Sunday, May 29, 2011

Throne of Fire

My turn.

[Ow! Let go of the microphone, Sadie! I'm telling your story. Don't worry! I loved the book.]

Phew! Carter and Sadie are back in, The Throne of Fire, book 2 of the Kane Chronicles, saving the world from being devoured by the god of Chaos. The two narrate their story with humorous asides and sibling rivalry. The action is nonstop as they try to find the three scrolls of the Book of Ra which they want to use to wake up the Egyptian sun-god Ra who they feel is the only person who can stop the god of Chaos, Apophis from taking over the world. Oh yes, and they have one week to accomplish this mission. They get help from Bes, the god of Dwarfs (who wears a speedo), Zia and Walt. They have to make sacrifices and struggle against the temptations of placing themselves on the throne and becoming all-powerful.

Riordan is an entertaining writer. He has strong characters, funny dialogue, and lots of action. Egyptian mythology is somewhat complicated and there are quite a few gods to keep track of in this story. I like how Riordan uses mnemonics in a fun way to remember who's who such as the vulture goddess Nekhbet whom Sadie calls, Neck Butt, and has breath that smells like roadkill. Or the god Ptah whom she calls Patooey or the god of spit. The play on words is nonstop throughout the story and quite funny. The plot has some interesting twists and there is more romance with Carter being interested in Zia and Sadie being interested in Anubis and Walt. The thoughts Sadie has regarding the boys makes her seem older than a 12-year-old who just turned 13. 

[What! Don't punch me Sadie. Okay, she wants me to tell you that she's a mature 13-year-old.]

This leads me to the part of the book I didn't think worked so well. The first person narrative with the alternating narrators and the asides pulled me out of the storyline so that I didn't get sucked into the story as quickly as I normally do with Riordan's books. While Riordan also uses alternating viewpoints of characters in The Lost Hero, he uses third person omniscient narrative and I think it works better with the pacing of the stories. Or maybe it is the best narrative form for epic/hero stories with lots of action. What do you think?

[Oops! Here's the microphone. Your turn.]

A fun fantasy read!

Reading Level 6.0

:-) :-) :-) :-) 4 out of 5 Smileys

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Beyonders: A World Without Heroes

Don't lean too far into a cage enclosure at a zoo or you might end up like thirteen-year-old Jason who fell into the hippo tank and got sucked down its mouth into an alternate world called, Lyrian. Jason finds himself in a series of adventures beginning with attempting to rescue a group of musicians plunging over some falls on a raft. He later ends up at a remote library where he reads a forbidden book that is made of human skin and forces him on a quest to find the syllables of a word that will dethrone the ruling tyrant, Maldor.

All Jason wants is to go back home to Colorado and he thinks the quest will help him. The librarian sends him to the Blind King who knows a place Jason can start looking for the rest of the syllables. It is with the Blind King that Jason meets Rachel, a Beyonder like himself, and together they attempt the dangerous quest in the hope that they can somehow go home again.

The book is entertaining and there is plenty of action and violence but the character development is not particularly well-rounded. Jason seems too old for his age and he doesn't change much from the beginning to the end. He does contemplate what makes a hero and that he can be too stubborn which leads Rachel to not trust him at first. Some readers might get annoyed that Rachel gets left out of most of the action because she's a girl. There's no witty rapport between them. Ironically, the only part I really laughed the most was when Jason was being tortured and under the influence of a drug that made his responses to the person torturing him funny.

 The violence begins on page one with a prince  being tortured. Next a group of musicians are willingly navigating a raft over some falls. I found the violence more disturbing in the beginning and not as much as later on as characters emerge who can remove their limbs and put them back on or a magician who can take away sight and give it back. Other violent acts are: a character is torn to bits by dogs, a dog is split in two by a giant crab's claw, men and women eat so much food they die, men are blown apart (although one has a seed in his head and can be replanted and reborn), and the main character is tortured although I thought the author made it funny. I felt more removed from the violence when it involved characters that weren't human. The main characters are very brave and earnest as they work together to try to save a world from evil. This is the first book in a series.

Reading Level 7.4

:-) :-) :-) 3 Smileys

Sunday, May 22, 2011


Barb Middleton is the lower school librarian at the Taipei American School.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Vespers Rising

A ring. My precious.

Oops. Wrong story.

