Sunday, September 21, 2014

Thief Lord review

The Thief Lord

Book talk: Is there somewhere you've always wanted to go?  For Prosper and Bo, that place is Venice.  Their mother always told them stories of this magical city and after they become orphans and are forced to run away from their cruel aunt it's where they decide to hide.  But life as a runaway is not as glamorous as they thought.  Things are looking pretty grim until they meet Hornet, another runaway who introduces them to The Thief Lord and takes them to live in the abandoned cinema she calls home.  Life still isn't easy, but at least they have a roof over their head.  Their problems only get worse though as their aunt and uncle hire a private detective to track them down and The Thief Lord takes on a dangerous job.

Rocks my socks:  As with any heist story the plot is tense as the young thieves plan their strategy and avoid getting caught.  The lure of the magical carousel that can turn adults into children and vice versa is potent.  The real attraction of this novel though is the characters.  From the private eye with the mustache collection to the self-styled thief lord himself the book is full of memorable individuals. This isn't your typical thief with a heart of gold story though and as identities are revealed and characters become more complex the plot takes multiple twists and turns.

Rocks in my socks:  I wasn't entirely happy with the ending and as delightful as the magical age-changing carousel is, it isn't introduced until fairly late in the novel.  It seemed a bit odd tacking this in at the end of a book that was otherwise realistic.  I wish more of the fantastic elements were introduced earlier on and woven throughout the narrative.

Every book its reader:  I'd give this to 3rd to 5th graders looking for an adventure story with a hint of magic.  Especially for anyone with an interest in Venice.


The author has a website that is too fancy for me to have the patience to navigate it but you can explore it to find unknown wonders if you so wish:

There's a page for the novel on the Cornelia Funke wiki:

The book was made into a movie, the trailer can be seen here:

Source: Oxfam Books in Aberdeen, Scotland

The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke

Brief Reviews Summer 2014 part 2

The Republic of Thieves (Gentleman Bastard #3) Another excellent installment to the Gentleman Bastard series! The story is split between time spent together as an acting troupe in the past and political intrigue among the Bondsmages in the present.  It was full of all the sneaky tricks, witty banter, and child-inappropriate humor that I've come to expect of the series. On a related note I saw Scott Lynch at the Nine Worlds convention in London this summer and he was just as hilarious in real life as he is in his stories.  He represented wizards on a panel pitting them against representatives for dragons, vampires, and werewolves.  He didn't have the winning or the most well-researched argument but he certainly had the most entertaining one! The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch: buy it or check it out today!

Her Dark Curiosity (The Madman's Daughter, #2)The sequel to The Madman's Daughter is full of the same delicious tension, dark science, and deadly threat as the first.  The Island of Doctor Moreau was covered pretty completely by the first one but this one manages to pick up the same characters and add a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde twist. The next one will apparently incorporate bits of Frankenstein and I hope it comes out soon because this one ended on a complete cliff hanger!  The love triangle is once again played for everything it's worth but as long as you're willing to go along with it, it's a fun ride.  Her Dark Curiosity by Megan Shepherd: buy it or check it out today!

Golden Girl (The American Fairy, #2)Bad Luck Girl (The American Fairy, #3)

I loved Dust Girl and the second and third books in this series did not disappoint.  Golden Girls follows our intrepid heroes as they navigate the dangerous ground of Hollywood and the temper of a Shirley Temple-esque child star while Bad Luck Girl explores Chicago and the delightful Halfers--creatures that result from magic mixing with everyday objects like paper.  These personified objects further the exploration of what it means to belong and how those that don't fit neatly in one box are treated by society.  The historical details are just as fascinating as the fantastic ones and while there are competent adults fighting alongside them, the teens remain in the spotlight as they make tough decisions and decide what is right for themselves instead of just accepting what they've been told.  Golden Girl & Bad Luck Girl by Sarah Zettel: buy it or check it out today!

The Year of the Flood (MaddAddam Trilogy, #2)I was pleasantly surprised to find that there was a sequel to Oryx and Crake, even if it had been so long since I read it that this book lost me several times along the way.  This post-apocalyptic dystopian novel follows two characters who are left alive after a plague wipes out most of humanity.  Both were at one point members of the same cult lead by Adam One.  One is living in the ruins of the spa she used to run while the other is locked in the night club she used to work at.  The narrative is lyrical, the vision of the future terrifying yet prescient and the societal issues presented relevant and complex as you'd expect from an Atwood novel.  The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood: buy it or check it out today!

The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child's Developing Mind, Survive Everyday Parenting Struggles, and Help Your Family ThriveThis was my school's summer read for teachers and parents.  The book was surprisingly practical and concrete in its suggestions and re-stated everything multiple ways to show how these principles could be explained to children and applied to your own life as an adult.  There were plenty of mini-comics and illustrations so it was a very fast read. There were some things in there that I will definitely apply to my own life and how I interact with my students but this book is mainly aimed at parents.  They even have an appendix that you can refer to over time that shows how the concepts apply at different ages as your child grows up.  You get a lot of useful insight and techniques for a small time investment.  I'd definitely recommend this to any parents out there.  The Whole Brain Child by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson: buy it or check it out today!

