Thursday, December 16, 2010


Franny is stuck in the middle like the filling of an oreo cookie. Her older sister is gorgeous. Her younger brother is extremely kind. Franny's dubbed him, The Saint. Franny feels invisible. In school. At home. And lately, with her best friend, Margie.

Set in the 1960s during the Cuban Missile crisis, this story is revolves around Franny. At school they are practicing bomb drills while at home Uncle Otts wants to build a bomb shelter. Her big sister, JoEllen, is going to college and is getting secretative letters from a boy. When she disappears, Franny is frantic wondering what happened to her. She starts having arguments with her best friend, Margie, who has decided to make another friend and ditch Franny. Then a new boy moves back to town and both girls are interested in him which causes more friction. Add to the fact, her younger brother, The Saint, is freaking out over the missile crisis and you have plenty of tension in this story.  

This book is really terrific! I did find the pages and pages of primary sources from the 1960's that are inbetween chapters distracting. I read the first two and then stopped because it slowed the pace of the story. I found it better going back and looking at the photos and stories after I read the main story.  I got a kick out of all the references to the 60's with the music, hairstyles, hair products, clothes, cars, TV shows, books and more. The story is loaded with them. Fast-paced and fun.

Reading Level 6.4

Scholastic book trailer video

:-) :-) :-) :-) 4 Smileys

Monday, December 13, 2010

Moon Over Manifest

My best friend and I had sleepovers where we would sneak out of the house in the middle of the night. My friend got hung up on the windowsill with her head in the bathroom and the feet dangling outside. I reached up, grabbed her feet which were above my head, and yanked with all my strength. She sailed backward taking the screen with her and crashing loudly on top of me. We smothered our hysterical laughter and took off running.

Moon Over Manifest, by Clare Vanderpool, reminds me of the ways we entertained ourselves over the summer. Abilene, the main character, has been sent to the town of Manifest by her father who doesn't tell her why. She makes two friends and the girls have fun spying on townsfolk, solving mysteries, and playing in the nearby woods. When Abeline finds a mysterious box under her floorboards with momentos and letters, the three decide to find out who the Rattler is in town. The letters introduce the characters, Ned and Jinx, who are from 20 years ago when WWI was happening, the Klu Klux Klan was terrorizing people, and an unsafe mine  with an unsavory boss put lives at risk. Abeline meets Miss Sadie who gives her more history on the two boys and the town. She also discovers why her Dad sent her to Manifest.

The story is engaging to read. Sprinkled throughout the chapters are articles written by Hattie Mae and advertisements for concoctions promising to cure anything and everything. I got annoyed with these articles interrupting the story. The author was giving the historical flavor of the time but it was jarring at times.

Reading Level 5.1

:-) :-) :-) 3.5 Smileys

Friday, December 10, 2010

Ninth Ward

Lanesha watched from the porch as the paper bag spun wildly across the street like tumbleweed. New Orleans was a ghost town with people fleeing from Hurricane Katrina. All except Mama Ya-Ya and Lanesha. They didn't have a car to leave even if they wanted to.

In the book, Ninth Ward, by Jewell Parker Rhoades, Lanesha is an orphan raised by Mama Ya-Ya, an 82-year-old midwife. Their story is about love and survival in a tough part of town. The characters are likeable: Mama Ya-Ya sits back in her chair. Mama Ya-Ya is so tiny, and the chair almost swallows her. Her feet barely touch the floor. Her hair is silver and her skin reminds me of a walnut, all wrinkly brown. On the wall above her head is a picture of her favorit President, William Jefferson Clinton. p. 8

The story is predictable because we know what happens after Hurricane Katrina hit. Lanesha's story is a small moment in time and how she, Mama Ya-Ya, and TaShon survive or don't survive the disaster. I thought the story line of Lanesha seeing ghosts was a little odd, but I can see why the author used it as a believe brought to America from African culture. It fit with the story but was unbelieveable for me. I can see many readers liking that feature. I also found Lanesha always giving the definition of words annoying. Enjoyable story.

Reading Level 4.2

:-) :-) :-) 3.5 Smileys

Sunday, December 5, 2010

One Crazy Summer

Ever gone to a movie that everyone raved about and left feeling disappointed because it didn't meet your expectations?

