Monday, February 28, 2005

Last week I finished So Yesterday by Scott Westerfeld. In it we read about Hunter, who is aptly named, as he is a "cool hunter" in New York. He goes out and takes pictures of the up to the second fashion trends for market researchers. It was an amazing book that really made you think. And there were such delightful bits of trivia mixed in. Like did you know the Phonecians were a bunch of nobodies until they realized that a certain type of sea mussel could dye cloth purple? They cornered the market, and made themselves (and purple cloth) a hot commodity. But it was mostly about what is cool, who decides what is cool, and the whole confusing, nebulous, ephemeral ideas about trends and fads. Plus it had lots of action, thrills, and mad cool gadgets that I would give my right arm for.

I am just finishing Shamer's Signet by Lene Kaaberbol, which is the sequel to Shamer's Daughter (2002). Here we rejoin Dina, the eleven-year-old girl who has the gift of being able to look into a person's eyes and see all of the things they are ashamed of. It is a highly useful gift for law enforcement, as you can imagine. In the first book, Dina and her mother narrowly escape from the evil Dracan - the man about to overtake the kingdom. In this installment we see the story told from Dina and her older brother Davin in alternating chapters. They have been living in the Highlands after escaping the town of Dunark, but all is not safe. Someone has been deliberately stirring up trouble between the clans, and when Dina is kidnapped, it is up to Davin to resuce her.

I thought the first book was all right, but this one really sucked me in. I read almost the whole thing in one sitting. And even though Davin is trying to "resuce" Dina, she is no shrinking violet. She is as strong as any female character that Tamora Pierce ever created. But she is only eleven and needs help sometimes. The book was great and I can hardly wait for the 3rd!

Two great new YA reads: "I am the Messenger" by Markus Zusak and "The Secret Under My Skin" by Janet McNaughton. Messenger is the story of Ed Kennedy, a 19 year old cab driver and your basic sweet harmless bum. He hangs out with his friends, plays cards, attempts to suppress his crush on a childhood girlfriend (as in girl-who-is-a-friend), and has an uncomfortable relationship with his mother. When Ed stops a bank robbery purely by chance he begins to receive playing cards with cryptic sayings on them. Eventually, Ed realizes that he has been tapped by a mysterious someone to decipher these cards and intervene in the lives of the three people each card refers to. I really liked this book, sort of a feel-good story for people who dig black humor. Some of the people Ed comes in contact with have more serious problems than others and there is a fair amount of violence but it ends on a great note.
The Secret Under My Skin is set in the year 2368. The environment has degraded, many children are living on the streets without parents and more are in work camps. It is from one of these work camps that Blay Raytee (her name changes later) is chosen to assist the new bio-indicator (a person who's job is akin to theat of a canary in a mine) with her studies. Away from the work camp and the controlling Commission, Blay begins to learn an alternate history of how the earth's environemtn became so damaged and what the Commission's true purpose is as well as more information about her past. A good fast-paced science fiction book.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Recent well-loved book:
So B. It by Sarah Weeks

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Richard Peck strikes again with a down-home Indiana farming novel called The Teacher's Funeral: a Comedy in Three Parts. Russell Culver and his brother Lloyd couldn't be happier when their teacher, the old, ugly and mean Miss Myrt, drops dead right before school starts. Yeah! No school! Russell believes that he can soon live out his dream to move to the Dakotas to farm. Well, he couldn't have been more wrong. Russell and Lloyd's older sister, Tansy, becomes their teacher. Towards the end of the book Russell remarks "By now, we knew way more than we wanted to." Yup, Tansy is an effective teacher. As much as Russell and Lloyd try to avoid her emphasis on education, there's no way thay can help absorbing her lessons.

