Monday, December 31, 2012

Mrs. Noodlekugel

Mrs. Noodlekugel
by Daniel Pinkwater
Illustrated by Adam Stower
80 pages
Elementary+

Nick and Maxine just moved into a new apartment.  One day, Nick has Maxine come to his room to see his discovery: a small house surrounded by apartment buildings, with its own little yard.  When they tell their parents, they tell Nick and Maxine not to go there, so of course, they do.

What they find there is bizarre and fun- a little old lady, a talking cat and mice that help them make cookies.  Mrs. Noodlekugel's house has a little fun, magic and excitement!

So, I read this because a couple of my fellow librarians recommended it to me.  I had lots of fun with it, but there were a couple things that bugged me.

First of all- good things.  Yay for a simple chapter book that is not the Magic Tree House series!  It was cute, fun and should keep the kid's attention. While it has a simple plot line, there are enough challenging words that it isn't boring.  This would be a great early chapter book for young readers.

Okay, now to the things that bugged me.  Whether on purpose or not, it kind of talked down to the kids in places.  I don't think they are going to get that mice on cookie dough is not good, but Nick and Maxine talk about it.  In places where contractions could have been used, they weren't.  This especially bugged me when it was when one of the kids was speaking.  What kid says "I did not" instead of "I didn't"?

Anyways, overall view- I will probably still recommend it to kids.  The details that bugged me won't bother the kids (but they might the parents!) and the kids will have fun with this.  Looks like it is the beginning of a series, so lots more fun will be had!  Fun book, just a couple details that disagreed with me.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Wonder Show

Wonder Show
by Hannah Barnaby
288 pages
Middle School+

Another entry for the YALSA 2013 Best of the Best Challenge!

Portia loves stories.  As she sits in the evening, she listens to her relatives talking and retelling their stories.  But one by one, each of them leaves, until there is only her father and her aunt.  And then even her father leaves.  Left in her aunt's care, she eventually ends up at The Home, a place for wayward girls.

Unable to stand the stifling Home and the memories of her dead friend, she runs away, taking a red bicycle and riding off to join the circus.  There she meets the freaks, the strange people that make up the Wonder Show, the side tent to the regular circus.  Here, the worst thing in the world is to be normal.  Portia is waiting there, just to hide from the people that want to take her back to The Home.

As Portia starts travelling with circus, she gets to know the freaks a little more, and learn their stories.  She makes new friends, learns to stand on her own.  When the men finally find her to take her back to The Home, she has to start writing her own story.

So, if you can't tell by my other posts, I'm not huge on historical fiction, but I LOVED this book.  While very different than my normal materials, it was a great read, and I really enjoyed it.

One of the things I loved about this book is Portia.  She's a little sassy, but you can see behind the sassy she is just trying to survive.  She has been torn from everything she knows and set on her own.  The stories give her a way to cope with this, and help her understand what is going on around her.  She definitely grows in confidence and in compassion throughout this book.

I also really like that although they talk about "freaks" in this book, you get to see the other side of them- what makes them human.  The narration style occasional jumps to the perspective of one of the characters, which helps you get a view inside their heads.  You get one from each of the "freaks," including each of the conjoined twins, and this helps you see that they are fairly normal people, with their own concerns and worries.  This would be a good book to study perceived differences versus reality.

Overall, great book.  The story line, while not incredibly fast, has lots of detail and fun little twists.  Readers can sympathize with Portia and her feelings of abandonment.  The chapters are fairly short and move quickly.  I would recommend to middle school age and older, because of interest and one scene involved the twins.  Good book, I enjoyed it a lot!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Lou! #1- Secret Diary

Lou! #1- Secret Diary
by Julien Neel
48 pages
Late Elementary+

Lou lives with her mom and a stray cat in their apartment in the city.  Not your typical 12-year-old, Lou designs her own clothes, hates playing with dolls, and her homework sends her to shrink.  At least she has a friend and a secret diary to pour her heart out.

When she starts noticing the boy across the street, things start getting complicated in life.  Then a cute guy her mom's age moves in down the hall.  On top of everything else, she has to deal with not only her own love life, but her mom's as well.

I found this book to be very funny and light-hearted. Lou goes through several things that a normal 12-year-old would face, plus some more!  Her lazy mom loves her, her cat thinks she is strange, and her friend rolls her eyes at everything, but still hangs out with her.  I love that her mom is addicted to video games!

I would give this to girls much more than boys.  I would probably start in late elementary aged, through middle school.  Lots of fun, and very cute!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Titanic: Voices from the Disaster

Titanic: Voices from the Disaster
by Deborah Hopkinson
304 pages
Middle School+

Another review for the YALSA Best of the Best 2013 Challenge!

This non-fiction account of the sinking of the Titanic is related using journals and letters from the survivors of the crash.  Starting with a description of the ship, it covers many details of the voyage and experiences from the passengers.  It covers what it felt like to be on the maiden tip of the Titanic, when they realized they had hit the iceberg, and how they felt as they realized the ship was going down.

Yay! Another non-fiction book!  I actually really liked this one.  I was scared of having scenes from the movie running through my head as I read, but there was such a wide range of photographs in the book, that never became an issue.  I really liked all the photographs so the reader could see what things had looked like before it sank.

Another thing I really liked about this book was the neutral stance it took on situation.  Many people have been very emphatic about how there wasn't enough lifeboats, and rant on about it.  This book presented facts, including the regulations that the Titanic was required to follow, a statement of what was available that night, and the results of the tragedy.  I rarely picked up any hints of judgment about it, or any other controversial issues.  While it mentions what the reactions of other people were, this book is more about presenting facts about the story than taking a stand on an issue.

I also really enjoyed getting the perspective of several different types of people from the Titanic.  We have letters and records from first, second and third class passengers, crew members, and more.  In addition to that, the last sixty pages are bibliography, facts, charts, and ways to find out more.  This book was well researched, well organized, and a great resource to finding more information.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading this book!  The narrative flowed very well, especially for a non-fiction book, plus it stayed impartial to the facts.  It presented facts, including reactions of people from that time period, rather than trying to pass judgment about what happened.  It highlighted individual stories, giving the narrative a very personal feel, rather than just a presentation of facts.  Read this book!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Summer I Learned to Fly

The Summer I Learned to Fly
By Dana Reinhardt
224 pages
Middle School+

Drew Robin Solo is expecting to spend the summer at her mom's cheese shop, helping clean, cut cheese and make pasta with the wonderful Nick Drummond, the laid-back surfer that works for her mom.  She also has her pet rat Hum to watch over and her dead dad's book of lists to pore over.   While not the most exciting of plans, to Drew, it's life and perfection.

One night, Drew realizes that Hum is missing from his usual spot in her backpack. While frantically looking for Hum, she meets a boy, Emmett, behind the cheese shop.  He sits, feeding Hum the rat pieces of leftover cheese and talking to him. Drew talks with him, and noticies he has a small scratch on his check. As they talk, they start find more in common than they realize. 

This begins Drew's most amazing summer, full of adventure, new friends, worries and carefree afternoons.  But, can she find out what Emmett is really doing in her town?  And what's up with the silver car and what does it have to do with Drew's mom?  And above all, can this little girl really learn how to fly?

So, this was simply amazing.  I'm usually not big into realistic fiction (if you couldn't tell), but I had the hardest time putting this down to do other things.  The story telling is excellent, Drew's voice coming through strong and clear.  It's simple enough that late elementary kids would enjoy it as well, but I'm setting it for middle school more just for age interest.  The things that Drew thinks and feels, I think middle school kids will enjoy more than the younger ones.

