Monday, August 27, 2007

Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

lovely-bones.jpgLovely Bones by Alice Sebold

Published: Little Brown and Company 2002

Genre: Mystery

Recommended Age Group: 21 and Up

Summary: "My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973." After this gripping beginning Alice Sebold continues to capture the reader with her story of Susie's life on earth and her new life in heaven watching her friends, family, and killer from heaven. The beginning is about the rape and murder then Sebold goes on to tell us more about Susie, her family, and her killer. We learn that Susie and her family had a pretty good life together. Susie's mother didn't want to be a mother in the beginning but molded herself to her new role. She has a younger sister Lindsey who took Susie's death pretty hard. The youngest was Buckley, four at the time of her death. Susie's father was very close to her and made up for her mother's lack of enthusiasm for the children.

George Harvey, the killer, killed many people before Susie and at least one after her. He grew up with his Dad after his mother was forced to leave them. His mother taught him how to steal and called him her "little accomplice." From this rocky start a killer grew. He did not kill his first victim. He called his rape of he an accident and led himself to believe it. He was not punished and no one was notified of his crime. From this his attacks grew and then focused on children.

Susie looks down on her friends and loved ones from heaven and continues to live through them. She follows Ray Singh, the boy who gave her her first kiss, and Ruth Connors, the girl she saw on her trip from her body to heaven. Her family has a difficult time and a lot of struggles but in the end they are all stronger from this experience and while they still miss her terribly they are able to move on with their lives. Mr. Harvey ends up being killed when some icicles fall on his body and kill him.

Personal Notes: Alice Sebold tackles a tough topic with grace and beauty. I was a little worried when I heard that Susie was raped before she was killed but there is not a lot of detail and after it is described the initial time Sebold doesn't go back to it. This is definitely not a book for children or teens. There is a lot of adult content in the book and it is a difficult subject matter. It is also at times difficult to follow because Sebold jumps around between past, present, and the murder from several different peoples point of view. All in all, it's a pretty good book and an interesting take on the afterlife.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale

princess-academy.jpgPrincess Academy by Shannon Hale

Published: 2005

Genre: Juvenile Fiction

Age Group: 12 and Up

Summary: Princess Academy is a Newbery Honor Book about Miri, a mountain girl who is full of wit and imagination. She and the rest of the town get quite a shock when the chief delegate from the King comes and tells them that one of them is to become a Princess by marrying the Prince. In order to prepare them for this an academy is set up to educate them in everything from reading to history and commerce. The girls are reluctant at first especially when their teacher turns out to be quick to punish but through perseverance and hard work Miri and the other nineteen girls are able to straighten up their teacher, learn their subjects, meet the Prince, and come to truly appreciate the value of their mountain home. Only one girl can be chosen and at first that was a source of contention but in the end they were all friends and happy with the choice the Prince made for his future bride. Along the way the girls learn things about themselves and each other and forge not only friendships but also a new life for themselves and their families in the mountains.

Personal Notes: The best book I've read in a long time! The prose was beautiful and full of imagery and detail without losing my interest. Hale has a way of describing the scene while creating action that is just magical. The plot was fabulous with many different layers and subsets. The characters were complex and interesting without taking the light of the main character. The conflict was believable and real but new and interesting at the same time. I would definitely recommend it to anyone and everyone I know. It's not a usual princess story either, it has real meat to it and it is full of adventure.