That's how I felt about this book.

I was expecting more than the book delivered. The story is about three girls who fly to California from New York to visit their mother who abandoned them when they were under five years old. Upon meeting her it is clear that she doesn't want them even visiting. The story is told from the oldest child's point of view, Delphine. Set in the 1960's the girls learn about their mother's past and spend their days at a summer camp run by the Black Panthers. Delphine watches out for her two younger sisters and sees her mother for who she is: "It didn't seem right that they thought singing and dancing would change Cecile into someone who cried for her long-lost daughters or fried pork chops and made banana pudding. Cecile wasn't that kind of mother, if you wanted to call her one at all." p 132.

I thought the pacing was slow in the beginning. The ending was nice and the story picks up in the middle. The writing is well done with excellent descriptions. I wished I hadn't read any reviews.

Reading Level 5.3

:-) :-) :-) 3.5 Smileys

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Spook's Nightmare (book 7)

This is the 7th book in the Last Apprentice series. The title is different than the U.S. title called, Rise of the Huntress. This is the U.K. title or version.

Tom, an apprentice, and Alice are bound together by a blood jar. Tom has not told this to his master, The Spook, because he knows he will be angry about the use of dark magic by Alice to make the blood jar. There is never a good reason to use dark magic in the Spook's opinion, even if it saves your life. He's quite black and white on the issue.

In this book, Alice's mom, Lizzy, a powerful witch has escaped from the Spook's house. A Civil War has begun in the county and the Spook, Alice and Tom flee to a safer place.

Which isn't safe at all.

Lizzy is there on the island and a nasty creature called a Buggane. The Buggane sucks the soul from a person and then eats their body. This book is by far the most violent of the books with innocent girls being murdered as witches, animals mistreated, and witches lips sewn shut so they can't say any spells out loud.

There were a couple of times I didn't really get what the author was explaining. For instance, when Alice used a talon spell on Lizzy. He didn't explain how it slowed Lizzy down - except it just surprised her.

 I like how the dark and light magic symbolizes good and evil in the books and how people carry some of both. There is plenty of action and tension in the story.

Reading Level 5.6

:-) :-) :-) 3.5 Smileys

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Because of Mr. Terupt

This book is written from 6 different points of view. Mr. Terupt is a new teacher who tries to get his students to be responsible for their actions. The students like his class and method of teaching but when one prankster causes a serious injury, the students have to rethink about their behaviors and the consequences of how they treat others.

The chapters are short and the book is a quick read. Some of the characters are likeable and others are not. These fifth grade students have to learn how to stand up for themselves and know the effects of good or bad choices on themselves and those around them.

Several chapters in a row end with the kids saying how great Mr. Terupt is as a teacher. I found it annoying. For instance, on page 19 Anna ends the chapter with: "He wasn't going to let me hide all year. This made me nervous, but it turned out to be a good thing in the end." The next chapter ends with Peter saying, "Man, things were just so much fun with Mr. T." The following chapter has Luke saying "I think it was a case of Mr. Terupt being a special teacher."

This happens over the course of six pages and I'm beginning to feel like someone is hitting me over the head with the book shouting, "Do you get it? We love Mr. Terupt!"

 Just show me, don't tell me.

The author stops doing this and the drama surrounding the story picks up. The book was enjoyable and deals with issues of students being new, teased, bullied, and ostracized.

Reading Level 4.6

:-) :-) :-) 3.5 Smileys

Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life

My best friend and I set off on our bikes determined to go further than we ever had before. The wind whipped my hair off my face and nervousness, joy and excitement rippled through me like heat waves off the asphalt. We were having a blast.

Until we got lost.

That wasn't so much fun.

Jeremy Fink in the book, Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life, by Wendy Mass, is the opposite of me. He likes comfort so much he won't even eat anything other than peanut butter sandwiches and macaroni and cheese. It is hard for Jeremy to be adventurous until the day he gets a box from his now-dead father that has the words engraved in it: The meaning of life: for Jeremy Fink to open on his 13th birthday. The box is missing 4 keys to open it and Jeremy goes on a quest to find them with his best friend Lizzy.

