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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The End of the Story

No Other Story by Dr. Cuthbert Soup

This was a satisfying ending the the "Whole Nother Story" trilogy.  It contains the same wackiness wrapped in a witty, well-written world.  While this was probably my least favorite of the three books, it was really funny like the others and it contains great vocabulary and serves as a good model of writing well. 
No Other Story

I have only seen poor or luke-warm reviews for this book, but don't be misled.  If you liked the first book, you'll love the ending of the story.  If your kiddos like goofy yet very clever humor then this is a great trilogy to read.

Accidents Can Hurt and Hurt Can Heal

Because of Mr. Terupt by Ron Buyea

This was a good book about bullying and treating your classmates nicely, but not preachy at all.  The story is told in the voices of 7 kids in Mr. Terupt's class.  The kids are united because of an accident.

Because of Mr. TeruptI wouldn't let my elementary kids read this book because I think there is some rather mature material covered in the lives of the students.  One child's mother got pregnant when she was 16 and was kicked out of her family.  Another student's parents don't want her to play with this girl because her mom had her when she was 16 and unwed.  I don't want my kids trying to puzzle all of that out, but for other kids that may be their reality, so it wouldn't be new to them.  This would be an outstanding book for teens who cannot read well.  (I come across that question often at the bookstore.)

A second book is coming out in a few months, and I will probably read it.   haven't read Wonder by Palacio, yet, but hearing from others who've read both if you liked it, I think you will like this book, too.

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Book is the Real Deal!

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend     This book wasn't what I was expecting but it was quite good.  I would recommend it to pretty much... everyone.  The story is Budo's, Max's imaginary friend.  Budo is six-years-old which is ancient for an imaginary friend.  Budo helps Max, who seems to have autism though his parents are really sure what's going on with him.  Budo spends a lot of time worrying about the day when Max will forget about him and he will not exist anymore.  Max ends up in trouble and Budo needs to find a way to help him, but what if helping Max will mean the end to Budo?  I enjoyed the idea of a story from the viewpoint of an imaginary friend.  (Arna you will always be in my heart.)  And I enjoyed the autism angle in the story as well.  Even though the mystery may seems pulled from a TV crime show (perhaps on purpose) I cared enough about the characters and wondered how in the world things would work out that I was very anxious to keep reading the book and to finish it.  I liked this book.  I'm very glad the author wrote it.
     One small qualm I have with the book happens when the story talks about teachers who really teach (the good ones) and teachers who just play school (the bad ones).  The comment is made that teachers who use charts and sticker sheets just pretend to teach school.  As many times as I've seen those types of things work for kids, most on the autism spectrum, I don't think that was an accurate statement to include in the book especially when one of the main characters has autism. 
     But I really loved that The Tale of Despereaux is mentioned.  And I love on page 253, when  Budo talks about how brave he thinks Max is because kids make fun of him, people try to change him, everyone tries to make him into a normal boy but no one treats him like a normal boy.  It was really touching for me thinking about my own boy.  Then he sums it up with this (I hope I don't get in trouble for quoting this), "But you have to be the bravest person in the world to go out every day, being yourself when no one likes who you are."  I can relate to that.  And I wish I was braver.  And I very much admire my sons.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Don't Like This Book? You're Dead Wrong

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

The Graveyard BookSomeone once described this Newbery Award and Hugo Award winning book to me as The Jungle Book (Rudyard Kipling) except instead of a boy raised in a jungle by animals, it's a boy raised in a graveyard by ghosts.  I have to admit that I'm only familiar with the Disney version of The Jungle Book, but I think it is an accuarte description.  That description (despite so many people's glowing reviews) also made me skip over the book since I knew the plot and I'm not much for ghosts. 

With limited choices for audio books for a trip, I grabbed The Graveyard Book.  My husband and son loved it, so I said I would read it.  I'm glad my husband encouraged me to listen to the audio version.  I think listening to Neil Gaiman read the book greatly improved the experience.  The voices, suspense, and the accent to remind me "we're in England" added a lot.

The book is incredible.  Read it, or perhaps even better have Neil Gaiman read it to you.

(My husband's review of the book)

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Another Side to World War II

Weedflower by Cynthia Kadohata

WeedflowerThis is a fantastic book about a young Japanese American girl, Sumiko, who is sent to an interment camp in Arizona during WWII.  The internment camp is located on an Indian Reservation.  Through the fence the young girl and and a Native American boy befriend each other.  They each find a way to stay strong and have hope even as so much is taken away from them.  As bad as Sumiko thinks she has, she learns the Indians do not even have electricity or the right to vote. 

Though this book covers difficult topics, it is handled with hope.  I think these are also topics important for young people to know about.  They need to know how people were mistreated so it can be ended and not repeated.  This is just a really great book for youth and adults alike.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Exciting New and Upcoming Releases

Mysteries According to Humphrey by Betty G. Birney   7-5-12
Winter According to Humphrey by Betty G. Birney 10-11-12

Unstrung (ebook novella after Unwind) by Neal Shusterman 7-24-12
UnWholly (2nd in Unwind Triology) by Neal Shusterman 8-28-12

Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken by Tarquin Hall 7-10-12

Palace of Stone (sequel to Princess Academy) by Shannon Hale  8-21-12

The Manual of Aeronautics (supplement to Leviathan Trilogy) by Scott Westerfeld  8-21-12

The Kill Order (prequel to Maze Runner Series) by James Dashner 8-14-12

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Reviews from Blogger (rathern than Booker)

"Holes": I had seen the movie based on this Louis Sachar book, but David really wanted to listen to this one on our trip to Kansas City so we gave it a go. With only 4 discs, it was a quick listen and one that David and I enjoyed.

Stanley Yelnants is an unlucky kid. After being accused and convicted of a crime he didn't commit, Stanley is sent to Camp Green Lake. Upon arrival he first discovers there's no lake, then he meets Mr. Sir, who informs him that he is to dig 1 hole, every day. The hole must be as deep and as wide as his shovel, which happens to be 5 feet. As an overweight kid, this is arduous work for Stanley. Almost as difficult is finding his place with his bunk mates. Over time, Stanley gets better at digging holes, and befriends Zero. When Zero runs away, Stanley goes after him, but with no water or food, how long will the boys survive, and will they break the curse that has haunted Stanley's family for over a hundred years.

