Sunday, May 1, 2011

Kat Falls, Sara Gruen, Arthur Slade, Diana Wynne Jones and Jenny Han

I am taking a break from packing to write a review post of the books I've been reading since April 17, which isn't a lot, but does include one adult book (which I hardly seem to read these days, but I've been waiting months to read this particular book). We've got most of the house packed but still doing bits and pieces in a couple rooms, and then of course we have to clean the whole place before the closing inspection. Not that we're expecting any money back, our dog has seen to that, but it's just something we gotta do. While I am a little annoyed that our moving truck won't be here till Tues afternoon vs the morning, I am glad that it didn't get delayed until the following day. Anyways, on to reviews, which contain some spoilers. 

Monsters Eat Whiny Children by Bruce Eric Kaplan 
I thought the title was hilarious, which is why I initially picked it up. The story is about two whiny children named Henry and Eve, whose father warned them to stop or monsters would come and get them, and one day a monster did come. The funny part came when the monster and his wife/neighbors are arguing about how to prepare the children, i.e. in a salad, burger, cake, vindaloo (Portuguese-influenced Indian curry), and cucumber sandwiches. But the children escape so the monsters end up eating plain old cucumber sandwiches, which should be made with butter.

The funniest part of this story is not the story itself but a review I saw before I posted mine from a mother who read the story to her children and frightened them so much that she only has to threaten calling the monsters and her kids stop whining. I agree with her that the humor is more for parents than their children, but it is a cute book. Three stars, recommended for children aged 5-12. 

The Quiet Book by Deborah Underwood
Love the descriptions of the different kinds of the quiet, ones I wouldn't normally think about such as "don't scare the robin quiet, last one to get picked up from school quiet, right before you yell 'SURPRISE' quiet, and what flashlight quiet." Plus I love the illustrations that have been toned down, from typical bright colors to emphasis the quiet within the book. Great for storytime or bedtime! Five stars, recommended for ages 3-8.

La lagartija y el sol/The Lizard and the Sun: A Folktale in English and Spanish 
by Alma Flor Ada
I loved this Aztec folktale, in Spanish and English, about why lizards like lying in the sun. One day the sun just disappears and all the animal and people are afraid, but the lizard goes searching for it. He finds her and with a little help from the emperor, a woodpecker and the people wakes her up and gets her going again. I love all the details in the book from the architecture to the clothing on the emperor. Very well done interpretation of this story, which apparently started out as a paragraph. Five stars, recommended for ages 7+. 

Children  and Young Adult
Dark Life (Dark Life #1) by Kat Falls 
Another book I discovered at the Teen Services Workshop, this book was described to me as a fantasy western, which intrigued me enough to pick it up and try it out. And it pretty much is just that. Basically the story premise is this: The eastern seaboard of the US has fallen into the ocean creating two separate societies, the Topsiders who live on land and those who live in the subsea territory. Gemma, a Topsider, comes to the subsea and meets Ty, a born subsea dweller, who helps her to find her brother. Meanwhile there is a roving group of outlaws that threatens to destroy the territory and the gov't says they must be captured or they will close the territory down. Will the outlaws be captured? Will Gemma ever find her brother? To find out, read this fascinating undersea adventure. Four stars, recommended for ages 10+. 

The Dark Deeps (The Hunchback Assignments #2) by Arthur Slade
The second book of the series finds Modo and Octavia posing as husband and wife and heading to New York in search of a missing fellow British agent. Once they arrive, they find out that he is dead but can't figure out by whom, and then there is the mysterious note with the words "Big Fish" and a location. What is this Big Fish? Is it part of the Clockwork Guild or something else? What is the organization's master plan? 


Overall I enjoyed the book and especially learning about Icaria, and everything that the Captain had achieved underwater. However, I thought the story lacked a bit of the excitement of the first book. The Griff character was particularly evil and crazy, but at the same time you feel kind of sorry for him, kind of like Gollum in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I'm hoping the author continues the series and we see more of Colette, the half-Japanese/half French spy, as the end of the story made her seem more intriguing. Four stars, recommended for ages 11+. 

