Monthly Archives: May 2009

Pretties – Review

***SPOILER ALERT

If you haven’t read Uglies, or haven’t finished it, please skip this post, I don’t want to spoil the ending for anyone****

At the start of Pretties, Tally is no long Ugly, and neither is Shay. Both girls were taken captive by Special Circumstances and forced to turn Pretty. Tally is getting ready to join the Crims, one of the elite cliques in New Pretty Town. While at a masquerade party, someone from Tally’s Ugly past returns, crashing the party and bringing all of Tally’s past flooding back to her. Now Tally and her new boyfriend Zane set out to detangle Tally’s past and fight to stay “bubbly” to prevent the lesions on their brains from turn them into pretty-minded as they fight against the city and themselves to break free of New Pretty Town.

Tally’s character becomes developed and more interesting in this book. I’m starting to sense a formula with Westerfeld’s writing (not that it detracts from the quality of the book) It seems that at the start of each book, Tally is young, naive and very active and is soon propelled into a new life by Shay. Shay introduced Tally to the Smokies in Uglies, and now Shay is helping Tally initiate into The Crim in New Pretty Town. The book also ends on a similar cliffhanger as Uglies, so I’m wondering if Specials will follow the same patern. Despite the formula, the actual content of the story is genius quality, full of adult commentary, but at the same time full of typical teen drama, lingo and attitude.

Westerfeld further expands on the intricate societies developing in this new world. I love that the book starts with a typical Pretty life, I was always curious to see this end of the spectrum. I’m also glad the book didn’t stay Pretty. I love Westerfeld’s terminology and new language created for the series, it was very happy-making and thought-provoking in a very non-bogus way. I like how Tally is able to transition easily from one role to another, while remaining true to her true self.

One more opinion, I think this show would make a FANTASTIC TV-show. Its a great plot, great characters and being spread over 4 books lends itself easily to a smooth TV-transition. =) This would be a show quite similar to Dollhouse actually….

Pretties
by Scott Westerfeld
Simon and Schuster, 2005
ISBN 0689865392
370 pages

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Find this book at your local library

Cover art

I’ll admit it, I judge a book by its cover. A busy cover turns me off to the book, but simple covers attract my eye, as do certain colors or images. I often find myself pausing the book to look at the cover art, hunting for a secret clue that might explain elements of the story. I remember in high school, my English teacher would rant about the cover art for Catcher in the Rye; a plain white cover, title in bold, black font and a small rainbow arc across the upper righthand tip. According to him, this cover art had no relation to the book whatsoever, and a hunting cap would have been more appropriate.

I look for cover art, because its telling about the theme of the book. I’ve been reading the Uglies series, and I noticed a change in the cover art for the Uglies series.

Uglies
 From this   to this 

I like the second cover art much better. It influenced the cover art for the following books in the series, and it looks more wild and interesting than the plastic barbie dolls in a tin cover art.

Which cover do you prefer? Which one would make you interested in actually picking up the book?

Uglies – Review

Tally Youngblood is only 2 months away from turning Pretty and moving across the river from Uglyville to New Pretty Town, when she meets Shay, another Ugly, after having pulled a few tricks to crash a party at New Pretty Town to see her former best friend Peris. Tally and Shay form a strong friendship over the course of the summer as they wait for their 16th birthday to draw near so that they too can be surgically altered to be Pretty. The night before their shared 16th birthday, Shay tells Tally that she doesn’t want to be Pretty and decides to run away to a secret society hidden out in the wilds, where looks don’t matter, only personality does. At this point, Tally needs to decide if she wants to be Pretty or not, and how much she values her friendship with Shay.

I first heard of this book from Jen so, I knew I could expect a thrilling story and deeper meanings than simply personality v good looks struggle that teens deal with on a day to day basis. What I didn’t expect were the intricate layers of society that Westerfeld had developed, and the philosophic discussions about humanity, individuality and evolution, neatly packaged in teen-speak. I thought Westerfeld’s writing was fantastic, I never wanted to set the book down. Tally is an amazing character, and a great role model for anyone reading this book (teen or adult).

I would definately heed Jen’s warning, if you are going to read this book, make sure you have Pretties and Specials nearby.

Uglies
by Scott Westerfeld
Simon & Schuster, 2005
ISBN 0689865384
425 pages

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Victory – Review

In 1805, 13 year old Sam Robbins and his Uncle Charlies are kidnapped and forced to join the English Navy on the prized and renown HMS Victory with Vice-Admiral Lord Nelson (whose statue graces Trafalgar Square in England). 200 years into the future, young Molly Jennings is trying to adapt to her new home in America, having left England once her mother remarried, but suffers bouts of homesickness. After coming into possession of a biography on Admiral Nelson at a bookstore, Molly’s life begins to change when she comes across a secret treasure buried deep in the book’s spine that links the two lives together.