This book is all about Drew discovering not only the world around her, but also discovering truths about herself as well.  She has to change, make decisions, break out of her shell, and sacrifice things that she holds dear.  There was a spot near the end that she had to sacrifice something very near and dear to her in order to accomplish something else.  That moment almost broke my heart.  I think the reader really starts feeling for Drew, understanding her perdicaments, and inwardly urges her to go forth into this new teritory she faces.

Another huge theme in this book is perception versus reality, with truth tied in there as well.  Drew has always seen things one way, and when Emmett arrives, he completely changes some of those perceptions.  He really opens her eyes to not only the "real" world, but also to the amazing possibilities that she could never see for herself. 

Overall, great book!  Highly recommended to most kids.  While I didn't tag this if boys, I think the right boy will enjoy this as well as girls.  I would recommend this to ages 12 plus.  Read this!!!!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95

Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95
by Phillip Hoose
160 pages
Middle School+

This is a finalist for the YALSA 2013 Award for the Excellence in Non-Fiction.  This review is part of their reading challenge!  Learn more about YALSA, the award, and the challenge here!

Moonbird is based on a small shorebird called a rufa red knot,  known by the number B95.  First seen in 1995, this bird has flown from the southern tip of South America to north of the Hudson Bay every year for 20 years.  Overall, he has flown to the moon and half-way back! 

This book traces a typical year in B95's journey.  We start in South America, where B95 has grown out his flight feathers.  There, he gorges himself on the mussel spat on the coastline, and eventually, feels the urge to go!  He flies through two days and nights to his next stop. And this in only the beginning.

Moonbird was a very interesting read.  The "story" is constantly supported with set in blocks of text with more information, pictures, and stories of people the author met while writing about B95.  The pictures are great, showing lots of different settings and views of the birds. Not only is this book a study of the bird itself, but also of some other connected species, such as the horseshoe crab. 

At first, this book seemed to be very heavy on the environmental protection.  While that remained an undercurrent through the entire book, it lightened enough that I became more interested in the book. The environmental theme is definitely still present, and a reason behind the writing of the book, but information about the bird's amazing journey was more emphasized.  I did like some of the features it had at the end, including resources (where he got his info), what we can do, a bibliography, and an index.

Occasionally, this book almost switched writing styles, from a presentation of facts or telling a story about people who are gathering the information, to something that "supposedly" happens.  This was most obvious during the chapter on the bird's stay in Canada.  Instead of presenting facts, or having someone there collecting information, it changed to telling a possible story about B95's parents, and what they may have been like.  This transition in styles bugged me, and I kept focusing on the "might have" and "possibly" instead of the facts.

Overall though, I really enjoyed this book once I got into it.  The information was great and told in an organized manner.  I liked how the author told not only the story of B95, but also how it connects and interacts with the world around it.  The explanation of cause and effect (why the bird went where) was very well done.  I only wish that the environmental bias had been not as forceful and overt.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Zita the Spacegirl

Zita the Spacegirl
by Ben Hatke
192 pages
Late Elementary+

Zita and her friend Joseph are just playing when they find a meteorite in the bottom of a crater.  Inside the meteorite, they find something that looks like a switch.  Playing around, Zita presses the button, not expecting anything to happen.  When a portal opens, and Joseph is stolen through it, Zita has no choice but to follow through to try and save Joseph.

On the other side of the portal, Zita is in a different universe. She is in the middle of a city that is weird and strange.  All around her are creatures and machines completely unfamiliar to her.  How is she going to find her friend all alone in the middle of this strange city?

This was totally awesome!  I loved it!  Not only was the story line engaging and intriguing, the artwork is beautiful and vibrant.  Something that I look for in a graphic novel is fun artwork that tells the story as much as the words do.  When you can find just as much story telling in the artwork as you do the words, that makes a great graphic novel!

Also, the story line is very intriguing and sets up great possibilities for future books.  I know there is another one at least, and I'm certainly looking forward to reading it!  The way the story is told really helps the reader identify and sympathize with the characters in many different situations.  The story line is engaging, and I really wanted to find out how Zita would save the day!

Another thing I really loved is how Zita managed to develop relationships with multiple people/species/animals in this strange new land.  And she does it through being herself, not some artificial person.  Through her kindness and adventurous spirit, she finds lots of new friends to help her on her journey.  This is a great book about friendship and sacrifices made for friends.

Overall, great book, great pictures, great story!  I will recommend this as much as Amulet, or regular fiction books as well.  Boys and girls will enjoy this, and I will start recommending to late elementary kids. Lots of fun!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Unlocking the Spell

Unlocking the Spell: A Tale of the Wide-Awake Princess
by E. D. Baker
272 pages
Elementary+

Annie is out on another quest, this time to save her sister's true love, Prince Beldegard.  He was turned into a bear by a dwarf, and they need to find that dwarf to release the spell. Annie, Beldegard, and Liam set off to discover where the dwarf may be.

Trouble starts right away for the group.  They can't find the dwarf, run into more fairy tale characters, and have an unwelcome addition to their party.  Can they survive the even though "the way is long and fraught with danger"? And what will happen when they cross paths with evil witches and trolls?

So, this sequel to The Wide Awake Princess is, in my opinion, not as good as the original.  While the concept is similar, and still fun, the story telling and characters are not as engaging and entertaining as the first one.

One of my biggest gripes with this book was Annie's attitude in the first part of the book.  During the first book, Annie is working so hard to save her sister and her family. everything she does is for them. But, Annie is so annoyed and grumpy during this book.  To me, it seemed such a complete turn about from before.  And instead of identifying with Annie, I felted annoyed with her and it made it hard to get started in this book.

Plus, this book seems to start very abruptly.  It starts very shortly after the first book, but the transition seemed choppy and contributed to the switch of Annie attitude as well.  The story drops the reader right in, and it doesn't give much background before heading right into the story.

Overall, it was an okay book, but not as good as the first one.  It got better through the later part, and I enjoyed it more, but the first part really bogged me down. Alright, but not great.  Still, I will recommend the series to kids!  If read immediately after the first one, the abruptness might not be such a factor.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Binky the Space Cat

Binky The Space Cat
by Ashley Spires
64 pages
Elementary+

Binky is not just a cat.  He is a certified Space Cat!  This means that he chases aliens (bugs), builds rockets and plans to travel into outer space!  But when he realizes travelling into space means leaving his humans behind, can he do it?

So, Binky is so cute!  I just love him! Binky is smart, active, plus a cat. Who couldn't love that! 

This book, and the follow-ups have great illustrations and simple text, so they are great for beginning readers.  But, the humor is fun enough that older elementary kids will enjoy it too. 

Fun series!  I laughed at them a lot!  I will definitely recommend for boys and girls!

Friday, December 7, 2012

False Prince

False Prince
Jennifer A. Nielsen
352 pages
Late Elementary+

Sage is an orphan, stealing food on the street and pennies from pockets.  When he is bought from his orphanage by a nobleman and taken away from all he knows, everything changes. With two other boys, he is taken to a remote mansion and the lessons begin. Instead of his biggest care being where his next meal will come from, it's figuring out what this nobleman wants and how he can escape from him. 