Shug by Jenny Han
I loved this book! I thought it was interesting that the main character's mother named her after the really vivacious character in "The Color Purple," but gave the less colorful name to her sister, which seemed kind of backward. Shug (aka Annemarie) is a twelve-year old going into the 7th grade. She likes her best friend Mark but has never been able to tell him so and since school started again, everything has started to change in her personal and school life, which she hates. She wants things to go back to the way they were, but she is growing up and moving on. An example of this is on page 144, when Shug says "Come to think of it, things were easier when it was just me and Mark, too. But the old me and Mark, without any of the love stuff. Life was simpler. Life was riding bikes and kickball and cherry Popsicles." I know exactly what she means there as I had a similar situation with a boy in middle school. I met him in 6th or 7th grade and we were best friends, only somewhere along the way I got a huge crush, but he never noticed me as a girl, just as his friend. Then when we got to high school, he was too cool for me and yeah, broke my heart a bit. So I can totally relate to her after her 7th grade dance, when she overhears Mark saying on page 220, "Annemarie? Come on, she's barely even a girl," and is totally crushed. Five stars, recommended for ages 10+.

One of the first things that jumped out at me about this book was Shug's description of pretty and plain girls as compared to butterflies and moths. She says on page 11 "It's like moths. They're the same as butterflies, aren't they? They're just gray. They can't help being gray, they just are. But butterflies, they're a million different colors, yellow and emerald and cerulean blue. They're pretty." I've always loved that word "cerulean," its's a great descriptor.Later on at the end of Chapter 11, Shug is talking about letting friends you knew in elementary school go and says on page 74 "It's like trying to shimmy up a rope with a moose tied to your ankles. You've just gotta cut that moose loose." I just thought that was hilarious. The author is really good at putting in references that most twelve-year olds probably wouldn't use, but with the quirky Shug, it seems possible. Like when Celia knows of the play "The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus" because her sister was supposed to read it and she compares being paired with her worst enemy as "a Faustian bargain (minus the blood part)." 

Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
I was watching the Miyazaki film version the other day (which I love) when I had learned that the author of the actual book had died. So I figured it was time to read the book. The book is way different from the movie, though the basic plot line is the same. 

Sophie works at a hat shop and leads a pretty boring life, until one day, when the Witch of the Waste comes into her shop and decides to turn her into an old woman. Sophie leaves town and ends up at the Wizard Howl's moving castle, where she hires herself on as a cleaning woman to Howl, his apprentice Michael and Calcifer, the fire demon. They are pursued by the Witch of the Waste, who has put a curse on Howl and Calcifer, and Sophie must figure out what it is in order to free herself from her own curse. 

The main difference between the film and the movie is that in the movie, Sophie only has one sister, while in the book she has two. The Witch of the Waste seems to stay beautiful throughout the book, whereas in the movie she ends up becoming blob-like and helpless halfway through. In the book: Michael is in love with Sophie's sister Martha, while Howl seems to be wooing her other sister Lettie. Wizard Sulliman is a man and has disappeared due to the Witch of the Wastes, along with the King's brother, Prince Justin. The whole Sulliman/Justin thing I thought was very odd and a bit unneccessary. If there are more books on Sophie and Howl, I would be interested in reading them. Four stars, recommended for ages 10+. 

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
I loved this audiobook, even though it took me ages to finish (though not for lack of interest). The switching viewpoints I thought was going to be annoying, but once you got into the book, you didn't really notice it. At first, my favorite character was 90 or 93 yr old Jacob with his crotchedyness that made me laugh out loud, but it was only towards the end of the book that I really started to fall in love with 23 year old Jacob's story as well. 

So the main point of the story is the older version of Jacob in a nursing home as he is reminiscing about his younger self at 23. At the beginning of the story, he is attending vet school at Cornell until his parents die in a tragic car accident leaving him totally devastated and without the will to finish school. So he runs away and ends up joining a circus by accident. He eventually becomes the vet for The Benzini Brothers' Circus and it is here that he meets the people who will change his life, such as Walter, Marlena, August and Big Al and the elephant, Rosie. I really did not want to stop listening to it, because every time I got in the car, there was something fascinating/fun to listen to. I had forgotten that circuses traveled by train in the 1930s, but then I remembered the movie "Dumbo." I have always found circuses to be fascinating, esp Ringling Brothers because of the P.T. Barnum connection, so this whole storyline immersion in the behind the scenes of a circus was amazing. I was happy too because I managed to finished the book the day before the movie came out in theaters, which I do want to see, though I think the book will be better. Five stars and highly recommended. 

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