Based on real people from England’s past, Newberry award winning author Susan Cooper has devised a wonderful time-shifting tale of adventure, youth, danger and loyalty. Chapters alternate between Sam’s point of view, and then third person for Molly’s chapters. It takes a while to really get to the link between the two characters. At first, Molly is hauntingly drawn to the book, keeping its treasure a secret from everyone except her stepbrother Russell.

I adored the chapters about Sam Robbins and the HMS Victory. At times I wished the entire book was about him and his experiences aboard such a well-known and valued piece of English naval history. The Molly chapters were usually shorter than Sam’s chapters, but her scenes were relevant in putting together their connection through time.  Cooper also includes a glossary at the end for all the naval terminology used throughout the book. Her writing is sharp, clear and the story is well paced. The book was never boring, and even the secondary characters were as coloring and entertaining as the main.

This book is listed as Juvenile Historical Fiction. I would recommend it for both boys and girls about 10-13 years old. Boys will like it for the sea adventure, sailor talk and supernatural elements, girls will appreciate Molly’s character and probably end up with small crushes on Sam Robbins.

Victory
by Susan Cooper
Aladdin Books, 2006
ISBN 1416914781, 202 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction, Juvenile
Age Group: 10-12

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Find this book at your local library

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Books by Susan Cooper – The Dark is Rising Series

The Dark is Rising (Newberry Honor Book)

The Gray King (Newberry Winner Book)

Greenwitch

Silver on the Tree

Over Sea, Under Stone

Fatland – Review

Fatland: How Americans Became the Fattest People in the World by Greg Crister

Age: Adult

Fatland: how Americans Became The Fattest People In The World by Greg Crister is a very tellling and mesmerizing look at the state of the nation. There are two things about Fatland that I thought made it an incredibly enlightening and entertaining, albeit very depressing, read. 1. The author’s writing style. Critser has a very dry wit, but he manages to inject bits of humor inbetween boughts of depressing paragraphs about obesity. He starts off by explaining his reason for writing this book

This book is not a memoir, but it is undeniably grounded in a singular personal experience. Here it is: Some guy called me fatso. Specifically, he screamed: “Watch it, fatso!”

The second element of the book that I liked is Critser’s organization of the book. Each chapter feeds into the next in a very fluid and natural order. The chapter titles are funny, but very direct.

Up Up Up! (Or Where The Calories Came From)
Supersize Me (Who Got the Calories Into Our Bellies)
World Without Boundaries (Who Let the Calories In)
Why Calories Stayed on Our Bodies
What Fat Is, what Fat Isn’t
What the Extra Calories Do To You, and
What Can Be Done.

When all is said and done, Critser gives an exquisite history of how calories and poor judgments have played a role in the rising obesity rates of not only adults but also of children in the United States. The scary part? No one wants to take accountability and blame. Everyone pushes the obesity issue aside for fear of traumatizing the overweight via forms of discrimination. While this is a valid concern, obesity is a national epidemic. Critser played a very neutral role, placing the blame on everyone and no one (which I think is the biggest part of the problem). In times of recession and hard economic times, consumers demand more for their dollar. They want more for less (I dare someone to tell me they don’t think that when they go out to eat, or out shopping). This natural tendency for greed led fast food companies to provide this much demanded service. More food for less. Happy Meals so that parents don’t have to share their meal with their children. Eliminate the 6 to 8oz cups of soda, and supply 44oz cups instead. Vote against propositions that fund after school activities and PE for kids, and use that money something seemingly more important. Slash the budget on education system, so that schools are forced to rely on Pepsi sponsorship of materials and funds and therefore post advertisements. Bring in Pizza Hut to sell products on campus because the cafeteria can no longer support or feed the increasing number of students shoved into classrooms and schools.

Reading this book, I found myself pacing around the living. Why? Everytime Critser discussed the amount of time Americans sit in front of the TV, I replaced it with “read a book”. How often have I squandered away four hours of my life sitting on the couch reading, rather than being active? Sure, I’m exercising my mind, but my physical health comes into question at that point.

Critser also brings up the points that health and physical fitness is more prevalent for the rich, because they can afford to exercise for 4 hours a day (how do you think celebrities are so fit?) The poor and minorities do not have these same resources and most often, do not have the money to buy the healthier product. At my library, we’ve been implementing Healthy Habits into our story times, trying to make fruits and vegetables fun for kids and instill in them and their parents nutritional values. But we can only do so much in the 1 hour a week we see them. Its up to parents and schools to take a larger stand, put away hurt feelings and really think about the health issues children will grow into. Obese children are more likely to suffer from diabetes, cancer, heart disease, hip displacement, arthritic pain, blindness, premature death, etc. The list is never ending.