"Holes" the book, is very similar to "Holes" the movie. There's a bit more on the back story of Green Lake and it's inhabitants, as well as the back story on the Warden. But, if you've seen the movie, you pretty much know the book. Still, if you liked to movie, I think listening to or reading the book would be worth your time.

"The Graveyard Book": I don't use this term often, but this Neil Gaiman book is great, not good...great! I suspect it was even better because we listened to the audio book, read by Gaiman himself. Such an interesting and compelling story, I couldn't wait to hear what came next.

At the beginning of the story, we happen upon The Man Jack as he's in the process of murdering a family (trust me it's ok for an 11 year old kid). But, he fails in his task as the youngest boy, a toddler, somehow wanders off before The Man Jack can complete the job. They young boy wanders up to a nearby graveyard, where it's ghostly inhabitants give the young boy the freedom of the graveyard and decide to raise him as their own. They name him Nobody Owens (after the Owens family who takes him in), and the mysterious Silas agrees to be his guardian. But how can a live boy grow up in a place of the dead? And what will happen if he ever leaves the graveyard with The Man Jack still out there, ready to finish the job?

I loved this story. It's so interesting to meet the various inhabitants of the graveyard, some dating back even farther than Roman times, and it's interesting to see the influence they have on young Bod (Nobody gets shortened to Bod). Bod's forays into the living world make for some excitement, and the secondary story about Silas keeps mystery going all throughout the book. I highly recommend giving this one a read, or even better, a listen.

Peter Pan's Past Plus

Booker's Review
Peter and the Starcatchers (Starcatchers Series #1)  by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson

Peter and the Starcatchers (Starcatchers Series #1)I had avoided this book for a long time, even though the artwork was very appealing and customers asked for the book often.  I'm not much of a Peter Pan fan and didn't want to read a retelling of the story.  When trying to decide from a limited choice of audio books to take on our long car trip, we settled on Peter and the Starcatchers.  I was very pleasantly surprised.  (It doesn't hurt that the audio book is read by Jim Dale.)

The story is really a prequel to the Peter Pan most are familiar with.  It is fun to follow the story as different elements of Peter Pan's past are revealed such as how he can fly, how he came to be in Neverland, how he met Tinkerbell, and more. 

The story is interesting on it's own as well.  The authors did a good job of adding their own plot to the story so the book is much more than a revelation of Peter Pan's past.  We are introduced to the Starcatchers.  These people gather the left over remains of fallen stars and secret it away into safe keeping.  The remnants retain powerful magic that anyone with an evil intention could use to rule or destroy the world.  This first book has a nice conclusion while still leaving the reader anticipating what more is to come.

There's one more thing I liked about this book that I have to mention.  I have never liked the way the Indians are portrayed in the Disney Peter Pan movie.  With all these "re-mastered" and :now available in 3-D" announcements, I thought they'd come out with "new scenes" for Peter Pan and fix the awful sterotypical and racist portrayal of the natives in the movie.  There's no way they could have portrayed African natives that stupid or stereotypical and have kept it like that this entire time.  There would have been an outrage.  Anyway, I really liked how the native people are portrayed in the book.  They are not perfect, no one in the story is, but they are not stupid and they are not friends with the people they view have threatened them.  I really appreciated their role in the story.

Blogger's Review
"Peter and the Starcatchers":  This was a really good story by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. What Barry and Pearson have done is kick off a series that tells us all the origin of Peter Pan.

Peter and 4 other orphans are being sent away from their orphanage for unknown reasons. They are told by their caretaker to board a ship called The Neverland, but they don't know why. On the ship, the boys are treated very poorly, and as the leader of the group, Peter takes to stealing food to make sure the boys have enough to eat. It's on these food missions that Peter comes to know Molly, and they embark on an adventure to secure a chest of "star stuff" (the little bits of a star that falls to the earth and grants powers to the user), and keep this chest from falling into the hands of the Evil Black Stash. Along the way, we find out how Peter gains the ability to fly, how he doesn't grow old, and how he and the lost boys end up on that island. Oh, and we meet Captain Hook for the first time.

I really liked this story! I'm hoping to read others in the series soon. There's humor and plenty of action, and it's all offset with a story of friendship and loss. Just a really good book.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Didn't Find This Book Very Happenin'

Booker's Review
Happenstance Found (Books of Umber Series #1) by P. W. Catanese

Happenstance Found (Books of Umber Series #1)I hate writing that I didn't enjoy a book because I could never right a book.  And sometimes people don't like a book that is actually really good.  So keep that in mind as you read this review.

Happenstance is found in a dark room without any memory of who he is or how he came to be there.  Lord Umber received a secret message to keep the boy with him at all times.  Why remains a mystery for the entire book.  A creature is chasing Happenstance to collect Hap's unusual eyes.  As the story goes along, we learn a little more about Happenstance's origins and who Lord Umber really is.  Yet, I found the story revealed too little over too long a time.  There is an exciting confrontation with the hunting creature at the end and a stunning surprise to entice you into reading the second book in the trilogy; however things developed much too slowly for me.

I should also say that I listened to this book all in one sitting riding in the car.  This may have influenced my reception of the book.

Kids who enjoy fantasy and mystery, who like to try to figure out things on their own or imagine lots of possibilities, I think, would enjoy this book.

Blogger's Review
"Happenstance Found":  I was really excited to listen to this audio book, and since this book is the first in a series, I thought maybe I'd have my next great series to read. Instead, "Happenstance Found" was slow to develop and really didn't leave me wanting to read more of the Books of Umber series.

P.W. Catanese has a really neat idea here. Happenstance is a boy, we don't know exactly how old, found in a buried city by Lord Umber and his band. Happenstance is different in that he has bright green eyes, can see in the dark, and seems to possess a few other abilities. As they return to Lord Umber's home, we learn that something is following them, and it's not good. The rest of the tale takes place in and around Lord Umber's home, and we learn a little more about Happenstance, where he came from, and we find out more about Lord Umber.

