance of world-building and mystery and adventure and romance, each more engrossing than the last.

Rocks in my socks: The author seems to have basically taken every trope that's popular in teen literature and put it in a blender.  I fee like this should annoy me, but then again there's a reason why the Victorian era and vampires are so popular and I'd be lying if I said I didn't love them too.  The prose isn't particularly inspired and there's not as much meat and philosophical ponderings as I usually like in my novels, but I was far too busy wondering what was going to happen next to care.

Every book its reader:  I can see this novel being popular with the ever-growing Twilight set, although it is of far better quality.  It has a similar feeling of doomed romance and fantasy with an added dash of adventure and a lead who actually has a personality.  I'm not sure I'd call the novel steampunk because it has more of a focus on magic than science, but there are enough similarities that I think fans of steampunk would enjoy it.  Really anyone looking for a good urban fantasy adventure/romance will enjoy this.  There's nothing terribly explicit in it, but I'd say at least 6th grade and up.

Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

Buy it from your local independent book store or check it out at your local library

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Grand Tour Review

******This is a review of a sequel, and as such has contains spoilers for the first book*************

Book talk: After everything they've been through Cecy and Kate are excited to get away from England for their honeymoon trip around Europe.  But if they were expecting a leisurely vacation with the occasional sightseeing outing they were sorely mistaken.  It all begins when a mysterious woman shows up with vial of what seems like perfume.  Before long they're chasing missing coronation regalia all over Europe in a desperate attempt to prevent a new Napoleon from rising to power.  At least they get to do so in the latest Paris fashions--there are some honeymoon traditions that are just too important to shirk.

Rocks my socks: I do love the characters and I enjoyed seeing their story continued.  It also benefits from the same interesting alternate timeline as the first novel with the added excitement of a European tour and Paris shopping trips.  The book contains a description of a knitting system they use to pass coded messages to one another and having recently learned how to knit myself I found this to be very interesting.

Rocks in my socks: Because Cecy and Kate are together they don't need to write letters to each other.  They try to imitate the style of the first book by having it told through excerpts of Kate's diary and a deposition of Cecy's, but it's missing that authentic feeling from the first novel achieved by the fact that it really was two authors writing letters back and forth.  It reads much like a regular first person narrative.  I've never given a deposition, but I've kept diaries for years and my entries sound nothing like those found in this novel, and not just because I have no magical powers (or exciting adventures for that matter).  On the one hand I liked the fact that the novel surrounds two happily married couples because so few novels do.  On the other hand there's a reason why novels usually don't feature happily married couples in the lead.  It's certainly desirable in real life, but not terribly engaging in fiction.  That's why the phrase "happily ever after" became so popular--so authors didn't have to bore their audience with that stuff.

Every book its reader: I'd give this to fans of the first book.  It's another light-hearted fantasy with fashion, magic, romance, and adventure, with the emphasis on the first two this time around.

The Grand Tour by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer

Buy it at your local independent book store or check it out at your local library.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Because of Mr. Terupt Review

Book talk: There's a new 5th grade teacher at Snow Hill School.  Peter thinks that means he'll be able to get away with more.  Jessica is new to the school as well.  Luke is eager to show off during Mr. Terupt's new lessons, even if they seem a bit crazy.  Alexia thinks the new teacher is cool at first, but starts to hate him when he talks to her about her behavior.  Jeffrey doesn't care who his teacher is--school will awful no matter what.  Danielle loves the new teacher, even if her grandmother doesn't understand why.  Anna is nervous because Mr. Terupt actually calls on her instead of letting her stay invisible.  They all find out before long that this teacher and this school year are going to be different, but when class spins out of control all their lives are changed forever.

Rocks my socks: The story of a fresh-faced new teacher making a difference appeals to me for obvious reasons.  I also enjoy the way the story is told from the perspective of seven different kids in the class.  It's hard to have that many narrators without slipping into caricature but Buyea pulls it off pretty well.  I think it would be good for kids to read a book told from that many perspectives.  In addition to learning about how many sides an event can have, they can read the story based on an affinity with one character and then hear from other characters that they may never otherwise choose to read about.  Each character's story arc also has its own moral and I found them to be good life lessons.

