Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Happily Ever After

It's probably become clear to anyone who still checks on this blog that I don't have the time to maintain it.  I'm sad to officially call it quits, but it's past time.  If anyone is still interested in following what I'm reading or getting suggestions, I will be adding and rating books on my shelfari page - and if you know me personally, I'm always overjoyed to talk books, so ask me anytime!  So long, and thanks for all the fish!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool

I recommend this book for:  grades 4-7

Abilene has grown up riding the rails and listening to her father's stories about Manifest, a town that sounds just about perfect.  When he sends her to live there for a summer while he works a railroad job that's no place for a young girl, she can hardly believe it is the same town.  It isn't until she starts to work for Miss Sadie, a Hungarian fortune teller, that she begins to hear the story of what Manifest used to be, as seen through the eyes of a young wanderer named Jinx.  She happens to find a box that belonged to Jinx in her bedroom, and although she'd like to think Miss Sadie's story is all fortune telling nonsense, she can't explain how a fraud could tell a story that includes all of the trinkets in the box.  The stories of Abilene and Jinx and how they each come to find a home in Manifest - and save the town itself - become deeply intertwined as Abilene begins to wonder if Jinx could really be her father.

I really enjoyed this one - the quirky characters, the Depression flavor, the unexpected twists (did you know that you could save a town from evil coal mine owners with moonshine?), and the very real sense of heartache experienced by many of the characters.  Although the end is hopeful and happy for Abilene, there is a lot of sadness along the way.  This is a lovely book, and it would be a good choice for fans of historical fiction or stories about families  It also has a bit of boy appeal - Jinx plays some fantastic practical jokes, so that could be a selling point.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Shorts

I normally like to dedicate a whole post to each book, but I thought I'd do some short thoughts on a few things I've read and haven't blogged.  Links go to the Amazon reviews pages.  Since I read all of these several months to years ago, details may be fuzzy - take these recommendations at your own risk!

The Explosionist  by Jenny Davidson.  In a really interesting alternate 1938, Sophie's world is composed equally of science and spiritualism.  Raised by her Great Aunt Tabitha, she has frequent encounters with the most brilliant scientific minds of the day and all kinds of psychic mediums - from the charlatans to the truly spooky.  When a medium is murdered, Sophie is drawn farther than she wanted to go into political intrigue and her own abilities to communicate with the dead.  Also, Sophie must face her feelings for her chemistry teacher (who may or may not be a terrorist) and her best friend Mikael.  I devoured this book and couldn't wait for the sequel - which is the problem, because the sequel was extremely disappointing.  Everything that I found interesting about The Explosionist seemed to be omitted from Invisible Things.  I haven't cared enough to even see if the third book has been published.

The Complete Tales of Winnie-The-Pooh by A.A. Milne, illus. by Ernest Shepard.  I finished this book, had a good cry, and then put it on my Christmas list - not my daughter's, but mine.  Without being didactic, these stories illustrate what it means to be friends, and it really seems so simple.  There is an abundance of funny, wise quotations, and the Shepard illustrations are perfection.  I can't do it justice - I loved it.

Thirteenth Child by Patricia Wrede.  Eff's twin brother is the seventh son of a seventh son, destined to become a great magician - she herself is the thirteenth child in her family, which many believe to be a sign of bad luck if not evil.  She gets the chance to develop her own magical abilities when her family moves to a frontier town - a place where settlements face the expected challenges of life on the edge of civilization, plus wildlife like mammoths and steam dragons.  Wrede has created a fascinating world that will appeal to fans of fantasy and westerns alike - I really enjoyed both this and the sequel, Across the Great Barrier.