Lizzy is like a sister to Jeremy. Her mother left when she was a baby and Jeremy's family is like her adopted family. Lizzy has issues with stealing items when her hands "get itchy." She doesn't like to sit for long because she doesn't want to think deeply about things. When she has to start using her brain she steals stuff and starts to run.

Lizzy's stealing doesn't make sense in the beginning and I remember reading it and asking myself, "Huh? Why would she do that?" I also thought Jeremy was weird just eating peanut butter sandwiches. I thought his Mom only made him that as a meal but Jeremy wouldn't eat anything else.  I remember thinking these are two strange kids but their actions become clear at the end of the story.

Jeremy's Dad leaves the two of them a wonderful message in the box. You'll have to read the book to discover what it is!

Scholastic book trailer video

Reading Level 5.0

:-) :-) :-) 3.75  Smileys

Saturday, November 27, 2010


Futuristic Dr. Doolittle.

Meet Max who lives in a world where people don't go outside but have all their needs met through technology.

Well sort of.

Max has a bedroom that is so high tech he doesn't see his parents in person but on the LCD screens on his walls. His room is completely computerized - the ceiling is  a gigantic speaker - and hardwired to his leg. Literally. He has a computer chip implanted in his leg that reads all his vital signs. The computer can predict when he wants to eat, use the toilet, has low sugar, etc. Whenever Max's vital signs change, his parents contact him by phone - even though dad works at home and has an office 3 doors down from his room. His parents are media celebrities who make bizarre decisions that no normal parent would make. I hope.

Dumb parents aside, the story has lots of action and tension. Max gets a gift from his Dad and discovers he can talk to animals. His dog, Hugo, alerts him to the fact that the Vet they go to is really an evil man who's abusing animals by putting computer chips in them and controlling them. Max works with Hugo to uncover the plot of how he'll take over the world.

 The end is a setup for the next book. Fun read.

Reading Level 5.3

Scholastic book trailer video

:-) :-) :-) 3 Smileys.

The Exiled Queen

Princess Raisa has run away from an arranged marriage to a military academy with Amon and two other cadets who are meant to guard her. She's taking more than a full class schedule in order to gain knowledge that will help her be a better ruler. This is the start to The Exiled Queen, the sequel of The Demon King, by Cinda Williams Chima. Princess Raisa is too small and slight to be a soldier but she's tough and uses her brains to get out of difficult situations.

Han is at wizard school with Dancer. All he wants to be is a student but he is being recruited by all sorts of people who want to use his magical powers for selfish reasons. Han doesn't cross paths with Raisa until later in the story but he still doesn't know that she's a princess. Han and Raisa's school experiences are somewhat similar to Harry Potter with them having to deal with bullies and good and not so good professors. There are plenty of love triangles as people couple up or go their separate ways.

Nice pacing, quick read with plenty of action. Read the first book or it might be confusing in parts. Also, the ending is a setup for a third book.

:-) :-) :-) 3.5 Smileys

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Violet Raines Almost Got Struck by Lightning

Violet Raines not only got struck by lightning she emitted raging electrical bolts at all the people who knew her.

Honestly, Violet is not a very likeable kid.

She is jealous of her best friends new friendship with the girl who has moved into town, but they are so nasty and rude to each other I'm amazed they eventually become friends. This story captures being 13-years-old too well and it is all the ugliness of girls being catty, jealous, and immature. Violet and her best friend, Lottie, have problems when Melissa moves into town. Melissa becomes friends with Lottie and they have makeovers, watch soap operas, and read magazines. Violet gets jealous and mad because she doesn't want her friendship with Lottie to change. Violet and Melissa swap insults every time they are together. Violet shows kindness to Lottie's younger sister but it is too little and doesn't balance out the snottiness of the girls attitudes toward each other.

The writing is quite beautiful. The author's descriptions and the unique voice of Violet are clear and well-done. Violet is manipulating her mom in this passage: "'Now why you asking me that?' I make the exact opposite of a smile. Some people think that's a frown, but they're wrong. The exact opposite of a smile is an I-don't-care face, like I make now. 'Just wondered.' I take a bite out my cupcake. It works, 'cause she looks past me and I can tell she's looking through the memories in her head. Her face gets all soft and, for a moment, she looks young."

