Monday, December 31, 2012

Stargirl

Author: Jerry Spinelli
Pages: 186
Rating: G

Summary: Stargirl. From the day she arrives at quiet Mica High in a burst of color and sound, the hallways hum with the murmur of “Stargirl, Stargirl.” She captures Leo Borlock’s heart with just one smile. She sparks a school-spirit revolution with just one cheer. The students of Mica High are enchanted. At first.

Then they turn on her. Stargirl is suddenly shunned for everything that makes her different, and Leo, panicked and desperate with love, urges her to become the very thing that can destroy her: normal. In this celebration of nonconformity, Newbery Medalist Jerry Spinelli weaves a tense, emotional tale about the perils of popularity and the thrill and inspiration of first love.

My Thoughts: I know this book is supposed to be on the middle school literary must-read list or something, but this is actually my first time ever reading it. It's definitely a good one. Stargirl is just something else. She's indescribable. A little kooky, but she seems to care so much about other people, no matter who they are. The whole book is just a lesson in being yourself, no matter what other people think, and that caring about other people is more important than being popular. The book has a really good message, and could probably start good discussions with middle school aged or even a little younger kids. 

In the back of the book there was a preview for the sequel, "Love, Stargirl" which I totally want to read now, and I'll post the review when I do!

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Berlin Boxing Club

Author: Robert Sharenow
Pages: 400
Rating: PG - a few bad words, mild violence

Summary:
Karl Stern has never thought of himself as a Jew; after all, he's never even been in a synagogue. But the bullies at his school in Nazi-era Berlin don't care that Karl's family doesn't practice religion. Demoralized by their attacks against a heritage he doesn't accept as his own, Karl longs to prove his worth.
Then Max Schmeling, champion boxer and German hero, makes a deal with Karl's father to give Karl boxing lessons. A skilled cartoonist, Karl never had an interest in boxing, but now it seems like the perfect chance to reinvent himself.
But when Nazi violence against Jews escalates, Karl must take on a new role: family protector. And as Max's fame forces him to associate with Nazi elites, Karl begins to wonder where his hero's sympathies truly lie. Can Karl balance his boxing dreams with his obligation to keep his family out of harm's way?
My Thoughts: I happen to love novels about Nazi Germany. I think the entire period is just completely facsinating. I love the different tilt to this novel, with Karl being someone who not only doesn't practice any religion, he doesn't even look like the stereotypical Jew. He feels like he shouldn't have to suffer through all the difficulties of his time, because he doesn't consider himself Jewish. Boxing is the way he feels he will prove himself to the world.

This is a really great novel, mixing the world of sports and one of the most difficult historical periods in history. I would recommend it to anyone, even if you're not interested in boxing. You don't have to be to enjoy this novel of a young boy just trying to prove his worth and understand the confusing world around him.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Jars

Author: Jason Wright
Pages: 149
Rating: G

Summary:
Where had it come from? Whose money was it? Was I to spend it? Save it? Pass it on to the someone more needy? Above all else, why was I chosen? Certainly there were others, countless others more needy than I...Her reporter’s intuition insisted that a remarkable story was on the verge of the front page.
Rising newspaper reporter Hope Jensen uncovers the secret behind the "Christmas Jars" – glass jars filled with coins and bills anonymously given to people in need. But Hope discovers much more than she bargained for when some unexpected news sets off a chain reaction of kindness and brings above a Christmas Eve wish come true.

My Thoughts: This is  a very short, quick and easy read, but so sweet and awesome. If you have not read it before, it should definitely be a part of your holiday collection. It really encompasses the spirit of Christmas and of giving to others. I read it one Christmas Eve with my family. We just passed the book around the family and read a little until we were finished. If you're an emotional kind of person, you might cry. It has such a sweet ending. You'll love it. =)

Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature

Author: Robin Brande
Pages: 265
Rating: PG - mild language

Summary:
Your best friend hates you. The guy you liked hates you. Your entire group of friends hates you.

All because you did the right thing.

Welcome to life for Mena, whose year is starting off in the worst way possible. She's been kicked out of her church group and no one will talk to her—not even her own parents. No one except for Casey, her supersmart lab partner in science class, who's pretty funny for the most brilliant guy on earth.

And when Ms. Shepherd begins the unit on evolution, school becomes more dramatic than Mena could ever imagine . . . and her own life is about to evolve in some amazing and unexpected ways.

My Thoughts: I absolutely love this book. I read it for the first time in high school and it helped me actually change my opinions about evolution.

Anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself. Basically, Mena starts off her high school career with everyone hating her because in middle school, there was a kid in her school named Denny who may or may not have been gay, and Mena's pastor starts this campaign to root out homosexuality in their schools. The kids from Mena's church group are extremely mean to Denny, with one girl even dropping to her knees in front of him in the hallways to loudly pray for his soul. This kind of treatment drives Denny to attempt suicide. Mena feels so bad about it that she writes him a letter explaining everything and apologizing for her involvement. Well, Denny's parents then sue the church and all the families involved in the torment, and Mena gets the blame for it, and is kicked out of her church. Her parents are mad at her because they hold the insurance policies for all these church members, and the policies don't cover this type of lawsuit, causing the other church members to want to sue Mena's parents. It's all just a big huge mess.

So, Mena starts high school as a total outcast, and when her former church peers begin a campaign to stop the teaching of evolution in their school, Mena somehow finds herself on the other side of the conflict. My favorite part about Mena is that even though she realizes that her former friends and pastor are total hypocrites when it comes to religion, she doesn't let that ruin her personal belief in God. She still believes in Him, she loves to read her Bible, and genuinely misses going to church. But she knows that what her former friends and pastor are doing is wrong and un-Christian.

Mena's own beliefs change a little too. She realizes that it is possible to be a scientist and still be a good Christian. You can believe in evolution AND God. Because who knows HOW God actually created everything. He probably used evolution! Anyway, I just really love this book because of how it manages to combine science and religion in a way that makes sense and doesn't hurt anyone's feelings. It's super good.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Author: Jonathan Safran Foer
Pages: 326
Rating: PG-13+ (for some language, and sexual references. No graphic sex scenes, but there are still a few references to characters "making love" with some vague descriptions. Also, Oskar informs the reader what he knows about sex from looking it up on the internet.)

Summary:Nine-year-old Oskar Schell has embarked on an urgent, secret mission that will take him through the five boroughs of New York. His goal is to find the lock that matches a mysterious key that belonged to his father, who died in the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11. This seemingly impossible task will bring Oskar into contact with survivors of all sorts on an exhilarating, affecting, often hilarious, and ultimately healing journey.

My Thoughts: So I read this book and then watched the movie. Personally, this book was not life-changing. It was interesting and definitely moving in a way, but I didn't feel like anything was really resolved at the end, or even that Oskar had healed in any way. I felt like the movie did a much better job of providing closure and healing in the end than the book did.

However, if you've only seen the movie, the book has the whole entire side story involving the Grandmother and Grandfather, who are much bigger characters in the book, and you get to hear their entire, sad story. Which really doesn't have much to do with Oskar, but it's interesting nonetheless.

I think the point of the whole book was for Oskar to realize that he is not the only person in the world who has suffered some sort of loss or sadness in his life. All of the people he come into contact with have dealt with a trial or tragedy of their own. We all just do the best we can to get through it, and if we can help other people out along the way, even better.

It also points out the senselessness of violence in the world. There's a part where Oskar plays for his class at school an interview with a Japanese person who survived the atom bomb. The horror she describes is just gut-wrenchingly awful, and there's almost a question of why do these things happen? But now that we can't change them, what do we do about it in the future? How do we go about living our lives without being scared of everything, like Oskar is?

In the end, I felt like I had to dig a little to get some meaning out of the book, but I think it was still worth reading. If you've seen the movie and were happy with it, then I don't think the book is necessary. But if you're interested in the grandparents' stories, then you need to read the book. It's quite the story.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Messenger

Author: Lois Lowry
Pages: 169
Rating: PG

Summary:
For the past six years, Matty has lived in Village and flourished under the guidance of Seer, a blind man, known for his special sight. Village was a place that welcomed newcomers, but something sinister has seeped into Village and the people have voted to close it to outsiders. Matty has been invaluable as a messenger. Now he must make one last journey through the treacherous forest with his only weapon, a power he unexpectedly discovers within himself.

