July 8, 2009

chainsIn this 2008 historical fiction novel by Laurie Halse Anderson, Isabel and her younger sister Ruth are supposed to be freed when their mistress dies.  Unfortunately, they are instead sold and bought by a Loyalist couple living in Patriot-occupied New York in 1776.  Isabel and Ruth’s parents have died, so Isabel takes good care of her sister.  However, she knows that now they are slaves again, Isabel will not be able to protect Ruth fully, so she desperately tries to find a way to freedom.  Isabel meets a boy owned by a Patriot soldier who tells her that if she spies on her master and mistress for the Patriots, she could earn freedom for herself and Ruth.  Isabel knows it’s a terrible risk.  Should she do it?  What will happen if she does?  What will happen if she doesn’t?

I really enjoyed Chains and am looking forward to the second book in the predicted trilogy due to come out next year.  Chains is particularly good at showing readers what it was like to live during the American Revolution.  Small details like the book’s font and historic quotes at the beginning of every chapter help pull readers into the story.  Isabel has a difficult time readjusting to being a slave after she believed she’d be free.  This also helps bridge the gap between 21st century readers and the 18th century setting as readers’ inability to understand is voiced by Isabel.  Chains would also be an excellent book for students learning about the American Revolution and/or slavery because it shows all sides.  Readers are exposed to Patriots and their views but are also reminded that Loyalists lived in the colonies and sometimes pretended to fight the king.  They also see slavery from the slaves’ perspective and meet masters who are cruel or kind.  Chains is a must-read for anyone interested in history AND for those who aren’t.

The Trouble Begins at 8: A Life of Mark Twain in the Wild, Wild West

July 6, 2009


It’s been awhile since I’ve had a book for nonfiction Monday, but here you go…

Celebrated author Mark Twain, born Samuel Langhorne Clemens, comes to life in this fascinating biography.  Newbery medalist Sid Fleischman describes Twain’s child- and adulthood adventures, showing readers how Twain began his writing career and offering insight on how much of Twain’s writing was based on people he knew or experiences he had.  We are introduced to the real-life inspiration for Huckleberry Finn, learn where the celebrated jumping frog was discovered, and share his experience roughing it to the West.  The biography includes occasional photographs, drawings, and newspaper clippings to supplement Twain’s adventures.  As the book’s title (The Trouble Begins at 8: A Life of Mark Twain in the Wild, Wild West) indicates, emphasis is placed on Twain’s adventures in the Wild West, but his childhood, time on the Mississippi River, and time as a husband and father are also covered at varying extents.  With so much biographical material, readers will really discover who both Samuel Clemens, the subject of the first half of the book, and Mark Twain, the subject of the second half, were.  Assisting the book to become even more interesting is Fleishman’s eloquent and witty writing that truly echoes Twain’s own.  The Trouble Begins at 8 is a great book for anyone reading Twain’s works and wanting to know more about the author.

Life As We Knew It

June 25, 2009

lifeWhen Miranda Evans hears astronomers have predicted that a meteor is going to hit the moon, she doesn’t think too much of it.  But when it hits, because the meteor is denser than believed, it pushes the moon closer to Earth.  This change in distance completely alters life on Earth, creating tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, floods, etc.  Miranda, along with her mother and brothers, must fight for survival in a new world of dangerous weather, decreasing supplies of food and water, lack of electricity and heat, and complete isolation.

Susan Beth Pfeffer wrote Life As We Knew It as a journal from Miranda’s perspective.  This makes the novel extremely compelling as readers get a true sense of what life is like for Miranda and her family.  We see her anger, fear, and sadness when dealing with this drastic change.  The descriptions are so vivid that it’s easy to get lost in the story, believing chocolate chips are rare delicacies and the sight of the large moon is unsettling.  Pfeffer’s second book is called the dead and the gone and follows the same scenario from the perspective of a new character in New York City.  I think I’ll be reading that one soon…

The Lightning Thief

June 12, 2009

lightningthief1Another series that I picked up later than I should have is Rick Riordan‘s Percy Jackson & the Olympians.  I knew it had won awards and praise from pretty much everywhere, but I think maybe I expected it to be a little bit too much of a boy book for me.  I was so wrong!