Paper TownsThe main thing I kept thinking while reading this book was that it felt very John Greeny.  From the themes it explores to the traits of the characters to the patterns of speech.  I can see how this might annoy some people and why they might think that the teens and the way they speak is unrealistic.  But the thing is I really believe that this is how John Green talked as a teenager.  It reminds me of a friend of mine used to mock Gilmore Girls for its unrealistic dialogue until my mom came to visit and he saw us talking to each other.  Which is to say that the average teen does not talk or act like the characters in Paper Towns but that doesn't mean that it's unrealistic.  Paper Towns by John Green: buy it or check it out today!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Ruby in the Smoke review

The Ruby in the Smoke (Sally Lockhart Trilogy, #1)

Book talk:  Have you ever asked a question and had someone warn you to leave it alone?  That's exactly what happens to Sally.  When she tries to uncover the mystery of what happened to her father she only encounters more death and danger and people telling her that a proper lady should just stay home.  But life with her aunt is insufferable and she can't rest until she knows why she became an orphan.  With a few trusty friends, she just might be able to discover what a cursed ruby from India has to do with her past--or she might just doom them all!

Rocks my socks:  This is a great mystery set in Victorian England. Sally and her friends from the young photographer to the enterprising urchin are all wonderful characters, the villains are positively Dickensian, and the mystery unraveled in a suspenseful way full of clues and puzzles to work out.

Rocks in my socks: zip

Every book its reader:  
I'd give this to fans of mystery and historical fiction 6th & up.


Apparently there's a BBC adaptation of the book starring Doctor Who actors Billie Piper and Matt Smith!

Source: The Ruby in the Smoke by Phillip Pullman: buy it or check it out today!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Haroun and the Sea of Stories Review

Haroun and the Sea of Stories

Book talk:  Did you ever wonder where stories come from?  Haroun has asked his father the storyteller many times.  Each time he replies that he has a special tap into the Sea of Stories that he draws his inspiration from.  So when he freezes up at a major event, Haroun knows where he must go to fix things.  After tricking a genie Haroun sets off on a trip on the back of a strange bird and embarks on a quest to save not only his father's job, but the Sea of Stories itself.

Rocks my socks:  Haroun meets all kinds of fantastic creatures during his adventure from shadow warriors to floating gardeners.  The book is chock-full of word-play, wit, and aphorisms.  The plot is that of a classic adventure story with a boy setting out from the real world to discover a magical one, meet new companions, and save a world while learning something about himself in the process.  There's a reason this type of story is popular and this is a particularly good example of it.

Rocks in my socks:  The stylized writing felt a tad stiff to me at first but once I got into it I didn't mind at all.

Every book its reader:  I'd give this to kids looking for a classic fantasy adventure like The Wizard of Oz. There's plenty for adults to appreciate, and I'd say it's fine for 4th grade and up.  It would make an excellent read-aloud.

Source: Symposium Books in Providence, RI (

Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie: buy it or check it out today!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Daughter of Smoke and Bone series review

Daughter of Smoke & Bone (Daughter of Smoke & Bone, #1)Days of Blood & Starlight (Daughter of Smoke & Bone, #2)Dreams of Gods & Monsters (Daughter of Smoke & Bone, #3)

Book talk:  You may think that your family is weird, but Karou's isn't even human.  She has a pretty normal life on the surface: she goes to art school, hangs out with friends, copes with a break-up.  But those closest to her wonder why she has a habit of disappearing at a moment's notice.  They never suspect the truth--that she goes through secret doors to a workshop filled with monsters that send her all over the world collecting teeth.  These are no baby teeth either.  They are ripped from animals of all sorts and collecting them can be dangerous work.  Karou doesn't know how she came by this odd life, but she loves her monstrous family.  Then an angel with wings of flames comes into her life and Karou finally begins to unravel the story of her dismal past as she prepares to face an even more dangerous future.

Rocks my socks:  The world-building in this series is phenomenal.  Laini Taylor creates a unique and complex world that weaves together not only different countries but parallel universes.  The creatures that live in this alternate universe are creative part animal part human hybrids.  As Karou discovers more about her history, the complexities of the society are slowly revealed.  That's what I liked best about this series.  Nothing is simplified to black and white.  The characters are layered and develop and change over the course of the series, the society is complicated and different perspectives on its history are explored, and the decisions the characters are faced with are genuinely difficult.

Rocks in my socks:  
Perhaps because I read all three back to back I got frustrated with Taylor repeating herself and summarizing previous plot points.  In a similar vein, the constant references to gazes full of electricity conveniently interrupted to draw the tension out seriously wore on my nerves by the time I was reading book three.

Every book its reader:  I'd give this to fans of urban fantasy like The Mortal Instruments series.   Both the romance and the violence can get pretty intense at times so I'd save it for 8th grade and up.