My Thoughts: This book is third in a larger series by Lois Lowry. The Giver is the first book, and then Gathering Blue is second. The final book, which I haven't read yet, is Son. While The Giver and Gathering Blue are both books that can stand completely on their own and almost don't seem connected at all, Messenger seems to be the book that is starting to bring it all together, so I think it will probably make the most sense and work the best if you read the other two first. It's more of a transitional story, and I don't think it has too much merit just on its own.

You get the idea that Village was founded by Jonas (from The Giver) and he is now the leader of the village. I'm almost positive this is true, because randomly mentioned in the book is "a mischievous eight-year-old named Gabe" who I took to be the same Gabe that Jonas saved back in The Giver. I got the feeling that Village was the Elsewhere that Jonas found.

Also in the book is the girl from Gathering Blue. She is brought to Village at the very end of the book. I thought the ending was actually very sad and a little bit vague in how it all came together, but as a whole, I did enjoy the book. It's a quick read, and now I can't wait to read Son to see how everything finally comes together.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Elantris

Author: Brandon Sanderson
Pages: 615
Rating: PG-13 (for violent scenes)

Summary: Elantris was the capital of Arelon: gigantic, beautiful, literally radiant, filled with benevolent beings who used their powerful magical abilities for the benefit of all. Yet each of these demigods was once an ordinary person until touched by the mysterious transforming power of the Shaod. Ten years ago, without warning, the magic failed. Elantrians became wizened, leper-like, powerless creatures, and Elantris itself dark, filthy, and crumbling.

Arelon's new capital, Kae, crouches in the shadow of Elantris. Princess Sarene of Teod arrives for a marriage of state with Crown Prince Raoden, hoping -- based on their correspondence -- to also find love. She finds instead that Raoden has died and she is considered his widow. Both Teod and Arelon are under threat as the last remaining holdouts against the imperial ambitions of the ruthless religious fanatics of Fjordell. So Sarene decides to use her new status to counter the machinations of Hrathen, a Fjordell high priest who has come to Kae to convert Arelon and claim it for his emperor and his god.

But neither Sarene nor Hrathen suspect the truth about Prince Raoden. Stricken by the same curse that ruined Elantris, Raoden was secretly exiled by his father to the dark city. His struggle to help the wretches trapped there begins a series of events that will bring hope to Arelon, and perhaps reveal the secret of Elantris itself.

A rare epic fantasy that doesn't recycle the classics and that is a complete and satisfying story in one volume, Elantris is fleet and fun, full of surprises and characters to care about. It's also the wonderful debut of a welcome new star in the constellation of fantasy.

My Thoughts: If you're into fantasy novels, this is definitely one to try out. I admit, I was a bit skeptical, and at first I was a little confused by what was going on. Sanderson has dreamed up a world so different from anything you've ever read before, it's a little difficult to stop trying to make it fit into a category that already makes sense. You have to come at this book with a clean slate in your head. Don't try to impose any ideas you already have about history, religion, magic, etc, because you'll just end up a little confused. 

This book took me several weeks to read, because it is pretty long. The good thing about it is that it's not part of a series. Also, it's written in short segments, so it's easy to just spend a few minutes reading it before having to put it down again.

Sanderson does a great job of describing each of his characters completely. You don't ever feel like someone wasn't developed enough as a character, and you manage to feel something about each person as well. For instance, part of the reason I was confused at the start is because Hrathen, who I assumed was supposed to be the bad guy, was actually so likeable and easy to understand, that I didn't know if he was really supposed to be bad or not.

Even though it's a long book, at no point does it seem to get slow or too detailed. Something is always happening that furthers the storyline, even though all of the main action happens in the last 50 pages. The fact that Sanderson managed to stretch only a few months of story into 600 pages without making it seem overly drawn out is pretty impressive to me.

I particularly liked the love story going on between Sarene and Raoden (btw...I absolutely have NO CLUE how to pronounce most of the names in the book. A pronunciation guide in the back would have been helpful, but there wasn't one). Their story is sort of a background thing, and even though it's important it never got too cheesy or dumb for me. It felt very realistic.

This is really not the type of book I usually read, but I was pleasantly surprised by it. My life wasn't changed or anything, but I was definitely entertained and completely hooked on the story.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Before Midnight: A retelling of Cinderella

Author: Cameron Dokey
Pages: 193
Rating: G

Summary:
Etienne de Brabant is brokenhearted. His wife has died in childbirth, leaving him alone with an infant daughter he cannot bear to name. But before he abandons her for king and court, he brings a second child to be raised alongside her, a boy whose identity he does not reveal.
The girl, La Cendrillon, and the boy, Raoul, pass sixteen years in the servants' care until one day a very fine lady arrives with her two daughters. The lady has married La Cendrillon's father, and her arrival changes their lives.
When an invitation to a great ball reaches the family, La Cendrillon's new stepmother will make a decision with far-reaching effects. Her choice will lead La Cendrillon and Raoul toward their destiny -- a choice that will challenge their understanding of family, test their loyalty and courage, and, ultimately, teach them who they are.

My Thoughts: A quick and cute read, definitely a nicer twist on Cinderella than you've heard before. The stepmother and sisters are actually nice, although they are not aware at first that Cendrillon is anything more than a servant. Her father, Etienne, has never mentioned her existence to anyone, and her homely appearance at the arrival of her new family leads them to believe she is a serving girl. However, they are not overly cruel to her, and when she does eventually reveal who she is, the family is very accepting and loving.

Again, Dokey has a problem of spending the entire book on buildup and not enough on climax and ending stuff, but I still enjoyed it, even though I figured out who Raoul really is very early on in the story. There's a lot in this book about wishes that are powerful and really come true, and love at first sight. I think it's probably one of the better ones I've read in the Once Upon a Time series.

Monday, September 17, 2012

13 Gifts

Author: Wendy Mass
Pages: 339
Rating: G

Summary: When Tara, a self-proclaimed shrinking violet, steals the school mascot, a goat, in order to make some friends with the popular crowd and gets caught, she gets herself in a heap of trouble. In addition, her parents decide that instead of taking her on their summer trip to Madagascar to study the courtship rituals of the Bamboo Lemur, she must go stay with her aunt, uncle, and bratty cousin Emily St. Claire in Willow Falls. Tara thinks it's a good time to start over; she'll be turning 13 after all, so she might as well make the best of it and perhaps even attempt to break out of her shell (in a non-criminal manner). What Tara doesn't know is that this charmed town has something big in store for her on her 13th birthday. It's not a typical birthday. But then again, nothing is Willow Falls is exactly typical!

My Thoughts: Eh. This is a book that's all well and good for a preteen. I'd say it's definitely interesting, with weird twists you don't expect, but I felt like some of it was overdramatic, and a lot of the stuff Tara does or has to deal with in the book just works out WAY too easily. There aren't really any true obstacles. Everything she comes up against seems like an issue for all of like 10 minutes and then the problems are solved in some quick and simple way that in real life would probably never happen.

Also, I was annoyed because there are a few mysteries in the book that don't really get solved because they have to do with other characters and apparently they have their own books, 11 Birthdays, and Finally. So that bothered me. You get to hear the end of Tara's story, but there are these two odd characters Leo and Amanda and something fishy is going on with them the entire book, yet it ends without you ever getting to find out what's going on with them.

Like I said, this is definitely a clean and wonderful book for the 10-14 age group, but I found a lot lacking in it from an adult perspective.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Hidden Places

Author: Lynn Austin
Pages: 429
Rating: PG

Summary: A deep yearning for home had led Eliza to Wyatt Orchards ten years ago. Now widowed with three young children, she faces mounting debts and the realization it is all up to her. But she has no idea how to run an orchard alone. When a stranger appears at her doorstep, Eliza guesses he is no different than the other out-of-luck characters searching for work during the Depression. But the familiarity with which Gabe tends to the farm raises unanswered questions. With a vulnerable heart, she is unwittingly drawn to his gentle ways. But Eliza also fears that Gabe hides a past and motives that could jeopardize all she has fought to attain for herself and her children....

My Thoughts: Lynn Austin is slowly becoming a favorite author. I loved this book just as much as I loved the other book by her that I've read, A Woman's Place.

The book opens with Eliza burying her father in law, the last male member of the family she married into. It's the middle of the Depression, and she soon finds out she is close to losing her farm. She desperately needs a miracle, which comes in the form of crazy Aunt Batty, and a wandering hobo named Gabe. The Wyatt family has many hidden difficulties and problems. Frank Wyatt, Eliza's father-in-law, was an abusive, greedy man, who never showed one speck of love or pride in his children or family members. That has caused quite a lot of pain and problems.