A neat premise, but it just didn't move fast enough for me. I don't plan to read any more books in this series.

This Book is a Winner

Gold by Chris Cleave

GoldZoe, Kate, and Jack all meet at the age of 19 at a tryout for spots on Britain's elite cycling circuit with the goal of winning Olympic gold.  But when the Athens Olympics come around, Kate is at home with her daughter while Zoe and Jack race for gold in Athen's velodrome.  The three are still racing and still trying to balance rivalry and friendship two years before the Olympic Games in London.  Love and friendship are never simple, but the relationship Zoe and Kate have reaches some extremely complex emotions and lessons in love.

As you would expect, Cleave has written a fantastic poignant story.  He leaps about in time, but never loses his reader.  And this makes the stories much better than telling the tale chronologically. The story moved me and made me think.

I really enjoyed the cycling aspect of this story.  However, it is never really technical and I don't think there is any loss of enjoyment reading this book if you've never seen indoor cycling or even if you've never ridden a bike.  I highly recommend this book.

Friday, August 10, 2012

A Tale of Two Tails

The Cheshire Cheese Cat:  A Dickens of a Tale by Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright

The Cheshire Cheese Cat: A Dickens of a TaleI really enjoyed this book.  I guess I can't get tired of books about small rodents.  Skilley, a closet cheese-loving cat, has struggled living on the streets of London, but on this day, he finds himself, with a little help from Charles Dickens, accepted into the Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese to help with a mouse problem.  Skilley is not interested in ridding the tavern of mice; he just wants some cheese.  He makes a deal with the mouse, Pip, not to attack any of the mice if they will supply him with cheese.  Skilley and Pip's friendship grows as does Charles Dickens's writer's block on A Tale of Two Cities.   A hidden creature and an alley cat, Pinch, Skilley's most feared enemy, complicate matters in the Ol Cheshire, eventually bringing more trouble to the unlikely friends.  I don't want to give manny details because I don't want to give all the story away. So much more happens in the story. It's full of surprises and twists. 

The vocabulary is impressive.  The focus on friendship is also very inspiring, something I think middle school readers would absorb and appreciate.  There are several references to Charles Dickens, London, and the English Royalty that I don't know if many kids would pick up on if they weren't familiar with these topics.  (I don't know if I picked up on all of them.  For example, I didn't realize the tavern is an actual place where many English writers gathered.)  I think this would make an excellent read-aloud for school classrooms and at home.  I listened to this book on CD, but reviews I saw said the pencil illustrations by Barry Moser, are superb.  This is really an intriguing story well worth the read.  Perhaps you can enjoy a nip of cheese or cup of tea while you read.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

America Rewrite Your History Books--the Irish Do It Again!!

The Brendan Voyage by Tim Severin

The Brendan VoyageA medieval text leads to a fantastic journey chronicled in The Brendan Voyage.  According to the medieval text, St. Brendan and some fellow Irish monks, sailed to North America centuries before Columbus and before the Vikings.  I was interested in reading this book based on personal recommendations, my Irish ancestry and my Lakota ancestry which, I think, gives me a predetermined dislike for Christopher Columbus. 

Tim Severin sets out to silence skeptics by replicating St. Brendan's voyage.  (He is no stranger to replicating other explorers journeys as can be seen in his other books.)  Severin locates the same type of wood and leather St. Brendan used to make his boat.  The ox hides are tanned using the same methods employed to make St. Brendan's boat.  Even flax rope is used for the stitches to hold the ox hides together.  There is no doubt that boat is an authentic copy of St. Brendan's boat.  If the crew can make it across the Atlantic, they will have proven how plausible the medieval texts are. 

It is an interesting book.   Without any knowledge of sailing, I was still able to get a picture of what was going on to build and sail the boat.  Yet, I think I would have enjoyed the book more if I was more familiar with sailing terms.  There are times of wonder and danger aboard The Brendan.

I especially liked the end of the book when Severin does a great job of summarizing what the voyage teaches us about the knowledge, strength, and faith of the Irish and the spirit of the human being.

St. Brendan is described as one of Ireland's most beloved saints.  I feel bad I had never heard of him.  While looking for The Brendan Voyage if found an historical novel about St. Brendan by Morgan Lleywelyn, a proven author, and children's book, Saint Brendan and the Voyage Before Columbus, by Michael McGrew, and a musical CD based on St. Brendan's voyage by Shaun Davey.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Austen + James=Great Story

Death Comes to Pemberley by P. D. James

Death Comes to PemberleyI liked this book.  I think James did an excellent job of writing in the Austen style.  The characters stay true to who they were formed by Austen to be, but the mystery spun by James is adds a wonderful component to Pemberley.  Probably, my favorite part of this book, was actually the Epilogue.  Darcy and Elizabeth spend time sharing with each other, the thoughts they were having during their unorthodox courtship.  I liked hearing the gaps filled in.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

All the Elements of a Good Book

The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean

The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the ElementsI am a huge fan of the periodic table!  However lame that may sound, it's true.  The periodic table rocks (and it still would even if it wasn't made up mostly of rocks).  As soon as this book came out, I bought...on my nook and started reading it.  Then life showed up, and it was so much cheaper for me to buy books with my discount, I rarely used my nook and my memory of the book disappeared just like a spoon made of gallium.  Then I saw Sam Kean was coming for an author visit.  I reproached myself for not having read the book yet.  Some fan I was.

But, I did read it.  And, I did love it!  The book is full of stories about each of the elements.  You learn about the periodic table and the elements, but you learn about them from interesting anecdotes and stories.  The side notes are just as enjoyable as the main text.  This is now one of my most favorite books, perhaps even my most favorite non-fiction book.