If you haven’t read the series yet, book 1 is called The Lightning Thief.  Percy Jackson is a 12-year-old boy who tends to get in a lot of trouble.  He’s been in numerous boarding schools already, and he’s about to get kicked out of another one.  Percy eventually learns that he is a half-blood:  His mother is mortal, but his father is one of the Greek gods.  He sets out on a quest to help his father, knowing that he may not return alive.

The Lightning Thief was really enjoyable.  It has a lot of the same elements as Harry Potter – boy hero finding out something about himself that allows him to enter into a new world, heading off on a quest still learning about this new world, and he even has two sidekick friends- Grover, a satyr who also serves as Percy’s keeper; and Annabeth, another half-blood.  True, Harry Potter also had references to Greek mythology, but it didn’t rely on it as heavily as Percy Jackson, nor did it make Greek mythology as interesting.  Several times while reading I stopped to find more information on an important figure.  Rick Riordan deserves a lot of credit for making the subject so interesting.  Another thing that I think is great about this book is that it may help kids with dyslexia and ADHD feel less self-conscious.  Percy and the other half-bloods do too as it’s a sign of being a demi-god.  The book had a lot of adventure, mystery, action, and humor.  I highly recommend it, especially to Harry Potter fans.  I will definitely be reading the rest of the series!

48 Hour Book Contest

June 8, 2009

48hbcOver the weekend I participated in the 48 Hour Book Contest hosted by MotherReader.  If you haven’t heard of it, the basic idea is to read as much as you can or want to over a consecutive 48 hour period.  Time you blog about your process or the books you’ve read also counts toward your time.  This year socializing – time you spent reading other participating blogs, commenting, or twittering – was also allowed to add into your time.  My friends and I decided to participate together at NerdGirlBlogging, the blog we share, so head over there if you want to see our posts.

I ended up with a grand total of 15 hours, 30 minutes and 1162 pages.  It was a great experience, and I got to read & hear about a lot of great books.  These are the books I read.

specialsSpecials by Scott Westerfeld

This is the third book in the Uglies series, published in 2006.  It has quite a bit of action in it, especially toward the end.  I didn’t enjoy this one as much as I had Uglies.  Probably because then the series and concept of the books were still new to me.  I  see Specials as the final act of the UgliesPrettiesSpecials trilogy.  However, there is a fourth book called Extras, but Tally is not the main character.  I wasn’t planning on reading it, but I’ve been told by others that they really enjoyed it, so maybe I’ll pick it up after a little break from the series.  I would definitely recommend Uglies to any YA reader, and you can read my review of that book here.

drums20girlsDrums, Girls & Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick

This is a really great story from 2004 about Steven, a geeky 8th grader trying to deal with school,  a girl who doesn’t know he exists, and an annoying five-year-old brother, Jeffrey, all while finding time to get better on the drums.  Steven’s year quickly goes downhill when he learns that Jeffrey has lukemia.  Written in first person, Drums really gives us a feel for what Steven and his family are going through.  It has a lot of really sweet, sad, funny, angry, and quirky moments, and I cannot recommend it enough.

devilishDevilish by Maureen Johnson

This was my first Maureen Johnson book, so I wasn’t sure what to expect.  It turned out to be a fairly quick read with supernatural elements.  Jane attends an all-girl prep school with her best friend Allison, who has somewhat of an inferiority complex.  Allison changes drastically when new girl Lanalee arrives at school, suddenly owning expensive things, dying and cutting her hair, and stealing Jane’s ex-boyfriend.  Jane soon discovers Allison has sold her soul to Lanalee, a devil-in-training who also wants Jane’s soul.  I enjoyed the character of Jane; she’s intelligent, witty, and fiercely loyal and protective of her best friend.  Devilish is a pretty light read, though it does have some slightly graphic descriptions at times, so I would recommend it to older readers who like out-of-the-norm supernatural books.