Critser does not end on a positive note. Although some schools are implementing fantastic changes and really taking this issue seriously, the majority of the schools just don’t have the time, energy or funds to really pursue a different course.

This book is also from the Rory Gilmore Reading List and a part of my Dewey Decimal Challenge (362.1936 Critser).

Fatland: How Americans Became the Fattest People in the World
by Greg Critser
Penguin, 2003
ISBN 0141015403
 
187 pages

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What Now? – Review

I picked this book up mostly because of the title and the length. What Now? by Ann Patchett is based on a commencement speech given at her Alma Mater Sarah Lawrence.

The reason I picked up this book, is because I thought she might possess the answer to my one What Now? question. Since this book is based on a commencement speech, it is filled with many quotable passages that are equal parts cliche and inspiration. It doesn’t really matter how old you are, its usually the overstated commnets that have become jaded in our eyes, are the truest words anyone could say. One particular sentence stuck with me, because it is fairly relfective of my own life:

In truth, the moment at which life really does become locked down, most of us are overcome by the desire to break it all apart so we can that we can reexperience the variables of youth.

Anne Patchette just had a fancier way of saying “the grass is always greener.” We are in a perpetual state of “what now?” and what I gathered from this work, is that its ok to be in a position to always be asking that question. Its a challenge, a reminder of all the potential and ability we had on our own commencement days. I went through a graduation only a year ago, and already I had forgotten the words of wisdom and encouragement that I heard from that very special, but now nameless, keynote speaker.

How is it we graduate school with so much excitement for the unknown, only to be petrified of it a year later? This book is a sweet inspirational message about staying optimistic of the future and making the best of your circumstances. It is a perfect graduation gift for any member of the family, short enough for the non-reader, but full of wise words for the avid reader. The pages are sprinkled with cheesy images that took away from her message. I really wish there weren’t any pictures at all, because it made the book feel more Hallmarky than it should have been.

What Now?
Anne Patchette
Harper, 2008
ISBN 0061340659
97 pages

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Find this book at your local library

Do you audio?

Some, slightly organized, thoughts on the world of audiobooks

Working at the library, I see a lot of people shy away from audiobooks when wanting to request an item that’s not on the shelves. Usually I get either a confused face, or an annoyed face at suggesting the audio version, which tends to have 100 less holds than the book. Even in the blogging world, I read a lot of reviews from people who listened to the book instead of reading it.

Do you audio? How so?

I’ve tried a couple times, but I can never really commit to it. I don’t know if its because the discs tend to be 12 hours long and I can only listen to them in 30 minute increments. Sometimes it feels like cheating, having the book read to me. Most of the time, my attention starts to wander and its more difficult rewinding through a disc than it is flipping back a couple of pages. A friend told me that her parents use audiobooks on long roadtrips. Since most of the family reads the same genre of books, they’ll listen to one disc, have a discussion, then pop in the next disc. This makes sense to me. Its like being in a traveling book club, cross country. Another friend of mine actually took this one step farther, and recorded her favorite movies onto cassette tape (yes, that’s right, audio only of a movie) and would listen to that on road trips.

If you do listen to audiobooks, how much does narration matter?

From the few audiobooks I’ve listened to, I’ve realized that the reader is perhaps the most important element to the story. Their intonation, tone of voice, pacing, all of that determines the mood and feel of the story. I wonder how the reader selection process goes? Does the author pick who reads? How often does the author read? Is there any author that does the narration for all of the audiobooks?

Audiobook trivia:

– No audio version exists for Catcher in Rye. JD Salinger won’t allow it.

Caedmon (now a subsidiary of Harper Collins Publishers) can be credited with having started the recordings of literature more than 50 years ago. (www.audiobookquest.com)

– Those early recordings were made onto vinyl records, then cassette tapes in the 1970’s, finally transferring over to CD and MP3 formats.

So you tell me, do you listen to audiobooks?

Time Windows – Review

Miranda and her family move from their busy lives in New York to a small town in Massachuettes that already has a haunting history. After a small fire 50 years earlier, no one had lived in the house since. While cleaning and getting assembled into the new house, Miranda comes across a dollhouse replica of her own house stowed away in the attic. It doesn’t take long before Miranda realizes that there is more to the dollhouse than just its appearance. Only Miranda can see into the lives of the past residents, the two families that lived in this house years before. This haunting world soon begins to creep into Miranda’s life and she must try to find a way to save her family from the same events that she sees take place in the dollhouse.

