Sunday, August 30, 2015

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

Cover image for North and southIf you are like me you have watched the movie of North and South starring Richard Armitage more than once.  I decided it would be fun to read the book and see how it compares to the movie.  It actually is pretty much like the movie.  All the same things happen in all the same order. Most of the dialog in the movie is taken right from the book. The only thing that is different is the final scene, and in that case I think I like the movie version better. 

That said, I enjoyed reading it quite a bit.  I am afraid it made me stay up late almost every night for a week. It was originally written as a serial in a journal edited by Charles Dickens.  It was first published as a novel in 1855.  Now, or course, it is a historical fiction, but when it was written it was contemporary fiction.  The settings, language and social interactions are therefore very authentic and fun to read. So if you like the "real deal" period romances, this is a great choice. (450 p.)

The Terrible Two by Mac Barnett

Cover image for The terrible twoMiles Murphy was the school prankster in his old town.  Now he is in a new town and an new school and is eager to establish his reputation. On the first day of school he is surprised to find a car parked at he top of the stairs leading to the front door to the school--and not just any car, the principal's car.  So Yawnee Valley already has a prankster, and a good one.  Miles is eager to find out who it is but the only kid he has met is his dorky "New Student Buddy," Niles, who is the world's worst principal's pet.  Miles has to dodge Niles as he prepares his most spectacular prank yet. When his grand prank is hijacked by the Yawnee Valley prankster, Miles and his rival start a planking war that escalated to hilarious proportions.

Mac Barnett is an amazing author with a clever, quirky, sense of humor.  He is the author of some really successful picture books, including a Caldecott honor book, Extra Yarn.  He also has some successful novels, including a series I liked, The Brixton Brothers.  So I was eager to read this one. It was funny and the final prank is brilliant. All the tidbits about cows were funny as well, but, in all honesty,  I liked The Worst Class Trip Ever better. I think it is because I am not someone that appreciates practical jokes. (Plus, I wasn't thrilled about the cover.) Maybe if I had read this one first, instead of right after the other one, I would have enjoyed it more. Both are great books for the kid who likes goofy humor or for a family to listen to together in a car on a long road trip. (214 p)

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Worst Class Trip Ever by Dave Barry

Cover image for The worst class trip everWyatt's 8th grade class is going on a major field trip to Washington DC to see historical sites. While he is on the airplane with this class, his best friend, Matt, notices that the two men with foreign accents sitting behind them are very possessive of their carry-on bags, and are looking at aerial photographs of the White House.  Matt, who is not too bright, jumps to the conclusion that they are terrorists and convinces Wyatt to try to get their bags away from them to prove it. The only thing they accomplish, is that they capture the attention of air marshal. What Wyatt doesn't know is that during the scuffle, Matt takes something from one of the bags. Thus begins the amazingly wild ride that involves being chased by the two men all over Washington, kidnapping, super top secret military equipment, the cutest girl in the 8th grade, and obscure ancient hunting implements.

Dave Barry is a master of humor. This is the funniest book I have read since I read his book, Science Fair a couple of years ago.  He has this clever way of starting out with events that are probable, then moving slowly to the improbable, to the nearly impossible, and ending up at the utterly ridiculous.  But he does it so smoothly that your are carried along and laugh out loud at each new outrageous turn. I was listening to the recording in the car on my way to and from work, and I had to be careful not to get distracted from my driving because I was laughing too hard.  As with the Science Fair, the final sequence which brought everything to a climax is brilliant.  So, so, so, good.  Plus the reader on the recorded book is great.  So check this one out, for sure, on your next road trip to listen to with your family. (214 p)

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Cover image for Brown girl dreamingThis is a memoir, in free verse, of the early childhood of the author.  She was born in Ohio, but her parents split up when she was very young and she went to live with her grandparents in South Carolina.  There she was able to see and experience the currents of the Civil Rights Movement first hand.  Then, when she was school age, she moved to New York and learned to be a city girl. It was especially interesting to me because she was born about the same time as I was, so some of the cultural icons she mentions were familiar to me as a girl, Crissy Dolls, The Jackson Five, roller skates.  But at the same time her life was totally different from mine.  I have never been part of a racial minority.  I never felt like people were telling me what I could or could not do or be because of my race. Also, I never had to deal with poverty or divorce.  It is good to get a peek into someone else's life once in a while, to remind ourselves that not all people and not all life experiences are the same. Another interesting theme of the book was that her sister was the bookish "good student", and her brother was a wiz at science, so she felt like the academically untalented one. Yet she was the one who has become famous by winning the Coretta Scott King award, three Newbery honors and many other children's literature awards. This is a good book, but I don't know how many children would love it.  It is more likely to appeal to adults, like me, who can remember growing up in the 60's and early 70's.(336 p.)