Laini Taylor has a website:

The series has a website with a cool map and other downloads:

There's a series of trailers to introduce the series and the main characters, I'll put the first here:

Source: school library & ebooks from SF public

The Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor: buy it or check it out today!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Dodger Review


Book talk: Dodger earned his nickname for his ability to dodge out of danger and he's stayed true to his name.  He makes a living by finding coins, jewels, and other debris in the sewers of London.  One night as he's coming out of a drain he sees a lady in distress and rushes to her aid.  This sets off a chain of events that leads him to meeting Charles Dickens, getting a close shave from Sweeny Todd, and even attending a posh dinner party.  But when an international assassin is hired to kill him, will he be able to dodge him too?

Rocks my socks:  This book is chock full of interesting facts about Victorian London from Dickens and Disraeli to toshers and cockney rhyming slang.  Dodger somehow finds himself rubbing elbows with a variety of famous and infamous people from the era as he woos a damsel in distress and finds his way out of the gutter.

Rocks in my socks:  The characters are all caricatures rather than fully fleshed out individuals.  I'm sure it was a conscious decision on Pratchett's part, but it just didn't work for me.  I didn't really connect with any of the characters--which is surprising considering how much I like tricksters and kind-hearted thieves.  It was a pleasant and at times entertaining read but it wasn't a particularly moving or memorable one for me.

Every book its reader:  I'd give this to fans of Pratchett or anyone looking for a fast-paced romp through Victorian London.


There's a well-produced book trailer for the book:

Source: Bookshelf store in Truckee, CA

Dodger by Terry Pratchett: buy it or check it out today!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Brief Reviews Summer 2014 part 1

The Violinist's Thumb: And Other Lost Tales of Love, War, and Genius, as Written by Our Genetic CodeNonfiction is not my favorite genre, but I really enjoyed this book about genetics.  The information is conveyed through a series of interesting anecdotes that I found myself bringing up in conversation often because they were too good not to share.  The scientific explanations that accompany the stories are all told in accessible language that left me with a much better understanding of DNA than my university biology class did.  I'd recommend it to anyone looking for an entertaining and informative popular science book. From John Fitzgerald Kennedy to Henri De Toulouse-Lautrec and from Einstein's brain to Polar Bear livers, this book has it all! The Violinist's Thumb by Sam Kean: buy it or check it out today!

We Were Liars I avoided reading anything about this book before I read it because I had so much faith in the author that I knew I'd like it.  I assumed from the cover and the author's previous books that it would a light-hearted, witty summer romp.  Perhaps I should have researched it more because boy howdy was I wrong!  I had an emotional ending to the school year for various reasons, so I was glad to read something light.  Then I was completely blindsided by the traumatic ending.  The tone (and genre) turned on a dime.  If you had asked me if I liked the novel at any point before the big twist I would have said I was loving it and I did read it in one sitting.  But I disliked the ending so much that it cast a pall on the whole novel.  We Were Liars by E. Lockhart: buy it or check it out today!

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop TalkingAs an introvert, I loved this book for naming and normalizing so many things that I do and feel.  It contained a lot of great advice on how to live a happy and healthy life as an introvert.  All of the descriptions of the horrible experiences a lot of introvert children go through made me call my mother to thank her for being awesome.  Even if you're not an introvert, this is a great book to read because chances are you'll have to teach, manage, raise, date, or befriend an introvert at some point in your life and this will help you understand why they act the way they do.  The pace was a bit slow at times, but the information contained in it is excellent.  Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain: buy it or check it out today!      

Longbourn This novel is set during the events of Pride and Prejudice, but focuses on the world of the servants and what is happening to them as the Bennet girls are buffeted by the winds of love upstairs.  My feelings about the novel are torn.  On the one hand this is a well-researched look into the life of Regency era servants and I enjoyed reading about all the gritty details.  The servants themselves are faceted characters and I cared about their stories.  On the other hand I don't like the way the original characters are portrayed and in some instances changed completely by adding twists to their back stories.  The tone of the novel is very modern with its focus on the social injustices of the era.  There's even an extended tangent on the horrors of war.  It has none of the sparkling wit of Austen and doesn't even attempt to imitate her style.  Which makes me question why this story was even set in Pride and Prejudice.  I would have enjoyed it much better if it was the story of Regency servants of a household invented for the novel.  As is I found myself longing for an Austen sensibility that just wasn't there.  Still, if you can put the original aside when reading it and take it on its own merits it's an interesting and compelling piece of historical fiction. Longbourn by Jo Baker: buy it or check it out today!

The Whistling SeasonThis was a great summer read for a teacher.  I borrowed it from my aunt & uncle and read it while relaxing in a lounge chair on their back porch.  The narrator is looking back on his childhood as a homesteader in Montana attending a one-room school.  The book is full of the evocative nostalgia you'd expect from someone recounting beloved stories from their childhood.  The characters are all well drawn and the period details are fascinating.  The story is at turns moving and humorous but always well-written.  The narrator was an intellectually curious child so it's full of random tid-bits that he discovers.  I wasn't a big fan of the ending, but the lessons learned in this one-room school house will stay with me for a long time.   The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig: buy it or check it out today!