Not only are the stories engaging, Sam Kean has a scholarly wit in his writing.  At least, that 's the best way I can think to describe it.  An example, though, comes to mind from his newest book, out yesterday, The Violinist's Thumb.  When Kean describes the copying of DNA in the cell, he introduces the image of tiny monks transcribing away within the cell.  It's those types of images and thoughts that takes The Disappearing Spoon from being good to being great.  I'm very excited to read his next book.  And it's not going to be in a year.  Now that I know how well he writes, his next book will be read as fast as my thumbs can turn the pages.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Old is New

Absolution by Murder  (One Sister Fidelma Mysteries) by Peter Tremayne
Shroud for the Arch Bishop (Two Sister Fidelma Mysteries) by Peter Tremayne

I have thoroughly enjoyed learning ancient history with my kids as we homeschool. Since I'm Irish, I really enjoyed the time we spent on the Celts and the early Irish Monks. I also love mysteries. So, to me, a mystery series taking place in the 7th century focusing on an Irish nun sounds like the perfect book. This series has been around for a long time, but I just recently discovered it. 

In the first book, Absolution by Murder, we meet Sister Fidelma, an advocate for the Brehon court giving her investigative and judicial authority, and Brother Eadulf, a Roman monk from a family of magistrates.  The King of Northumbria has called a conference to finally decide whether his kingdom with follow the Columba Liturgy or the Roman Liturgy.  A murder take place.  In order to ensure peace between both sides, Sister Fidelma and Brother Eadulf are ordered to investigate together.  As the religious' chance to catch the killer dwindles, the chance of war grows rapidly.

I enjoyed the book.  The author does a good job of helping readers understand the culture and politics of the period without tedium or complication.  You don't need to be familiar with ancient history to enjoy this book.  The plot is not overly complex, but the story is enjoyable.  I hoped for better books as the series progressed.

In the second book, Sister Fidelma and Brother Eadulf again must pair up to solve a murder to prevent fighting between the Celtic and Roman Christian communities.  In the previous book, the two religious sometimes verbally sparred or let fall a terse comment, but both took it with some patience and understanding.  I felt in the second book, Sister Fidelma just came off like a condescending jerk and Brother Eadulf like her lapdog.  I didn't see it as verbal sparring as it is once referred to in the book.  I was quite disappointed. 

There are over twenty books in this series.  So, I imagine things must get better and the cattiness of Sister Fidelma is tempered.  Many of the early books are out-of-print but are available as ebooks.

Absolution by Murder (Sister Fidelma Series #1)Shroud for the Archbishop: A Sister Fidelma Mystery

Such a Good Book I'm Sad

Insurgent by Veronica Roth  (Divergent Series #2)

Insurgent (Divergent Series #2)I read Insurgent over the past few days, staying up until all hours of the morning because I couldn't/wouldn't stop.  It was so good, that now, I feel depressed.  I want to feel that excitement and suspense and the pure joy of reading a book I love, and I don't know what book to turn to for that experience now.

I do have some good books waiting to read and so I press on, but I'm not expecting them to be anything close to the experience I had reading Insurgent.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Fairy Tale Books for Boys

I've been gone travelling, so I've not posted for quite a while.  I didn't get as many new books read and I thought, but it was a good thing.  I finally got my boys into the Sisters Grimm series.  I made them listen to the first book in the car and they were hooked.

I've got a book I read a while ago and should have blogged about before this and a new book to blog about, too.

A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz

A Tale Dark and GrimmI had looked at this book when if first came out and dismissed it as a book that could be good, but I didn't want to read.  Quite a while ago, I needed and audio book for a trip, so I picked it up hoping my boys wouldn't complain.  Boy did they love it!

The main characters, Hansel and Gretel, are followed through their Grimm tale.  But then, they are also the characters in other Grimm tales.  It's like one long story but I could recognize some of the tales they were in.  It was a very clever idea and done very well.  This is a great book for boys.  The narrator warns you that the Grimm tales used in the book are not cuddly, Disney fairy tales.  They are the genuine gruesome Grimm fairly tales.  The narrator also pauses throughout the book to warn the reader that a very scary, or graphic, or bloody scene is coming up, so anyone with young siblings listening should make sure they leave the room.  My boys absolutely loved this.  I've written before about how much I think kids can benefit from fairy tale adventures, so I won't go on about that.  I'm thankful this book exists and gives boys (and girls, too) a great option for a fairy tale adventure.

The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy

The Hero's Guide to Saving Your KingdomI just finished this new book.  I loved it!!!!! The bards have entertained us all with the tales of Prince Charming and Cinderella, Prince Charming and Sleeping Beauty, Prince Charming and Rapunzel, and Prince Charming and Snow White. If you ask the Sisters Grimm {Buckley} they are all the same guy, but here, they are four different princes.  The bards didn't have the decency to include the princes' names in the stories!  We are introduced to each prince and his story (after the bard's story).  They are not the Charmings you may have thought they were, and the princesses may not be the ladies you thought they were.  Through magic luck, or coincidence, the four princes find themselves together and together try to save the kingdom from a witch who's also miffed about the inaccuracy of  a bard's tale.  This story is full of adventure, humor, and the meaning of friendship.  I kept trying to think how I could describe this book.  I think the best way I can do that is to say it's like The Princess Bride (movie at least).  It has real action and suspense, but it also have some really spoofy humor that fits right in with the story.  The book also contains wonderful illustrations most presented as Figure 1, Figure 2, etc. to help elucidate the handbook.  I really really enjoyed this book.  It ended with the opportunity for more to come, and I sure hope there is.  This is a book that should not be missed.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Can you Catch a Microbe Killer?

DeadlyDeadly by Julie Chibbaro

Another great teen historical fiction novel.  It's told in a series of journal entries including penned drawings. 

Prudence is an intelligent and curious teen living in the beginning of the twentieth century.  She has a mind for science and experience with death.  She is given the rare chance to work at a laboratory (as a secretary) where she gets pulled into a medical investigation of a deadly outbreak in New York City.  Prudence  gets to help track a killer.  But is it a person or a microbe to be considered the killer? 

I enjoyed the way this book was written.  I enjoyed the medical history and mystery included in the book.  It was wonderful to experience the growth Prudence goes through and the way she heals her heart.