Sage quickly figures out that he has not been taken to be a servant, but to imitate a missing prince whom everyone assumes is dead.  With the recent death of the rest of the royal family, this noble has the plot to be the master behind a puppet prince.  But first, the noble must teach Sage or the others to become the prince. 

Sage does not like this at all.  He wants to return to his previous life, and ignore all the politics.  But when failure means death, he must succeed.  While managing to rebel at every step, Sage still becomes the favored boy to play the prince.  But the more he discovers about this plot, the less he likes it and the nobleman. 

This was a great book!  It's been on my "to read" list for a while, and now that I finally got into it, wow!  While I predicted a little of what happened, there was a lot of "oh my goodness" moments as well.  The plot has a great balance of current events, foreshadowing and action.  Very fast paced and hard to put down.

One big issue brought up: telling the truth versus lying.  Lots of people lie in this book for various reasons.   Some excuse their lies away, so are embarrassed by them, while others hide their lies.  Very few people really take responsibility for their lies.  This looks like this is the first of a series and I can see some of these lies coming back to haunt not only the villains of the story but also the hero.

Overall, I will definitely recommend this book to a lot of people.  Will definitely appeal to boys and girls, and I am very interested to see how this is evolved into a series. I would probably start around 6th grade, mostly because of violence.  No bad language or anything else like that.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Brain Camp

Brain Camp
by Susan Kim and Laurence Klaven
Artwork by Faith Erin Hicks and Hilary Sycamore
160 pages
Middle School+

Jenna and Lucas are losers.  Neither of them have high expectations in life, except to get through it with as little trouble as possible.  Then, they are offered last minute slots in a prestigious "Brain Camp," guaranteed to make you smarter. 

But something isn't right at camp.  Everyone is getting smarter, but they're also getting super creepy as well.  The one friend that they find completely changes overnight.  The staff are super secretive, and there is a mysterious building on the edges of camp.  Why are kids sprouting feathers and what is with the nasty huge zits they are getting too?

I really liked that the main characters had issues, dealt with their issues, and moved on with life.  They were even able to used skills from their so-called "ill spent lives" to overcome some of the challenges they face.  I loved when they made a Segway-like vehicle out of a lawnmower! 

This was a really fun yet creepy book.  It has it all!  Mystery, love, aliens, and weird happenings.  I had a lot of fun reading it. Boys will love it, but girls will get it too.  Recommending to all!  Age is mostly for material and interest level.  Nothing really inappropriate.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Death Cloud

Death Cloud (Sherlock Holmes: The Legend Begins Series #1)

by Andrew Lane

336 pages
Middle School+

Fourteen-year-old Sherlock Holmes is expecting his father to pick him up for the summer holidays when his summer is turned topsy turvy.  His father is going off with the army, his sister is sick and need complete peace, and his older brother has no time for him.  So instead of spending the summer at his home, he is sent to an uncle in the country, a tedious and unwelcome solution.  Sherlock is expecting this summer to be completely boring and uneventful.  

Instead, Sherlock is immediately embroiled in plot and intrigue.  Mysterious clouds that don't move naturally show up just after someone is killed. Strange men are moving boxes filled with clothing in secretive manner. And Sherlock isn't quite sure who to trust.  Sherlock must assemble all the puzzle pieces before he gets himself, and others, killed.  

While this book had a slow beginning, it later picked up the pace and was quite fun to read.  At first, Sherlock's character seemed flat and not quite what I expected from the great Sherlock Holmes.  Sherlock showed little emotion beyond annoyance and let things happen to him, instead of being active.  Also, he seemed unable to make connections that readers expect Sherlock to be able to make.  Since the character is only fourteen years old, this might be understandable, especially since he is still learning all the skills that Sherlock needs in order to become the character of the Doyle novels.  But he seemed very weak and more like the typical teen, where the older Sherlock is NOT like the typical adult at all.  Eventually, he starts learning how to observe and make connections, and of course solves the mystery at great peril to his own life, but he took a lot of time to get there.  

Readers should not expect a novel exactly like the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle novels.  In addition to the noted differences above, the novel is much more modern in writing style; it reads like many other contemporary teen novels, not like a classic.  This can be a good introduction for teens to the Victorian mystery genre, but it is definitely different than the older novels.

Overall, I believe I will recommend this, especially for boys needed a mystery book.  Once I got past my expectations for the novel, I enjoyed it.  It was fun to see how Sherlock finally placed all the pieces together. There was plenty of action at the end to keep the reader's attention, plus several twists that kept me eager to read, after the slow beginning.  This novel is the first in a series.  The sequel is already out: Rebel Fire. I look forward to finding that book to!  I hope that since the background has been established, the story will pick up right away!

Quick note: This is one of the first books to be endorsed by the estate of Arthur Conan Doyle.  Many other series have been written to try to fill in the blanks of Holmes' life, but this is one of the first to be endorsed by Doyle's estate!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Copper

Copper
by Kazu Kibuishi
96 pages
Elementary+

Copper and his dog Fred go on many adventures together.  While Copper is ever optimistic and adventurous, but Fred is more timid and conservative. From jumping over toadstools to flying planes, they go places and see lots of new things. 

This is a hard review to write, not because I didn't love it, but because each page is its own story.  Set up similarly to a Sunday comic, each comic is self-contained.  While there are some similar themes to many of the comics and reoccurring images, each also stands alone.  They do have a couple sets of short story sets that are really fun to read, but mostly single page stories.

Copper reminds me a lot of the Calvin and Hobbes comics.  Kids will enjoy it for the colors and quirkiness, but adults will love it for the deeper aspects.  The illustrations are beautiful, and there is a lot of deep meaning in them.  Easy to read, but gives the reader lots to think about.

I will definitely be recommending this for kids and teens of any age.  Very clean, but fun, and thought provoking.  You can even buy prints of some of the comics at: http://www.gallerynucleus.com/artist/kazu_kibuishi  Check it out!  Easy read and very enjoyable!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Girl of Fire and Thorns

The Girl of Fire and Thorns
by Rae Carson
432 pages
Middle School+

Princess Elisa has never felt like a proper princess.  She is the younger, fatter, and definitely less attractive princess in the kingdom.  But despite this, she has been chosen to bear the Godstone, a privilege granted to one person a century.  In spite of this great honor, Elisa feels small and unremarkable. 

Then comes her abrupt marriage to a neighboring monarch, King Alejandro de Vega.  He marries her, takes her home across the desert, and then neglects to tell everyone in his home kingdom that they are wed.  While this marriage seems to be a farce, Alejandro still expects the troops promised with the marriage to help him in a war against the enemy kingdom.

Elisa feels so confused.  For the first time in her life, she must truly be a princess.  She must play the political games in court, stand up for herself, and also learn the truth about her Godstone.  Frightening scripture she had never read before hints at purposes for her Godstone that Elisa had never imagined.  Just as she is on the verge of gaining more information on it, she is kidnapped and stolen away from her husband.

Now even more changes face Elisa.  While she had been growing more attached to her husband, is has also seen his flaws.  In captivity, she can't decide if she misses her husband, or is glad to get away from it all.  More secrets are discovered and friends are found as Elisa journeys through the desert to the rebels hideout.  Here, Elisa must discover the true nature of the enemies threatening both her kingdoms, how to fight them, and where her heart lies.

So, I listened to this read on CD, instead of reading it to myself.  While that affected the pace a little, it still seemed a little slow to me at times.  Despite trying to like this book, I had a hard time getting in to it.  It might be because of the slow start (whether due to the writing or listening to it on CD is debatable), but I think it had to do with a couple of the themes throughout the book.

