Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Life of Pi

Life of Pi
by Yann Martel
336 pages
High School+

Pi Patel is the son of a zookeeper, and knows everything about the animals they care for.  When all the animals are sold to America, Pi and his family journey with them across the ocean. When the ship sinks, Pi's life changes.

Stuck aboard a boat a tiger, a hyena, an orangutan, and a zebra.  After the tiger dispatches the others, Pi must figure out how to co-exist on a small, floating refuge with a 450-pound carnivore.  Not only does he have to survive confrontations with the tiger, he has to provide water and food for both of them.  As they float, they see amazing things...

So, this was made into a movie recently, which I haven't seen yet, but really want to.  I really enjoyed the book.  It's been a little while since I read it, but I remember having a hard time putting it down.  Pi is endlessly creative and resourceful, yet doesn't come across as arrogant or prideful.  He loves the tiger, wants him to live as much as he wants himself to live.  Such an interesting situation!

I did feel a little cheated with the ending.  I love fantastical stories, bigger than life with unexplainable elements.  The ending seemed to reverse almost everything that happened in the book.  Or does it?  That little uncertainty kept me thinking about the book long after I finished it.

Overall, this was a very enjoyable book.  The story telling was great, Pi was an amazing character, and all the symbolism gave depth to the book.  High school students should do fine with it.  If you haven't read it, read it!  Even though I haven't seen the movie, I would say read the book before you see the movie- you always understand things a little better!

Monday, July 8, 2013

William and the Lost Spirit

William and the Lost Spirit
by Gwen de Bonneval and Mattheu Bonhomme
152 pages
Middle School+

William's sister Helise has run away.  After the death of their father, their mother is remarrying, and neither of them is particularly happy about it.  Helise has shown her displeasure by running away, and William is considering joining her.  After he raid's he father's alchemy workshop, he sets off, and spend the night in a tree. 

The next day, as he is trying to find some food, he notices a servant from his home running through the forest.  Right in front of William, the man is shot with an arrow through his chest.  Brigands have finally attacked their home.  When William goes back, everyone is dead, and crows are feasting on the bodies.  While searching for any survivors, he meets Brabant, a knight of uncertain origin.  Since traveling with him is better than nothing, Willaim lets Brabant escort him to his aunt Ysane's home.

When William gets to Ysane's place, the adventures start.  He travels far and wide, looking for his sister.  He meets men with no heads, but faces on their chests, griffons, monsters and more.  Throughout it all, the friendly little white goat he found a Ysane's is with him.  Will he ever find Helise?  And will they ever be united with their mother?

So, this was a really interesting story line.  Lots of symbolism, fantastical creatures, and meaning behind everything.  Great illustrations that really helped tell the mood of the story.  William was a good character: always wants to do right by his family, searching for why his fathered died, and trying to protect his sister. 

One thing I did not like was the violence and gore in the illustrations.  I loved the color, the variations on the mythical beasts, and the detail that went into everything.  I did not like seeing people ran through with swords, blood everywhere, and crows picking out eyeballs.  If possible, I would give this more to high school aged, rather than middle school, but everything else points to middle school.

Overall, I liked the story, I liked the characters, and mostly liked the illustrations, but because of the bloody details in the illustration, not my favorite book.  I will be really wary of recommending this, but for teens and adults, it would be more appropriate than kids.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Tiger's Curse

Tiger's Curse (Tiger's Curse Series #1)
by Colleen Houck
448 pages
High School+

When Kelsey Hayes starts her temp job with a circus, she doesn't expect it to change her life.  She likes the people, works hard for them, and helps take care of some of the animals, including Dhiren the tiger, or Ren, as she calls him.  Drawn to his majesty, she often sits and talks to him.  As her temporary position with the circus nears it's end, an outsider decides to buy the tiger, and offers Kelsey a job taking care of Ren on the trip back to India.  Amazed at this opportunity, Kelsey accepts the job, travels to India with the tiger, and promptly gets lost in the jungle on the way to the wild animal reserve. With only a tiger (and no cage!) and a backpack, she is on her own.

Not having much choice in the matter, she decides to follow Ren as he walks through the jungle.  Since he has never threatened her, she feels safer with him than being alone in a mysterious place.  After traveling a few days, they find a little hut in the jungle.  Grateful for any sign of other people Kelsey ties Ren to a tree, and then moves toward the hut.  When she looks back at the tree, to make sure Ren is alright, there isn't a tiger there, but a man.  Handsome and smiling, he tries to convince Kelsey that he is Ren.  For centuries, he has been under a curse to be a tiger and she is helping to lift the spell by her presence.  This starts off a journey of lifting ancient curses, betrayal, brothers and love.