There's a reason why Richard Peck wins so many writing awards--he has heart and soul and a contagious down-to-earth spirit.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Ever read a book that just sticks with you? The kind of story that you just don't want to end? That's how I feel after reading (and looking at) Gemma Bovery, a graphic novel by Posy Simmonds. Put this towards the top of your "must read" lists because you won't regret it! The story is a modern day version Madame Bovary. I found Gemma to be an extremely intriguing character and the story works perfectly as a graphic novel... you just can't help but linger over the illustrations that help complete the story. I hope we get to see more like this from Simmonds.
And thanks to my friend Pam who checked it out for herself but very nicely let me read it first!

Jenny and the Cat Club : a collection of favorite stories about Jenny Linsky, written and illustrated by Esther Averill. This is a reissue of stories written in the 1940s and they are just timeless. I absolutely love the illustrations. They are simple black and white line drawings with splashes of red color accents, including Jenny Linsky's beloved red, woolen scarf. I love the stories too for their simplicity, gentle humor, and spirited action. I am looking forward to recommending this book to children and families who are just branching into chapter books.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Thanks to the blogger who recommended God Went to Beauty School by Cynthia Rylant. It is a quick read and as in just about all of Rylant's writing, it is poignant, thoughtful and fun, all in one.

I just read (most of) George Washington, Spymaster: How the Americans Outspied the British and Won the Revolutionary War by Thomas B. Allen. This book is going to make a great gift for my history-loving father sometime soon. And all those kids who love the spy stuff will enjoy the history as well as the things to decode throughout the book!

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Ear Tickler:
Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko
This was a great book to listen to--I really like the narrator, Johnny Heller. It's not just a story of a boy living on Alcatraz Island in the 1930s. It's the story of a family struggling to do the right thing for their "unusual" daughter. It is never said directly, but the reader can gather from Natalie's behavior that she is autistic. Her mother is in a state of constant worry over Natalie's well-being. Dad, he is so busy working as an electrician and a guard at the prison that he is hardly ever home. Moose, her younger brother, is one of her primary caretakers. Moose loves his sister dearly, but he has a hard time dealing with her differences. To his credit, he lives by his heart and has a knack for doing the right thing. All this in the shadow of Al Capone, and a visit from the Al Capone's Mom.

Heart Tickler:
The Time Travelers Wife by Audrey Niffeneger
This is a grown-up book. I loved it. My roommate gave it to me for christmas and I saved it for our trip to the mountains last week. What a great book to have with me on vacation. Claire and Henry have this incredible, amazing, storybook love story. Except for all the cracks and gaps creeping through their lives as a result of Henry's jacked up DNA. He's a time-traveler. It's hard to explain much more than that.
Here's what my friend Marcella said about meeting the author: I read the book when it first came out and met Audrey at the store a while later when she came for a book signing-she is lovely. I told her she had broken all the time travel rules :) a la ones you read in science fiction novels and she said she gets that comment a lot. I loved it too. so heartbreaking and inventive and wonderful characters.

I just picked up "Searching for Oliver K. Woodman" by Darcy Pattison. In this follow-up to “The Journey of Oliver K. Woodman”, Tameka and her Uncle Ray’s attempt to recreate Oliver’s original journal across the country has gone awry. The life-sized wooden man (a gift from Ray to his niece) has not been heard from and Tameka enlists the help of a reporter, Paige Hall and her uncle to help track down her friend. Enter Imogene Poplar, Private Eye. Paige and Ray set her out to follow Oliver’s trail but, since she’s also made of wood she needs a little help in her pursuit. Letters and postcards between Tameka, Paige and the good Samaritans who pick up Imogene along their way tell the tale of Ms. Imogene’s investigation and the vibrant illustrations are peppered with small details (read the license plates).