Rocks in my socks:  In some ways I feel like this story is written for teachers more than kids, although eventually

*******SPOILER ALERT************


The teacher is horribly injured and falls into a coma and the book seems to imply that it's the teacher's fault because of his crazy new methods.  It's funny because at first it feels very much like everything a new teacher would want to hear about how by trying new things and experimenting you can really change kids lives and then suddenly he's in a coma and I couldn't help but think well if that's the result of progressive teaching count me out. I also found the fact that the teacher is portrayed as having absolutely no family or friends outside of school to visit him in the hospital an odd choice.  Kids already think we have no lives outside of school, we really don't need to encourage them in this.  Even the love interest is the teacher across the hall.  As long as we're in spoiler zone I'll throw in a complaint about how neatly the ending is tied up.  Happy endings are one thing but having eight separate stories (if you include Mr. Terupt) with every loose end not only tied but double-knotted is another.

********END SPOILER ALERT*********

Every book its reader: I'd give it to 4th grade and up looking for a school story.  A particularly good choice for winter break reading.

Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea

Buy it at your local independent book store or check it out from your local library

Absurdistan Review

Book talk: All Misha Vainberg wants is to return to the city and the woman he loves, but the unreasonable U.S. customs officials refuse to issue him a visa.  And all because his father killed a businessman from Oklahoma.  But the son of the 1,238th richest man in Russia has a plan to get back to New York City and his  girlfriend.  Misha has a friend who knows a corrupt official at the Belgian consulate in Absurdistan who will sell him a coveted EU passport.  So, Misha sets off for Absurdistan where he puts his degree in Multiculturalism from Accidental College back in the states to good use.  Soon he finds himself caught up in a civil war that is as hilariously absurd and it is chillingly familiar.

Rocks my socks: I love satires and it isn't a very popular genre, so I'm always excited to find one.  I particularly enjoyed the novel when it got to the point where Misha arrived in the aptly-named Absurdistan.  The citizens of the country, from their religions to their wars are absolutely ridiculous and even though it is a fictional country it is this setting that had the most to say about reality.  I also enjoyed the fact that the author mocked himself as well with his cameo as professor Shteynfarb.

Rocks in my socks: I wish it hadn't taken so long for Misha to get to Absurdistan because I think that's where the book really shines.  The parts leading up to it felt a bit aimless and excessive at times.  This is probably because the first part mostly focus on Misha but when he arrives in Absurdistan the focus broadens to the society at large.  Any lengthy description of Misha is going to be excessive and aimless because he is himself.  He seems to think of nothing but sex and food, and it gets old after a while. Besides, having one bad sex scene in a novel to make a point and be funny is one thing.  Having a dozen bad sex scenes is another.  I really don't need to be reading all that.

Every book its reader: I'd give this to anyone interested in a satire of U.S. foreign relations, although American and Russian society in general are also satirized to a point.  In case the above sentence referring to 'a dozen bad sex scenes' wasn't a tip off, this book is for an adult audience.

Absurdistan by Gary Shteyngart

Buy it at your local independent book store or check it out from your local library 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Red Umbrella review

Book talk:  Lucia is excited for the unscheduled vacation from school while government officials reevaluate the education system.  Sure, there are more soldiers in the streets than usual, but Lucia is determined to enjoy this unexpected break with her friends.  But Lucia's mother places her under house arrest with her little brother.  At first Lucia is sure her mother is overreacting, but soon she witnesses events that change her mind. Before long Lucia sees changes taking place all around her, even in her best friend.  Her parents have a plan to keep her and her brother safe, but it means sending them to America all alone.  As Lucia longs for home she starts to wonder:  will she be able to survive the change from tropical island weather to Nebraskan snow?  Will her best friend come to her senses?  Will she ever see her parents again?

Rocks my socks: It seems that lately my reading choices have been conspiring against me to make me feel like I slept through all my history classes.  I swear I always got A's in history and did well on the AP test!  I guess it just goes to show how little time they have to cover such a wide topic in schools and how important it is to be a life-long learner and study on your own as well.  I had no idea that thousands of unaccompanied minors were sent the US to escape Castro's regime when he first took over.  In addition to learning about the history of this period I also loved the characters, especially Lucia and the arc she follows throughout the story from a girl whose main cares are what dress she will wear to her quinceanera to whether she'll ever see her parents alive again.

