Tuesday, July 15, 2008

On the Road

The previous post is going to be my last book review for a while - it's vacation time! Since we're going on a road trip and I get very sick if I try to read in the car, there won't be much reading happening for the next three weeks, and I won't have much computer time either. Don't worry, I'll be back - with a review of a grownup book, no less! Happy summer!

The Oracle Betrayed by Catherine Fisher

I recommend this book for: middle and high school

In a world somewhat based on Ancient Egypt, nine priestesses serve the god, who by turns takes form as a scorpion, a snake, and inhabits the body of one man, known as the Archon. The highest priestess is the Speaker, who communicates with the god through the Oracle - and the current Speaker is involved in a plot to replace the Archon with a puppet who can be controlled by herself and the general, her lover. The current Archon knows of the plot, and warns Mirany, the newest and meekest of the Nine, putting the fate of the nation in her very unsure hands. From doubting the very existence of the god, Mirany is suddenly risking her life to find and protect his new incarnation, a 10 year old boy, and making very unlikely alliances along the way.

The premise is fantastic, and this came highly recommended - so I was disappointed when I read this one. The world is well-built and interesting, and Fisher clearly spent a lot of time developing the culture and religion. The characters, however, left something to be desired. Mirany's change is very swift, and Rhetia, another priestess, seems to completely change motivations midway through the book. One plot point that bothered me was the law that a priestess who betrayed the Oracle was to be sealed alive in the tomb of the Archon. It works out here because the Archon has just been sacrificed - but what do they do if a priestess betrays the Oracle at another time? Kill the Archon off so she can be buried alive? Dig up the last one and throw her in? It just didn't fly with me. There were also a few places where I was unable to tell whether what was happening was actually happening or happening in a vision - and maybe that's what Fisher was going for, but I found it confusing. So overall, pretty interesting, but not a favorite, and I don't see myself reaching for the sequel anytime soon.

But hey, everyone else seemed to like it . . .

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

A Girl Named Disaster by Nancy Farmer

I recommend this book for: middle and high school

Nhamo, whose name literally means "Disaster", lives in a small Shona village in Mozambique with her grandmother and aunts and uncles. Her mother was killed by a leopard when she was young, and she has never met her father. When a corrupt healer promises her family that the sickness in their village will end if they marry Nhamo to a cruel man who already has 3 wives, her grandmother tells her to flee to Zimbabwe, to find her father. She makes it sound simple, but the journey is far longer and more difficult than either of them could have imagined.

Nhamo sets out with a boat and supplies for a few days, but she gets set adrift and lost. She discovers islands where she can find supplies, but they are also inhabited by dangers both physical and spiritual. Her struggle to survive and get to Zimbabwe is complicated by damage to the boat, baboons, a witch named Long Teats and other African spirits, landmines, and Nhamo's own fears - and leaving a small traditional village for a city in 1981 provides its share of culture shock. She pulls through using her own intelligence, the help of spirits and her ancestors, and by telling stories to pass the time - one of my favorite parts of this book. A great read.


Sister Spider Knows All by Adrian Fogelin

I recommend this book for: grade 5-8

Fun and moving. Rox is 12, and she lives with her grandmother (Mimi) and 23 year old cousin John Martin, who is very smart but is still in college because he has to work full time to try to support the family. Mimi and Rox do their part on weekends, selling grapes, pumpkins, and all sorts of odds and ends at a fleamarket. They struggle, but they're surviving. Life gets very shaken up when John Martin brings Lucy home - she's the rich daughter of a doctor, and she gets a big kick out of 'redneck' things like riding in the back of John Martin's truck and learning how to make fried chicken. Mimi can't stand her at first, but what Rox sees in Lucy is a big sister, someone to confide in.

There is a lot of story here, but I felt that the main focus was the relationships - between Rox and Lucy, Lucy and the family, Rox and the people at the fleamarket, and especially between Rox and the mother who ran off when her daughter was just 3 months old (that one is facilitated by a diary Rox finds in the attic). It was just a fantastic exploration of family, and a girl trying to figure out what it means for her.


Just a few things here, and they are spoilers: Rox's mother was only 17 when her daughter was born, and her diary reveals that she was rather wild as a teenager - not in detail, but some parents might be uncomfortable with it.

Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen

I recommend this book for: high school

Ruby is 17 and has been living alone for months. Her mother is an alcoholic who frequently disappears, but this time she doesn't come back. Ruby is working and going to school, managing just fine - or so she thinks until her landlords realize the situation. Suddenly Ruby is taken from her home and put under the care of her older sister, who she hasn't seen since the day Cora left for college almost 10 years earlier. Cora is now married, practices law, and has a huge house in an exclusive neighborhood. Ruby is also enrolled in private school, and the adjustment she has to make is huge. And then there's Nate, the attractive and extremely popular neighbor who insists on driving Ruby to school and being Mr. Nice Guy, but there's a lot more going on his life than he's letting on.

I'll admit, I didn't like this one as much as The Truth About Forever or Just Listen, but it was everything a Sarah Dessen book should be, and that's saying a lot. The characters are complex people in difficult situations, and Ruby comes out as a strong young lady. Not all of the issues are resolved by the end, but they're manageable, and you get the feeling that this group of people can handle whatever else might come their way. Definitely a good read!


Some spoilers here! You knew there was going to be small print on a Dessen book! This one obviously deals with the alcoholism of Ruby's mother, and Ruby and her friends drink and smoke pot in the beginning of the book. Ruby is semi-dating a drug dealer as the book opens. However, Ruby leaves all of that behind her after a discussion with Cora in which she realizes that she's becoming too much like their mother. There's one scene where sex is implied, but it happens "off-camera", and Ruby mentions that her mother sometimes brought home strange men. One of the characters has a physically abusive parent.

Monday, July 7, 2008

A Stone In My Hand by Cathryn Clinton

I recommend this book for: middle and high school

Malaak is 12 and lives in the Palestine of 1988. Occupying Israeli soldiers are everywhere, the Palestinian flag is banned, and unrest and violence are everywhere. Malaak's own father has disappeared, and her older brother's activities make her worry that he will be harmed as well. This is a detailed look at what war in the Middle East really means for people old and young (although Clinton makes note that she is writing a historical novel and not attempting to comment on the current political situation, certainly many of the details hold true in the present conflict) - school closings, barricades, terrorist attacks, disrupted funerals, broken families, and fear. Some of the scenes are difficult to read, but not gory, and it's definitely a worthwhile book.


Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pene Dubois

I recommend this book for: grades 4-6

Professor Sherman is ready to retire, and since he likes nothing better than hot air ballooning, he decides to retire in his balloon. Equipped with supplies for a year, he sets off over the Pacific with the intention of leisurely circumnavigating the globe. What he actually does is get rescued a mere 3 weeks later in the Atlantic Ocean, amidst the wreckage of not 1, but 20 hot air balloons. And despite the burning curiosity of everyone from the boat captain who rescues him to the President of the United States, Professor Sherman absolutely refuses to tell his story until he gets back to San Francisco, to the Explorer's Club of which he is an honorary member. As such, I wouldn't feel right revealing the details here ;-), but I can tell you that it involves the island of Krakatoa, a different restaurant for every day of the month, bumper couches, a fortune in diamonds, and a very, very big volcanic eruption. A charming and fun adventure that far exceeded my expectations, because I find that many of the older Newbery winners are a bit dull - this one was great!

Noman by William Nicholson

I recommend this book for: middle and high school

Have you ever been looking forward to something so much, that your expectations are ridiculously high, and even though it's pretty good when it comes, you're still disappointed? That's what happened to me with this book. I can't rave enough about how fantastic Seeker and Jango are . . . and this one was just alright.

As it opens, Seeker is tracking the remaining savanters to finish his mission to kill them. But the Old Ones are crafty, and it's proving more difficult than expected. Meanwhile, Morning Star is getting fed up with the Wildman and life in the spiker army and sets out for home. When she gets there, she finds that everyone has abandoned the village and joined the Joy Boy, a young man who promises eternal life and joy to anyone who joins him - and his following has become huge. Although she is skeptical at first, Star quickly begins to believe him and sets out to bring him what he wants. And what he wants is Seeker.

The world is still beautiful, the thoughts on belief and religion thought-provoking, but I found the characters somewhat disappointing. Seeker has become so powerful that it's hard to empathize with him, and I found the glimpse into his future more confusing than enlightening. As for the romance, it seemed a bit too predictable in the end, and the ending was too neat for the group of characters who destroyed and then recreated the world order.

No real reviews on Amazon, but you can read an excerpt.