As the story goes on, it becomes necessary for Eliza to learn of the painful and shocking history of the Wyatt family. It's heartfelt and raw and very real. You also eventually get to hear Gabe's story, slowly, and it's pretty amazing. Eliza knows she never truly loved her first husband, Sam Wyatt, who died of tetanus. She only married him because she loved the idea of having a real home to live in. So when Gabe comes along, and Eliza feels herself falling in love with him, she is afraid that something bad will happen and she will not be allowed this happiness as punishment for all the lies she told Sam.

There is definitely a very Christian message to the book, basically saying that we should not think that the bad things that happen to us in life are punishments from God that we deserve. God is not cruel, he is loving and he wants us to find happiness and hope in life. Unlike other Christian books I've read, this one does not feel overly sweet or overbearing with the Gospel message in it. It doesn't seem forced, is what I'm trying to say. All the talk of God and his love for us just seems to fit naturally into the story, which was definitely nice.

The only beef I had with this book was I wasn't really impressed with Eliza's background story. Hers is the final "secrets of the past" story that comes out, such as what happened between her and her father, and where she really came from. Compared to Batty's story and Gabe's story, Eliza's just seems petty and ridiculous in comparison. But maybe that was the point. Sometimes we have legitimate reasons to be upset and think that life is out to get us, and other times we're just looking at it completely wrong and being childish and prideful about something that really is not that big of a deal.

I would recommend this book, it's definitely a "feel good" story, and I now plan to read even more books by this author.


Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Invention of Hugo Cabret


Author: Brian Selznick
Pages: 525 (However, over half of the pages are pictures. It only took me 2 hours to read the entire book)
Rating: G

Summary: Orphan, clock keeper, and thief, Hugo lives in the walls of a busy Paris train station, where his survival depends on secrets and anonymity. But when his world suddenly interlocks with an eccentric, bookish girl and a bitter old man who runs a toy booth in the station, Hugo's undercover life, and his most precious secret, are put in jeopardy. A cryptic drawing, a treasured notebook, a stolen key, a mechanical man, and a hidden message from Hugo's dead father form the backbone of this intricate, tender, and spellbinding mystery.

My Thoughts: This is definitely a different kind of a novel. Like I said, over half of the pages in this book are pictures, which is why you shouldn't let how thick it is change your mind about reading it. It's almost like a mixture between a book and a movie, because often there will be several pictures in sequence and those pictures will tell a section of the story. Then the words pick up where the pictures left off. It's an unusual experience. Because of the amount of pictures, I think this would be a good book for all ages. I enjoyed it thoroughly, especially since it was such a quick and fun read. Here are a few of the illustrations that appear in the novel.




I decided to read this book because the movie "Hugo" is based off of it. Now I want to see the movie. If you've seen the movie, you know the basic plot. But you should still check out this book just because of the new experience it provides you to interact with the book almost as if it is a movie in and of itself. I think this is one worthy of joining my personal bookshelf at home.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Marrying Malcolm Murgatroyd

Author: Mame Farrell
Pages: 122
Rating: G

Summary: Hannah dreads her school autobiographical writing project; she doesn't want to admit that the biggest nerd in sixth grade, Malcolm Murgatroyd, is a long-time family friend and best friend to her brother, who has muscular dystrophy. She hates being teased by her family about marrying Malcolm, until he reveals his true personality when her brother succumbs to his disease.

My Thoughts: I bought this book at a scholastic book fair when I was in about the 5th grade. At the time, I was obsessed with all things love story and romantic, and the fact that this book had the word "marrying" in the title was a good enough reason for me to snatch it up. I also thought that the girl on the cover looked so much older and mature, so I was sure this would be a very romantic story. I was dead wrong, but not disappointed.

Hannah is part of the popular crowd at school, and in order to keep it that way, she keeps her family's relationship with Malcolm a very close secret. Their families have been friends since before Hannah was born, and Malcolm, although physically awkward and painfully "uncool" is very emotionally mature, and knows exactly how to handle difficult situations like Hannah's brother Ian being diagnosed with muscular dystrophy. Because of their family relationship, Hannah feels like it is her duty to stand up for Malcolm when he gets bullied at school, usually by her group of friends. However, this has the potential to put her in the line of fire as well, which she is afraid to do.

I absolutely love this book. It's short and simple, I would say that 4th grade and up could read it, and it has an amazing message about how it doesn't really matter what someone looks like on the outside. It's what they are on the inside that counts, and standing up for someone is always the right thing to do, even when we are afraid of being the target ourselves. If you ever come across this book, it's definitely worth the short time it will take you to read it. It has such a sweet ending and an amazing message.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Tortall Series: Protector of the Small Quartet

Author:Tamora Pierce

Books in Series: First Test, Page, Squire, Lady Knight

Tortall Series: Protector of the Small is the last quartet in a larger series of books called the Tortall Series. Each quartet is related in that they take place in the same land and the charcters often know each other or are inter-related, however, each quartet is about a different person. Song of the Lioness comes first, the next quartet is called The Immortals Series, and it's about a girl named Daine. Protector of the Small involves the characters in the other two quartets, but you don't have to read them in order to understand this set.

Rating: PG-13. Although none of the battle scenes in these books are particularly graphic, there are still a LOT of them, and some of the techniques of the enemy are not exactly.....mild, to say the least. There's no sex though. Kel does consider it, and it is vaguely hinted at that the notion of staying a virgin till marriage is old-fashioned and ridiculous, but Kel is more focused on her duties as a knight than she is in romance.

Pages:
Book 1: 228
Book 2: 253
Book 3: 390
Book 4: 411

Summary:
First Test: In the medieval and fantastic realm of Tortall, Keladry of Mindelan is the first girl to take advantage of the decree that permits females to train for knighthood.


Page: Kel fights to maintain the rigorous regimen of a page while confronting the prejudices that come with being a female in a man's world and coping with a crush on her closest friend, Neal.

Squire: When Kel is chosen by the legendary Lord Raoul to be his squire, the conservatives of the realm hardly think she’s up to the job. Kel earns respect and admiration among the men, as well as the affection of a fellow squire.

Lady Knight: Keladry of Mindelan has finally achieved her life-long dream of being a knight. But it’s not turning out as she imagined at all. With the land of Tortall at war with the Scanrans, she has been assigned to oversee a refugee camp. But Kel has had a vision in the Chamber—a vision of the man behind the horrific battle machines that her fellow knights and friends are now fighting without her. She is torn between a duty she has sworn and a quest that she feels could turn the tide of the war. . .

My Thoughts: Of all the Tortall Books, Protector of the Small is my very favorite. Kel seriously just kicks butt. She doesn't let stupid people with prejudices against women get her down. At every seeming setback, she just works harder to prove herself, and manages to make quite a few friends in the process. The title of "Protector of the Small" is very apt because from the beginning Kel takes it upon herself to protect many of the other pages from severe bullying. She forms a habit of roaming the halls at night and starting fights with older boys who are in the process of bullying younger ones. She really looks out for the little guy throughout the entire series, especially anyone who is normally overlooked by people of her station, such as peasants, servants, and children. Another reason I love Kel is that unlike Alanna, everyone knows she is a girl, so she's got it really rough, but she also doesn't have any magic. She does it all on her own power, with no real help.

This is part of the reason it's so difficult for her to gain acceptance. Since Alanna made it through to Knighthood by tricking everyone into thinking she was a boy, and she also had magic, there were speculations that she basically cheated. Even though the king officially declared that girls would be allowed to try for knighthood, Kel is the first to take advantage of it. The training master, Lord Wyldon, is very against the idea, and so insists that Kel be put on one year of probation. If she survives the year acceptably, she will be allowed to stay and train for knighthood. Another restriction is that Alanna will not be able to have any interaction with Kel, on suspicion that she will try to help her. Kel is extremely determined, and does not let any of the formidable obstacles in her way stop her from trying her absolute best.

Another reason I love this quartet is that it's more about the process of becoming a knight and what a knight does. The Alanna series is almost more about her personal relationships and how she uses her magic in her life. Kel sees much more battle, and the exciting scenes are much more drawn out, since these books are longer. Still almost impossible to put down though. I could barely stop reading the last book. There's a lot of suspense and almost non-stop action as Kel races to stop the horrific magic of a man named Blayce.

I just think Kel is a great role-model because she is brave, she keeps her head in tough situations, she's fair, she's always looking out for those less fortunate, she's humble, and she never falters in the face of adversity. She just keeps plowing forward, even when the odds seem to be heavily against her. I love this quartet the best out of all the Tortall books, so if you are unsure, start with these. Love them!