Rocks in my socks: The characters in the story are a bit too black and white for my tastes and the lines drawn a bit too crisply.  Every communist character is irredeemable by the end and every capitalist thoughtful and caring with the sole exception the mean girl at her American school.  This is best demonstrated by the two dance scenes in the novel, one in Cuba and one in America.  At the one in Cuba the boy she had a crush on and danced with, who had joined the communist youth group, ended up trying to take advantage of her while the nice American boy in the later dance acted like a perfect gentleman without pushing himself on her--even giving her an excuse to leave the floor when the slow dance came on.  There was no real need for this in the narrative and I think the story would have been much more layered and interesting if the roles were reversed.

Every book its reader: I'd give it to 6th grade and up looking for a 20th century historical fiction.  The book is told from a fairly feminine perspective with the protagonist being a girl and a fair amount of time spent talking about dresses and makeup and crushes.  There is a fair amount of action in there as well, however, with a pretty face pace as the violence escalates and Lucia flees the country.

Extra: Coincidentally I read this book at the same time that my cousin, who works for the AP, moved to Havana to work there as a reporter.  Good luck Peter--I know you'll do a great job!

The Red Umbrella by Christina Diaz Gonzalez

Buy it at your local independent book store or check it out from your local library

Monday, March 14, 2011

Overheard in the library

Raccoon opening box

I recently overheard a conversation among some third grade boys that was too good not to share.  The names have been changed* to protect the innocents.  It was a Friday afternoon and for some reason a few boys had come in advance of the rest of their class, and I was waiting for everyone else to arrive before I began the story. Someone must have mentioned raccoons because suddenly Gonta said "My uncle was killed by a raccoon."  Oroku considered this and responded that it is impossible to be killed by a raccoon.  Gonta replied with "what about rabies?"  Oroku considered this and stuck to his guns responding that you can't actually die of rabies, you just get very sick.  Gonta responded that it wasn't rabies that killed his uncle anyway, but rather that his uncle shoved a raccoon down his throat and choked on it.  Oroku then nodded his head sagely and responded that if that is the case, then it is indeed possible to die from a raccoon.  You just can't die from a raccoon bite.

I love how Oroku was so skeptical of the story at first and then in the end accepted a completely outlandish explanation.  Especially because Rabies is actually very deadly, although I'm sure shoving a raccoon down your gullet isn't a very good idea either.  I wonder if it was living or dead at the time.  I doesn't really matter because I'm pretty sure no one would do so either way.  At least the class afterwards went well (I read "LAFF" by Lensey Namioka from Avi's collection Best Shorts and it was enjoyed by all.)

*I replaced their real names with the names of the characters from the movie Pom Poko, which is also full of disturbing raccoon imagery

image credit: Gerald_G via

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Book Spine Poetry

Over at 100 Scope Notes the count down to National Poetry Month has begun with an accompanying request for book spine poems.  I posted some poems I made last year along with some made by my students, so this time I decided to challenge myself by using a more limited pool.  For these poems I used only books that I own. Furthermore the first poem was made entirely from books that I have read and enjoyed while the second was made from my tbr shelf (which had a worryingly large number of titles to choose from).  It seems that I'm just as long-winded with my poems as I am in the rest of my life, so they both ended up being epic poems telling a story.

First we have an adventure story exuding confidence, befitting all the journeys the books on my 'read' shelf have taken me on and all the love and attention I have given them:

Next we have a tale of longing justly reprimanding me for my neglect from the books on my tbr shelf:

Hey, I've been busy.  I'm working full time and going to grad school and I have to focus on reading books I can recommend to kids for now.  Cut me some slack, I'll get around to you when I can!  Jeesh, those tbr books can be a bit pushy sometimes.

So what are your shelves trying to tell you?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Marching For Freedom review

Book talk: The ratification of the 15th Amendment in 1870 prohibited denying anyone the right to vote based on race, but in Alabama in 1965, they found enough ways to get around that amendment that even though half the population of Selma was black, 99 % of the voters were white.  In 1965 the people of Selma decided to make a stand by marching to protest the unfair voting practices.  The marchers were jailed, bombs were set off in the houses of the leaders, protesters were fired from their jobs, and the violence escalated leading up to what came to be known as Bloody Sunday.  On Sunday, March 7th protesters gathered to march to Montgomery.  Many of the protesters were children and teenagers who did not have jobs to lose.  Despite this fact the police released tear gas on the peaceful protesters and came at man, woman, and child with clubs swinging.   But trips to jail and even the hospital were not enough to stop them.  These children and teenagers would gather again, and this time they would make it all the way to Montgomery.