While the writing is great, the characters are not.   

Scholastic book trailer video

:-) :-) 2.5 Smileys

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Night Fairy

Fairy godmothers are great but fairy mothers are not great.

They leave their fairy babies after three days to fend for themselves. Some of those fairies don't survive.

So begins Flory's tale in, The Night Fairy, by Laura Amy Schlitz. Flory is about three months old when a bat mistakes her for a moth and bites off her wings. She falls to the earth and learns to survive in a world of giant-sized animals. Along the way she makes friends and learns to overcome her fear of bats.

The illustrations in the book are beautiful and add to the story. The beginning of the story has too many sentences that start with "she." The rhythmn of the text has a monotonous feel. I almost put the book down. It gets more interesting toward the end and the tension picks up.

This book is simliar to the Rainbow Magic fairy series but a little more difficult to read. I prefer the Fairy Dust and the Quest for the Egg, by Gail Carson Levine which has more tension and action in the story.

Reading Level 4.7

:-) :-) 2.5 Smileys

Scandinavian Mythology

The mighty Thor rides a goat-drawn chariot.

That's right... goats!

Zeus has a chariot pulled by gorgeous winged horses. Even Santa gets some cute reindeer. The Norse myths give the Valkyries, or women warriors who collect the dead from the battlefield, winged-horses that drive chariots.

Thor just got the short end of the stick. I can see oxen or bulls. But goats? Maybe they were the two older Billy Goats Gruff.

None of the three books I read on Scandinavian mythology explained this, although in Mary Pope Osborne's book, Favorite Norse Myths,  (4.8 reading level) the goats were gold. I guess that might look cool.

According to the book, Scandinavian Mythology (6.7 reading level), by Jason Porterfield, Thor is the Viking ideal. In the book, Gods and Goddesses of the Ancient Norse (4.9 reading level), by Leonard Everett Fisher, Thor has a magical belt that doubles his strength, a magical hammer that makes lightning when he strikes things, and a chariot that rumbles as thunder when he rides it around the sky. The bleating of goats is the sound of light rain - just kidding. Thor  is the most popular of the Norse gods.  

Porterfield's book is packed with information and the language is at a higher level than the other two books. Osborne's book reads like a story and is probably going to be the most engaging if you don't want to get bogged down with facts, while Everitt's book is more introductory with each page describing a god.

What I enjoyed the most about reading the books are how much literature came to mind that uses Norse myths. The Alchemyst: the Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel by Michael Scott has the tree Yggdrasilll and its collapse. The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R. Tolkien uses the legend of the curse of the ring. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis has an endless winter. In Norse Myths an endless winter will precede Ragnarok, the final battle between the gods and giants or good and evil.

Odin gets an eight-legged horse that is faster than any horse. He is the "All Father" and has a habit of taking all the best for himself. Maybe that's why Thor got the goats. Every Christmas we put up these cute straw goats which my bestemor or grandma said came from Sweden. Porterfield said that many Christmas traditions are celebrations of pre-Christian Scandinavia and the straw goats represent the goats that pull Thor's chariot.

I looked up online why he rode goats and there is a story of him eating the goats and then resurrecting them. It also said that the horns on the goats were magnificent and that they were faster than any of the other chariots.

Jason in the Lost Hero gets rescued from some evil wind gods by a winged-horse-drawn chariot. It might have been funny if he'd been picked up by a goat-drawn chariot. The goats are the fauns or satyrs who protect the kids at the camp.

But I'm getting side-tracked.

I suppose the Scandinavians picked the goat for practical reasons. The goat was important to the farmer in providing milk for a family and other sustenance such as nutrition. My view of the goat  is more urban than rural.

:-) :-) :-) 3 Smileys

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Lost Hero

I didn't peek!

When I get bored with a story, I peek ahead to the ending.

Oftentimes this spoils the story. But this time I just hardly put the book down. In the book, The Lost Hero, by Rick Riordan, the action was nonstop, the characters were fun, and the plot unpredictable. I might have even liked it better than the Percy Jackson series. Shhhhh! I said "might."