First theme I want to address is self image.  Elisa is fat.  Or at least starts that way.  When she is fat, she barely has a positive thing to think about herself.  As she journeys through the desert, she slims down.  While not exactly "skinny," she definitely changes enough that she gains attention because of her new body shape.  This is when she starts feeling confident, powerful, and positive about herself.  To me (as an overweight woman), this is sending the entirely wrong message about a connection between body weight and self worth.  Elisa has a hard time feeling positive about herself, and feeling in control of herself when she is fat.  While not all of her confidence is coming because of her body changes, I feel that there was too much connection between her feeling confident in herself and losing weight.  That is one reason why I couldn't give this book my full approval.

Another theme that I noticed was how fleeting her love was. ***SPOILER ALERT!*** When someone Elisa loves is killed in front of her and dies in her arms, she is upset.  I would usually cry buckets at a point like this.  But I did NOT cry.  There was something lacking, either in the writing or in Elisa's emotional attachment to this character.  To me, she recovered from this much too quickly, and was a little fleeting and shallow in her love interests.  And she even was attracted to someone twice, once after learning some harsh truths about him.  To me, that does not make sense.

Anyways, if I were to recommend this, I would give it to mostly high school, unless it was a mature middle school kid.  While nothing inappropriate happens between Elisa and her love interests, Elisa is very interested in something possibly happening, plus there is some graphic violence in it.  There are other books that will recommend before this one.  It was okay, but not spectacular.  I know there is a sequel out that I might read in book format, instead of listening, to see if that would make a difference in the pacing.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Anya's Ghost

Anya's Ghost
by Vera Brosgol
224 pages
Middle School+

Anya feels miserable and lonely, or your basic teenager.  She's not skinny and beautiful like the popular girls, she's not incredibly smart like the nerds, and to top it all off, she's Russian.  While she lost the accent years ago, she still feels like an outcast and only has a few friends.

One morning, everything is going wrong. The hot guy is ignoring her, her mother tries to feed her greasy food for breakfast, and best (only) friend is mad at her.  She lets the bus go by and starts walking to school.  As she is walking through a park, she is so distracted by everything, she completely misses a step and falls into a dark hole.

At the bottom of this abandoned well is the one thing she really doesn't want to see: a ghost.  After getting over the shock, she meets Emily Reilly, another lonely girl just like her, just her loneliness has been for the past 90 years.  They talk while Anya waits for someone to find her or to walk by.  Eventually, someone find Anya, gets her out and Anya leaves Emily at the bottom of the well.

Then one day, while at school, Emily comes to visit Anya again.  A little bone that Anya took with her lets Emily follow her wherever that bone goes.  They ease each others' loneliness, helping the other be happier.  But is Anya really happy with the direction her life is beginning to take, and is Emily really a victim?

This was another graphic novel and was pretty fun.  The artwork was nice, but not spectacular.  This one I liked more for the story line than the illustrations.  The reader gets to see Anya's struggle with being a teenager, and also how these changes effect her.  Anya starts to see what is really important in life, and also that not everything you see is exactly what it seems to be.

Overall, this was a good, but not great, book.  Many issues are raised that are relevant to teens, such as self-image, family relations, cheating, truth versus embleshment, and how far you are willing to go to please other people.  I think many teens will identify with Anya and the struggles she goes through.

Monday, November 26, 2012

ParaNorman

ParaNorman
by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel
256 pages
Elementary+

Norman Babcock is definitely not your average 11-year-old.  Like everyone else, he gets bullied, annoys his older sister, needs friends, and has a hard time talking to his parents.  But UNLIKE everyone else, he can talk ghost.  Not just one or two, but every ghost in town.  While for him it's normal, everyone else wonders why this wacky kid is talking to thin air.

Things just get worse and the 300th anniversary of the local witch trial. Norman is having strange dreams and visions about disasters that are threatening his town. When his great-uncle dies and visits him, Norman now has a mission to save the town.  But can he, a new friend, his one time bully, and his sister really make a difference when pilgrim zombies are invading?

This was a really fun book to read!  This is based off the screen play for the movie, and I can't wait to see it! Every time you turn the page there is another disaster, or another zombie, and somehow it is all hilarious.

As much as this is about pilgrim zombies, this is also about a boy finding his own confidence and also about relationships.  Norman has to develop confidence in his ability, plus come to value his own uniqueness.  When he embraces himself is when he starts being successful.  And as he does this, he starts seeing the value in others as well.  This is a neat little story that wraps everything up neatly in the very happy ending.

I would recommend this for all kids, with the humor and everything.  Boys will love it, and this is one to put on the list of kids that like Diary of a Wimpy Kid- similar humor and everything.  I had a lot of fun with this book, and really enjoyed it!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Across the Universe

Across the Universe
by Beth Revis
416 Pages
High School+

Amy is boarding a spaceship, but won't remember her journey of hundreds of years.  She is cryogenically frozen, to be shipped as cargo to a new world with her parents. As she gets packed in her box, she hopes not to dream and to wake on a whole new world. Instead, she wakes 50 years too early, on a ship with a strange culture, without her parents.

Elder is in line to become the next leader on the ship when the current leader, Eldest, dies.  At only sixteen, Elder must learn everything he needs to know before Eldest leaves.  But it is hard for Elder to learn from someone who continually puts him down, plus keeps secrets from not only him, but also the rest of the ship.

Once Amy is woken from her sleep, she must adjust to her new life.  Elder must adjust to her presence, continually intoxicating for him.  Plus, someone is trying to thaw more of the sleepers.  Together, they must solve the mysteries of the ship, survive the Season for mating, and figure out what they need to do to arrive at their new planet.

This book raises a lot of issues and lots of great topics that could be analyzed.  This includes everything from what is natural, to how truth effects our lives, and organization of society.  On this spaceship, society has slid backwards, devolving into a more tribal community rather than an advanced, scientific based society like Amy left. The way that society functions and how it is controlled play big parts in this book.

One of the other issues heavily emphasized is truth and if it harms or helps people.  Elder wants to know more truth, and tell more people the truth, as opposed to protecting the general populace with lies like Eldest does.  This book is about demonstrating those differences and how they effect others.  Even the way Elder approaches Amy is influenced by truth, or the lack of it.

While Amy can be a little whiny, it's understandable in her situation.  She also makes up for it by having strong moments, and trying to get on with her life, which is completely different than what she thought it would become.  Elder is definitely smitten with instant love, but redeems himself with his own personal struggles. 

Overall, I enjoyed this book and had fun reading it.  I would definitely say high school age or older, since there are some more mature themes in this book as well.  Good plot lines, and the reader gets to see the book from both Elder's and Amy's point of view. It could appeal to both boys and girls, especially with the sci-fi theme. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Two Princesses of Bamarre

Two Princesses of Bamarre
by Gail Carson Levine
241 pages
Late Elementary+

Addie and her older sister Meryl could not be more different.  While they are both princesses, Meryl is adventurous, brave, and strong.  Addie, on the other hand, is timid, completely scared of spiders, and shy.  Since Addie dreads the day that Meryl will leave on her adventures, she makes Meryl promise not to leave her until she is married.

And then the unthinkable happens: Meryl catches the Grey Death, the sickness that no one ever recovers from.  When Addie's useless father fails to attempt to save his daughter's life, Addie realizes it is up to her alone to go adventuring to find the cure.

