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.

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

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!