Three new characters are introduced to Camp Half-Blood: Jason, Piper, and Leo. The characters are quite distinct and Leo is hysterical. I also got a kick out of how some of the gods are presented like Aeolus, who is slightly insane from trying to predict the weather which the gods constantly change: "'Hello Olympus! Aeolus, master of the winds here, with weather every twelve [minutes]! We'll have a low-pressure system moving over Florida today, so expect milder temperatures since Demeter wishes to spare the citrus farmers!' ... He tapped his ear piece. 'Sorry folks! Poseidon is angry with Miami today, so it looks like the Florida freeze is back on! Sorry Demeter!'" (p. 416) He also describes Aeolus as having so much plastic-surgery that his face looks like "a Ken doll someone halfway melted in a microwave." (p. 412)

Jason is the hero and leader, while Piper is smart and beautiful. Leo is the wise-cracking jokster who keeps everyone laughing: "'Your Dad is Hephaestus.' 'Festus?' Leo had heard somebody say that before but he was still dismayed. 'Sounds like the god of cowboys.'" (p. 67) Whoop it up with this new quest as the demigods fight to save the world from evil.

Take away the "might." I think this is Riordan's best book yet.

Reading Level 4.8

:-) :-) :-) :-) :-) 5 Smileys

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Candy Shop

Candy that gives you superpowers.

Imagine milk chocolate melting in your mouth and coating you body with iron so that you are indestructable. You could jump from a 3-story building like Nate does while running for his life.

In The Candy Shop War, by Brandon Mull, Nate and his friends are able to do all sorts of fun stuff with magical candy given to them from Belinda, owner of the The Candy Shoppe. Belinda asks them to perform assignments that get shadier and shadier. She says if they don't do it, they won't get anymore candy. When she asks them to steal an object they decide to stop working for her and get caught up with a second magician who is at war with Belinda. Both magicians want a magical artifact and they recruit kids to help them obtain it because the magical candy only works on children.

I thought the start was full of action and some interesting creatures but then things slowed down when the kids were at school getting bullied. I got a little bored with the missions  such as when they had to get mushrooms. I can see the author was trying to show the kids learning to trust Belinda but it was too slow. The plot was very predictable until the end where there are some surprise twists.

Some parts of this book were delicious, while other parts were bland. Check out the more satisfying Fablehaven series.

Reading Level 6.1

:-) :-) :-) 3 Smileys.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


A sci-fi fairytale with a pinch of history?

This story is weird.

Really weird.

And it oozes with tension which is what kept me from putting it down.

That's it's strength.

Incarceron is a prison that Finn, the main character, is trying to escape. The prison has no sky or stars and no one has ever escaped except Sapphique who is a legend among the thousands of inhabitants of the prison. Finn is convinced that he is from the Outside but has only a few vague memories of a birthday party. He has visions where he sees stars, water and Sapphique. This makes him special among the people. 

The prison is alive and talks to Finn. Originally the prison was setup to be a paradise but instead it has become a living Hell. The prison preys on the fears of people and suggests that the evil in humans is what poisons the place and keeps people from being good. People and animals are recycled and many are born as half human; that is, part machine and part flesh. The prison is running out of organic matter. Even the prison wants to know what is on the Outside and takes interest in Finn.

When Finn finds a key in the prison he becomes connected with Claudia who has a matching key. Claudia helps Finn and his friends in their quest to escape the prison. She is the daughter of the Warden of Incarceron. She has been raised since birth to marry the spoiled prince of the current Queen. When she meets Finn she is convinced because of a tattoo on his arm that he is the prince she was originally betrothed to but who supposedly died in a riding accident. She wants him to escape Incarceron so she doesn't have to marry the current prince.

The plot is predictable in many ways and somewhat slow in the beginning but it takes off full speed at the end with all sorts of twists that setup for the sequel.

So don't peek ahead (like I did)! Or you'll spoil some of the surprises.

