Monday, March 7, 2011

Second half of book reviews from 3/7/11

Children and Young Adult
The Great Gilly Hopkins
by: Katherine Paterson
My version of the book had 148 pages, not 160. I have been wanting to read this book for awhile, and I do think that if I ever managed to do the library survey that I created for class last semester in my research class about "Foster Kids, Reading and The Library," that I would definitely use this book as part of a reading list on foster care. I really wanted to like this book, but was a bit shocked by how mean-spirited Ms. Smartypants Gilly Hopkins was, even though I know a lot of it was based on how she was treated in her foster homes and how she learned to survive. However, Gilly or to use her real name Galadriel, whose name I loved from the beginning, eventually learns that she doesn't have it so bad at Ms. Trotter's house and that William Ernest is like the dorky younger brother she never had and Mr. Randolph is pretty cool too. It sucks that she learns this as her real grandmother, who she has never met before, comes to take her to live with her permanently. And after meeting her real mom in person realizes that life isn't fair. 

I liked this quote from the book on page 124: "No, what she wanted was something Trotter had no power over. To stop being a 'foster child,' the quotation marks dragging the phrase down, almost drowning it. To be real without any quotation marks. To belong and to possess." Phrases like that are what make Katherine Paterson a great writer. I would definitely use that phrase in a booktalk, if I ever had to do one for this book. I give this book 3 1/2 stars. 

Love That Dog
by: Sharon Creech
Cute story, in free verse, about a young boy named Jack who discovers that he likes poetry and does journal entry-style poems talking about his daily life and his dog, Sky. Jack reads poetry in class, which is included in the back of the book, and gets to meet author/poet Walter Dean Myers. Would be a good way to introduce boys to poetry, in a short easy-to-read format. 3 stars. 

A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver
by: E.L. Konigsburg
I'm sure there are some who didn't like this book, but I thought it was pretty well done especially since it was written in the late 1970s. The book is about Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, who is one of my favorite historical women in history. I especially liked how the tale was narrated from heaven by contemporaries of Eleanor, and how she has been in heaven for 500 more years than her husband Henry, who is about to find out if he can come up to heaven. I thought it was amusing that both Eleanor, the Abbot and the Empress had to spend a little time in hell before making it up to heaven. The first narrator was Abbot Suger, who helped design the first Gothic Cathedral (St. Denis) and the first use of stained glass in a church, and talked about her first marriage to King Louis VII. The title alludes to Eleanor's love of luxury, in a statement made by Abbot Bernard of Clairvaux. The second narrator is Empress Matilda/Maud, daughter of Henry I and mother of Henry II, who discusses Eleanor's eventual marriage and life with her son Henry. The third narrator is William the Marshall, a knight who served Eleanor's family and tells of the time between Matilda's and Henry's death. The final narrator is Eleanor herself and discusses her son's Richard and John's rule until her death in 1204. 4 stars. 

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
by: E.L. Konigsburg
Weird that I never read this as a kid, as it is a great book now and would've been an even better one then. A summary of the book is as follows: Claudia is bored with her life and needs change, so she enlists the help of her younger brother Jamie, in order to have money to run away from home. They got to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC, and while there discover an Italian Renaissance sculpture, which might or might not be the work of Michelangelo. Only Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, the former owner of the statue, knows for sure. So they must make a journey there to find out. 

I love that Claudia decides to run away to the Met, as it is a great museum and one that would fun to explore after hours as well during the day. The art history nerd in me would love to be able to do that. I love Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler's character as she seems like just the sort of feisty old lady that I would like to be when I grow up. This version was interesting because it featured an afterword by the author, celebrating the 35th anniversary edition of this book, in which she mentions that a real Angel/Cupid statue possibly by Michelangelo was later found in the museum (although the author made that part of the story up in the book itself).  4 stars. 

Rumi: Persian Poet, Whirling Dervish
by: Demi
Gorgeously illustrated and well-done biography of the Sufi mystic poet Jalaluddin Rumi, more commonly referred to by his last name, which was really more like Da Vinci's name (aka Rumi or the man from Rum). A word on the illustration first, as that was originally what drew me to the book. As Demi explains on the inside flap of the book, the book is based off Turkish minatures and is done with "Turkish and Chinese inks and gold overlays," and book was inspired by a trip to Turkey that she took with her son and Turkish daughter-in-law. I also really happen to be fascinated with Sufi poets (as their main message is about love),so I figured this book would be a good introduction to Rumi and his poems, and it was indeed. Although this book would be best for older elementary school children and early middle schoolers, I thought it was complex enough for adults to get a basic idea about the poet/teacher as it included samples of his poetry, including some of the "Mathnavi" and the "Diwan-i Shams-i Tabrizi." 5 stars. 