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb: A Novel

Author: Melanie Benjamin
Pages: 413
Rating: PG - there is one scene where she almost gets raped, but it's not graphic or anything

Summary: She was only two feet, eight inches tall, but more than a century later, her legend reaches out to us. As a child, Mercy Lavinia “Vinnie” Warren Bump was encouraged to live a life hidden away from the public. Instead, she reached out to the immortal impresario P. T. Barnum, married the tiny superstar General Tom Thumb in the wedding of the century, and became the world’s most unexpected celebrity. Vinnie’s wedding captivated the nation, preempted coverage of the Civil War, and even ushered her into the White House. But her fame also endangered the person she prized most: her similarly sized sister, Minnie, a gentle soul unable to escape the glare of Vinnie’s spotlight.

My Thoughts: This book is my favorite type of historical fiction. ALL the characters and events are real, it's just the details that are filled in by the author's imagination. All of Vinnie's inner thoughts and feelings, her specific conversations, and her impressions of those she meets are mostly fictional, but who she meets and where she goes and what she does are all real events. I had never even heard of General Tom Thumb until I read this book, and it was definitely fascinating. If you are interested in reading up a little on Vinnie and her life, go here. There are also several pictures you can find by searching "Lavinia Warren Stratton" on the internet.

I love the way the author chose to portray Vinnie as someone with huge ambition and drive, but also not willing to allow her small size to hold her back from achieving anything. Vinnie is a very proper lady and she never lets anyone forget it, even when she is being displayed early on in her career on a crude traveling showboat. She wants to be remembered for how cordial and perfectly ladylike she is, not by how small she is. It was absolutely fascinating following her life story, especially as she became a very close friend of the famous P.T. Barnum, which is still a household name even in the 21st century. There was so much history in the book as well. She starts out her career as the Civil War is breaking out, and her marriage to Tom Thumb actually manages to push news of the war into the back pages of the newspapers. Each chapter begins with a few short newspaper excerpts relating the news of the time period, such as the new discovery of electricity and how it can be used to power lights. I loved it.

The only complaint I would have about this book is that when Vinnie goes to Utah and meets the Mormons, she has an extremely disfavorable view of them, because of polygamy. The book says that she felt like the Mormon women were more like background slaves and that they were downcast and depressing in appearance. This was obviously something that was mostly up to the author's personal discretion. In the Author's Note at the end, she says that she never found much of anything that Vinnie shared personal feelings about. I was a bit disappointed that the author made something like that up. Yes, they were practicing polygamy at the time, but I highly doubt that Mormon women were actually background characters, there to just serve their husbands meekly and not to be seen or heard. That doesn't mesh with what I know of Mormon history. So that was really the only part that I was unhappy with in the book. Otherwise, it was an absolutely fascinating read that I highly recommend!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

My Jane Austen Summer: A Season in Mansfield Park

Author: Cindy Jones
Pages: 319

Rating: Sadly, R. There are two sex scenes. The first one is not a problem because it's pretty vauge, but the second one is pretty descriptive. I had to skip it. If you still want to read the book, then skip the first three pages of Chapter 20. All you need to know is that she regrets it.

Summary: Lily has squeezed herself into undersized relationships all her life, hoping one might grow as large as those found in the Jane Austen novels she loves. But lately her world is running out of places for her to fit. So when her bookish friend invites her to spend the summer at a Jane Austen literary festival in England, she jumps at the chance to reinvent herself.
There, among the rich, promising world of Mansfield Park reenactments, Lily finds people whose longing to live in a novel equals her own. But real-life problems have a way of following you wherever you go, and Lily's accompany her to England. Unless she can change her ways, she could face the fate of so many of Miss Austen's characters, destined to repeat the same mistakes over and over again.

My Thoughts: I often have a hard time with adult novels because they often have too much sex, and they are SOO dramatic! Lilly is such a ridiculous character. She has serious problems. It makes sense, and you feel her pain, but it's almost depressing. I felt depressed when I was done with reading the book for the day. Here's the situation. Lilly has just lost her mother after a brief bout with cancer. Only a few weeks later, her father already has a new girlfriend, who moves into the house and begins to erase Lilly's mother from existence. Lilly's boyfriend of over a year dumps her, she gets fired from her job, and then she finds out that her father is getting married to this new woman, who happens to be quite a bit younger. Life is really sucking for Lilly. So, when an opportunity opens for her to go to England and participate in a Literature Event that reenacts Jane Austen novels, she is all over it. However, life just keeps getting more complicated.

The book would probably be better if you are more familiar with Jane Austen novels, especially Mansfield Park. There is a brief synopsis of Mansfield Park at the beginning, so I wasn't totally lost, but I felt like some of the arguments presented in the book were over my head. It wasn't really that great of a book in my opinion. It was well written. I felt for Lilly, that is for sure, but I didn't really like how I felt at the end or while I was reading. It was just so depressing and confusing. And I'm not sure if the ending was exactly happy either. If you're a die-hard Jane Austen fan, go ahead and read this one, but like I said, skip the sex scene in the first three pages of Chapter 20.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Series: 1-800-Where-R-U

Author: Meg Cabot

Books in Series: When Lightning Strikes, Code Name Cassandra, Safe House, Sanctuary, Missing You

Rating: PG-13 for some mild language and frightening scenes

Pages: Book 1 -272
Book 2- 272
Book 3- 272
Book 4- 231 (thank goodness, I was beginning to think the author made them ALL 272 pages.)
Book 5- 288

Summary:
 Book 1 -When lightning strikes there can only be trouble - as Jessica Mastriani finds out when she and best friend Ruth get caught in a thunderstorm. Not that Jess has ever really avoided trouble before. Instead of cheerleading there are fistfights with the football team and month-long stints in detention - not that detention doesn't have its good points - like sitting next to Rob - the cutest senior around! But this is trouble with a capital T - this trouble is serious. Because somehow, on that long walk home in the thunderstorm, Jess acquired a newfound talent. An amazing power that can be used for good...or for evil.

Book 2-  Jess Mastriani was dubbed "Lightning Girl" by the press when she developed a psychic ability to find missing children after she was struck by lightning during a huge storm. Now Jess has lost her miraculous powers...or at least she would like the media and the government to think so. All she wants is to be left alone.

But it doesn't look like Jess is going to get her wish -- especially not while working at a summer camp for musically gifted kids. When the father of a missing girl shows up to beg Jess to find his daughter, Jess can't say no. Now the Feds are on her tail again, as is one ornery stepdad, who'd like to see Lightning Girl...well, dead.
Book 3- When cheerleader Amber Mackey goes missing and is later found dead, many blame Lightning Girl, Jess Mastriani, for not stopping the brutal killing. But when Amber went missing Jess was on holiday. It wasn't her fault! How could Jess have found her when she didn't know that she was missing in the first place? When another cheerleader disappears, Jess has a chance to redeem herself. But just how is she supposed to keep her psychic powers secret from the feds, while at the same time tracking down a murderer - especially when the number one suspect turns out to be living in Jess's own house?

Book 4- Jess knew she wasn't going to be able to hide her psychic powers from the U.S. government forever. But she never thought that she and Dr. Krantz, the special agent brought in to convince Jess to join his elite team of "specially gifted" crime solvers, would have something in common.
When a local boy's disappearance is attributed to a backwoods militia group, it turns out that Jess and Dr. Krantz have the same goal. Suddenly Jess finds herself collaborating with one enemy in order to stop a far worse one. In an atmosphere of hate and fear, Jess and Dr. Krantz must work together to unite a community and save a life...without loosing their own.

Book 5-  Ever since a walk home on a particularly stormy day, Jessica Mastriani has had an ability like no other. She became known worldwide as Lightning Girl—a psychic who could find the location of anyone, dead or alive. Jess finally had no choice but to embrace her newfound talent, and ended up lending her skills to the U.S. government.
But her work for them has taken a terrible toll, and Jess resurfaces months later a shadow of her former self, her powers gone, Lightning Girl no more. Her only hope is starting over in a new place, a big city where nobody knows her. It's only when Rob Wilkins unexpectedly shows up on her doorstep that she's forced to face her past. Rob, all the way from back home, needs her help. But how can Jess, her powers gone, find anyone, let alone the sister of a man she once loved . . . when she can't even find herself?

My Thoughts: If you've ever read anything by Meg Cabot (Princess Diaries...) you know she's a fantastic author with a sharp wit. I always end up laughing when I read her books, and they're hard to put down. These are no different. I loved them because they aren't terribly long, but they are almost thrillers, since they deal with disappearances and sometimes murders. And they aren't really THAT creepy. I'm a huge wuss when it comes to anything frightening and I was able to get through these without having nightmares, but there was still PLENTY of suspense. There are really no good stopping places.