:-) :-) :-) 3 Smileys

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Dreamer

Neftali? Who spoons the water from the clouds to the snowcap to the river and feeds it to the hungry ocean? (p. 9)

The author, Pam Munoz Ryan, in the book, The Dreamer, writes a fictional tale about the famous Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda born Neftali Reyes. The above quote  is Ryan's attempt to imitate Neruda in his book titled, The Book of Questions. The Dreamer shows Neftalia's difficult childhood growing up with a domineering father who detested his daydreaming and desire to be a poet. Neftali was a sick, painfully shy child who had overcome these obstacles to reach his dream of being a poet.

The writing in the book is beautiful and Peter Sis has illustrations that add to the richness of the story:  He heard only the thudding of retreating footsteps, a clumping of footfalls on wooden stairs, and a swollen door yelping shut. Ryan imitates Neftalis poetry of looking deeply at objects throughout the story: He heard a rustling inside a rotting log and bent to peek inside. A gigantic horned beetle scurried from beneath the leaves. At first Neftali jerked back, but then he bent closer to watch it hiss. He had never seen a beetle so big or fierce-looking. (p. 99) He then pretends or deams that he climbs onto the beetles back and rides it like a horse.

This book is written like no other book I have read. The illustrations and poetry weaved together like a tapestry; inseparable from the rest of the story.

Reading Level 5.3

:-) :-) :-) :-) :-) 5 Smileys

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Madame Chiang Kai-Shek

I prefer one temperature for cooking: High.

The gas stove gives a satisfying pop before spitting out a nasty flame that engulfs the pan in an inferno of heat.

In the interesting biography, Madame Chiang Kai-shek: China's Eternal First Lady, by Laura Tyson Li,  Madame Chiang Kai-shek lived her life like my stove, cranked up to full power and scorching a path through history. She was vain, spoiled, brilliant and tragic. Her actions showed that she would make moral compromises, underhanded deals, and turn a blind eye to basic human rights if it interfered with putting her husband back in power. She saw him as the Savior to China and would stop at nothing to make him the most powerful leader in China.

Madame Chiang Kai-shek was one of the first female ambassadors to the West and the author shows that she was a master charmer and manipulator of men in U.S. politics. Her husband, Chiang Kai-shek,  is portrayed in this book as a brutal warlord who rose to power under Sun Yat-sen's leadership. Chiang Kai-shek murdered or jailed those who opposed him and was a tyrant who only listened to his wife and later, his son.

The rise and fall of their regime and the years spent in Taiwan makes for a fascinating read. Some parts were very detailed and slow. Others read quickly. 

I turn off my stove and watch the flame slowly fade away to nothing. I wonder if over time the memory of the Chiang Kai-sheks will fade in the same way.

:-) :-) :-) 3 Smileys

Try Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Dear Reader,

I discovered a marvelous machine in the lockerroom that spins water out of your swimsuit. It's brilliant! It looks like an oversized salad spinner.

I also read a wonderful book called, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. I know. I know. The title sounds like they threw a bunch of words in a salad spinner. This entire book is written in letter format! Inspired, I decided to write a letter to you about the book. The  goofy book name came about when a group of people on an island in the English Channel called, Guernsey, formed a club as a way to avoid jail time when they broke curfew during the Nazi occupation. I found the letter format discombobulating in the beginning. It was hard figuring out where the story was going. I didn't find the plot absorbing until page 40.

The story follows Juliet Ashton, a journalist and published author who wrote funny, light articles during World War II. Now that the war is over, Juliet wants to write a novel. She follows a story lead in Guernsey and along the way falls in and out of love, makes friends, and discovers the story she wants for a novel as residents describe the horrors and ways they survived during the Nazi occupation.

The letter format allows for many points of view and the minor characters come alive with unique voices and wit. For instance, Susan writes a funny letter to Juliet about her new assistant.

Dear Juliet,

You know Sidney does not keep your letters clasped next to his heart; he leaves them open on his desk for anyone to see, so of course I read them. I am writing to reassure you about Billie Bee's errand-running. Sidney doesn't ask her. She begs to perform any little service she can for him, or you, or "that dear child." She all but coos at him and I all but gag at her. She wears a little angora cap with a chin bow - the kind that Sonja Henie skates in. Need I say more?