This book won the 2011 National Jewish Book Award for Children's and Young Adult Literature.  It is a unique book to find for Young Adult readers.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Case for Christ for the Intellect

The Christ Connection: How the World Religions Prepared the Way for the Phenomenon of Christ by Roy Abraham Varghese

Christ Connection: How the World Religions Prepared the Way for the Phenomenon of JesusThis was a good book.  Not exactly what I was expecting, but I'm glad I read it.  I thought it was going to be more about the connection other religions share with Christ than it was.  That was covered and it was very interesting, yet the majority of the book then branched from there and talked about evidence that points to the truth of Christ and His Resurrection.  Nearly every, if not all, proposed arguments against Christ was detailed and then logic/proof was given to refute each of the arguments.  The book is well researched and well written.  It is not a quick read and nor a book easily skimmed.  The reader needs to be invested in the book, which isn't a bad thing.

I do enjoy my nook, however, this is one book I wished I had not read on my nook.  I didn't realize there would be several tables in the book.  These were difficult to read and follow on my Simple Touch nook.  It was also difficult to refer back to things which I really wish I could have done more easily.

This is a very interesting book for those who want a serious read about the truth of Christ and His follower's claims, as well as for those who would like to have ready arguments for the scholarly atheists in their life.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Plan on an Interesting Read

unPLANNED by Abby Johnson

Unplanned : The Dramatic True Story of a Former Planned Parenthood Leader's Eye-opening Journey Across the Life Line This book is the story of Abby Johnson's experience volunteering at, working for, and running a large Planned Parenthood Clinic.  Her goal was to help young woman (and perhaps ease some of her own guilt).  People from Coalition for Life (founders of 40 Days for Life) are ever-present outside the fence of the clinic, so Abby has come to know them and they know her, but she also knows they don't understand what she really does or why it's important she does it.  But, eventually, Abby comes to know what it is she's truly doing and what it is those above her in the organization care about.  After helping in a procedure by performing an ultrasound, Abby realizes she shouldn't and can't keep doing her job at Planned Parenthood. Now what?  Abby Johnson has to make a difficult and important decision that will have a huge impact on the safety of her family--financially, physically and spiritually. 
Abby Johnson is very honest in her book, relating the path in her life that lead her to Planned Parenthood and then lead her away from there and home to the Coalition for Life offices.  Abby Johnson is also fair and compassionate; no one is presented as saint or villain.  I'm very glad I read this book.  I found it exteremely interesting to read about an insider's experience in Planned Parenthood.  I also think this book is good for everyone to read no matter where you stand on the abortion issue.  There are things everyone can learn from Abby's journey.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Is Being Brave Selfless? Is Being Selfish Brave?

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Divergent (Divergent Series #1)These are central questions for Beatrice as she decides which faction to belong to.  In an attempt to avoid more devastating war, five factions have formed: Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent).  These factions work together to govern and provide for the citizens of a dystopian Chicago.  At age 16, each citizen must decide which faction to chose.  Whether they will stay where they were raised or join a new faction is a major decision.  But making the decision guarantees nothing.  Each candidate must pass a rigorous trial to determine if they will be accepted into the faction or become factionless--a homeless untouchable.

Beatrice encounters new alliances and new emotions on the path she has chosen. She must also endure dangers, deceit, and death as the peace that has been found in this city begins to crumble.  What Beatrice thought she knew begins to disintegrate and her bravery will truly be tested. 

This suspenseful and intriguing trilogy should not be missed!!  The second book came out in May and I can't wait to read it.

Friday, May 25, 2012

More Books With Autistic Characters

As public awareness of autism increases, so does the number of books that include autistic characters. Here are a few with my accompanying opinions.

Rules by Cynthia Lord
RulesI love this book so much.  It is the winner of a Newbery Honor Award among other awards. Catherine is a twelve-year-old girl with a brother, David, who has autism. Catherine has tried teaching David some rules so he doesn't embarrass her quite so much. They are also rules you have to follow when dealing with David or you'll have a breakdown on your hands. When Catherine meets a disabled boy her own age, the rules she's always followed may need to change. In the end, Catherine ends up making great choices for her brother and herself. This is a great look at the stress siblings of special-needs children have as well as the isolation many kids with disabilities face everyday.  Of all the books in this post, I feel this book as the most authentic autistic character.  That may be a difficult statement to back since the symptoms of autism are so variable, but that's my opinion.  This really hit home for me because of my children's experiences and especially how important Frog & Toad are to David, and my kids as well. Young or old, you need to read this book. It is so good.

Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko  
Al Capone Does My ShirtsThis book is also a Newbery Honor Award winner. And, it, too, deals with the stresses placed on a sibling of a child with autism-like symptoms and needs. This book is unique because this all takes place at Alcatraz in the 1930s! I read this years ago, so I don't remember a lot of it. I don't have the intense feelings about it I have for Rules but I do remember that I really liked it. Choldenko recently penned a sequel to this book (unfortunately I haven't read it) called Al Capone Shines My Shoes.  (Cover has been redone.  New cover is pictured.)
The London Eye Mystery by Siobahn Dowd
The London Eye MysteryThis book takes place in London.  Ted has autism.  Ted tries to relate all of life to weather.  Even the part of his life when his cousin disappears while on the London Eye.  A seeming impossibility.  Ted and his sister Kat who is butting heads with everybody in her family end up working together (not Kat's idea) to find their cousin.  I thought this book was okay.  Many adults and kids I know you have read the book really liked it...unique characters, mystery, foreign setting, but it didn't really grab me.  I felt like maybe it just didn't have enough to make it a teen book so they put it in the juvie section.  Why not read it and let me know your thoughts.  I have mixed feelings on this one, but I seem to be alone in that.
The Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davies
The Lemonade WarThis was fun a book to read!  Evan is ending his school year, so you would think he'd be happy, but he's not.  His little sister, who's really smart but not so good with people, is going to be in the same class he's in next year.  The same class, same teacher, same classroom!  I think my boys would love this, they're used to it from home schooling, but Evan is dreading this.  Unfortunately, he doesn't know how to express this to his sister and she just doesn't get the subtle hints.  This and other misunderstandings lead to a contest between the two siblings to see who can sell the most lemonade.  It's war and it's on.  I really enjoyed the story but there's more to the book.  Each chapter has tips for running a business and there's even a bit of math in the book.  Besides some business help, I hope kids take away the idea that not sharing what you're feeling can really mess things up.  While Evan's sister, Jessie, is never referred to as autistic (and being smart but not good with people does not equal autism) I put this book in this post because many of her symptoms and problems the siblings face are similar to those with autism and/or autistic siblings.  I am so excited to read the two sequels: The Lemonade Crime and The Bell Bandit.  Book 2 deals with a theft that happens in the first book.  Each chapter gives the definition of a legal term.  Some say the second book isn't as good as the first, but if you read The Lemonade Wars you won't care what the critics say you'll want to read The Lemonade Crime.  The third book is about a Christmas visit the grandma's with a mystery to be solved.  There may be another character introduced who has autistic-like traits.
I haven't read this book yet, but I wanted to at least mention it in this post.  Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine is a National Book Award winner about a fifth-grade girl with Asperger's syndrome.  Her brother has dies.  She's left confused without the person she normally turned to for guidance when the world wasn't black and white.
One more book, again unfortunately, I haven't read it, but I'll list it here as another opportunity to read about an autistic character.  Anything But Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin received a Schneider Family Book Award (like Rules) and is about a autistic boy who may have found someone online who understands him, unlike his neurotypical peers.
Not about autism, but about a child with special needs, Out of My Mind by prolific and award-winning author Sharon M. Draper, is about a girl with cerebral palsy.  Most people at her school don't realize her brilliance.  When she gets a chance to try to prove herself, she has to decide if it's worth the risk.  Another on my to-read list, but it sounds so good I didn't want to leave it out.
Out of My MindAnything But Typical
 too late at night to proof read, but I will fix any mistakes tomorrow