Just a brief rundown...Jess is not a very popular person and she has a tendency to lose her temper and get in fights pretty often. Usually with football players three times her size. But then one day when walking home from school, she gets hit by lightning, and ends up being able to find missing people. All she has to do is see their picture and know they are missing, and their location just pops into her head. However, she runs into some trouble when she finds out that some people went missing for good reason and aren't very pleased to be found. This new talent also makes her famous with the press AND the US government, who basically want to use her as a secret weapon. It's very entertaining.

If you're not interested in reading the whole series, the first book stands on its own pretty well, and the last one does too. The background from the other books is nice, but since the setting is several years past book 4, it's not super important.

The only problem you may have with these books is that they are hard to find. My sister ended up buying them online because she couldn't find more than the first book anywhere else. But if you do come across them, they are fantastic! I don't know why they are so hard to find, because I liked them better than the Princess Diaries.



Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Are We There Yet?

Author: David Levithan (a side note about this author, all of his other books have strong homosexual themes and are usually about gay teens. If that is something you are interested in, he's an author for you. If not, then this is really the only book by him that I can recommend.)

Pages: 215
Rating: PG-13, for several drug references, slight language, and vague references to sex.

Summary: Sixteen-year-old Elijah is completely mellow and his 23-year-old brother Danny is completely not, so it’s no wonder they can barely tolerate one another. So what better way to repair their broken relationship than to trick them into taking a trip to Italy together? Soon, though, their parents’ perfect solution has become Danny and Elijah’s nightmare as they’re forced to spend countless hours together. But then Elijah meets Julia, and soon the brothers aren’t together nearly as much. And then Julia meets Danny and soon all three of them are in a mixed-up, turned-around, never-what-you-expect world of brothers, Italy, and love.

My Thoughts: I have read this book at least three times, not because the story itself is particularly moving, but because Levithan is a master of words and language. The sentences he strings together never cease to amaze me. Here's an example. "He feels the antithesis of alone, because he is in the company of circumstance." Or "The buildings line the canals like sentences—each house a word, each window a letter, each gap a punctuation." It's just....deep the way he writes. And the story really isn't bad either. Two brothers, so far apart, sent on this random trip to Italy together, somehow manage to come to terms with each other by the end. It's a good one. And I love it.


Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The End of Molasses Classes: Getting Our Kids Unstuck--101 Extraordinary Solutions for Parents and Teachers

Author: Ron Clark
Pages: 317
Rating: G

Summary:
I often say I am a schoolteacher with the heart of a parent. I’ve made it my mission to make a difference in the lives of all of our children. I have traveled throughout our country, visiting schools in all 50 states, seeking out remarkable teachers who inspire our children to greatness.

 Sadly, I have also witnessed classrooms that seemed sapped of all energy, filled with students struggling to stay awake and teachers in desperate need of inspiration. These “Molasses Classes” broke my heart.
I had to do something! I decided to leave my classroom in East Harlem, New York, and devote my time to this audacious dream: to create a revolution in our country, starting from the ground up. The heart of this change would be a school, unlike any in the world. It would be full of passion, creativity, energy, and an unparalleled freedom to do whatever it took to lead every child to success. The parents and teachers of this school would forge a true partnership with the intent of providing the best learning environment possible.

I am proud to say that dream—the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta, Georgia, is now a reality. We welcome educators from all over the world to visit and learn from our methods and techniques so that they may take them back to their schools. I am still teaching, every day, and I feel honored to have hosted more than 10,000 educators in my classroom. This book is filled with the magic, the successes, the heartbreaks, the mistakes, and the triumphs that are the Ron Clark Academy. These are the 101 most successful strategies we have used to help uplift our children and enliven our classrooms. My hope is that you will find ideas here that will help you ignite a passion for learning in your children—and together we can get the molasses out of all our children’s classes.

My Thoughts: This book was awesome. I honestly want to gift-wrap this book and give it to every teacher and administrator and parent in the world. Even though it's a book mostly about a school, there are some awesome ideas in there for parents as well. In fact, there's an entire section of the book full of tips that are specifically about "The Role of the Parent in the Success of the Child" and all the tips are about how you personally can help your child succeed. It also raises a lot of important points about how busted the education system in this country is, and I feel like it inspired me to push for changes in the schools around me, even if they are just small changes. When I have my own children I'm sending to school, I will keep in mind a lot of the ideas in this book, and try not to send them somewhere where their creativity and confidence will be squashed.

Some of my favorite tips from the book are:
-Teach children to believe in themselves and don't destroy the dream
-Not every child deserves a cookie
-Uplift other adults who play a role in the lives of our children
-See the potential in every child.
-Accept the fact that if kids like you all the time, then you're doing something wrong.

I actually have some hope in the fact that my middle school had a few things in place that the book suggests. My middle school had a mural on every wall. It was awesome. My band director had pictures pretty much wallpapering the back wall of the bandroom. Pictures from years past, trips, students, everything. It was every kid's hope to eventually have their picture on the wall. So...there are schools out there that are better than others. Just knowing what to look for helps. 

I recommend this book to EVERYONE who ever plans to have a child in their life at some point. It's really thought-provoking, even if you don't think all of the ideas will work for you, some of them definitely will.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

What A Song Can Do: 12 Riffs on the Power of Music

Author: Various
Pages: 193
Rating: PG-13, but only because one story drops the F-bomb twice. But other than that, it's extremely clean. If you don't want the F-bomb, just skip the story entitled, "Riffs"

Summary: This compelling collection of stories explores the powerful impact that music has in our lives—especially in the lives of teens. Each story strikes a new note: Ron Koertge introduces us to the boys in the band—the marching band; Joseph Bruchac contributes a Native American boy with no rhythm whatsoever; Jennifer Armstrong writes about what was perhaps the first battle of the bands—during the American Civil War; and David Levithan offers up a love song that speaks powerfully to an unintended audience. But while each story is different, they combine into a harmonic song of praise—for the depths music can reach in us, and the power it has to bind us together.

My Thoughts: I'm not normally one for short stories, but I'm a sucker for anything musical, so I picked this one up. I actually really enjoyed each story in this book. They were all very well written and were touching in their own way. One reason I don't usually like short stories is because I want them all to be longer stories. I don't like how they end so quickly. I want them to be full books so I can really get to know the characters and read their ENTIRE story, not just a segment of it. But I liked each of the stories. Like I said in the rating, avoid the story called "Riffs" if you're not comfortable with the fact that it drops the F-bomb twice. I think my favorite story was probably the first one, "Variations on a Theme" which is basically a collection of one pages little bios from each instrument in a band. I loved that. I also liked "Tangled Notes in Watermelon" about a girl who has something called synesthesia, which causes her to see shapes and colors when she hears music. It's pretty interesting. The book wasn't life-changing or anything, but then, I'm not a short-story person, so give it a read anyway. It's nice and short, so you won't be wasting time, I can promise that.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Poisonwood Bible

Author: Barbara Kingsolver
Pages: 543
Rating: PG

Summary: In 1959, Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist, takes his four young daughters, his wife, and his mission to the Belgian Congo -- a place, he is sure, where he can save needy souls. But the seeds they plant bloom in tragic ways within this complex culture. Set against one of the most dramatic political events of the twentieth century -- the Congo's fight for independence from Belgium and its devastating consequences -- here is New York Times-bestselling author Barbara Kingslover's beautiful, heartbreaking, and unforgettable epic that chronicles the disintegration of family and a nation.

My Thoughts: If you have not yet read this life-changing book, drop everything, go get it, and read it NOW. This is my second time reading this book, and I'm telling you, it completely changes the way you see the world, the United States in particular. Kingsolver is an amazing writer, and she just sweeps you right in to the lives of her characters. You change and grow right along with them. Just as the the Price family is utterly different at the end of the book from what they were at the beginning, you will be too. I'm serious when I say that this book can totally rearrange the way you think about just about everything. It's that good.

There's quite a commentary about how sometimes we think that the way we live and do things is the right way, and anyone doing it differently must be wrong. But really, it all depends on the circumstances and the lifestyle. In particular, "civilized" countries such as the US, made a habit of going around and trying to civilize all these other nations who were really doing just fine the way they were. And then when we didn't like the way they were running things, we changed it, because to us it didn't make sense or seem like it would work. We cannot judge someone else's actions based on only our own experiences.