Rocks my socks: The story of how many children and teenagers were involved in these marches knowing the incredible violence that awaited them is absolutely amazing.  The book relies heavily on pictures taken during the events described and there's one on at least every other page.  This really helps to communicate the story visually and draw the reader in.  Partridge also uses excerpts from protest songs to tell the story, and I loved reading about the songs.

Rocks in my socks: I felt that the story could have been clearer at times.  A bit more background and context to the events would have been appreciated.  It seems that the story also tries to focus on several children and teens in particular to tell the story and in theory help teenage readers connect with it.  However, I didn't feel that enough time was taken to really establish who each of these people were and so I occasionally got a bit lost or confused when it referred to a specific person by name and I couldn't remember who that person was.  The pictures are lovely, but I wish there was a bit more text to support them.

Every book its reader:  I'd give this to grades 6 and up.  This would be a good book to use in class, but anyone with an interest in history of the period would enjoy it, and visual people in particular will enjoy the beautiful pictures.

Marching For Freedom: Walk Together, Children, and Don't You Grow Weary by Elizabeth Partridge

Buy it at your local independent book store or check it out from your local library

Monday, March 7, 2011

Claudette Colvin Review

Book talk: Everyone knows the story of Rosa Parks: how she refused to give up her seat and inspired the Montgomery bus boycott.  But have you ever heard the story of Claudette Colvin, the fifteen-year-old who refused to give up her seat nine months before Rosa Parks?  Claudette was sick of witnessing injustices every day and seeing the adults around her do nothing to fight them, so she decided to do something about them herself.  Claudette was mistreated and arrested for refusing to give up her seat and went to court in two separate cases to fight bus segregation.  The second trial, Browder vs. Gayle is what led to the desegregation of buses in Montgomery and ended the bus boycott.  She was only fifteen and sixteen during these trials, but she was a passionate activist and found the courage to stand up in the face of injustice under the threat of violence that quieted voices all around her, and she succeeded in changing history.

Rocks my socks: This is an amazing story that I had never heard of before.  Not only is Claudette's story inspiring, but the events surrounding the bus boycott are fascinating as well.  Most of the stories I had heard about it were just that, stories out of America's folklore.  The full background to the boycott and the details surrounding it are enlightening and surprising.  Large chunks of the story are also told in Claudette's own words, in excerpts from extensive interviews that the author conducted with her.  This really helps to give a sense of what these events were like when they were happening.  This isn't an idealized version like the ones I was used to.  There are aspects of the story that are harsh and questionable, but it is all the more inspiring and interesting for these imperfections because it makes it easier to connect to.  Flawless heroes are easy to admire, but hard to empathize with.

Rocks in my socks: None come to mind.

Every book its reader: 6th grade and up.  I think this is a story that should be put in as many teens hands as possible.  It would work especially well in a classroom setting to allow for discussion and so that its context within the larger lens of the history of the civil rights movement can be explored.  However, the book does do a wonderful job providing background and establishing context so it doesn't have to be taught in a classroom to be appreciated.  This is an engrossing read for people of all ages and there is plenty for adults to learn and enjoy in it as well.

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose

Buy it at your local independent book store or check it out from your local library

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Truce Review

Book talk: World War I marked the beginning of modern warfare, but its commanders still used the old war tactics.  The results were disastrous.  Soldiers were stuck in mud-filled trenches full of disease, afraid to lift their head above the edge for even a second for fear of being struck down by a sharpshooter.  The two sides, led to war under false pretenses, would exchange grenades and fire and occasionally be ordered out on doomed charges toward the other side that only resulted in casualties littering the ground between the trenches.  Yet, in this bleak atmosphere and surrounded by death and violence, peace triumphed for a brief period.  On Christmas Day 1914, hundreds of thousands of soldiers defied orders and laid down their arms to meet their enemies in the no-man's land between the trenches and celebrate together.