What a great book! This is definitely one to recommend to people of all ages.  There is nothing bad or objectionable in the book, and teaches some great lessons about what it really means to be brave.  Readers will enjoy following Addie on her adventure, and seeing how she changes throughout her journey.  This is a great gift idea for kids too (since the holidays are coming up!).

Monday, November 12, 2012

Amulet

Amulet, Book One: The Stonekeeper
by Kazu Kibuishi
192 pages
Elementary+

Emily is moving to an old family house with her mother and little brother Navin.  After her father's death a couple years ago, her family is struggling to survive.  As they start cleaning the old house, they find an old library belonging to Emily's great-grandfather.  Underneath a book, Emily discovers a pattern like a hand.  As she touches it, her finger is pricked, and an amulet is revealed.  She puts it on, and they continue cleaning.

That night, as they are sleeping, they start hearing strange noises.  Not wanting to leave her mother alone, they descend into the basement to find the source.  A strange monster swallows their mother, and leads them down a disappearing hallway.  What exists down there?  What powers does the amulet have?  And how are they tied to everything?

So, while this isn't the first graphic novel I've read, it's the first I'm reviewing here.  This is the first in a series, and I will definitely go pick up the rest of them!  It was a very quick read, but I also feel that I can spend more time, finding each detail in the artwork if I choose to.  The story was quick paced, and keeps the reader engaged.

Readers will also form a connection with Emily and Navin.  The prologue is very emotional, and really helps the reader understand Emily.  Emotions are the motivation for a lot of what happens in the book.  I also really like the foreshadowing I've seen so far.  I can tell there are more twists and turns to come!

Overall, really enjoyed reading this.  The story and characters are engaging, the artwork and colors are beautiful, and this will appeal to kids and teens of many ages.  I will definitely recommend it to people!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Mark of Athena

The Mark of Athena
by Rick Riordan
608 pages
Late Elementary+

This book joins together the heroes of Camp Jupiter and Camp Half Blood. Percy is finally reunited with Annabeth, new friends meet with old, and memories are back. Jason and Percy also get to meet the each other and size up the hero of the other camp. Now that the seven demigods of the prophecy are together, nothing can stop them, right?

The issues start right away when Leo uses his nifty new war boat to fire on Camp Jupiter.  The seven must flee the camp with little or no preparation, and rush as fast as they can all the way to Rome in order to save Nico, Hazel's brother. Along the way, the group meets more random gods and goddesses, fight each other, and evade possessed tourists.  Can they all get along long enough to defeat the giants and save the world?

This third installment of The Heroes of Olympus is fast paced, lots of fun, and a riot.  I really liked how Riordan brought out the tension between Percy and Jason, two very strong heroes, each used to leading the quest.  They have to learn get along and NOT be the main event on the quest. In addition to their strife, Hazel, Frank and Leo have got to resolve their issues.  I like how there is just more than actions; all the heroes must deal with their emotions and with each other, not just fighting monsters.

Overall, this was a really enjoyable book.  I like The Heroes of Olympus better than The Kane Chronicles, though they are fun too.  The ending is another cliff hanger (of course), and I can't wait for the fourth book, The House of Hades, which comes out Fall 2013 (too far away!).  Anyways, definitely a great book, one to recommend and worth the read!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Icefall

Icefall
by Matthew J. Kirby
336 pages
Middle School+

Solveig is the second daughter to a king, and not even the pretty daughter.  She constantly lives in the shadow of her beautiful sister and her younger brother, the crown prince.  Sent to hide from the war in a remote steading, she and a few others are set to survive all winter.

Then the trouble starts to happen.  More soldiers show up, with food thankfully.  The cows get eaten by wolves, and the remaining meat gets poisoned.  A traitor lies in their midst.  Solveig must figure out who it is before spring comes and war finds them.

Icefall was alright, but not spectacular.  Solveig is likable, the telling realistic, but the book just doesn't flow quick enough.  The read waits the entire book for the scene on the cover, and that is short and almost too convenient. 

If you like Norse mythology, this might be a good read.  The myths and the story telling aspect is good, but the plot feels like it was pulled out too long.  An okay book, but not necessarily one I would recommend to lots of people.

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom

The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom
by Christopher Healy
448 pages
Elementary and up

Meet Prince Charming, or should we say, all the Princes Charming? Meet Liam, Gustav, Frederick and Duncan, princes from several fairy tales that in the stories are only known as "Prince Charming."  Each of them have different issues, from having to walk in the shadow of 16 older brothers to hating the princess he rescued.  None of them have gotten to live his "happily ever after."

Then more things start going wrong.  Briar Rose is a brat, Ella runs away, and even sweet Snow White tells her prince to go away.  The princes are captured by giants, chased by dragons, and even have trolls sitting on them!  Can they really work together to defeat the evil witch and save all of their kingdoms?

I laughed, and laughed and laughed some more.  Oh my goodness this books is funny!  I would so highly recommend this book to anyone!  While the length may seem a little intimidating for younger kids, the story moves very fast, plus there is a lot of small illustrations in the book that speed it along even more.  I had a hard time putting it down when it was time to go to bed!

Overall, great book to recommend to lots of kids.  Funny, fast paced, and has enough variety in the characters to appeal to both boys and girls.  Pick it up today!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Abandon

Abandon
by Meg Cabot
320 pages
High School

Pierce was a normal girl.  Until she died. But only for an hour. And then she came back to life. 

It's not only that she died, but what happened while she was dead that has changed her life.  Instead of being the great student, popular with everyone, and having no cares in her life, Pierce is now moody, easily distracted and feels as if she is cursed.  She even has a strange man dressed all in black showing up when she needs him the most, like a warped guardian angel.

Pierce and her mom now live on one of the Florida Keys, a tiny island called Isla Huesos, or Island of Bones.  Pierce is trying to connect more with those around her, and participate in life instead of disconnecting from everything.  But when Death is following you around, it's hard to live a normal life.

This was the first Meg Cabot book I have read, and I have mixed emotions about it.  I really liked the story line, but the telling was so jumbled, it was hard to follow at times.  This retelling of the myth of Persephone and Hades certainly takes its time getting to the point! Flashbacks and memories are inserted everywhere, with little distinction between them and present time.  The transitions between them are chopping, and several times I had to go back a few paragraphs to make sure I understood which time I was really in.

Other than the choppy transitions, I really enjoyed this book.  Unlike a lot of other reviews I have seen on this, I thought that Pierce's understanding of John grew, and thus her relationship with him grew over time. You get to see her make an effort to change her life and change her behavior because she wants her mother to be happy. If the story line had been straightened out a little, or the flashbacks a little more distinct, I would have given this a better rating. 

This book has nothing inappropriate in it, but the disjointed story telling would not go over well with middle school or younger kids.  Girls will probably have more interest in it than boys, and this is definitely not your typical fantasy.  I will recommend it to people, but not everyone.  There is a sequel to it that recently came out, and I will be looking forward to reading it!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Cinder

Cinder
by Marissa Meyer
400 pages
Middle School +

Cinder lives a boring life.  She works in her little mechanic shop, pays whatever she makes to her step-mother, and also has to do the chores at home. The world is being ravaged by an incurable plague and everyone is scared.  She is in a rut and dreams of getting out.  On top of all of that, she has to hide her secret from everyone: she is a cyborg, part-machine, and part-human.