Fire by Kristin Cashore.  This prequel to Graceling tells the story of another kingdom.  Here, there are beautiful and dangerous versions of animals, which people call monsters.  Fire is a human monster, and her life is complicated by the love of her best friend, being pressed into service to prevent a plot against the king, and the continuing suspicion of many that she may be no better than her father, who used his powers to nearly bring the kingdom into ruin.  This is another action and romance-filled fantasy with an unforgettable heroine.  Recommended for older teens.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Touch Blue by Cynthia Lord

I recommend this book for:  grades 4-7

Tess loves living on a small island in Maine - catching lobsters on her father's boat, attending a tiny school, and knowing everyone by name feel like home to her.  Unfortunately, her school is so tiny that the state wants to shut it down, which would force Tess and her family to move to the mainland and an entirely different way of life.  The residents of the island decide to increase the school's population to reverse the state's decision, and several families take in foster children.

Tess thinks she knows all about foster kids after reading Anne of Green Gables and The Great Gilly Hopkins, but her new foster brother Aaron (although red-headed) is not what she's expecting.  A 13 year old musician, he's been in foster homes since his grandmother died, and he hasn't seen or heard from his mother since before that.  It's hard for him to relate to Tess and her happy family, and just when it seems she's getting through to him and gaining his trust, her plan to make him want to stay with her family threatens to get him taken away for good.

I loved Lord's Rules, so I was very excited to see this one on the shelf.  There are some similarities, but instead of rules for behavior, Tess is governed by superstitions about luck.  I liked the local color of Touch Blue - the details of the place really made it shine.  Another thing I really appreciated was that, although religion wasn't a major theme of the book, church was a part of life for the characters.  That is a rare thing in books for young people, and it was nice to see kids involved in church activities and thinking about God without it being a heavy-handed thing.  This is a nice, uplifting story about family and what it means to belong somewhere.

Reviews and an excerpt

Monday, September 12, 2011

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

I recommend this book for: grade 7 and up

I read this one months ago, promptly devoured the sequel, and have been waiting impatiently for the third ever since.  In this adventure full of steampunky goodness, WWI is just about to explode in Europe.  Alek, the teenage son of Archduke Ferdinand, is on the run to escape those who want to kill him.  Deryn, a young Scotswoman who passes as a boy to serve in the Royal Airforce, gets her dream assignment aboard the Leviathan - a living airship created from a genetically modified whale, among other creatures.  These two are theoretically on opposite sides of the conflict, but they are forced to cooperate when Leviathan crashes near Alek's hideout and Deryn takes him prisoner.

A little background knowledge on WWI would help with understanding the story, but Westerfeld's world-building is so good that it's not necessary.  And the history of Alek and Deryn's world is definitely different anyway - did I mention the mechanical walkers and the giant floating jellyfish?  Fast-moving and fascinating, I would recommend this one to a wide variety of readers.

But don't take my word for it - check out the review and excerpt!

And if you like this one, try:  Airborn by Kenneth Oppel

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Remember me?

Why yes, it HAS been two years since I posted to this blog! Life has been insane - my daughter was born, and then insisted on growing into a very energetic toddler, which I am informed is the only kind of toddler that exists. I started taking two classes per semester to finish up my master's degree and served as a Cub Scout leader and then in the Primary (the children's organization) for my church. I've been a busy bee! Amazingly, I have still had time to read, just not to post (and it's been my loss, because I can't keep it straight and occasionally bring home a book, start it, and realize I read it last year!)

Anyway, that time is at an end. The lack of homework has left me wondering "Gee, what do I do now?" and I thought that blogging might be a constructive way to use that time. So, new book reviews are coming soon - hopefully that's good news for someone other than me!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson


I recommend this book for: middle school and up

Isabel and her little sister Ruth are slaves in the colony of Rhode Island. Their mother is dead and they were separated from their father years ago, but the lady who owns them has promised to free them in her will. Only when she dies the will is nowhere to be found, so her nephew sells them to the Locktons, a Loyalist couple from New York City. Their liberty has been taken away, to be replaced by hard work and cruelty with no end in sight. In New York, Isabel meets Curzon, the young slave of a Patriot. He offers her the dangerous opportunity to spy on her master and help the rebels gain their independence.

This was a very good book - to be expected from this author. Isabel's story is heartbreaking but hopeful in the end. It asks some very good questions that occur to most young people as they study history, such as "How could the Americans own slaves if they said all men were created equal?" Of course, there are no easy answers, but the exploration is worthwhile.