Rocks my socks: I can't even remember studying World War I in school.  I'm sure it was mentioned briefly at one point, but most of my teachers focused more on World War II and wars in general have always been the least likely parts of history to hold my attention, so my background knowledge going into this book was pretty scant.  Luckily, before describing the Christmas Truce, Murphy details the events leading up to it in a very clear way so that I now have a far better understanding of World War I than I did going into the book.  For someone who is admittedly not a war history fan I actually found Murphy's descriptions pretty compelling as well.  It was an excellent read all around, and the ample excerpts of letters from that time and photographs from the time help to give an authentic sense of the events.

Rocks in my socks: As I said, war history has never piqued my interest much so my details on the period are pretty sketchy, but I did get the feeling that the story was a bit sanitized.  I got the feeling from the book that the conditions were uncomfortable, but I don't think the book gave an impression of it being anywhere near as awful as it really was in those trenches.  I think kids can handle a lot more than we give them credit for, and as I see kids eagerly checking out books on war and glorifying it I think a bit of a reminder of the horrors of war might be a good thing.  The casualty numbers are mentioned, but that's too easy to dismiss as a statistic.  I think something more was needed.

Every book its reader: I'd give this to kids with an interest in war history, 4th grade and up.

Truce by Jim Murphy

Buy it at your local independent book store or check it out from your local library 

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Great and Only Barnum Review

Book talk: Come one, come all and learn about the extraordinary life of P.T. Barnum and the stupendous history of his American Museum and the Barnum and Bailey Circus.  Barnum was famous for many attractions: 25 in. tall Tom Thumb, 7 ft. 11 in. tall Anna Swan, the first public aquarium complete with a beluga whale, Zazel the human cannonball, Salamander the fire horse, and an 11 and a 1/2 ft. tall elephant named Jumbo to name a few.  But perhaps the biggest attraction was P.T. Barnum himself.  He built his fortune out of nothing only to go banrkrupt and build it again.  He made the famous American Museum, watched it burn down, and built it again only to have it catch fire once more.  He then entered the circus business at age sixty where he invented the three ring circus layout.  P.T. Barnum was a showman above all else, and his life was one great show.

Rocks my socks:  This book is chock full of interesting information and anecdotes.  Did you know that it was actually one of P.T. Barnum's rivals who said "There's a sucker born every minute"? Or that P.T. Barnum  was an animal lover who not only was consulted by zoos at the time as to the proper care of exotic animals and donated specimens that can still be found in the Smithsonian Institution, Yale's Peabody Museum, and Harvard's Museum of Comparative Study he was also an active member of the SPCA and friends with its first president, Henry Bergh? The sheer tenacity of the man surviving bankruptcy, his museum burning down twice, and his house burning down only to enter the circus business at age 60 is admirable as well.  By getting a firmer understanding of what entertained people of his era I also gained a firmer understanding of what exactly life in that era was like.  Every page seemed to contain an amusing tidbit--much like the museum he built his fame and fortune on.  My favorite anecdote from the book is that of ivy island, but I don't want to give it away--you'll have to read it for yourself!

Rocks in my socks: The book made ample use of information set off in textboxes separate from the rest of the text. Not only am I not a big fan of this device because I feel it interrupts the flow of the narrative,  but even if I did like that layout I would feel that it was over-used by this book.

Every book its reader: I'd give this to anyone with an interest in life in the 1800s or entertainment, especially of the circus and sideshow variety.  There's a lot of things that children will find interesting in this book and it's packed full of photographs as well so it's sure to be appealing. I'd say 5th grade and up.

The Great and Only Barnum by Candace Fleming

Buy it at your local independent book store or check it out from your local library

Friday, March 4, 2011

The little old lady who was not afraid of anything review


Williams, Linda. The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything. Illustrated by Megan Lloyd. HaperCollins, 1986. 32 pages. Tr. $18.89, ISBN 978-0-690-04586-4