Sunday, February 13, 2005

I love a good biography. Escape From Saigon: How a Vietnam War Orphan Became an American Boy by Andrea Warren, is an excellent biography about a boy who escaped Vietnam during Operation Babylift in 1975. Maybe I feel connected to this book because my Dad is a Vietnam Vet or because I spent time in Vietnam in college or just because it is a riveting story of courage and patience and bravery and determination. I don't know. What I do know is that I stayed up until 1:00 a.m. reading this book when I had to get up at 5:30 the next morning. In a country torn apart by war, what happens to all the orphaned children? This book gives one country's and one boy's experiences, but it is more personal than that because the author herself has a daughter adopted from Vietnam. It is inspiring to read about the people in Vietnam who went to such great lengths and danger to take care of these orphans, and also the people in the United States who worked so hard to bring these children into their families. With the thousands of civilian deaths in Iraq that have surely left thousands of children orphaned, this story has a contemporary theme and struck a chord deep within me. I think that upper elementary and middle school readers will feel the same way.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Andy Warhol: Prince of Pop by Jan Greenberg & Sandra Jordan
Fantastic bio of a fascinating man. I like the way the authors address Warhol's life without watering it down or even more sensationalism. I am a bit of a Warhol fan so there wasn't much new information for me but I still found the book highly enjoyable and read it quickly. My one complaint is there are not enough pictures! When writing about an artist's life you have to fill the pages with examples...and there are some but I found myself supplementing with my own collection of Warhol books. Written at a level perfect for middle and high school but if you know about Warhol's life the content might be a factor in recommending this title. Includes time line, glossary, film & book list, notes and index...very thorough.

In contrast I hated The Secret Blog of Raisin Rodriguez by Judy Goldschmidt. I know "hate" is a strong word but I strongly disliked this book...and the cover seemed so promising! If you want to know what this book is about combine Harriet the Spy and Mean Girls with a poor copy of Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging ... right down to an odd little sister who licks things and a bizarre dog (instead of Angus). I was really disappointed in this book. It seemed like such a blatant read-alike and I also found the character of Raisin completely unappealing. She is an oversexed 12 year old (call me a prude but I do have a sister who got preggers at 14) and I find nothing cute or endearing about that. At least in Angus, Thongs Georgia is innocent and cute and finds thongs a mysterious and uncomfortable piece of clothing ... Raisin has "lucky thongs". Though she is relentlessly cruel in her blog entries (and it does come around to kick her in her barely clad bum) the story wraps up nice and Brady-Bunch-Like with the "out" crowd embracing her for her "honesty". Ugh, please... no one likes to be made fun of no matter how alternative they are. This is a rare event for me...despite the cute cover and teen chick lit potential I highly do not recommend this title for purchase or beach reading.

Friday, February 04, 2005

When I was young, one of the big events in my household was when "The Sound of Music" came on every year around Christmas time. My parents loved the movie, my siblings loved the movie, I loved the movie. We all yodeled right along with Maria and the von Trapp children during the marionette show and knew all the words to every tune. I knew a children's biography of Maria von Trapp was published a few years ago but kept forgetting to purchase it for my library until yesterday when "Maria von Trapp: Beyond the Sound of Music" by Candice Ransom arrived. I grew up near Vermont where the family eventually settled and had heard all the stories about what a hard woman Maria was in reality so I was interested to see how she would be portrayed in this book. Based largely on Maria's own writings (I didn't even know she'd authored books), it chronicles her life highlighting a lonely childhood and an abusive foster family, her years in the convent and as a governess to the von Trapp children, the evental marriage to Georg von Trapp and the family's success as a touring chorale group. It's a great read for kids, not too heavy and only brief mentions made of Maria's temper and the family's problems. Only problem is now the soundtrack to the movie is stuck in my head.

I love Lynn Munsinger's illustrations, and her new picture book, written by Laura Numeroff, Beatrice Doesn't Want To is a great library story. Find it and read it and share it with kids!