savvySavvy by Ingrid Law

This 2008 book has won numerous honors, including 2009 Newbery Honor and ALA Notable Book for Children 2009.  Main character Mibs is about to turn 13.  A big deal for anyone, yet in her family, turning 13 means you get your savvy — a special talent.  Mibs’ oldest brother creates electricity and another brother can cause hurricanes.  Two days before her birthday, Mibs’ father is in a bad car accident.  Mibs KNOWS her savvy is to wake him up, so she, her older brother Fish, her younger brother Samson, and the preacher’s kids Will & Bobbi embark on an adventure.  Along her journey, Mibs learns a lot about herself, her family, and growing up.  This was a fantastic story with great characters and an exciting adventure.  Highly recommended!  I’m looking forward to more from Ingrid Law.

lincolnsThe Lincolns: A Scrapbook Look at Abraham and Mary by Candace Fleming

I have only read the first two chapters of this massive book so far, but I’m enjoying it.  It’s a nice book to pick up every now and then to supplement reading typical chapter books.  I love the scrapbook feel, with the pictures and various chunks of text.  It’s such a great way to learn about two important figures in history and what living in their time was like.  I’m looking forward to finishing the book and learning more, but I can already see why it’s so popular and has earned so many praise.  A great book for a variety of ages!

masterpieceMasterpiece by Elise Broach

I’m still working my way through this chapter book too, but so far it’s very enjoyable.  Published in 2008, Masterpiece is the story of Marvin, a beetle who lives in a NYC apartment with a human family, including 10-year-old James.  Of course, the humans don’t know they are there, until one day when Marvin goes into James’ room to leave a birthday present and ends up creating a beautiful ink picture.  When James awakes and sees the picture, he’s amazed and even more surprised when Marvin reveals himself as the artist.  I love that the book is from the perspective of a tiny beetle.  I can’t to find out how Masterpiece ends.

The Maze of Bones

June 3, 2009

39-clues-maze-of-bonesFirst of all, my apologies for a lack of blogging last month.  I recently moved back to Illinois from Iowa, so things were/have been a little hectic.  I’ll be spending some time trying to catch up on my reading and blogging.  Now on to the book…

The Maze of Bones is the first book in the much-publicized The 39 Clues series.  It took me awhile to get around to it because I didn’t quite understand what it was all about, but I’m so glad I finally did.  In the first book, which is written by Rick Riordan, Amy and Dan Cahill attend their grandmother’s funeral and learn they, and several other people they didn’t even know were family, are listed in her will.  The will states that the heirs may either accept $1 million or pass and have the chance to follow clues to find the powerful secret of the Cahill family.  Amy and Dan choose to accept the clues and embark on a huge adventure.

The book was very enjoyable – adventurous, mysterious, and full of puzzles.  It reminded me a lot of The Westing Game (which was a GREAT thing since that’s my favorite book!) and a little bit of A Series of Unfortunate Events (which I also really enjoy).  At times, though, some of the scenes were difficult for me to envision because of how active the characters are in pursuing their clues.  Still, The Maze of Bones was a great, quick read, and I highly recommend it for middle grades, especially fans of The Westing Game or adventure or mystery books.  I can’t wait to get to the next books in the series!


May 1, 2009

ugliesScott Westerfeld’s science-fiction futuristic novel Uglies is the first book in what was originally a trilogy.  Tally Youngblood eagerly awaits her 16th birthday when she will finally become a Pretty, joining the rest of her friends, family, and society by receiving surgery to make her physically, mentally, and attractively superior to the “ugly” littlies.  While waiting for her birthday, Tally meets Shay, a fellow Ugly.  Just before their shared birthday, Shay leaves the city in search of the mysterious city known as the Smoke – where some Uglies have gone to to escape the surgery.  However, before Tally can be changed on her birthday, the secret police – the Specials, tell her she must leave the city and locate Shay and the Smoke or she will remain an Ugly forever.

This was a great, compelling young-adult novel.  The science-fiction elements are very captivating, and although a little preachy at times (for example, the old civilization, the Rusties, destroyed their world with war and pollution), the futuristic aspects are really interesting.  The descriptions in Uglies were so vivid, I could easily envision what was happening.  The characters are also interesting, and for the most part, I didn’t have any problems with them.  I really enjoyed the short chapters in the book, which help push the story along, and the way the book ends leaving you ready for and wanting to read the next book in the series – Pretties.