Also contrary to what Sidney things, she isn't an angel straight from heaven, she's from an employment agency. Meant to be temporary, she has dug herself in - and is now indispensable and permanent. Can't you think of some living creature Kit would like to have from the Galapagos? Billie Bee would sail on the next tide for it - and be gone for months. Possibly forever, if some animal there would just eat her.

All my best to you and Kit,

Susan (p. 225)

I really liked how this book portrayed Juliet's struggle with finding and creating a story. I could also relate to the author in the Afterword, where Annie Barrows explains how "...Mary Ann could no more endure a day without reading than she could grow feathers..." (p.284).

Okay Reader. Back to the swimsuit salad spinner. Is there anything else miraculous in the swimworld in terms of swim caps? My current rubberized piece of comfort ripped out a chunk of bangs when I whipped it off and I had a burn line slashed across my forehead after swimming in the hot sun for a few hours. And don't get me started on the goggles! Those fogged-up, eyeball sucking plastic circles are like tentacles that latch onto my skin so tightly that after I am done swimming I have deep circular indentations hours later. Yes, they keep the water out, but is there something less torturous?

Your googly-eyed friend,


:-) :-) :-)  3.5 Smileys

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Kitchen Chinese

Kitchen Chinese: A Novel About Food, Family, and Finding Yourself, by Ann Mah, did NOT pass the grilled cheese test.

If I'm completely riveted by an awesome book, I burn the grilled cheese.

Either the smoke sneaking out the kitchen door or the smell of burning bread snaps my head out of my dreamy alternate world into reality.

I didn't burn the bread.

While Kitchen Chinese was a pleasant read, the plot was predictable and parts unbelievable. Isabelle, an American born Chinese is from New York and gets fired from her magazine job. She goes to live with her sister, Claire, in Beijing. I liked the author's description of China, the food and living as an expat.I found myself shaking my head in agreement at some of her observations and I learned about some Chinese medicine techniques that no one has been able to translate for me such as moxibustion. When I workout I see women in the locker room with perfectly round, ugly looking bruises all over their backs. This form of Chinese medicine, Mah explains in her book,  is when toxins are sucked out of the body using hot glass cups.

I also liked the descriptions of food and the city: "I continue down the street until I reach a small street that's lined with ramshackle storefronts. Here each step brings a different smell, first an acrid wave of cigarette smoke, then the reek of garbage, then the cozy wafting scent of fried dough. It's a reminder of how closely packed life is here, where generations share bedrooms, neighborhoods share bathrooms and stacks of Napa cabbage are stored next to trash heaps." p. 62

Isabelle is single and dating and has several men interested in her. She's working for an expat magazine and is a food columnist. Everything goes right for Isabelle. She gets a huge scoop, attracts a pop-star, freelances an article for a famous newspaper, always seems to write "amazing" articles and doesn't struggle with writing except for the occasional writer's block.

Yeah right.

It doesn't work that way in journalism. As a freelance writer it is a guarantee the writer will get rejection notices. I would have liked to see Isabelle struggle with this part of freelance writing because it is very difficult and hurtful to get rejection letters. All writers get them. And all have to deal with them in their own way.

Gone with the Wind was rejected 38 times.

A Wrinkle in Time was rejected 26 times.

This book is more of a fantasy for a writer. No rejections, little criticism, only success. I preferred how the authors, Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, portrayed the struggle of creating a story in the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

The title of the book suggests it is like Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert but there isn't enough reflection or humor compared to Gilbert's book.

I would describe this book as a light romance novel that captures the foods and sights of China.

Don't expect to burn your grilled cheese.

:-) :-) :-) 3 Smileys

Monday, October 25, 2010

Out of my Mind

When I read a really good book I want to savor it like a hot fudge sundae. Take small, bitty bites and swirl it around my mouth until the vanilla and hot fudge sauce blends together in one delicious chocolaty flavor.

The book, Out of My Mind, by Sharon Draper tastes to me like a hot fudge sundae. I slowed down so I could really savor the words, plot and rhythmn of the story. While I associate food with reading, Melody associates music with colors and feelings throughout the book. Her Mom loves classical music while Dad enjoys Jazz. "Those pieces seem to be bright blue as I listen, and they smell like fresh paint. Dad is partial to jazz... Jazz to me sounds brown and tan, and it smells like wet dirt." (p. 6)  Happy feelings are yellow and smell like lemons. Sad feelings are gray with no smell.