Monday, August 20, 2007

The Avion My Uncle Flew by Cyrus Fisher

the-avion.jpgThe Avion My Uncle Flew by Cyrus Fisher

Genre: Adventure Mystery

Published: 1946

Recommended Age Group: 10 and Up

Summary: This Newbery Honor Book begins just after World War II is over and Johnny Littlehorn and his mother are waiting for his father to come home from Europe. While they were waiting for Mr. Littlehorn to come home Johnny fell and broke his leg and liked the treatment his mother was giving him so much that he stopped trying to walk altogether. When he Dad returned he announced that the family was moving to Europe and that he had a new job over there. When they arrived in Paris Johnny's mother was offered a job and it was decided that Johnny should stay with his mother brother, his Uncle Paul. Uncle Paul is in the process of building an airplane or un avion in French. The adventure starts in a Paris park. Johnny is taken for walks everyday and a strangely tall man talks to him. He seems threatening and unfriendly but Johnny just can't put his finger on why. Later he sees that same man in his hotel room trying to convince his parents that they should sell their property in southern France where Johnny's mother and Uncle Paul grew up. After the Littlehorns decide not to sell Johnny meets the strange man in the park again and he threatens him not to go to St. Charmant, where the property is, but he is so careful with his wording that when Johnny repeats it he just seems like a childish whiner. Johnny's parents tell him to go anyway and they both make him a bargain. His Dad tells him if he can walk to miles Johnny will get a new bike with a high and low gear. His Mother promises him if he can write a letter in French, which he is just starting to learn, Johnny will get a dynamo light for his new bike. Shortly after arriving in St. Charmant Johnny discovers that there is a Nazi hiding in the mountains by his Uncle's home. Johnny tells everyone this but after they find no trace on the mountain no one believes him and the men that were helping his Uncle Paul build his airplane were forced to quit by the Mayor. In the end Uncle Paul finishes his airplane with a help of a close friend and Johnny gets to fly the plane and they defeat the Nazi and find his mystery supporters. Everyone credits Johnny with his defeat but it was all by accident that it happened and a bit of miscommunication over a language barrier. A wonderful story and an interesting read.

Personal Notes: The plot line was fabulous, a really interesting idea and topic but not well executed. Even though I loved the story I found myself getting bored and it took me a lot longer to finish this book than it usually takes me. I think it may be that this book is under my reading level and I read better when there are more subplots. I think for anyone age 10 to 12 it would be a great read. It has a lot of interesting points, it teaches the reader some French along with Johnny and shows how easy a new language can be with a little help. It is also fun because of the building of the airplane the process and the work it took were fun to read about.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Skippyjon Jones by Judy Schachner

skippyjon-jones.jpgSkippyjon Jones by Judy Schachner

Genre: Children's Fiction

Publication Date: 2003

Recommended Age Group: 4 and Up

Summary: Skippyjon Jones is a Siamese cat with a great imagination and a desire to be anything but what he is. His mother Mama Junebug Jones doesn't like this at all and sends him to his room to think about being a cat. While in his room Skippyjon's imagination once again gets away with him and takes him into his closet and to old Mexico where he pretends to be a Chihuahua. He has great adventures as a chihuahua and ends up saving the day but also causing a big mess.

Personal Notes: An enormously fun story and one of my favorite books to read aloud. It does have a bit of Spanish in it but that makes it more fun because you can really get into it and include the accents and everything. On the back of the book it recommends it to children ages 4 and up but I think my two year old does great with it. It really depends on the day. I wouldn't think you had to wait until four to enjoy this book together.

Wet Dog! by Elise Broach illustrations by David Catrow

wet-dog.jpgWet Dog! by Elise Broach illustrations by David Catrow

Genre: Children's Fiction

Publication Date: 2005

Recommended Age group: 2 and Up

Summary: Wet Dog! is about a hot old dog who is just trying to cool off from the "too-hot sun." He goes through getting wet by different kinds of water. First he sees a man washing his car, then in a sink full of dishes, he goes on through many different kinds until he ends up in a like. The whole time people are telling him to shoo but in the end they realize he's got the right idea and they too jump in the lake to get out of the "too-hot sun."

Personal Notes: A fun book to real aloud to anyone. My children and I love this book. It's a little above my one year old's attention span but my two year-old enjoys the rhythm and sounds. Elise Broach uses great repetition and fun sounds to keep the readers attention. I also love how they are learning about different kinds of water with a fun story line. The illustration by David Catrow are fun and fitting. The dog is so cute you just have to love him!