This was a great book for a look at a different mythology or religion than normal.  I loved the trip to India, and all the culture and mythologies that are examined.  We have Percy Jackson to do the Greek, Roman and Egyptian, and this is almost like the Indian version of that.  Not quite the same, but still a great twist on Indian culture.

So, I really liked Kelsey for most the book.  Strong, adventurous woman.  Good head on her shoulders, practical, and kind.  But toward the end of the book, she starts doubting herself and her feelings, and is constantly putting herself down.  I hated that part!  Yes, she is trying to protect herself, but she is also being stubborn, blind, and not letting herself enjoy the moment.  She still accomplishes her mission, but her attitude the entire time is so hard to read about.

Otherwise, I really enjoyed this book.  Good characters, great plot, great setting. I just wish it had ended a little differently: not that the ending was bad, but it seemed drawn out.  Kelsey and Ren travel, they accomplish step one of four, and then it drags out, and nothing else happens even though there's more chapters.  Yes, I can see it setting up more stuff, and I realize that it sequels, but I just did not like the end.  Hopefully, reading the next book will help both Kelsey's attitude and continue the story.

Overall, pretty good book.  I will recommend mostly for girls, because it is told from a girl's perspective, plus all the romance involved.  I think boys would have a hard time being interested in everything that goes on in her head.  Since the sequel is out, that is good!  No waiting for the next book!  And the story was engaging and I really wanted to find out what happened next.  Good for fans of the Percy Jackson series! 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Curse of the Thirteenth Fey: The True Tale of Sleeping Beauty

Curse of the Thirteenth Fey: The True Tale of Sleeping Beauty
by Jane Yolen
256 pages
Late Elementary+

Everyone knows the story of Sleeping Beauty, the girl who slept for one hundred years.  They know of the evil fairy that cursed her, and the good fairy that helped save her.  Or at least everyone thinks they know the story.  Nobody even stops to consider why the fairy cursed the princess.

Meet Gorse, a thirteenth child of the Shouting Fey, who is accident prone.  While she learns from her father's books (from past present and future!), she also listens to all the Aunts, learning about Shouts, Wishes, and Curses.  She also learns about the King's Bidding, and how her family must do it.  When the King Bids the family to come bless his new daughter, they all must come and give her presents.

Unfortunately, Gorse is sick with fever, and misses the time.  Fearful for her family's safety, she grabs what she can and rushes out the door.  Instead taking the normal, long way around, Gorse heads down a shortcut, stumbles on a root, and tumbles into a hole.  Just what is down there?  And will she make it in time to save her family?

I loved this twist on Sleeping Beauty.  I've seen stories told from the fairy perspective, but they usually still keep the same alliances: good is good, bad is still bad.  But this story twists everything around and all presumptions go out the window!  This story isn't so much about Sleeping Beauty, but about the fairies and their backgrounds.  Fun twist!

As always, Jane Yolen does a fantastic job.  Great characters who connect to each other, great narrative voice, and an original idea.  Definitely on my recommend list!

Monday, July 1, 2013


by Dan Santat
224 pages

Captain Amazing is just that: amazing!  But his pets at home miss him terribly when he is gone.  Roscoe the dog waits patiently by the door for him to come home, while Fluffy the hamster plays video games all day long.  One day, a box comes in the mail.  What's inside?  Seems like nothing.  Until a sneaky chameleon makes an appearance. Captain Amazing names him Shifty, for his constantly shifting eyes.  When Captain gets hit by peanuts (he's allergic, his one weakness!), he gets to stay home for several day with the boys.

But all is not well in Metro City.  Dr. Havoc is running a muck, an unknown villain is sneaking around, and Captain Amazing is out of commission for a few days.  What he needs is a sidekick!  While he sets up auditions for a new superhero, his pets are left at home, missing him again.  What Captain doesn't know is that they might want to try out for the auditions.  While living with the Captain, his pets have each developed super abilities.  But will their abilities be enough to save the day?  And just who is that sneaky cat that keeps watching Fluffy like he's a tender morsel to eat?

This was a super fun book!  Think of it as "The Incredibles" meets animals!  The feel of the book was very kid friendly, which isn't always the case in super hero books, but it also has some great themes that takes it beyond just fighting bad guys.  These themes make it much more meaningful and thoughtful.

I really enjoyed the artwork and how it helped convey the mood at the moment.  The backgrounds go from bright and sunny to dim to dark as night.  Very expressive through the colors, and while there is lots of detail and color, I never felt overwhelmed or that it was messy.  Great balance of art to words, where the art aids the plot along. 

Overall, I really enjoyed this.  Great book for boys, especially some of the younger boys that still want the super hero books.  It still has a little fighting (especially the last big scene), but I think the values that it enforces is worth it.  I will definitely recommend for both girls and boys!