It started with a  pair of shoes.  A pair of shoes, moving all by themselves, in the pathway of a little old lady alone in the woods.  Some might run at such a sight, but not her, for this little old lady was not afraid of anything.  She just told the shoes to move out of her way, and kept on walking.  But it doesn’t end there.  Soon, a pair of pants, a shirt, gloves, a hat, and a pumpkin head appear as well.  The little old lady has to struggle to remain brave and keep her wits about her, but soon she comes up with a solution that satisfies everyone (and everything).
The text and pictures of this story artfully build as the number of items following the lady increases and the tension rises.  As the story progress the pace quickens and each additional item brings its own sound effect that adds to the chorus of noises until it climaxes with the final item whose ‘boo boo’ sound effect is allowed its own page for full impact.  The pictures mirror this progression beginning with the warm colors of the house and then entering the monochromatic woods with the little old lady’s dress the only bright spot.  The bright hues increase with the addition of each item set against the dark backdrop until a chaos of colors appears as the little old lady runs back to the safety of her warm house.  In its confines she can calm down and think of a solution to her problem.
This story is great for emergent readers because of its patterned language and its friendly format.  The text always appears separately from the pictures so emergent readers can distinguish between them easily.  The language follows a pattern: each thing the lady encounters results in another item and an accompanying twice-repeated sound effect being added to the list of items following the old lady. The little old lady reacts the same way to each item until the end so that children will be able to anticipate what will be said next.  The lady’s final display of bravery and her idea of having the items combine into a scare crow so that they can be useful while still being able to enjoy being scary provides children with inspiration to be brave, understand others’ needs, and find clever ways to solve problems.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Written in Bone Review

Book talk: There are stories waiting under the ground.  Our ancestors buried their history along with dead, and for those who have been trained to read the signs, a pile of bones can be a buried treasure.  Find out how to read a jaw bone to see the infections and pain hidden there.  Discover how a spine can reveal a life of hard labor.  Bones can even tell you if a person who died hundreds of years ago was left or right handed!  Take a tour of the harsh life of early settlers viewed through the evidence that it left in their very bones.

Rocks my socks:   Thanks to college roommates who got me hooked on CSI and Bones I've often heard people say things like 'the leg bone isn't even fused--this body was only a child!' in very dramatic voices but now I actually know what that looks like.  I now know how they can tell all these things from looking at bones and thanks to the ample and clearly labeled pictures I have seen many of them for myself.  What previously seemed vaguely magical to me now actually makes perfect sense.  I could also see using this book in some great cross-curriculum teaching.  They get a physicist in there at one point to develop an x-ray that can penetrate lead so they can see inside lead coffins to know where to insert a tube to attempt to get a sample of 17th century air without damaging the bones inside.  They have mathematicians calculate how heavy the lead coffins will be and have historians find documents that lead to identifying the bodies.  At the end they have artists create a sculpture based on a skull they find.  The archaeology is fascinating too.  They find the outline of the Jamestown fort by the discoloration of the soil where the posts were.  And because this book was made for kids it was all beautifully formatted and explained in a way that I could actually understand.  Ah the many perks of working in an elementary school library!

Rocks in my socks: Never have I appreciated modern dentistry more than I did while reading this book.  The horrible abscesses and infections and pain described made me want to immediately go brush and floss--seriously they should put excerpts of this up in lobbies for dentists, this will be far more effective than fishtanks at getting kids to brush!  There was also an indentured servant who was only a teenager found and listening to them describe all the evidence of pain and abuse around him was a bit much for me.  On the other hand they found a guy whose family motto was apparently 'deeds are masculine, words are feminine' and I was actually hoping for a bit more gore and pain around his death.  That's what you get for being sexist!   Squeamishness aside, there were a couple of times that I thought the text was over simplifying things for its audience such as when it described John Smith as Pocahontas's 'friend.'  If kids can handle those tooth infections, they can handle the ugly truth about history as well.

Every book its reader: I'd give it to anyone 5th grade and up with a sense of morbid curiosity or anyone who's ever wondered what the heck they are saying on Bones and wants it laid out for them in a clear, simple fashion (the main forensic anthropologist in the novel even works at the Smithsonian!)