I Like it When... by Mary Murphy

i-like-it-when.jpgI Like It When... by Mary Murphy

Genre: Children's Fiction

Publication Date:1997

Recommend Age Group: Birth and Up

Summary: This book goes through some of the most basic interactions between parents and their children. From helping to hugging to bath time. The illustrations are simple and easy for little ones to comprehend.

Personal Notes: This is the best book I own for my babies (ages one and two)! They love it so much we read it every night. We act out together what the penguins are doing on the page and they love it. In the end the adult penguin say I love you and the baby penguin says I love you too, because of this my oldest says he love me, it feels great! A must for any child's collection.

Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume

tiger-eyes.jpgTiger Eyes by Judy Blume

Genre: Juvenile Fiction

Publication Date: 1981

Recommended Age Group: 14 and Up

Summary: This is a touching and emotional story about Davey Wexler and her path to cope with the untimely death of her father. The book begins with Davey getting ready for the funeral and not being able to find shoes. When she gets there she manages not to cry and for days and months after she talks about it as little as possible. Her father was murdered in a holdup in the family’s 7-Eleven store. Davey was there when he died and could not save his life. She and her mother and younger brother struggle to deal with the loss and then they move to New Mexico to live with family while they piece their lives back together. Davey goes for long rides on her bike to get away from the family and deal with her grief, it is on one of these rides that she meets Wolf. Wolf is a young man who is also dealing with the loss of a father, but his is still alive he is dying slowing in a hospital. Davey volunteers in a hospital and ends up caring for Wolf’s father and becomes one of his good friends. In the end Davey and the rest of her family conquer the grief and they are able to go back to Atlantic City and get a part of their lives back. They are never the same but they learn how to cope and to be there for each other when it really matters.

Personal Notes: I read this a few months after the untimely death of my own father and found it to be quite accurate and touching. I remember thinking many of the same things that Davey does and wondering how we were all going to get along without him. After the funeral scene this book was a great comfort to me. It helped me deal with my grief and even though Davey was a fictional character it reminded me that I’m not alone in this loss. This is a heartfelt and powerfully moving book. Judy Blume captures the pain of loss but also the power to move ahead and come out stronger.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Peaches by Jodi Lynn Anderson

peaches.jpgPeaches by Jodi Lynn Anderson

Genre: Juvenile Fiction

Publication Date: 2005

Recommended Age Group: 14 and Up

Summary: A fun and lively novel about three teenage girls from Georgia. Birdie lives with her Dad on a farm where they grow peaches. Leeda, Birdie’s cousin, lives with affluent parents and sister Danay in a nice and slightly snotty neighborhood. Murphy lives with her single mother in a trailer park. They meet up on the farm during spring break after Leeda volunteered to work there over the summer to get away from her family and Murphy was sent there for community service after she broke into Birdie’s house and got caught stealing liquor. They weren’t close at first. Murphy had a hard shell and didn’t want to let anyone in. Leeda felt awkward and didn’t know who to be friends with. Birdie was too shy to put herself out there. The break ends with Murphy and Leeda friends but Birdie still alone. They all come back for the summer and Birdie gets up the nerve to go and talk to Leeda and Murphy, begging them to help her get out of her shell and boy do they ever. She looses weight, gets kissed by a stranger in a bar, and gets up the guts to talk to the boy she likes. Leeda realizes that she’s been missing out on a lot always comparing herself to her sister and decides just to be her. She also decides that she is not in love with her boyfriend Rex and about the same time notices that he and Murphy are in love with each other. Murphy comes to grips with her mom’s shady past and present and tries to help her through her problems. She looses the outer shell and learns to trust. She also gets a new boyfriend, Rex.

Personal Notes: An exciting read! I couldn’t put it down and truly read it start to finish in one sitting. It had a bit of a slow start and I was wondering when they would all get together but it was worth the wait because of what they discovered about themselves along the way. I loved the subtle lessons it taught about being a good friend and not letting it get to you when others pass baseless judgements.