I also just finished reading Christopher Paul Curtis's Bucking the Sarge. Now, don't go recommending this to your 4th and 5th graders who loved his other two books because it is definitely a teen novel with talk of condoms and masturbation. However, I'm sure that the fourth grade boys will love the "taking a dump" jokes. I loved it. Curtis's fly characters and their dope lingo just sucked me right in. What would you do if you were Luther, whose Mom, the Sarge, owns half of Flint, Michigan, but does her business on the down and dirty side? That's right, she's not the most honest woman around but she doesn't care cuz she's got loads of money in the bank and plans to get more. Luther does not approve of his mother's dishonest ways, but ultimately uses them to escape her.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Thanks to my fellow bloggers (Allison & April) who recommended Pam Munoz Ryan's "Becoming Naomi Leon" and Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy. I'd been putting both off and finally was motivated to pick them up. Naomi Leon is just perfect. I was expecting another sad story about sad people living their sad lives in a trailer park, but it was a delight to read. Pullman's books did make me feel terribly uneducated at times - they are just so full of information I know I didn;t catch everything, but a very satisfying read nonetheless.

Wow. It has been a while for me. But I can beg off since I was moving to Florida.

I just finished how i live now. And all I can say is that I totally think it deserved to win. I was totally fascinated in they way they foraged for food, and in a strange way I was a little envious. Not of the horror of war, mind you, but of the quiet and the simplicity of their life after they returned back home. It was the same thing that drew me to the Laura Ingalls Wilder books when I was a kid. Although I am sure it would probably make me nuts if I was forced into it they way Piper and Daisy were.

I just did a book review for SLJ. The book was Last Dance on Holladay Street by Elisa Carbone. It should be coming out in a month or so. It is about Eva, a light-skinned black girl living in the high plains outside of Denver in the 1870's. When her adoptive parents both die, she travels to Denver to look up the mother who gave her up at birth. She is shocked to discover that her mother (and sister) are both white, and even moreso that they live in a high-class brothel on the notorious Holladay Street. Eva is put to work in the dance hall, dancing with men for a quarter a turn. And even though she is dressed better, and better fed than she has ever been, she knows she has to get out before she is recruited to "work upstairs." It is really well done in all aspects save one: there is very little about race relations, and it would seem that a girl who is half-black and half-white would face more prejudice and hatred than she does. But it does address the oppression of women and the lack of options for them in the Victorian Era.

I have also been going through my first "chick lit" phase. I am not sure if I like the term, "chick lit" but I am liking the books. I have read Boy Meets Girl by Meg Cabot, Can You Keep a Secret? by Sophie Kinsella, and listened to Good in Bed by Jennifer Weiner on CD. (But then I found out it was abridged. I don't believe in abridging anything except dictionaries. All in all I have been pleased, although I feel like a big fat cliche because of it. I am their target market: A 30 something, unmarried, carrer girl, with no boyfriend and love of shoes. I guess I like them because I can relate to them, and most of them are pretty funny. And they also make me glad I have normal parents.

Up next for me are several more book reviews, and also The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green by Joshua Braff, and Devil in the Details: Scenes from an Obsessive Girlhood by Jennifer Traig.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Recently enjoyed: Mable Riley: a reliable record of humdrum, peril, and romance by Jocelyn Marthe. Give this to your Dear America girls. Give this to girls who like fiesty girl main characters who just can't help but think for themselves and then say what they think out loud. This is a great historical fiction novel and it has the added bonus of having a story within the story.

I also loved E.L Konigsburg's newest award winner, The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place. Margaret Rose Kane and a variety of friends (and folks that aren't really her friends at all), take on a cause in the community, preserving the beautiful towers that her two Uncles have been building for 45 years. I love Konigsburg's characters because they are thoughtful, witty, unpredictable and some of them are even vile. Margaret Rose Kane, being an only child, tends to spend loads of time with grown-ups and geez, she is more mature than many of them!

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

I agree with Alli that How I Live Now is a very powerful book. It is chilling at times because while the enemies are never named it feels as if the war in the book could really happen at any moment. What if Iraqi armies invaded England? Or anyone else who deemed themselves "enemies" ... just like Daisy we only see war on tv and in movies....except that it really does happens to her. I was just surprised (pleasantly) at how much of this story is about survival. I didn't really know what it was about until I started reading and I liked that it has the voice of a teenager but is ageless in its story ... in other words you do not have to be a teen (or teen librarian!) to appreciate this book. I also felt like the writing was so brilliant and unique and true that it very much deserves the Printz award.