This book is on my favorite book list. I absolutely love it. It takes forever to read cuz it's really long, but it's so worth it. It's so deep and thoughtful. The book also helped me to be grateful for all the blessings I have. We really don't have that much to complain about when you think about it. Here in the United States, we've got it pretty good. And, you can't just believe everything you hear about other places. The people there might tell you a different story.

As far as my rating, I gave it a PG because there's no real inappropriateness. It's a very clean book, it's just really intense and the subject matter is pretty mature. I don't think, say, a middle schooler would be able to process the book as well as an older teen or an adult could. It's just a book that seeps into you better when you've had more life experiences. For that reason, I feel like it's a book I can read over and over again at different stages in my life, and I will feel completely different about it. I'll never read it the same way twice. I can't wait to read it again in five or six years and see how it changes for me.

Go read it. NOW!!!! You won't regret it, I promise.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Series: The Wakefield Dynasty

This is only the first book. I couldn't find a picture of the entire series. Sorry.
STOP! DO NOT FREAK OUT THAT THIS IS A GIANT SERIES!!! See My Thoughts below before you rule out these books!

Author: Gilbert Morris

Books in Series: The Sword of Truth, The Winds of God, The Shield of Honor, The Fields of Glory, The Ramparts of Heaven, The Song of Princes, A Gathering of Eagles

Rating: PG I think. There is a bit of violence, and each book has an underlying love story, but since the books are religious-themed, there's nothing more than mushy words and some kissing.

Pages: Book 1 - 409
Book 2- 380
Book 3- 394
Book 4- 376
Book 5- 361
Book 6- 386
Book 7- 320

Summary:
Two families--the Wakefields of nobility and the lower-class Morgans--are the focus of this sweeping generational saga, joined by intriguing personalities such as Elizabeth I, William Tyndale, and John Bunyan. Linking the people and events through the ages is the struggle of men and women who sought God as the answer to their difficulties.
#1: The Sword of Truth
Myles Morgan's discovery of his noble heritage introduces him to a fascinating new life in the English court and to the political conflict surrounding the translation of the Bible into English.
#2 The Winds of God
The sweeping saga of the noble Wakefields and the lower-class Morgans continues with this compelling account of the Spanish Armada during the reign of Elizabeth I.
#3 The Shield of Honor
This third book of the series depicts the English civil war, Charles I, and Cromwell as it continues the story of the Wakefield and Morgan families.
#4 The Fields of Glory
Evan, Amos, and Jenny form a triangle of romance and adventure that takes them to the limits of their faith. With the help of an outspoken minister named John Bunyan they are drawn closer to God.
#5 The Ramparts of Heaven
Follow the quest of Andrew Wakefield, a ministerial student at Oxford University, as he joins these shakers and movers in their attempts to advance the Methodist movement--and bring the realities of the gospel of Christ to a needy world.
#6 The Song of Princes
Twin brothers Paul and David Wakefield are born rivals and opposites in many things, yet only one can be master of Wakefield. Set in England during the reigns of George II and George III, The Song of Princes spans English history from the Methodist movement to the initial rumblings of the American Revolution. 

#7 A Gathering of Eagles 
Despite his conversion to Christ, Cathan must courageously prove his newfound faith to those he betrayed--Shayna and Sir Honor Wakefield. 

My Thoughts: Ok, first of all DO NOT get thrown off by the fact that this is such an enormous series. Since each book follows a new generation of the family, it's not completely necessary to read all the books or even to read them in order. Each book is its own story, and stands pretty much on its own. I don't remember reading all of these (I read them in high school) but I did read at least the first two and they were phenomenal. I think historical fiction is the best way to learn history. The first book is mainly concerned with the translation of the Bible into English. William Tyndale is of course a big character. I learned more about him and his involvement with translating the Bible from these books than I ever did from any history class.

As with most historical fiction, the Wakefield and Morgan families are entirely fictional, but nearly ever other character and event that transpires are historically accurate. The history is the main part of each book, but as the covers suggest, there's a love story subplot in each book. And it's a typical Christian romance. Lots of mushy gushy words and a little kissing and that's about it.

Anyway, this is an amazing historical fiction series that I HIGHLY recommend, even if you just choose a random book that you think looks most interesting to you. I only really remember the happenings of Book one, so start there, I can guarantee that one is worth your while.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Tortall Series: The Immortals Quartet

Author: Tamora Pierce

Books in Quartet: Wild Magic, Wolf-Speaker, Emperor Mage, Realms of the Gods

Tortall Series: The Immortals quartet is the second quartet in a larger series of books called the Tortall Series. Each quartet is related in that they take place in the same land and the charcters often know each other or are inter-related, however, each quartet is about a different person. The first Quartet is Song of the Lioness, which I have reviewed also on this blog, then the Immortals. After that is Protector of the Small, about a girl named Kel, and then you have Trickster's Queen,  and Trickster's Choice.The Beka Cooper trilogy technically is set years and years before Song of the Lioness, but from what I've heard, it stands on its own without much need of reading the others, so you can go for those at whatever point. Just a bit of information in case you wanted to make sure you're reading them all in the right order.


Pages: Book 1 - 362
Book 2 -368
Book 3 -358
Book 4 - 338

Rating: .PG (There's some violence and war, but nothing terribly graphic. The love part only comes in the very last book, and all they do is kiss, so it's clean in that sense too.)

Summary: Book One -Thirteen-year-old Daine has always had a knack with animals, but it's not until she's forced to leave home that she realizes it's more than a knack -- it's magic. With this wild magic, not only can Daine speak to animals, but also she can make them obey her. Daine takes a job handling horses for the Queen's Riders, where she meets the master mage Numair and becomes his student.
Under Numair's guidance, Daine explores the scope of her magic. But she begins to sense other beings too: immortals. These bloodthirsty monsters have been imprisoned in the Divine Realms for the past four hundred years, but now someone has broken the barrier. It's up to Daine and her friends to defend their world from an immortal attack.

Book Two - When Daine is summoned by the wolf pack that saved her life a year earlier, she knows she has to go. She and Numair travel to Dunlath Valley to answer the call. But when they arrive, Daine realizes with a shock that it's not just the animals whose lives are threatened; people are in danger too. Dunlath's rulers have discovered black opals in their valley and are dead set on mining the magic these stones embody. Daine learns that Dunlath's lord and lady plan to use this power to overthrow King Jonathan -- even if it means irreversibly damaging the land and killing their workers.
On a mission to save both her animal friends and her human ones, Daine has to master her wild magic in order to fight for the kingdom and triumph over the would-be usurpers.

Book Three - Sent to Carthak as part of the Tortallan peace delegation, Daine finds herself in the middle of a sticky political situation. She doesn't like the Carthaki practice of keeping slaves, but it's not her place to say anything -- she's just there to heal the emperor's birds. It's extremely frustrating! What's more, her power has grown in a mysterious way.
As the peace talks stall, Daine puzzles over Carthak's two-faced Emperor Ozorne. How can he be so caring with his birds and so cruel to his people? Daine is sure he's planning something. Daine must fight the powerful Emperor Mage, knowing that the safety and peace of the realm depend on stopping Ozorne's power-hungry schemes.


Book Four - During a dire battle against the fearsome Skinners, Daine and her mage teacher Numair are swept into the Divine Realms. Though happy to be alive, they are not where they want to be. They are desperately needed back home, where their old enemy, Ozorne, and his army of strange creatures are waging war against Tortall.
Trapped in the mystical realms Daine discovers her mysterious parentage. And as these secrets of her past are revealed so is the treacherous way back to Tortall. So they embark on an extraordinary journey home, where the fate of all Tortall rests with Daine and her wild magic.

My Thoughts: I like the Alanna books and the Protector of the Small books better than the Immortals, but that didn't stop me from being engrossed in these. It was again hard to stop reading them, because they move at a very fast pace. Daine's magic is different from most people's. Some people in the fictional land have magic called the Gift, but it is easier to control, and most people with the gift can do simple things like light fires with it. Daine's magic is specific to animals. She can heal, but only animals, not people, and she can speak to animals and control them basically. Outside of the animal realm, Daine's powers do basically nothing. Her wild magic is so strong, that at one point, she got so absorbed in connecting with a pack of wolves that she forgot she was human for a time.