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd

Cover image for A snicker of magicFelicity Pickle's mother has a wandering heart.  Felicity has never lived in the same place more than a few months and longs for a place to call home.  When the Pickles arrive at an aunt's house in Midnight Gulch, Felicity finds a best friend and a real home.  Legend says that Midnight Gulch used to be filled with magic, and Felicity soon discovers that a snicker of that magic still exists. Will it be enough to cure Felicity's mother's yearning to leave?

Lloyd's story is fresh and interesting and her characters are endearing. Felicity's character sees words floating out of and around people and things.  It is an interesting idea and device that helps move the plot along.  I listened to the book (as I usually do) and imagined the words creatively typeset on the page.  I was a little disappointing when I saw the print version, and the words didn't float across the page as I had imagined.  I think the publishers missed an opportunity there.  The only thing about the story that made me pause, is that the character of Jonah is too nice.  No 11-year-old boy would really be that nurturing and open with his emotions. The character of Jonah is disabled, and I wonder if disabled people get tired of disabled people in books always being super nice, or super brave, or super capable.  Still, if you want a upbeat, well written, feel good book to read to your family, here is a great choice. (311 p)

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Incredible Hulk by Alexander Irvine

Cover image for The Incredible HulkI thought I better read another one of these just to make sure they are age appropriate.  I haven't watched any of the recent movies of The Hulk, so I was able to assess this retelling by its own merits.  It was just fine.  As in the Captain America one, mentioned the violence, but without any blood or intense feeling.  I thought it was interesting that the author made sure that the reader knew that no one actually got killed. They all escape right before the helicopter blows up or the building fell down. It had a little more mention of kissing than the Captain America one, but it was without excessive description and I thought it was fine for this age range.  After I read the book I looked through some trailers to see which movie it was based on.  When I saw the trailer from the 2008 movie, all the lines from the trailer were exact duplicates of lines in the book. I really think these books could help some readers transition from  comic books to novels. They are short and fast paced and have a good cover, but look and feel like a regular novel.  I will go ahead and order the rest of the series for my department. (175 p)

Side note: You don't think they named him David Banner as in Star Spangled Banner, and her Betty Ross, as in Betsy Ross by accident, do you?  I had to be on purpose, right?

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Jack by Liesl Shurtliff

Cover image for Jack : the true story of Jack & the beanstalkThis is the sequel to Rump that I read last month.  It is a retelling of the story of Jack and the Beanstalk, but is also includes winks at a bunch of other famous fairy tales.  Jack is a "naughty" son of a farmer.  He doesn't like to work and he loves to play practical jokes on people.  He also loves his father's stories about his great-great-grandfather, who was Jack the Giant Slayer. Jack only half believes the stories but secretly hopes that one day he will grow up and have the kind of adventures his ancestor had.  His wish comes true, but sooner than he anticipated.  One day two giants come down out of the sky and steel all the food on Jack's  farm, plus their calf and with it, Jack's father.  Jack vows to find a way up to the Giant kingdom to save his "papa".  He discovers a peddler selling giant "magic" beans.  Of course, they grow into giant beanstalks, and Jack climbs up them and enters the giant world.  So far it sounds like a typical "Jack and the Beanstalk," right? But once he gets into the giant world, that is when things go a little crazy, If you plan to read the book, don't read any further (spoiler alert) It turns out that the world he arrives in is the castle in Rump.  It is a few months after Rump has left.  King Barf is still obsessed with gold, but now has a hen that lays golden eggs. Jack is adopted by kindly Martha, and discovers that there are many people his size living in the castle. For the rest of the book Jack searches the giant world for his father with the help of his new friend, Tom Thumb, and his sister, whom Martha calls Thumblina,

I liked this book well enough.  I thought it was clever that Shurtliff wove in parts of so many other stories, including the Elves and the Shoemaker, the Little Old Woman who Lived in a Shoe, and of course, Tom Thumb and Thumbelina.  I also thought it was ingenious to make the normal humans in the first book, the giants in the second.  However, I didn't like this book as well as the first book because of pacing.  It really slowed down in the middle. Jack went here looking for his papa, and then there, looking for his papa.  He said, "I have to find my papa" about a thousand times without really forwarding the plot.  I think it was an editing issue.  Authors who are successful with their first book think they don't need an editor for their second. Still, over all it was a fun story and likeable characters.  (269 p)

Friday, August 7, 2015

Cotillion by Georgette Heyer

Cover image for CotillionOk, I was going on a weekend vacation with my husband that I new would involve some down time, so I indulged in another Georgette Heyer. It is very much like the others I have read, but it was still a lot of fun.