One day, as she is in her mechanic shop, a hooded stranger comes to her booth.  He asks her to fix a droid for him, and it is imperative that it he gets the information from this droid's memory.  As they talk, Cinder recognizes him as Prince Kai, the unmarried heir to the throne.  He enjoys talking to her, and eventually asks her to a ball.  Throughout all of this, her sister catches the plague, Cinder is sold to research, and the Lunar Queen decides to visit Earth.  Cinder must deal with Prince Kai, avoid the Lunar Queen and try to find a cure the plague that threatens to destroy the world.

I had two reactions to this book. First- what a fun idea!  A Cyborg Cinderella!  The action was fast and the story creative even though it is based on a well-known fairy tale.  This book kept me enthralled from the very beginning.

Second reaction: I wish Cinder wouldn't have been so down on herself.  She is constantly demeaning herself, and wishing she was something else.  She never has a good opinion of herself.  Girls get enough of that already, I don't know if they really need to read about it.  On the other hand, it can also make her more approachable as a character, that she has the same feelings that teens do.  While I really enjoyed the book, this was a minor drawback.

Overall, I will still recommend the book.  I think teens will really enjoy the story telling, plus the originality of the idea. Retold fairy tales are huge, and this is a great example of an original twist.  There is a sequel coming soon (February 2013) that I can't wait to read.  Fun book great idea, and lots of twists and turns!

Tags and such....

Hi everyone!  Bren here...

So, I recently went through and added a lot of tags to things so that my blog is more user friendly.  I added more tags to past items, plus started a new rating system so you could find my favorite books!

Here is my ranking system:

Don't Bother- Really, don't bother reading this book.  I didn't enjoy it, and if there is a sequel, it holds no interest for me...

It's Okay- It was an alright book, but nothing special.

Liked It A Lot- I enjoyed reading this book! 

Great Book- These are some of my favorites!  I would recommend to most people!

I also added a tag called "Couldn't put it down," which means exactly what it says.  These books are very engaging and really captured my interest!

Hope these make my blog a little better for you all!  Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Dark Life

Dark Life
By Kat Falls
297 pages
Late Elementary and up.

Ty is a pioneer, but instead of going west, like the old days, his family went deep!  As the water levels rise and space on land grows more and more precious, people have started going under the sea.  Ty knows nothing but living underwater. He is much more familiar with the life that thrives in the darkness of the deep sea than he is with sunshine and stars. 

One day, Gemma shows up from the world above and changes everything in his life.  She seems so vulnerable alone, searching for her brother that Ty can't just leave her on her own.  As they try to learn her brother's fate, they start finding more than either of them bargained for.

So, this book was okay, but not totally enthralling.  The premise of living underwater is really cool, and the technology is suitably present.  But I just had a hard time finishing this book!  I might recommend it, but it would be pretty far down my list of things to recommend.  A sequel has come out, but I have no interest in it.  To me, the characters were flat, the relationships cliche, and the story line was not engaging.  While the setting was fun, the story never fully explored its full potential.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Vordak The Incomprehensible

Vordak The Incomprehensible: How to Grow up and Rule the World
by Scott Seegert
Illustrated by John Martin
208 pages
Elementary and up!

Vordak is evil.  He is beyond evil, he is Incomprehensible! Learn from him how to be evil! In this book, Vordak discloses all secrets about how to be the best super-villain you can be!   Learn everything from how to choose your name to what colors are acceptable for your costume. Take Vordak's Evil Aptitude Exam, and gets plans for nefarious schemes!

This book is along the lines of Diary of a Wimpy Kid- lots of white space, fun illustrations, and lots of humor.  This would be a great book for any reluctant reader that likes super heroes, or just has a different sense of humor.

While not big on a plot line, this book was lots of laughs.  I would recommend it mostly for boys, but if a girl was looking for something funny, would give it to her too!  Fun book!

The Selection

The Selection
By Kiera Cass
327 pages
Middle School and up

America Singer feels like an ordinary girl.  She has a secret boyfriend, works hard with her family, and has a strained relationship with her mother.  While not rich or famous, she is content with life and looks forward to a future with her boyfriend.

And then the Selection comes: 35 girls from around the world have a chance to get to know and marry Prince Maxon, heir to the crown. America doesn't want to apply for the Selection, but to appease her mom, she applies.  She is totally shocked when she is chosen as the representative from her region.  Reluctantly, she goes to the palace to meet Maxon.

Her first day there, she feels overcome with emotion and pressure.  She flees into a garden, breaking several rules, just to run into Maxon.  As they talk, she is honest with him, saying she misses her home and that she doesn't really want to be there.  Instead of ejecting her from the contest, he confides in her, and they become friends, just friends.

During the rest of the contest, Maxon uses America as a source of inside information.  But things start getting out of control.  Rebels are attacking the palace, the other contestants are scheming, and America's boyfriend shows up at the palace. America will have to choose where her loyalties lie and what she believes in.

First of all, why does the book have to end where it does!  Definitely will be another book!  While some issues are resolved, lots more are left hanging.  I really enjoyed the book, and can't wait for the sequel to come out!

Writing was fairly fast paced, so kept me interested throughout the book.  America has to grow up, face issues, and make decisions.  I can see some more themes that while minor in this book, will become much more important in the next.  The foreshadowing is great, and the characters are reacting in predictable ways. Great book!  I will definitely be recommending this to kids!

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Scoprio Races

The Scorpio Races
by  Maggie Stiefvater
407 pages
Early High School and older

On the island of Thisby lives the capaill uisce, vicious horses that rise up from the sea.  If you can catch them, and survive, you can run in the Scorpio Races.

Sean Kendrick is a four time winner of the Scorpio Races, one of the best riders on the island, and together with his stallion Corr, trying to win his freedom.  His no nonsense approach to life helps keep the capail uisce in order.  When a girl enters into the races for the first time ever, his world shifts.

Kate Connolly, better known as Puck, is an orphan trying to eek out a living  on the harsh island of Thisby.  She lives with her two brothers, takes care of the house, but her true love is her horse.  When her older brother says he is leaving, her world starts falling apart.  She decides to enter the Scorpio races to earn the money to make her brother stay. Not only is she the first girl to enter the races, she registers her island pony, not a capaill uisce in the race.  Inciting ridicule, prejudice, and scorn, she trains herself and the pony to run in the race.

As they train against each other, they get to know each other better.  Sean is concerned for her safety on the beach during the race with the vicious water horses running beside her.  Puck just wants to try to win, but her life keeps getting more and more complicated.  Puck and Sean both need to win, but there is only one winner of the Scorpio Races.

This story is about relationships: Sean and Puck, Sean and his capaill uisce, Puck and her pony, and even family relationships. Puck's life is falling apart, and she needs to find something help her cope with it. Sean needs to find his path to manhood and freedom.  The fantasy takes a back seat to the personal matters and issues in the book.

This was slightly different book, but very enjoyable.  The story telling flips between Puck and Sean, giving the two perspectives to tell both their stories.  I liked having the different stories so that we understand every one's motivations.  A lot of the time I read books for the fantasy and the magic; this book I read to find out who won the race and what they did after that.

While this is not a book I will give out to everyone, it's definitely a great read.  I would hand it to both girls and boys, since the perspective switches between the two. I would recommend to early high school aged, mostly because I'm not sure that middle school kids would be interested in the issues in the book. Also, there are some slightly violent scenes.

Great book, if you can find the right crowd for it. I enjoyed it a lot!