Other reviews available:

The Secrets of Peaches by Jodi Lynn Anderson

Love and Peaches by Jodi Lynn Anderson

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling

deathly-hallows.jpgHarry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling

Genre: Fantasy

Publication Date: 2007

Recommended Age Group: 12 and Up

Summary: One of the most complicated story lines in the Potter collection. It begins with Voldemort at the Malfoy Manor planning with his Death Eaters how to capture Harry Potter. They decide to do it when he is on the move. Meanwhile Harry is at the Dursley’s House waiting for some to help him and them escape. Dudley and Harry actually have a touching good-bye and we find that Dudley is grateful for Harry. Harry and company leave the house with seven Harry’s in tow (made with polyjuice potion) and Mad-Eye is killed in the escape, George looses and ear, and Harry manages to get away unharmed. Back at the Burrow, where everyone ends up, they are preparing for the wedding of Bill and Fleur and Harry, Ron, and Hermione are planning on how best to find the Horcruxes. Ron made the family ghoul look like him and wear his pajamas and he is pretending to be sick. Hermione put a spell on her parents to forget about her and had them more to Australia. The three of them find that Dumbledore left a will with things for each of them. Harry gets a snitch, Hermione The Tales of Beedle the Bard, and Ron gets the Deluminator.
While at the wedding everyone finds out that the ministry has been overthrown and Harry, Ron, and Hermione make a run for it. Hermione has this awesome beaded bad that magically expands to fit whatever she wants to inside. She ended having spare clothes, lots of books, a tent, food, and cookware, among other things, in there. They are on the run for quite some time and they don’t really learn much. The three of them get in a fight and Ron leaves. Harry and Hermione go to Godric’s Hollow where they see the place where Harry’s parents died and they meet up with Lord Voldemort and his snake Nagini who was posing as a witch.
Rita Skeeter capitalizes on the pain and loss of Dumbledore and writes a book about his life that has, like all her stories, some truth but mostly lies. It confuses Harry and makes him want to know the truth and wonder whether or not he should trust Dumbledore. While in hiding Harry finds the sword with the help of an unknown patronus that comes to help them find the sword. He has to dive into an icy pond which we are surprised to find Ron save him from.
The reunited three then go to Xenophilius Lovegood’s house where they learn about the Deathly Hallows and their original owners and of Luna’s absence. After they narrowly escape Harry makes the mistake of saying Voldemort’s name (made Taboo to help find Order members) and they are caught and sent to Malfoy Manor. After Hermione is tortured to gain information they escape with the help of Dobby and bring with them several other’s including a goblin and Mr. Ollivander the wandmaker. From Mr. Ollivander they learn that the Elder Wand does actually exist though it is not fully understood and they all decide that it is what Voldemort is currently after. From the goblin they learn of Gringotts and plan to break in and find one of the Horcruxes. Which they do and when it seems they are caught they escape on a dragon that had been kept down there to protect the vaults.
They know that the last Horcrux is at Hogwarts so the three go to Hogsmeade and are almost caught by Death Eaters when they are saved by Aberforth Dumbledore where they learn the truth of what happened to Albus’s sister and in that part of his life. They also learn of another secret tunnel to Hogwarts and find Dumbledore’s army ready and waiting to fight. They call members of the order of the phoenix and all fight Voldemort while Harry, Ron, and Hermione find the last Horcrux, the diadem and destroy it and the goblet. Voldemort kills Snape because he thinks that will help get to get better control of the Elder Wand. Harry is there while Snape is dying and captures his memories in a vial and later looks at them in the pensive. We learn that Snape was really a good guy and that Dumbledore was right to trust him. We also learn that he was in love with Harry’s mother Lily Potter.
Voldemort stops the fighting and asks Harry to give himself up and allows them to gather their dead and wounded. Harry leaves without anyone knowing. Harry does stop and tell Neville that he needs to make sure the snake Nagini dies. Harry gets the resurrection stone from the snitch, where it had been hiding, and bring back his parents, Lupin (who died in battle) and Sirius who support him on his walk to Voldemort. After another attempt at killing him Harry ends up at King’s Cross station where he has a long chat with Dumbledore and decides to come back and finish his mission.
In the end Harry defeats Voldemort because the Elder Wand, by some technicality is truly under his power. He saves the day and all is well. The Epilogue happens nineteen years later when Harry, Ginny, Ron, and Hermione are putting their children on the train to Hogwarts and everyone lives happily ever after.