This powerful story revolves around Melody who has a photographic memory and cerebral palsy which means she cannot talk or move. Confined to a wheelchair she can only utter a few "uh" type words. Her Mom usually figures out what she wants but most don't.  Most think she is an idiot. She gets a computer board that allows her to "talk" and her world is radically changed as she communicates with the people around her. People discover that Melody is very, very bright. Melody begins to make friends,  enters a Whiz Team competition with classmates, and has to deal with many unique issues that revolve around her disability. 

When Melody's sister Penny is born, Melody has to deal with her feelings of having a sister who is "normal." Penny offers some comedic relief in the story. Melody describes her: "Penny zoomed around like a windup toy" and she has a stuffed animal she lugs around called, Doodle, but when she says the word it sounds like "Doo-Doo" which makes Dad "crack up."

In a dramatic climax that involves Penny and the Whiz Team, Melody has to decide what is important in life and what defines a friend. 

I really liked that the Mom and Dad are portrayed as caring parents who work really hard to give their daughter with a disability a life that is "normal." In real life, the author has a child with a disability and it comes through with her compassionate portrayal of Melody's family.

Sit down with this book and savor it.

Reading Level 4.7

:-) :-) :-) :-) :-) 5 Smileys

If you liked this book try Rules, by Cynthia Lord or

The Higher Power of Lucky, by Susan Patron

Friday, October 22, 2010

A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban

A parked light blue Mercury car.

My bike found its bumper because I was reading a book and biking at the same time.


Some mistakes really, really hurt.

In the book, A Crooked Kind of Perfect, Zoe's Dad makes all sorts of mistakes such as buying 432 rolls of toilet paper, or buying an organ instead of a piano, or signing Zoe up for piano lessons where they use a pretend piano on paper versus the real thing.

Zoe's sense of humor comes through right from page one:

How It Was Supposed to Be

I was supposed to play the piano.
The piano is a beautiful instrument.
People wear ball gowns and tuxedos to hear the piano.

With the piano, you could play Carnegie hall. You could wear a tiara. You could come out on stage wearing gloves up to your elbows. You could pull them off, one finger at a time.

Everybody is quiet when you are about to play the piano. They don’t even breathe. They wait for the first notes.

They wait.
They wait.

And then you lift your hands high above your head and slam them down on the keys and the first notes come crashing out and your fingers fly up and down and your foot –in its tiny slipper with rubies at the toe- your foot peeks out from under your gown to press lightly on the pedals.

A piano is glamorous. Sophisticated. Worldly.
It is a wonderful thing to play the piano.

How it is

 I play the organ.
A wood-grained, vinyl-seated, wheeze-bag organ.
The Perfectone D-60.

The beginning of the story hints that Zoe's father has some sort of problem. I wasn't sure if Dad was dumb or mentally ill. I was leaning toward dumb after reading the chapter titled, Float like  a Butterfly. He was almost cartoonish in terms of all the online classes he was taking. The author was being funny but it didn't work for me until later in the story when she portrays him as caring, sensitive and crazy fun.  Dad likes to dance "...he's bouncing and spinning around the room [to a Polka she's playing on the organ] and using some kind of accent saying "vun day' and 'dis vellow'" (p33). On the other hand, Mom is a numbers crunching machine. At the competition "she has written down the names of all the competitors and drawn columns next to them with little slash marks for each mistake. She writes down the judges comments, too, in code with plus signs and minus signs and stars. This is how Mom has fun." (p. 180)

Zoe loses friends and gain friends. She enters the Perfecto-rama competition and learns that it is okay to make mistakes and the important thing in life, whether it is a competition or overcoming personal issues like her Dad, is to keep going and never give up.

Reading Level 6.3

Scholastic book trailer video

:-) :-) :-) :-) 4 Smileys

Reading Rumpus

"Let the wild rumpus begin!"

This is one of my favorite lines in the book, Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak.

Our library is so busy that at times it is like a rumpus. And the rumpus is over reading! How great!

This is my attempt to blog the books I read on a weekly basis.