Michael Vey: The Prisoner of Cell 25

Michael Vey: The Prisoner of Cell 25
by Richard Paul Evans
326 pages
Middle School and older

Michael Vey looks like a normal, slightly puny, fourteen-year-old.  He gets bullied at school, stresses about his tests, and plays video games.  But he has a secret- a BIG secret.  One day, when the bullies finally push Michael over the edge, he shocks them with his own electric force.  A cheerleader, Taylor, sees him shock the bullies, and wants to talk with him about it.  She has her own secret to share with him, and together with Michael's friend Ostin, they all form the "Electroclan!"

As Michael and Taylor learn more about their abilities, they start investigating their births and missing records from the hospital. When Michael's mom is abducted by people wanting to talk to Michael about his powers, he has to decide how far he is willing to go to rescue her and others.

Can I just say: wow!  I had a lot of fun reading this book, and a hard time putting it down to make dinner!  The story line is incredibly fast paced and engrossing.  Things keep happening in this book, and you don't want to leave it hanging!  Great writing and super story telling!

Overall, I loved this book!  Would recommend it to both boys and girls starting around middle school age.  I don't remember any swearing, and there was nothing inappropriate sexually.  Very intense action and emotional in places.  Great book, will definitely hand this out to kids.  Plus, the sequel is out!  Woo hoo!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Thirteenth Child

Thirteenth Child
by Patricia C. Wrede
352 pages
Early Teens +

Eff was doomed the moment she was born.  She is a thirteenth child, classically unlucky and trouble from the start.  In high contrast is her twin brother, Lan, who is the seventh son of a seventh son: incredibly lucky and gifted in magic.  Lucky for Eff, Lan sticks up for her, and all her brothers and sisters like her just fine.

When their family moves out West for her father's work, Eff starts learning more about herself, and if she really is the trouble she is supposed to be.  She makes friends, goes to school, learns different styles of magic and meets interesting people.  Eff has to deal with being the twin to a double-seventh son, and figure out how her own magic works.

While not quite the normal setting for Wrede's works, this fictional, historical American setting is very vivid and fun.  Readers have a partly familiar setting, but lots of new things to discover within it.  Recognizable historical characters get tweaked to fit the different setting: Benjamin Franklin is another seventh son of a seventh son, plus a great magician.  This setting gives a great life and background to the story.

Eff was a very engaging character to read about.  The reader gets to follow her from being a little child, all the way to her late teens.  She has concerns that many teens could identify with, even if the teens aren't magicians!  Her voice stays true throughout the book: even as she grows older, her voice remains the same.  Though at times there isn't tons of action, the book moves along at a good pace.

Overall, I enjoyed this book!  This book is the beginning of a trilogy with Across the Great Barrier and The Far West being the next two books.  I will definitely be getting them and reading them as soon as I can!  While it has a female character, I think boys would like this as well.  I would recommend this to young teens and older.


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Found

Found (Missing Series #1)
 by Margaret Peterson Haddix
308 pages
Late Elementary to Middle School

Jonah has always know he was adopted.  He lives with his parents and sister Katherine, and has a normal life.  He's even become friends with the new kid down the street, Chip. As a regular thirteen-year-old, his biggest concerns are social studies tests and if he should try out for the basketball team.

Then he gets the first letter.  It is in a plain white envelope and has merely six letters on the page: YOU ARE ONE OF THE MISSING. He thinks it is just a prank until Chip gets one too and they discover that Chip is adopted as well.  They don't think much about it until they both get a second letter with another mysterious message.  This leads them to start trying to find out what the letters might mean.

Jonah and Chip investigate their adoptions, leading them everywhere from a crazy lady to the FBI.  What do these letters mean?  Where did 36 babies on a plane appear from?  And who is this janitor that is warning Jonah?  With Katherine to help them, they have to discover not only where, but also when they came from!

This story was so much fun!  It was fast paced, exciting, and lots of twists and turns.  The plot moves along fast enough that it keeps the reader wanting to find out more, but not so fast that it loses the reader. There is a lot of dialogue that sounds a lot like how kids their age would talk, without sounding stupid.  The characters are well fleshed out, act in believable ways, and are very interesting.

Overall, I would definitely recommend this to both boys and girls staring around 5th or 6th grade.  This is the first of a series, that I am eager to get into the rest of it!  Looks like some of the others might be slightly historical in nature (time travel!  woo hoo!).  Can't wait to get to the next one, Sent!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Tuesdays at the Castle

Tuesdays at the Castle
by Jessica Day George

Princess Celie lives in Castle Glower, a magical castle that continuously adds rooms, passageways and towers.  No one quite understands why or how the castle does it, but Celie tries to map out all the changes as they happen.  Things are always mysteriously appearing and disappearing, depending on if the castle likes you or not!

 Then Celie's parents, the king and queen, disappear.  The councilors want to be names "regents" for Celie's older brother, and foreign princes and invading the castle.  Celie and her older siblings are held prisoners in their own castle!  How can Celie help them when she is trapped in a tower with no way out?

I loved this book!  It was lots of fun to read, and the action was very fast paced.  I had a hard time putting it down.  The plot lines are fairly straight forward, but has enough twists and fun moments that it was really engrossing.

Celie was vibrant and very exciting to read about.  The reader has great insight into her emotions, and her personality keeps the book moving so well.  Had fun getting to know her, and seeing her foils in her siblings.

This book is great for late elementary and middle school readers.  Most definitely more for the girls, and lots of fun!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Seraphina

Seraphina 
by Rachel Hartman
480 pages
Middle School+

Update!  I read this again for the YALSA 2013 Best of the Best Challenge!  I loved it just as much, if not more than I did last time.  I was more eager to read, so it went really fast this time. The world is so vivid, beautiful and well crafted. 

I noticed this time the glossery in the back, so if there was someone or a place mentioned that I didn't understand, I was able to look it up. For example, several times, Daanites are mentioned with some significance.  Once I looked it up, I understood more about those characters, how it affects them and why they said it when they did.  Very helpful tool!

I also saw lots of foreshadowing, both of events that happen later in the novel, but also stuff that hasn't happened yet.  In addition to all the people in her head that she still needs to meet, there are several more themes that need to be resolved.  The dragon rebellion/civil war will be very interesting!

Still an awesome book!  Definitely recommend it!  I did lower it to middle school age, mostly because I didn't really find anything that is mature content or anything like that which would be inappropriate for middle schoolers.  It is a big book, but I've seen little kids with big books before!

Seraphina lives in a world where humans have made peace with the dragons, trying to live together. Dragons shift into human shape to understand the humans, including their strange and foreign emotions. Dragons see those emotions are diseases, to be excised from the brain. Each species has difficulty understanding the motivations of the others' actions.

Into this world comes Seraphina, child of a human lawyer and musician dragon.  An abomination to either species, she hides her true self from everyone, including herself.  Her musical talents start bringing her into popularity, and the attention of even the royal family.  She must hide your half-dragon nature from everyone, even those she comes to care about. Inside her mind, she keeps a "garden" with characters, who she thought were imaginary, that she starts finding in real life.

On top of all of this, it's the time of the Treaty Festival, the anniversary of peace between the humans and dragons.  Seraphina must help plan the festivities, protect the royal family from unknown plots, and find a rogue dragon who she believes is her grandfather.   How can she reconcile her true self with how others around her will perceive her?  And can she protect all those close to her?