By the end of the first book, Daine has figured out how to talk to the animals around her and call to them with just her mind, from great distances. She is no longer in danger of forgetting she is human. In the second book, Daine learns how to basically inhabit other animals for brief amounts of time. She goes into meditation and for a set time, she can see, taste, and feel everything that animal does. By the end of the book, she is learning how to shapeshift and actually become other animals for a while, although this is quite difficult. Each book has a different disaster that Daine helps divert because of her ability to talk and work through her animal friends. She also can talk to Immortals, and there are some good ones. Griffins, dragons, basilisks, and others are all friendly and kind Immortals. But there are plenty of bad ones too. Every disaster that almost befalls Tortall is part of a giant scheme by Ozorne, and that doesn't reach a climax until the last book.

The last book is by far the most violent and magical and crazy. New creatures are surfacing all the time, and things are really developing. I started to get overwhelmed with all the magical stuff and the crazy stories with their gods and whatnot. The gods have a huge role to play in the last book, and it gets a little far-fetched. Overall, the Immortals series is not my favorite of the Tortall books, but they are still good.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Winter's Child: A Retelling of "The Snow Queen"

Author: Cameron Dokey
Pages:173
Rating: G

Summary:
Free-spirited Grace and serious Kai are the best of friends. They grew up together listening to magical tales spun by Kai's grandmother and sharing in each other's secrets. But when they turn sixteen and Kai declares his love for Grace, everything changes. Grace yearns for freedom and slowly begins to push Kai -- and their friendship -- away.
Dejected Kai dreams of a dazzling Snow Queen, who entices him to leave home and wander to faraway lands. When Grace discovers Kai is gone, she learns how much she has lost and sets out on a mystical journey to find Kai...and discover herself.

My Thoughts: This book is based off of the Hans Christian Anderson story called "The Snow Queen" which is actually A LOT different. I found a summary of the original story here and I have to say I definitely like the premise of the book better than the original story. In the book, the Snow Queen is actually a good character. Because of something that happened to her when she was a baby, she is burdened with the quest to go throughout the world and heal hearts of fear and sorrow, until she finds someone who can heal her own heart. I really liked how all the elements fit together, and for once, it didn't feel like a story full of set-up and very little climax. It was really good, and the ending was really unexpected. Recommended for anyone.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Storyteller's Daughter: A Retelling of "The Arabian Nights"

Author: Cameron Dokey
Pages: 281
Rating: G

Summary: In a faraway kingdom, a king has been betrayed. Deeply hurt and bitterly angry, he vows never to be deceived again. Unfortunately, the king's plan to protect himself will endanger all of the realm's young women, unless one of them will volunteer to marry the king -- and surrender her life.
To everyone's relief and horror, one young woman steps forward. The daughter of a legendary storyteller, Shahrazad believes it is her destiny to accept this risk and sacrifice herself.
On the night of her wedding to the king, Shahrazad begins to weave a tale. Fascinated, the king lets her live night after night. Just when Shahrazad dares to believe that she has found a way to keep her life -- and an unexpected love -- a treacherous plot will disrupt her plan. Now she can only hope that love is strong enough to save her.

My Thoughts: This is so far one of my favorites in this series of retold fairy tales. I love the fact that it's several stories within a story, since all the stories Shahrazad tells are also in the book. For once the climax is in exactly the right place, because it's building all along through the stories Shahrazad tells Shahrayar (the king) every night. And every night as the stories are told, love is forming between the two. It's such a good story, full of all the good fairy-tale elements, like seeing the good where no one else can see it, being kind to those who don't seem like they deserve it, and earning favor from genies and others who grant wishes. I highly recommend this one. I loved it. =)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Sunlight and Shadow: A Retelling of "The Magic Flute"

Author: Cameron Dokey
Pages: 184
Rating: G

Summary: In a time when the world was young and many things were quite commonplace that are now entirely forgotten, Sarastro, Mage of the Day, wed Pamina, the Queen of the Night. And in this way was the world complete, for light was joined to dark. For all time would they be joined together. Only the ending of the world could tear them apart. In other words, in the days in which my parents married, there was no such thing as divorce....
Thus begins the tale of Mina, a girl-child born on the longest night of the darkest month of the year. When her father looked at her, all he saw was what he feared: By birth, by name, by nature, she belonged to the Dark. So when Mina turned sixteen, her father took her away from shadow and brought her into sunlight.
In retaliation, her mother lured a handsome prince into a deadly agreement: If he frees Mina, he can claim her as his bride.
Now Mina and her prince must endure deadly trials -- of love and fate and family -- before they can truly live happily ever after....

My Thoughts: I loved this story. I have never actually seen "The Magic Flute" originally an opera written by Mozart in German, but it's one I've always wanted to see, and after reading this book, I've now reserved it from the library. If you are interested in reading the synopsis of the opera, I found it here. I think the book has probably a nicer story, in that Pamina and Sarastro were originally married and that Mina was their child. There are two other characters in the book that the summary does not mention. Gayna is the daughter of Sarastro's forrester. Sarastro has raised her in his house since she was small and her parents died. Lapin is a boy who has known Mina her entire life; he lives in the household of the Queen of the Night. In his family's possession are a set of bells said to summon your heart's true love if you play the true music of your heart on it. Mostly, Lapin has just managed to summon birds of every shape and form. Tern is the handsome prince that Lapin summons, and he is the one in possession of the Magic Flute. He carved it out of an old majestic tree in his home country.

 Most of the book is set-up, and the actual climax doesn't happen till close to the end but because it almost reads like an old "Beginning of the World" story, it doesn't seem as cheesy. Like all the other books in the Once Upon A Time series, it's a quick, easy read. However, since it's a story that's probably unfamiliar to most of us, it keeps you intrigued the entire time. I was never quite sure who was going to end up with who, or what is eventually going to happen. I also like the fact that various chapters or even sections within chapters are voiced by different characters. Sarastro and Pamina never get to tell any part of the story, but Lapin, Mina, Tern, Gayna, and Statos do. It can sometimes be a bit confusing who is telling the story though because the chapter headings don't tell you. Usually it can be figured out in the first few sentences. I recommend this one. It definitely has an old legend feel to it. Loved it. =)


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Bean Trees

Author: Barbara Kingsolver
Rating: PG-13 - there's a few sexual references/sex related humor, but I would consider it extremely mild, and definitely not memorable.
Pages: 261

Summary:Clear-eyed and spirited, Taylor Greer grew up poor in rural Kentucky with the goals of avoiding pregnancy and getting away. But when she heads west with high hopes and a barely functional car, she meets the human condition head-on. By the time Taylor arrives in Tucson, Arizona, she has acquired a completely unexpected child, a three-year-old American Indian girl named Turtle, and must somehow come to terms with both motherhood and the necessity for putting down roots. Hers is a story about love and friendship, abandonment and belonging, and the discovery of surprising resources in apparently empty places.

My Thoughts: I absolutely love this book. I read it for the first time in middle school, again in high school, and again now. One of the big perks to this book is that it's not centered on love, heartbreak, or random teenage drama. It's a real story of a person trying to get by in life. Taylor has a personality that is rather unforgettable, and all the people she meets in the story are pretty similar.

Basically, Taylor (who changed her name to Taylor from Marietta) is tired of Kentucky and decides to get out. She opts to drive her car as far as it will take her, but gives up that idea when her car breaks down in boring, flat Oklahoma. While in Oklahoma getting her car fixed, Taylor aquires a child. An Indian woman simply leaves the girl on Taylor's passenger seat. With nowhere to go really, Taylor takes the kid with her. She names her Turtle because she has a vice-like grip that reminds Taylor of mud-turtles. Eventually, Taylor ends up in Tucson, Arizona, where she finds housing with a woman named Lou-Ann, who recently had a baby, and whose husband just left her.

There are two directions the story goes from here. First, Taylor decides she wants Turtle to belong to her legally, but with no documentation, this proves rather difficult. Most of the second half of the story encompasses Taylor's struggle to adopt Turtle. Underneath all that is a story about illegal immigration. Taylor has a friend in Tucson who is in the business of helping illegal immigrants get into the country and find places where they will be safe. Mostly, these people fled their country in the south because they would have been killed otherwise. It's kind of the second story line going on. Now that I've read a few of Kingsolver's books, I'm beginning to think that the theme of her books always has something to do with a controversial issue involving the United States and our involvement with foreigners. But regardless of the commentary on immigration, I LOVE the book, and I think it's a fantastic story.


Monday, March 12, 2012

The Talent Code: Greatness Isn't Born. It's Grown. Here's How.

Author: Daniel Coyle
Rating: PG (there's a few minor swear words)
Pages: 221

Summary:What is the secret of talent? How do we unlock it? In this groundbreaking work, journalist and New York Times bestselling author Daniel Coyle provides parents, teachers, coaches, businesspeople—and everyone else—with tools they can use to maximize potential in themselves and others.