Young Adult
Phineas Gage: A Gruesome But True Story About Brain Science
by: John Fleischman 
Fascinating book on Phineas Gage who managed to survive 11 years after a tampering rod, used for blowing up rocks while creating the American railroad system, was driven through his brain by an explosion. Normally I don't go in for scientific books, but the story was so interesting (yes and a little gruesome, definitely not for the faint of heart), that I couldn't put it down. The author even managed to make the complexities of brain study and science easy enough for a novice like me to understand. Yes I know this book is really meant for young adults, 6th grade +, but the volume was short enough to catch my interest and make me read a longer volume by the leading expert on Gage and his injury. 4 stars. 

What My Mother Doesn't Know
by: Sonia Sones
This volume of free-verse poetry by Sonya Sones shows a girl's journey while dating three boys, her parent's increasing fights and pending divorce, and falling in love with a boy she thinks she shouldn't date. The first part of the book was pretty shallow, but I was intrigued by her constant fascination with Murphy and how she likes him from the beginning but doesn't think he is cool or good-looking enough to date. That is until she gets to know him and realizes they are a good fit together. Yay for nerdy arty boys! 4 stars. 

Pinocchio Vampire Slayer: Volume 2
by: Van Jensen
Well I have waited forever for this one and actually read the Carlo Collodi's original story in the meantime. I did a lot of thinking after reading this volume and decided that I liked it. In this book, Pinocchio is joined in the vampire hunting by the Great Puppet Theater, which includes 6 other magical puppets and his friend Carlotta from the previous book. They are joined by the undead almost vampire Master Cherry, the decrepit Blue Fairy and the Ghost Cricket. The story has many twists and turns, but the ending was rather sudden, giving way for a third volume. I give it 3 1/2 stars. 

The Ring of Solomon (Bartimaeus #4)
by: Jonathan Stroud
When I was reading Ptolemy's Gate, the third book in the Bartimaeus saga, I couldn't get through it. But I had recently seen the description for this book and thought, hey a historical version of Bartimaeus, that is something I could get into. It was a great book, with hilarious footnotes as usual. One of my favorites being when he and the Sheban are trying to get the ring and she asks if he has a plan to which he mumbles in a footnote: "Can you define 'plan' as 'a loose sequence of manifestly inadequate observations and conjectures, held together by panic, indecision and ignorance'? If so, it was a very good plan." 

The story was set in the Middle East, primarily in Israel and Sheba (which, in the book, would be located in modern day Yemen, though the actual site has yet to be confirmed), with a few jaunts over to Mesopotamia. In this version, Bartimaeus kills his master at the beginning of the book and spends most of the rest of his time serving Khaba, one of the other 17 magicians that serve the great King Solomon. Khaba is a nasty guy who likes to imagine all sorts of nasty punishments for his spirits. Meanwhile, the Queen of Sheba has received another marriage proposal plus a threat from Solomon saying that if she doesn't accept the proposal, she must give up 40 sacks of frankincense. She is infuriated at his request and sends her First Guard, Asmira to kill him and take the ring. Bartimaeus is sent, by Solomon after a little indiscretion, to clear up bandits that have been attacking merchant caravans in the desert. He does so and discovers Asmira as the sole survivor of an attacked caravan. To discover the rest of this well-written tale, you must read the book. 5 stars. 

Anna and the French Kiss
by: Stephanie Perkins
I picked up this book based on author John Green's vblog recommendation, because he said he loved it. So I figured I would give it a try, and I loved it too. Anna is a high school senior whose father decides to put her in boarding school in Paris, and it is here where she meets a whole new group of friends, including Etienne St. Clair. He spends pretty much the whole book in a relationship, and Anna is alone, thinking that he doesn't like her and that she likes someone else. As the book progresses, she starts developing feelings for him even though they are both "just friends." The author's description of kisses was awesome, right up with there with Cassandra Clare for me. Overall, it was a bit predictable and girly, but I really enjoyed the story and couldn't stop reading it. 5 stars. 

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