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A Book to Inspire Us All

The Boy Who Changed the World by Andy Andrews   illustrated by Philip Hurst

I wish I had blogged about this book earlier.  It would make a wonderful graduation present.

The Boy Who Changed the WorldThis beautiful picture books starts out about the young boy Norman Borlaug, who grew up and helped feed millions of people with improved seeds and agricultural methods.  And so, he changed the world... but the book then introduces us to Henry Wallace, the vice president who gave Borlaug the task and encouragement to do what he did, so maybe it was really Henry Wallace who changed the world...but we are introduced to George Washington Carver, who encouraged Wallace as a young boy to study nature and plants, so really it was probably Carver who changed the world...except that when he was a boy, he was saved from kidnappers by Moses Carver.  So maybe it was really Moses Carver.  The book ties is all together and suggest that the reader can be the child who changes the world.  This true tale is very inspiring.  My children and I were all moved by the book, both it's story and illustrations.  And if this is of interest to you, Borlaug and Wallace of from Iowa, and George Washington Carver, met Wallace while studying at Iowa State University.

Curiosity Killed the Cat?

Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

This is a really interesting book, especially if you know about autism.  Mark Haddon worked with people with autism and you can tell.  He is spot on with his main character and narrator, Christopher, an autistic 15-year-old.  Christopher is being raised by his father after his mother's death.  His teacher helps him navigate the world, but he is on his own when the killing of a neighbor's dog sets him on a search for the truth.  It's intended target is adults, but some teens may also be moved by the book.  It does contain rough language and hard realities that I wouldn't recommend for any of the teenagers I know, but perhaps others.

I think I mostly enjoyed this book because I deal with autism every day. I laughed and cried throughout the story. It is an interesting story, a short read, and definitely worth checking out.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Saints Alive

The Restless Flame:A Novel About St. Augustine by Louis de Wohl

The Restless Flame: A Novel about Saint AugustineThis novel is about the St. Augustine who is the son of St. Monica of Tabaste in Northern Africa.  I loved The Living Wood by de Wohl so much, I was excited to read another of his books.  Of the many saints he's written about, I chose St. Augustine because I knew a tiny bit of his life and was familiar with some of his famous quotes, but I wanted to know more.  I also admire St. Monica and her faith and persistence that led to her husband and son both converting. 

Again, de Wohl does a magnificent job.  I love his writing style.  This book was written similarly to The Living Wood.  Most of the book is about Augustine's life as a youth and young man.  This helps you understand and appreciate his conversion.  After his conversion, the rest of the book takes place many years later.  Then, most of St. Augustine's work and piety are told to the reader by Augustine's friends and those studying his works.  The ending is wonderfully told and leaves you with peace.

I learned a lot from the book (realizing it is historical fiction).  I hadn't known how thoughtful/philosophical Augustine was his whole life, even before his conversion to Catholicism.  I also didn't realize Augustine and his mother knew St. Ambrose.  It was neat to think of all three of these eventual-saints together in the same church.  I wish I knew what Ambrose thought of St. Augustine when he lived in his parish.  Reading this story has also made me very interested in reading some of St. Augustine's works.

Obviously, I highly recommend this book.  Knowing about the history of the time is helpful but don't let that stop you from reading the book.  de Wohl does a good job of explaining what really needs explaining, and you can gloss over the rest of the names and still get the substance of the story.  The biggest problem you'll probably have will be deciding which one of de Wohl's books to read next.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

History is Alive for Teens

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
First, do not confuse this book with the new overly publicized erotic book Fifty Shades of Grey.  I put a photo of the hardcover and paperback covers to help you identify Between Shades of Gray.

Between Shades of GrayBetween Shades of GrayBetween Shades of Grey is about a teen girl, Lina, and her family, citizens of Lithuania during the rule of Stalin.  Stalin and his regime killed millions of people among other atrocities.  As part of seizing the Baltics, Stalin had many of Lithuania's (and other countries') military officers and intellectuals and their families killed or deported to labor camps in Siberia.  This heart wrenching tale is based on true events and first-hand accounts, some from the authors relations.  The book is beautifully written.  I think it is a must-read for teens and adults, too.  As a science and math fanatic, I missed out and tuned out of a lot of history lessons.  I was ignorant of this chapter of history.  I'm glad I'm not anymore, and others shouldn't be ignorant either.

I knew this book would have sad moments at the least, and I was determined to keep a hard heart throughout the book and read it objectively without succumbing to emotion.  Impossible.  The characters and environment are so well-developed, the book is so well written, you can't help but become engrossed in Lina's story.  You are transported right along side of Lina.