Personal Notes: I loved this book. There were parts of it, though where you could really feel the 759 pages weighing you down. When they didn’t have a plan and Rowling kept going on and on about how they didn’t have a plan I finally shouted out loud, okay, we get it! Maybe that is a testament to her writing ability though because she brought me into a sense of desperation and hopelessness along with Harry, Ron, and Hermione. All around it was beautifully written and managed to expand my vocabulary while entertaining me. The book is a wonderful end to the Harry Potter Collection.

Other reviews available:

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J. K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Ready or Not: an All-American Girl Novel by Meg Cabot

ready-or-not.jpgReady or Not: an All-American Girl Novel by Meg Cabot

Genre: Juvenile Fiction

Publication Date: 2005

Recommended Age Group: 16 and Up

Summary: The continued adventures of Samantha Madison one year after saving the life of the President of the United States. Sam is still the UN Teen Ambassador and she is still dating David, the president’s son. She has also started a life drawing class, which she didn’t understand was about drawing naked people. David asks her to spend Thanksgiving with him and his family at Camp David and wants to play Parcheesi with her. Sam mistakenly thinks Parcheesi is David’s code name for sex and she spends the time until the vacation freaked out because she doesn’t think she is ready. She’s is so nervous that she stops talking to David and he can’t understand what’s wrong because he really meant Parcheesi. Sam and the president go on MTV’s Town Hall where she blurts out that she has said “Yes to Sex” and the president and her parents freak out because they think her and David have gone too far. After talking it over together they all realize it was a big misunderstanding and Sam goes with David and his family to Camp David and they play Parcheesi. Sam is still a little confused and still thinks that David meant sex and waits up for him to come to her room. When he doesn’t she goes into his and then finally making the connection that it wasn’t sex at all he wanted. In the end they both decide they are ready.

Personal Notes: While this book does seem to talk about a lot of sensitive and seemingly controversial subjects it is really okay for a teenager to read because Meg Cabot doesn’t go into detail about these things. The life drawing is mostly about how Sam is embarrassed about what is happening and not about the naked man she is drawing. When Sam and David have sex in the end you don’t really know until the next day when Sam says simply, “I jumped his bones.” Cabot is careful to point out that this isn’t the solution for everyone and even Sam’s sister Lucy hasn’t gone that far yet because she isn’t ready and there is nothing wrong with that. Funny and greatly entertaining!

Other reviews available:

All-American Girl by Meg Cabot

All-American Girl by Meg Cabot

all-american-girl.jpgAll-American Girl by Meg Cabot

Genre: Juvenile Fiction

Publication Date: 2002

Recommended Age Group: 14 and Up

Summary: Samantha Madison is a typical teenage girl who gets thrown into the spotlight when she saves the life of the President of the United States. She insists that she was not a hero and anyone would have done the same thing in her shoes. Sam struggles with her new popularity with the press and the “friends” she gains at school who really just want their picture in the paper. Sam is also in love with her sister’s boyfriend, loved by the President’s son, and appointed the new UN Teen Ambassador. Through all this she learns what real love is like, how to follow rules yet be you, and how to recognize true friends.

Personal Notes: Fun and witty! It reminded me of when I was a teenage girl. Meg Cabot really captured Sam’s essence in this immensely enjoyable novel. While we all know the chances of something like this actually happening are small, for one thing the current president doesn’t have a teenage son, it’s still fun to read and even more enjoyable because it is so unbelievable. I found myself reading it all day in spite of my long to do list. I just couldn’t put it down.

Other reviews available:

Ready or Not: an All-American Girl Novel by Meg Cabot