An orphan girl, Kitty, is adopted by an old miser and raised cloistered on his country estate.  When she comes of age, the old man decides that he will fix all his inheritance on her, if she will marry one of his grand-nephews.  There are four eligible candidates, a kindly simpleton, a rector, a playboy and dandy.  Kitty has had a crush on the playboy, Jack, for many years, but he refuses, out of pride, to offer for her at the appointed time.  Kitty refuses the offers of the simpleton, and the rector, but convinces the dandy, Freddy, (who is initially not interested because he is wealthy enough not to be tempted by her fortune), to pretend to be engaged to her. Her hope is to make Jack jealous, and to have an excuse to go and spend a month in London, ostensibly to meet Freddy's family.  As naive, but kindly, Kitty tastes the delights of London society, she begins to see what Jack really is. 

I kept expecting there to be an actual cotillion dance in the book, because of the title, but there was none. The title is symbolic, because a cotillion is a country dance, like a square dance, with four couples.  The plot includes four couples, and the partners move around from one to another like they would in square dance, but come out all well and happy in the end.  The final sequence is especially hilarious as the ultimate winner of Kitty's hand scrambles to prove his worth.  Caveat: this book has more clear mention of Jack's naughty behavior as regards to women than any of the other Heyer books, but they are brief and there is no description of actual encounters. (355 p)

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Crucible of Doubt by Terryl and Fionna Givens

Cover image for The crucible of doubt : reflections on the quest for faithThis is a religious treatise written by an LDS couple who are both professors at a university in Virginia.  It addresses the question of what a member can do when they have serious doubts about church doctrine.  The Gibbons use quotes from church leaders, as well as other prominent historical philosophers, to reassure the reader that doubts are OK, no church leader is infallible,  that it is better to belong to the church with doubts than to leave the church, and that there is hope for finally having all doubts resolved in the end.  It is very well written, and their assertions are for the most part reasonable and insightful.  The Gibbons both have a humanities background and it shows in their writing.  While acknowledging the importance of science in a cursory way, the couple hardly ever quote from a scientist or list one when mentioning the world's most influential thinkers.  As long as the reader is aware of this bias, and also remembers that the writers are merely expressing their own opinions, and don't claim to be establishing official church doctrine  (even though it is published by the Deseret Book), it is well worth reading.(168 p)

Monday, August 3, 2015

The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing by Sheila Turnage

Cover image for The ghosts of Tupelo LandingHere is the second installment of the adventures of Mo and Dale who solved a murder in Three Times Lucky.  Full of themselves after their first success, Mo and Dale of the newly formed Desperado Detective Agency are eager for another mystery to solve.  One presents itself, when Lana, Mo's foster mother, impulsively buys an old deserted inn near her diner.  As it turns out the hotel is haunted and the ghost seems to having a special interest in the two tweens, and their new friend, Harm Crenshaw. As the three kids try to learn who the ghost is and how they can help her, they dig up a more than just the past. 

The first book in the series was a realistic fiction, so I was a little surprised when this one moved into the realm of the supernatural.  I kept expecting it to be a like an old Scooby Do show where the ghost was really a hoax to try to prevent the restoration of the inn.  But no, it is a real ghost.  Turnage makes the switch into fantasy smoothly enough, and those who liked the spunky heroine, the colorful characters and snappy dialog of the first book will find more of the same here. (352 p)

How to Catch a Bogle by Catherine Jinks

Cover image for How to catch a bogle Birdie McAdams is a bogler's apprentice.  Bogle is the general name for any number of creepy monsters who live in dark holes and come out to eat children.  Birdie works for Alfred by standing in front of a bogle's hole and singing.  When the singing leads the boggle out into the open, Alfred, kills it with his magic spear.  Birdie is proud of her work and glad not to be in a work house, or working for the local crime lord.  She, therefore, does not like it when a wealthy woman comes into her life and starts ruining everything. Will Miss Aimes and their experience with the crazy doctor convince Alfred that bogling is no job for a little girl?

This is not a really new book.  I read it because I remembered that one of my co-workers really liked it when it came out.  After reading it I could see why it appealed to my friend.  Birdie McAdams has a lot of courage and pluck.  The alternative Victorian London setting is rich and interesting, and the relationship between Birdie and Alfred is very sweet. This is a good "boogie man" story with just the right level of spine tingles. (313p)