This is a living history book that can get teens who are reluctant to study history motivated.  I was inspired to read Between Shades of Gray from a co-workers recommendation and because of the experience I had reading The Book Thief.  Lots of people at work were telling me I had to read The Book Thief over and over, so I finally did.  I didn't really want to because, as I said earlier, I wasn't interested in history.  I knew the gist of WWII and that was enough for me.  But after I read The Book Thief, I wanted to know more.  I wasn't content with the little knowledge I had.  It opened up the world of history and historical fiction for me!  Between Shades of Gray can do that just as well!  You HAVE to read Between Shades of Gray.

This Book is a Winner

The Loser Letters by Mary Eberstadt

The Loser LettersI can't believe I haven't blogged about this book yet.  I read it a few years ago and recently reread it.  This satire is a fast and entertaining read.  A. F. Christian (A Former) is writing letters to the leading atheists in order to help them better argue their cause.  In her letters, she points out the flaws and illogic of their current arguments in favor of an atheist worldview and way of life with the hopes that they can come up with something better in order to gain converts to their side.  It seems she is writing her letters from some type of institution, perhaps a rehab center.  While A. F. Christian points out the flaws in the atheist arguments, we learn how she became so invested in the atheist cause and where she is now.  Her past and present continue to become clearer until the final satisfying resolution at the end.  I enjoyed this book immensely.  A. F. Christian's voice is that of a young Generation Me woman.  At first her way of talking annoyed me until I realized she's talking as her character would talk and I just went with it and enjoyed it.  You truly cannot lose with this book!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

If We All Agree on This...?

Ten Universal Principles: A Brief Philosophy on the Life Issues by Robert J. Spitzer, SJ, PhD

This is a short book (less than 200) pages to summarize the reasoning to end a long going debate.  This book allows you to argue the case for the sanctity of all life without relying on religion.  I'm glad to have finally found someone who can lay out this argument for me.  I can't debate about life issues with my family and friends who don't believe in God by relying on my religious convictions.  Fr. Spitzer lays out the case for the respect of all human life without mentioning God or religion.  He uses ten principles that philosophers have accepted throughout time regardless of their religious beliefs.

The book requires concentration, but I didn't think it was overly difficult to follow.  I felt the last chapter went into a little more detail than needed, though it was in no way useless.  I also enjoyed the book's appendix, where Fr. Spitzer discusses the proofs for the existence of God.

Which ever side you fall on with regard to life issues (or where on the spectrum you choose to be), this would be a very worthwhile book to read.  It may help you defend your position, clarify your position, or give you pause to think on how to justify your position.  Either way, it's an enlightening read.

You Can't Relax...and Unwind

Unwind by Neal Shusterman
This book as been on my to-read list for a long time.  I'm so glad I read it.  It's a fast read because of the way it's written and because you can't put it down.

This sci-fi teen novel is set in the future where, it seems, the problem of unwanted children has been solved.  From the time a child turns thirteen until the age of eighteen, it's parents can decide whether or not they want to keep the child.  If they don't, they can have the kid unwound.  All of the child's body parts are used to help other people in need.  Not just their organs, but their hands, legs,and even pieces of their brain.  The unwound child is then alive in a different way--through the people their body parts go to.  So, it's not murder, it's just unwinding. 

Unwind has action and suspense to carry you along as questions of life and death, right and wrong, the value of a human and human parts are turned around.  Even those who are not inclined to philosophy will enjoy this book and the discussion it can lead to.

I highly recommend this book.  Neal Susterman has written many other teen novels.  They seem to all have a strong plot with a creepy or eerie flavor surrounding deep questions worth asking.  I'm looking forward to reading more along with the sequel to Unwind.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Sisters Grimm Make Me Grin

The Sisters Grimm Series by Michael Buckley
The Fairy Tale Detectives (Sisters Grimm Series #1)I absolutely love this series.  No one I have ever recommended it to has not liked it--kids and adults alike.  The ninth and final book of this series came out today, so those who haven't discovered this series yet, you won't have to deal with the suspense that plagued current readers.  There are some real cliffhangers.

The series is about two sisters who don't know they are related to the famous Brothers Grimm.  There parents are missing and they've been moving from one disastrous foster house to another, until their grandma (who they never knew existed) comes to bring the girls home with her to Ferryport.  The sisters (Sabrina and Daphne) learn that all the fairy tale creatures are real, and were trapped in Ferryport to prevent a war between them and the humans.  That is, they are trapped in Fairyport as long as a Grimm descendant lives...

Each book has it's own adventure and conclusion while there is an overall story arc of finding their missing parents.  It's fun to see the personalities and occupations Buckley gives to different fairy tale characters.  These books have exciting plots, humor, suspense, and surprises.  It has two strong girl characters, which makes this series unique, and all the better.  You've got to read this series.

(I actually put the first book down after the first chapter or so, but later picked it up and I'm so glad I did.  If you feel the same as I did, just keep reading!!)

Sunday, April 29, 2012

History and Faith Brought to Life

The Living Wood by Louis de Wohl

The Living Wood: Saint Helena and the Emperor ConstantineWhat an incredible book.  It is a novel of Saint Helena and her son Emperor Constantine.  I didn't know of St. Helena before I read this.  I knew how Constantine had his army draw crosses on their shields and then they won the day, but that was about it.  I learned a lot taking into consideration that the story is fiction based on fact.  I was very interested in the story because I didn't know the story of St. Helena, who found the actual cross Jesus was crucified on (the Living Wood), and because I've become very interested in ancient history from teaching the subject to my kids. 

Louis de Wohl is an amazing writer.  He was able to describe the scenery so that I could picture it, but I never felt like the story was being bogged down with detail.  It just naturally fit into the story.  I loved his writing style.  There were times when two people would be conversing, but rather than write the entire conversation, we get just the words or thoughts of one person which is enough to understand the conversation that took place.  It gives the reader an understanding without the details that can slow down the story.  I have never read a book that uses that technique, and I found I really enjoyed that.