Seraphina is a great book, with a beautiful world that it created.  This book takes the stereotypical relationship between humans and dragons, and takes it to another level.  The world is realistic and even the seemingly minor characters have depth and connections.  While at times it is slow moving, it takes that chance to build the story, and adds layers and layers to the story.

Overall, I really loved Seraphina!  Seraphina herself is a character that I can identify with, and seeing her growth throughout the book was rewarding.  Of course I love dragons, and this was one of the most original story with dragons I've read in a long time.  Seems like it is well set up for a sequel, and if there is one, I will definitely read it!  Recommend it for teens and adults alike!  Great book!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Home from the Sea

Home from the Sea: An Elemental Masters Novel
By Mercedes Lackey

Mari Prothero lives by the sea, with her fisherman of a father.   Ever since she was a little child, she has seen things that others don't see: colors in the sky and little creatures in the water that talk her even though she ignores them.  When she finds out that her mother was Selch, a half-seal and half-human, and that her mother did not die when Mari was young, her world is turned upside down.  She is expected to fulfill the next generation of the Prothero legacy, wed a Selch and bear his children in return for luck at sea.  In addition to all of this, Mari has the potential to be an Elemental Master of Water, and enlist the aid of all those little creatures that she has always seen.

In walks Nan and Sarah, two young ladies that have been traveling the world.  Both have psychic gifts, Sarah as a medium, and Nan as her psychical warrior guardian.  Together they work to help spirits cross over to where they belong.  Having come back from their world travels, they feel slightly useless and out of place until Lord Alderscroft, the "Wizard of London", sends them out seeking some information.  A Water Master has arisen, and he wants to know more about this new master.  He sends Nan and Sarah to find out about this new master and make sure he or she does not turn to the darker sides of magic.

When Nan and Sarah finally get to Mari's village, and find out she is the new elemental master, they are shocked.  Mari is being taught elemental mastery by a Selch, plus being courted by several others.  While assured Mari is not being led astray to dark paths, they become friends with Mari and want to help her.  Another new addition of a constable to Mari's small village adds further confusion and complications.  Mari has to figure out which Selch she wants to marry by winter, bear his children, learn how to master the water magic, and stay out of trouble all at the same time!

This newest installment in the Elemental Masters series by Mercedes Lackey is great.  I really liked getting an update on characters previously seen in the series- Nan and Sarah.  In the other book, they were children, so it's nice to see them older and wiser.  This book follows many of the themes and patterns set up in the other books in the series as well.  I liked it as much as the others in the series.  I would try to introduce this series to older teens, just because I feel it would interest them more than young teens.

I really liked the touch of romance in the book, while it had nothing inappropriate.   Also, Mari does things for herself.  She is bold, self-motivating and tries to have control over her own life.  At the same time, she is caring about those around her, and very considerate of her father.  This story follows her self discovery and her change from being merely a girl and daughter to a woman and elemental master!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Caught In Crystal

Caught in Crystal
by Patricia C. Wrede

Kayl has a busy life between her two kids and running a country inn.  Although it was nor her dream, she enjoys her current life.  Then a mysterious black carriage drops a more mysterious woman on her doorstep.  This sorceress of the Sisterhood of Stars is linked to Kayl's past, a past she has carefully stayed away from.  When another old friend appears, she knows she has to face her past and the demons that haunt it.

As Kayl journeys with her family back to the Sisterhood's headquarters, the past becomes more important than ever.  She finds that some of her memories are false, reconnects with more old friends, and has to face what she has been avoiding for decades.  Can Kayl solve the mystery of the tower and the figure out what is caught in the crystal?

I read this years ago, as a teen: enjoyed it then and now!  This book, and several other novels by Patricia C. Wrede, are being republished, and I am very excited to read them again!   This time I think I identified even more with Kayl than before.  It's hard as a teen to imagine life as an adult, like Kayl.  But even as a teen, the story drew me in, and captivated my attention.  Now, understanding the responsibility of an adult, I can understand Kayl's motivations even better.

Overall, this is a classic fantasy story that has touches of romance and intrigue.  Readers that have not read any other novels from Lyra will be comfortable with the world, and this would be a great introduction to Lyra for any reader.  This is appropriate for most any age, but probably most interesting for ages 14+.  Great book, and an awesome writer!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Dragonsong and Dragonsinger

Dragonsong and Dragonsinger by Anne McCaffrey

Menolly was raised in a sea hold, learning to fish and sail with everyone else.  But her true dream is to be a harper, playing her pipes and writing new songs.  Encouraged by the resident harper, she learns many musical skills, and her love for music only increases.

When the harper dies, her hopes of becoming a harper die with him.  Her father demands that she does "useful" work, hides her from the new harper, and forbids any music in her life.  When Menolly cuts her hand and it gets infected, she is even further discouraged in her dream.  Depressed and looking for something different, Menolly runs away.

In her struggles to survive outside of her hold, Menolly not only finds fire lizards, a rumored beast like a small dragon, she also manages to impress nine of them at a hatching.  With her nine friends she has to keep feed but who keep her company, she starts on a new life.

These two books are a great introduction to the fantastic world of Pern.  They are suitable for young teen readers, where most of the other Pern books by McCaffrey I would only recommend to older teens, due to some mature content.   Dragonsong and Dragonsinger also help the reader understand some of the basics of the world of Pern.

I like how these two books are not focused on the famous dragon riders, but instead focus on a normal girl.  I think a lot of girls would really identify with Menolly and her difficult relationship with her father.  She wants her life to be one way, but he has other ideas.  She struggles to find a place in that world that she likes, and since she can't find one, decides to find a world that she can fit into.  Menolly shows strength, tenacity, and courage, something we can all use in our own lives.

Dragonsong and Dragonsinger are books that I find myself coming back to every so often.  The writing is well done, like everything McCaffrey does.  Menolly is a character many people can relate to.  Any dragon lover should read these books!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

David and Leigh Eddings

David Eddings!  Another of my favorite authors!  Although most of his books say only his name, he later added his wife, Leigh's, name to his books and admitted that she was such a huge help to him that she deserved the credit.  Together they have created several fantasy worlds that are definitely worth reading!

Some things that characterize their work: most of their books have some truly epic range, both in characters, world size, and shear scope!  The series that starts with Pawn of Prophecy has 13 books, spans thousands of years, and sees the downfall and rise of gods.   The Elenium and Tamuli has similar scope, if not the same length. While The Redemption of Althalus is a stand alone novel, it still follows that same epic pattern.

The Belgariad and Mallorean series begin withe Pawn of Prophecy and follow the adventures of Garion, a farm boy thrust into kingship by a heritage he knew nothing of.  Magic, gods and war follow him wherever he goes.  This is one of my all time favorites!  I try to read this series every year or so, it's that good.  I never get tired of it.  Garion is a brilliant character, and the reader gets to see him grow and change from a boy with no knowledge of the world, to one of the major players in it.  Great story, that grows as Garion does.

I would recommend any of the books by David and Leigh Eddings to people of almost any age.  I love the Elenium, the Tamuli, the Belgariad, and the Mallorean series. I also really enjoyed reading The Redemption of Althalus.  While they did write another series called The Dreamers, I did not like that series as well as the others.  These books are great for boys and girls alike, with elements that will interest and intrigue both!  They are well written, fun to read, and continually surprising.  I would recommend starting with Pawn of Prophecy, and read that series first.  Even kids as young as middle school aged would enjoy them.  The Elenium I would say are better for high school aged, and Redemption of Althalus would be around the same age.

Read some David Eddings!  He is wonderful!