For fans of Lynn Reid Banks, this book is definitely one to pick up. Time Windows by Kathryn Reiss is a very engrossing book. I thought Miranda was well portrayed as a 14 year old girl, sensible, but still naive. This book gave me the shivers when I first started reading it, mostly due to the characters in the dollhouse. Their lives and actions were so captivating that I think I would have fallen just as addicting as Miranda did. The house itself is one of the oldest in the Massachuettes, but the stories in the dollhouse start in the late 19th century, during the Victorian period (which I am a bit obsessed with researching right now).

This book is good for middle readers, but mostly for girls. Although the ghost story is really fun and interesting, I’m not sure boys will be all that entertained by reading a book about a dollhouse. There are some very serious issues in the book, child abuse, ghosts, feminism, that may go over the head of younger readers, so I’d recommend this book for either Accelerated Readers or just 5th grade and up. I think this book will also attract girls in high school as well.

Find this book at your local library

Time Windows
Kathryn Reiss
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, ©1991
ISBN978-0152023997
272 pages

Every Last Cuckoo – Review

When her husband of over 50 years passes away after a hiking accident, Sarah Lucas is faced with difficult realities about her life and her relationship with friends and family. As she tries to make sense of her role in the world after Charles’ death, she opens doors to new and unexpected house-guests that form an unlikely strong bond.

I thought this book was very well written and the pacing of the story was absolutely perfect. I ended up reading the book in just one sitting. It had the feel of a friend telling you a story, rather than feeling like fiction. Sarah is a good narrator, full of wisdom and at the same time, full of curiosities. The death of her husband forces her to examine her relationship with her children, the good and the bad of it. She recounts her time with Charles and their intimate moments, as well as their fights and obstacles. The first half of the book begins with Sarah finding Charles laying on the snowy ground on the trail by their house in Vermont. After that the chapters bounce back and forth between the Christmas leading up to the accident, and then finally on life after Charles. I think this transition was well played, showing the full impact that Charles had on the lives of his family member, without seeming cheesy. The characters that enter Sarah’s house after Charles’ passes away range from troubled teens to troubled adults, and their entry into Sarah’s life is evenly paced and never felt forced. Sarah was able to provide solace and nurture to these new residents in ways she couldn’t provide her children. The descriptions in this book make it more of a winter/rainy day read, rather than a summer read, but its a quick and engrossing read nonetheless.

Find this book at your local library

Every Last Cuckoo
by Kate Maloy
Algonquin Books
ISBN 97815656126756
277 pages

Why Reading Matters – Guest Post

Part two of this weekly celebration of children’s book is a guest post from Bonnie from A Working Title, on reading as a child, and reading to her child. How has reading changed your life?

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Some of my earliest memories are of being read to by my mother. We would lay in my bed at night after picking out my favorite story book, and read together. After she was done, the book always went under my pillow so I could dream about it. These are some of my happiest memories, and a large part of why I am such a voracious reader today.

My mother made it a point to share books with me. We went to the library together, and the bookstore, and every holiday I received new books from her and the rest of my family. I still vividly remember the Christmas I opened the boxed set of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books, and my copies of the Little House books are battered and well loved after 15 years of reading them. I think my most favorite book to have read to me was Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White, and one of the first books I began reading to myself.

Because of my mother and the book-rich environment she provided, by second grade I was reading at a sixth grade level. By sixth grade, I was reading the same books my teachers were reading for fun. I was on a first name basis with all the librarians in town. My best friend was the daughter of the head librarian, and I can remember competing with her to see who could figure out silent reading first. I worked at my school’s book faire every year and was paid in free books. I was a book lover, a bibliophile, a collector.

My room was decorated with book cases and books instead of posters of boys and bands, although that’s not to say I didn’t like those things, too. There just wasn’t room on the walls! Many important parts of school came relatively easy for me, especially paper writing and critical analysis assignments. My vocabulary was large and well developed, and I could roll SAT words off my tongue like nobody’s business. I still read every day, and now, with my own son, we read a book (or two, or five) every night before he goes to sleep. It’s something I treasure deeply, and I’m so glad I can share my love of books with him, just as my mother did with me.

All this memory mining to say, there is nothing more important, and nothing easier, than reading to your child. It expands their minds and their imagination, and introduces them to new vocabulary and concepts. Reading together promotes a lifetime of learning, and brings families together in the evenings for quiet time and sharing. If you don’t have a child of your own, read to your nieces or nephews, or younger siblings. Volunteer at your local library or woman’s shelter for children’s story time. And if you’re too shy for that, donate to your library, elementary school, or other established literacy promoting charity.

It’s Children’s Book Week, a week to promote the books we loved as children, and the new books coming out from authors today. But there’s no reason at all that it can be Children’s Book Week every week. Make it a point to share books with the kids around you at all times of the year. They’ll benefit from it, and so will you. Make book lovers out of everyone, and the world will be filled with enough books for everyone.

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