Whether you’re coaching soccer or teaching a child to play the piano, writing a novel or trying to improve your golf swing, this revolutionary book shows you how to grow talent by tapping into a newly discovered brain mechanism.

Drawing on cutting-edge neurology and firsthand research gathered on journeys to nine of the world’s talent hotbeds—from the baseball fields of the Caribbean to a classical-music academy in upstate New York—Coyle identifies the three key elements that will allow you to develop your gifts and optimize your performance in sports, art, music, math, or just about anything.

My Thoughts: This is probably one of the most fascinating books I've ever read in my entire life. I was hooked, the entire time. The best part is, it's not written in boring scientist language. The author is a talented story-teller, and it's definitely written in layman's terms. You do not have to be a genius to wrap your mind around the concepts in this book.

Also, it could apply to EVERYTHING. Basically, the main focus of the book is that talent in anything (outgoing nature, music, math, athletics, etc) is something that you can grow in yourself if you want it enough and if you practice well and a lot. The book points out that many people we think are geniuses or naturals at something (Mozart, Jessica Simpson, etc) actually spent hundreds of thousands of hours painstakingly practicing the skills that got them their fame. Mozart, "by his sixth birthday, had studied 3,500 hours of music with his instructor-father."

I really don't know how to talk about this book, because it seriously must be read. I enjoyed reading it to learn about education helps as well. Encouraging effort, rather than innate "smartness" helps kids to grow and learn at much faster rates, and the book also helps you to understand that failures are opportunities to keep practicing and get better. The more you fail, the more you practice it to get it right, which helps your brain to cement the correct way into your instincts. Failures and difficulties help us learn more and learn better. The more time we spend practicing what is on the edge of our comfort zone, the better we will get at whatever it is. I HIGHLY recommend this book. SO INTERESTING!!!!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Tortall Series: Song of the Lioness Quartet

Author: Tamora Pierce

Books in Quartet: Alanna: The First Adventure, In the Hand of the Goddess, The Woman Who Rides Like a Man, Lioness Rampant

Tortall Series: Song of the Lioness is the first quartet in a larger series of books called the Tortall Series. Each quartet is related in that they take place in the same land and the charcters often know each other or are inter-related, however, each quartet is about a different person. After Song of the Lioness, the next quartet is called The Immortals Series, and it's about a girl named Daine. After that is Protector of the Small, about a girl named Kel, and then you have Trickster's Queen,  and Trickster's Choice, which are about Alanna's daughter. The Beka Cooper trilogy technically is set years and years before Alanna, but from what I've heard, it stands on its own without much need of reading the others, so you can go for those at whatever point. Just a bit of information in case you wanted to make sure you're reading them all in the right order.


Pages: Book 1 - 274
Book 2 - 264
Book 3 -284
Book 4 -384

Rating: PG, however Alanna does have sex in books 2,3,and 4, but it's not graphic AT ALL. It's extremely vague. Basically, there's a point where in one sentence she wonders what it would be like to have sex, and then it says a few chapters later that she continues to work hard on her lessons by day, and "at night, --------- taught her about loving." (I left out the name so as not to give it away). And then in book three it's clear that she is sleeping with a certain person, but nothing explicitly says that they're having sex, other than one time where she says she feels best when they make love. Same with book 4. She calls him her lover, and it says they share a bedroll. But there is no description whatsoever. The books are not romances. I did not feel uncomfortable with it at all, but it's up to you.

Summary: Book One - Call it fate, call it intuition, or just call it common sense, but somehow young Alanna knows she isn't meant to become some proper lady cloistered in a convent. Instead, she wants to be a great warrior maiden--a female knight. But in the land of Tortall, women aren't allowed to train as warriors. So Alanna finds a way to switch places with her twin, Thom, and take his place as a knight in training at the palace of King Roald. Disguising herself as a boy, Alanna begins her training as a page in the royal court. Soon, she is garnering the admiration of all around her, including the crown prince, with her strong work ethic and her thirst for knowledge. But all the while, she is haunted by the recurring vision of a black stone city that emanates evil... somehow she knows it is her fate to purge that place of its wickedness. But how will she find it? And can she fulfill her destiny while keeping her gender a secret?

Book Two -
Still disguised as a boy, Alanna becomes a squire to none other than the prince of the realm. Prince Jonathan is not only Alanna's liege lord, he is also her best friend -- and one of the few who knows the secret of her true identity. But when a mysterious sorceror threatens the prince's life, it will take all of Alanna's skill, strength, and magical power to protect him -- even at the risk of revealing who she really is...
Filled with swords and sorcery, adventure and intrigue, good and evil, Alanna's second adventure continues the saga of a girl who dares to follow her dreams -- and the magical destiny that awaits her.

Book Three - Newly knighted, Alanna of Trebond seeks adventure in the vast desert of Tortall. Captured by fierce desert dwellers, she is forced to prove herself in a duel to the death -- either she will be killed or she will be inducted into the tribe. Although she triumphs, dire challenges lie ahead. As her mythic fate would have it, Alanna soon becomes the tribe's first female shaman -- despite the desert dwellers' grave fear of the foreign woman warrior. Alanna must fight to change the ancient tribal customs of the desert tribes -- for their sake and for the sake of all Tortall.

Book Four - Having achieved her dream of becoming the first female knight errant, Alanna of Trebond is not sure what to do next. Perhaps being a knight errant is not all that Alanna needs....But Alanna must push her uncertainty aside when a new challenge arises. She must recover the Dominion Jewel, a legendary gem with enormous power for good -- but only in the right hands. And she must work quickly. Tortall is in great danger, and Alanna's archenemy, Duke Roger, is back -- and more powerful than ever. In this final book of the Song of the Lioness quartet, Alanna discovers that she indeed has a future worthy of her mythic past -- both as a warrior and as a woman.

My Thoughts: I read these books for the first time when I was in middle school, and I have to say they are just as addicting now that I'm an adult. The books are rather small, so the 200 pages goes by really quickly. It probably took me about 4 hours to read each book. Since the books are about a girl proving herself in a man's world, you can definitely say that there is a feministic agenda about them, but it's not to the point where it's annoying or anything. To me, the message that is really evident is that you can be anything you want to be, and you shouldn't let anyone hold you back. You shouldn't let your gender or any other aspect of who you are keep you from following your dreams and achieving them. They're fun girl power books. It's nice to read about a girl who kicks butt and is just so awesome.

The books also move really quickly. You definitely never get bored, and it doesn't feel like you've run a marathon after you're done with them. In fact, the books are short enough, that you're basically dying to read the next one because the first one was just over too soon!

For all you sci-fi/fantasy freaks out there, the books are also filled with magic. Some people in the books have it, some do not, but if they do it is called "The Gift" and it's just something inside of them. They do have to learn to use it and control it, and control how much they use, because if they use too much at once, they can die. If they drain themselves of magic, they can't stay alive. Alanna doesn't just learn how to fight with swords and bows and arrows, she also learns how to use her magic.

 The people in Tortall have a variety of Gods, similar to Ancient Greece.The people kind of pick and choose which God is their personal favorite or whatever, but there are two main ones, a male and a female: Mithros, and the Great Mother Goddess. Alanna specifically  is a favorite of the Goddess, and her path in life is helped along by this Goddess. For me, it's all just fictional and good, and there are still some good messages in there, like when Alanna finds out that she is going to have to deal with her monthly period. She is extremely unhappy about this, and wants to change it, but the healer woman tells her that it's none of her business changing who the Gods wanted her to be. Here's the quote. "Your place in life you can always change, whether you have the Gift or not. But you cannot change what the gods have made you. The sooner you accept that, the happier you will be."

I love these books. They are great fun, they have some good messages, and they are pretty clean. You just have to get past the fact that Alanna has pre-marital sex, but for me it wasn't that hard to do, because it was not even the tiniest bit graphic, and it's certainly not the main focus of the story. It's just something that happens, but it's a background thing. It's not really a love story. Alanna does need to learn to be a woman and love, and that is why the sex is thrown in there, but it's really vague.

Book 3 is probably the least action packed, since it's kind of an in-between book. It's just the bridge between exciting things happening. But don't skip it. You need the background of the 3rd book to help you understand what is happening in the 4th one. I still read more than half the 3rd book in less than 2 hours. And then the 4th one has a nice satisfying ending, AND a long battle scene with lots of action. So it's very exciting. I highly recommend this series!