Written in Bone: Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial Maryland by Sally M. Walker

Buy it at your local independent book store or check it out from your local library

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

If I stay review

Book talk: Mia has a good life.  Her parents are ex-punk rockers and are actually pretty cool.  Her little brother is adorable and she loves reading Harry Potter to him at night.  She has a boyfriend who is way too cool for her but loves her anyway with a band that's starting to go places, and she rocked her Julliard audition and is expecting the acceptance letter any day.  But everything changes when a snow day leads to an impromptu family trip that comes to an abrupt end when they are hit by a truck.  Suddenly her family is a lot smaller.  Her parents are killed instantly, her brother sent to the hospital, and according to medics Mia is in a coma.  Except she can still see everything.  She can see the doctors perform emergency surgery on her.  She can see her grandparents in the waiting room.  But even though she can see them, she can't make herself seen or affect anything in the physical world.  So she has to sit and watch and wait and decide if this is really a world she wants to come back to.  Suddenly everything that made her life wonderful is one more painful memory awaiting her if she returns.  Even if she can affect whether she lives or dies, would she want to?

Rocks my socks: The book takes place in Oregon, which wins it points just for west coast pride.  Her parents and their ex-punk friends are pretty amusing and her romance with her own rock star is tender and sweet.  Her own passion for music in the form of the cello is both amusing due to its juxtaposition and inspiring for how wholly she gives herself over to it.

Rocks in my socks: For some reason even though I can read novels full of unicorns and witches and talking animals without batting an eye the premise of her being some disembodied spirit eavesdropping while in a coma strained my suspension of disbelief bit too much. The book was also a bit overly sentimental for my tastes, as these kinds of books tend to be.  It's not overdone in the context of the story--it makes sense that a girl in a coma flashing back on her life would think of it and describe it in that way--it's just  not the kind of tone I particularly enjoy.

Every book its reader: I'd give this to teenagers looking for a tear jerker with a bit of romance.  Fans of A Walk to Remember and that type of thing.

If I stay by Gayle Forman

Buy it at your local independent book store or check it out from your local library

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Fire Review

Book talk: Imagine a land where monsters roamed.  Not vampires or zombies or dragons, monsters that look just like every day animals, except for their striking beauty and their ability to enter the minds of their prey.  You can find them by their coats which are always more beautiful and brightly colored than normal animals.  There are monster deer and mice and eagles, and even monster girls.  Fire is the only monster human left alive, and as such she is the most beautiful person in the kingdom, but this beauty comes with a price.  Sometimes when people see her they are inspired to submit to her and win her favor, but just as often they are inspired to violence.  So Fire grows up hidden safely away on a country estate, trying to forget about her powers.  But when war starts brewing in the country and she gets called to the capitol she finds that she can't hide her beauty forever and that in times of war no power goes untapped.

Rocks my socks: I enjoyed seeing this new land within the world of Graceling and its different take on being Graced.  There are some interesting issues dealt with in this novel as well.  In this book we get too see more of what court life is like, and because there is more time spent in one place, especially one with so many people, there is a larger cast of characters to meet.  Horses play a big part in this novel too, and I am sucker for horse stories.

Rocks in my socks: I actually bought this book new because I couldn't be bothered waiting for the kid who had it out to return it because I thought that it would pick up where Graceling left off, but instead it was in an entirely different part of the world with none of the same characters except Leck, and who cares about him?  I wanted more Katsa and Po action darnit!  This book also has considerably less action and the female lead while powerful due to her mind-control ability spends most of the novel letting her powers victimize her.  I also have more trouble relating to a girl whose main problem is that she's too beautiful.  Objectively I can see why this is such a problem for her, but somewhere inside me I can't help but think 'oh boo hoo you have too many boys in love with you, cry me a freakin' river'  The love story wasn't as compelling to me either.  It's a classic Pride and Prejudice/Gaskell's North and South/Jayne Eyre plot and while I do enjoy all of those books it just didn't work for me in this one for some reason.  Possibly because I was bitter that it wasn't between Katsa and Po.  The story felt more predictable to me as well.  I was actually surprised by a few plot turns in Graceling, but in this one there was so much foreshadowing before major reveals that I think it would rightly be called forenighting.  All this is probably incredibly biased and based on my disappointment at it not being the novel I was expecting, but hey I'm only human, and not even some fancy monster human so beautiful I can't even look at myself in a mirror without being dazzled by my own beauty (she literally takes her own breath away at one point--really!?)

Every book its reader: I'd recommend it to fans of the first book who enjoyed the characterization and romance and world building, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend it to fans of Graceling who enjoyed the action sequences the most.

Fire by Kristin Cashore

Buy it at your local independent book store or check it out from your local library