Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Thinking about my birthday and book reviews

My birthday was yesterday and it was very low-key, considering it was a big one, the big 3-0. True, my 21st birthday was more fun to celebrate but slightly uneventful given my location, but going into a new decade of my life is pretty exciting even if the celebrations were not. It felt kind of lonely because once again, I am far away from my good friends, even though my hubby was there and I love being with him. I was surprised how many friends wished me happy birthday though and that made me smile. I went to work early and found some good kid's books to read, so that will keep me occupied. 

I am currently reading a book I randomly found while shelving called A Proud Taste of Scarlet and Miniver by author E.L. Konigsburg, which seems to be about a fantasy/historical fiction about Eleanor of Aquitaine, who happens to be one of my favorite historical figures. I have been busy reading all the Children's/YA books I can get my hands on, and have fallen in love with Margarita Engle's free verse novels. My next task is to read as many free verse novels as I can get my hands on. To break up the all the kid's books, I am also on a P.G. Wodehouse kick and like to listen to the the audiobooks of his Jeeves and Wooster short stories. 

Tsuba: The Little Snail 
by Carol Ann Williams 
Loved the story and the artwork in oils was exquisite. This Japanese folktale is the story of a poor rice farming family who desperately want a baby, any baby, and the wife prays to the Water God for one. He grants her request and sends her Tsubu, which means "Little Snail". The parents are so grateful and thank the Water God profusely for the blessing, raising the snail as their own son. Their son later marries the warlord's daughter. The story reminded me of the folktale, "Hans My Hedgehog" and my favorite part was probably when the snail is driving the rice tax to the warlord. It is well-worth a read for the story alone, not even including the amazing artwork. Highly recommended, 5 stars. 

Stand Straight, Ella Kate
by Kate Klise
I too had never heard of this woman until I picked up this book while shelving today at the library. The story looked interesting and I have always been fascinated with people who joined the side shows at circuses, so that is a good enough reason for me to read it. The book is based on the real life of the "Gentle Giantess," Ella Kate Ewing, who stood 8 ft 4 in tall! I liked it because it said that despite what she cried about as a child, being made fun of for being too tall, it allowed her freedom and a way to make money to support herself and her family. All in all a well done story. 4 stars. 

Children and Young Adult
The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba's Struggle for Freedom
by Margarita Engle
I picked this book up based on a recommendation from a fellow librarian, and it did not disappoint. I was really impressed with the poetry of this short history of the Cuban Civil Wars, which started in 1868 and went through 1899, though the actual start of the book was a little bit before that in 1850/51. The wars are seen through the eyes of a slave nurse called Rosa and later by her husband Jose, as well as through the eyes of a slave hunter named Lieutenant Death, Captain General Weyler of the Spanish army and a young girl named Silvia. The poetry is beautifully written and really brings you into the time period, something I knew nothing about. I vaguely remember studying about the Spanish-American War in school, but for some reason I always thought it was in Panama or Mexico. I had no idea that America had requested to buy the island of Cuba, and had eventually only set the island free after occupation if they were allowed to set up the naval base of Guantanamo. 5 stars. 

The Poet Slave of Cuba: A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano
by Margarita Engle

Another brilliant work from Margarita Engle, this verse novel documents the first half of the Poet Slave's, Juan Francisco Manzano, life as a slave for a rich Spanish female landowner in Cuba. Parts of it were very hard to read, as his punishments got more and more graphic, but somehow through all of it, Manzano managed to stay hopeful and be somewhat successful. Part of his autobiography and some of his poetry was eventually published.  Three excerpts of his actual poetry in Spanish/English are included in the back of the book. Further information about Manzano after his escape from slavery is also featured in the back of the book. 

I had never heard of this man before reading this novel, but after reading Engle's other beautifully written work, "The Surrender Tree," I was curious to see what else she had written about. This book won the Pura Belpre Author Award and was on the ALA Notable Children's Books and Best Books for Young Adults, so it seemed like the best one to read. I look forward to reading more of her books in the future. 5 stars. 

Tofu Quilt
by Ching Yeung Russell
An interesting view of a young girl's life, through free verse poetry, in mainland China and Hong Kong in the 1950s-60s. The author goes from thinking she is not worth much (as the emphasis is always on boys) to deciding she wants to be a writer, and learning that she not only loves doing it but is good at it. I enjoyed her fascination with eating dan lai. I also liked reading her biographical summary in the back of the book about what happened to her after sixth grade. 4 stars. 

Young Adult
The Lost Hero
by Rick Riordan

Ok, I was honestly skeptical about Rick Riordan trying his hand again at the world of Olympus after the great job he did with the Percy Jackson series. I kept thinking, could it really be a good book? Yes, despite the annoying memory loss thing in the beginning of the book which I think took a bit away from the story, I think he did a good job. I liked that the 3 main characters were older, unclaimed by their god parent and had some ethnic diversity. The story is basically Jason (who has lost his memory) is your typical blond hair/blue eyed hero who joins the story with Piper (half Cherokee/half white) girl and Hispanic Leo. They find out they are demigods and end up at Camp Half-Blood, but somehow Jason doesn't belong. They end up going on a quest to free Hera from the clutches of the mysterious enemy (though i figured it out about 200 pages in or so). Overall the villains were surprising and had some interesting twists. I can't wait for the next book! 4 stars. 


I thought Riordan was super clever to extend the series by dividing up the demigods into Greek and Roman. I figured out the SPQR and the 12 lines right away, but maybe that's how the Roman camp is organized by legions. I had figured that Percy was abducted by Gaea's group, but then when they mentioned that he was in the Roman camp, I was like "oh yeah, that makes total sense, since Jason is at Camp Half-Blood." Now I am really curious to learn more about the Roman camp and see who this other girl is (Jason's possible love interest), especially after I really liked getting to know Piper. 

The Rummy Affair of Old Biffy
by P.G. Wodehouse, Narrated by Alexander Spencer
My version was on three audio CDs, and included 4 short stories. I thought the narrator was absolutely brilliant and I loved these short stories, especially the last one where the narrator played Jeeves instead of Wooster and talked about how he "handled his manager" by ultimately convincing him that taking care of little girls was no fun at all, and being a bachelor was his best option. One of the things I love about P.G. Wodehouse is his brilliant, witty way of telling the story and Wooster eventually achieving his goal, like when Bertie breaks into his friends house to steal his friend's wife's manuscript (to save his friend from embarrassment) and gets caught by the police and eventually escapes by climbing out an open window and running for his life. 5 stars. 

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