My personal philosophy was affirmed a little by the book.  It brings together thoughts of other great thinkers of other religions and ties them to the truth of Jesus.  I don't think ancient Christians were the only ones touched by God and though I do believe Jesus is the Way, other religious views fit into the teachings of Christ or contain God's message.  Helena's Celtic father talked often of the Living Wood, which now seems a message from God to Helena through her father.  Constantine understand Virgil's poem based on his acquired knowledge of Christianity.

This book tells the story of incredibly faithful and flawed people who just come to life with de Wohl's writing.  I'd like to continue gushing about this book, but I think enough has been said.  I really loved this book and I'm excited to read more by Louis de Wohl!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Gift of Words

Gifts from the Gods: Ancient Words and Wisdom from Greek and Roman MythologyGifts from the Gods: Ancient Words & Wisdom from Greek & Roman Mythology
by Lise Lunge-Larsen    illustrated by Gareth Hinds

Fortuna smiled upon me Monday, and a good librarian.  This book was displayed with new books at our library.  My kids really like Greek and Roman mythology, so I picked it up.  What a cool book it is!!

Seventeen English words/expressions are featured.  Each word is accompanied with it's pronounctation and definition, a quote from a children's book using the word, and the Greek or Roman myth can gave us that word expression. or the meaning of that word.  After the myth other words or phrases we use from that myth are discussed briefly.  There is a nice summary of information at the end of the book as well.

The illustrations fit excellently with the myths.  They look both modern and ancient at the same time.

Proving that nothing is perfect, I have one big disappointment with this book.  In the story of the Graces, Venus is pictured naked but for her hands covering her private areas.  The picture is small, but still very distinguishable.  There is no need for it.  I can think a lots and lots of other ways to illustrate this scene and other scenes from the story worth illustrating.  I've almost come to conclude that publishers think even kids book of Roman and Greek literature must contain nudity.  I have not been able to find an illustrated copy of The Illiad or The Odyssey without nudity, though I spent a lot of time looking.

I don't want to end this review on a sour note.  I think this book is a really great book.  The retelling of the myths are a simple version so as not to bog the reader down with the story but to focus on the words the myths have given us.  An original, educational, and entertaining read.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

A Fun Find

DRAGON SLIPPERS by Jessica Day George

Dragon Slippers by Jessica Day George: Book CoverI might not judge books by their cover, but I sure do pick them by their cover.  I hate to admit how often I find a book I like because the cover set it apart from the other books.  I'll be busy putting books back on the shelf, but I'll notice a cover which entices me to stop and take the time to find out what the book is about. And so it was with this book. 

Our heroine, Creel, is left at a dragon's cave by her aunt with hopes a prince will save her and marry her or a dragon will find her and eat her.  Either way she'll be out of her aunts hair.  Creel is not rescued by a prince, nor is she eaten by a dragon.  With these two possibilities out, Creel heads for the kingdom's capital city, hoping to find an apprenticeship at a dressmaker's shop.  (Creel is a very talented embroiderer.)  A fantastic adventure follows with dragons, friendships, secrets, danger, and love. 

I love books with dragons and royalty and this book just left me feeling warm and satisfied. Stained-glass windows and embroidered dresses decorate the story.  I'm not familiar with embroidery or stain-glassed windows though I admire them both, so that added to the pleasure I found reading this book. 

The author has written two other books featuring Creel and the dragons, Dragon Flight and Dragon Spear.  Though I found Dragon Slippers the strongest of the three, fans of Creel and her friends will enjoy the sequels, too.  Jessica Day George has a new book out, which sound fabulous and is high on my list to read, called Tuesdays and the Castle.

Jessica Day George has also written some teen books that are based on fairytales.  (Another of my favorite reads.)  I haven't read any of them yet, though I hope to soon.  I've listed at least some of the titles below.
     Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow  (folktale of the girl and the polar bear prince)
     Princess of the Midnight Ball  (twelve dancing princesses) and companion book Princess of Glass

She has another book projected to be published in November 2012.  If you enjoy Shannon Hale you should also read Jessica Day George, and thank goodness she has so many books waiting for you.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Remember the Overlander

We finished the five books in the Gregor the Overlander series by Suzanne Collins.  They were incredible.  I just wanted to let you know as a little reminder that if you haven't read this series, you should.

Deadly Good

The Poisoner's Handbook by Deborah Blum

What a great book!!  I think Bookalicious Babe will agree with me. 

The book is about Charles Norris, New York medical examiner and his toxicologist Alexander Gettler, who worked in the 1920s.  Charles Norris along with Gettler and the help of others started the discipline of forensic science.

I also enjoyed learning about prohibition.  I didn't know anything about it except that it happened.  I love it when you learn something you weren't expecting to while you learn what you were hoping to.

 Blum did an excellent job of organizing the book.  The book follows a timeline while focusing on a specific poison for each chapter.  Blum does a fantastic job of combining the 1920s New York City culture, accurate chemistry, and true crime into one flowing story.  Fans of forensic science, chemsitry, and true crime will love this book.  You've finished Erick Larson and don't know what to read?  Now you do...Deborah Blum.  Co-workers have told me her other book Ghost Hunting, about the search for scientific proof of ghosts, is an excellent book.

What's All the Hype About The Help?

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

I liked The Help, but I didn't think it was fantastic.  There are lots of other books I've read that I liked a lot more and that moved me much more than this book did. 

The HelpIt is a good book, and I liked it, but I didn't love it.  In the beginning of the book, I kept thinking "They don't want "the help" to go to the bathroom in their house but they're okay with "the help" raising their children and cooking their food!?  And then, to think that really was how much of the relationships between them were like, I'm flabbergasted.  Even before you get to the idiocy of racism, they already have no logic.  The lack of logic in people disgusts me. 

Anyway, it's a good book.  If you have a book you really want to read, be sure to read that book before you read The Help.  And then try to get around to reading The Help.  I really wish I could remember more detail of The Secret Life of Bees by Susan Monk Kidd because I'd like to compare them.  I really loved The Secret Life of Bees.

I'm back

I had a retail employee's Christmas, then I packed our whole house to move, then there was unpacking, then cleaning and fixing-up our old house to sell, then getting a kid into a new school, plus regular life.  So all that is over (except the regular life part) and so I will be posting book blogs again.  I hope they're helpful.