When the Cahill family was all together there was a ring. A single ring whose great power is never revealed but that a group called the Vespers has been hunting for centuries. Part one of the book gives the origin of the ring and how Gideon Cahill was once friends, and then enemies, of Damien Vesper. Gideon created a serum that enhanced the senses and his children took it; hence, the long line of Cahill geniuses. Part two of the book shows Madeline Cahill trying to connect with her brother only to lose the ring, be accused of lying, and thrown in jail. She is quite the spunky character and manages to escape stealing back the ring from Damien Vesper and creating the Madrigals. Part three is the story of Grace Cahill and her quest to get the ring. She too loses it to a Vesper and must get it back. Part four is Dan and Amy. Yes! I missed Dan. Funny Dan with his wise-cracks and sense of humor. The first three parts seemed so grim. And yes, they are out to find the ring which they just about lose to the Vespers. The character of Fiske shows some warmth and humanity as the three become a family.

This book is written as four different stories by four different authors. The voice changes from one chapter to the next depending on who has written it. In the first chapter the vocabulary is easy to read; whereas the next chapter has more historical references and a higher vocabulary. Readers might get confused with the shifts in time and characters, which explains the higher reading level as compared to the previous books in the series which have reading levels between 4.0 and 4.7. I am all for trying different and creative ways of writing but this doesn't work that well for me. The narration isn't as fluid and clear, but I thought that with the 10 previous books.

The violence in this series gets progressively more realistic. In this book, an innocent man dies as a result of Grace flying into a war zone in search of the ring. Amy shows interest in a boy at her school but there is no romance. She and Dan are too busy trying to solve the 39 clues and find the Cahill ring rather than make friends or boyfriends.

The cursed ring motif goes back to Norwegian mythology. Tolkien must have been a Cahill ; )

Reading Level 6.5

:-) :-) :-) 3 Smileys

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Meet Mammoth

Ogg and Bob are not the brightest cavemen. But they are very funny. They want to catch a woolly mammoth and make him their pet. Their adventure begins when they fall into the trap they have set for the mammoth, escape a saber-tooth tiger, and finally catch the mammoth as a pet through dumb luck. The two learn it is hard work training a mammoth as a pet and requires some responsibility.

Students laughed at the stupidity of these two cartoonish characters who use caveman talk such as  "Me see mammoth" and "Me catch mammoth."  One girl interrupted the story in disgust and said, "They aren't talking with the right grammar!" The humor is slapstick and silly. Some children really like how idiotic these two are and others don't like it as well. I read the book to seven classes using my best cave-speak and had a blast.

The book has three episodic chapters. The two dorks capture the mammoth in the first chapter, train the mammoth in the second chapter, and put the mammoth to bed in the third chapter. There is repetition of words such as headache and clues from the illustrations to go with the text such as when they plug the trunk of the mammoth with a rock. The vocabulary is simple and it is a good text for grades 1 and 2. I sure had fun reading this book out loud.

Reading Level 1.5

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

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Handmaid's Tale

I really like this creepy dystopian adult novel. This is the second time I've read it in 10 years. It is so well-written. In The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood creates such complex characters in her novel that rather than being propaganda for feminist ideology, it is a study of  power and the struggle of one individual to exercise free will and not lose herself in an oppressive regime.

Offred, the main character, is a Handmaid for the Republic of Gilead and narrates the story. Set in the twenty-first century, the world has become so polluted by toxic waste that only 1% of the human population is not sterile, threatening the survival of the human race. The totalitarian government which is comprised of religious fundamentalists has responded to the crisis by creating a government-supervised child-bearing program. Nonfertile women are in domestic roles, fertile women are in training centers, while men make all the political decisions enforcing the laws with military might. Women are denied basic rights such as education, reading, working, and owning property. Religious fundamentalist faith is used to ensure social order and assure that the majority of the citizens support the new government. The novel explores the internal conflict of an individual who finds her current circumstances so unbearable that she risks her life for change.

 Offred is a Handmaid and fertile. Her duty is to produce children.  The story begins with Offred at a Commissioners house on assignment. She has been there five weeks and is having a flashback to the Handmaid training center which reveals the powerlessness and slave-like atmosphere of the handmaids living conditions. The Aunts, who control the center, use electric cattle prods, leather belts, and torture on the handmaids if they are disobedient. The handmaids are confined to what was once a school gymnasium and are allowed outside twice a day for a walk around a chain-linked, barbed-wire fence. The handmaids show subtle rebellion against their situation at night when they communicate by reading each others lips, whispering silently, and touching hands. They must be completely covered and they wear red habits. It is apparent in the first chapter that the Republic of Gilead, while founded on Christian principles, is bankrupt of spirituality and mercy and is ruled by rigid dogmas, corruption, fear, and terror.

Offred lives with the Commander and his wife, Serena Joy, a former gospel singer and both who were instrumental in the coup against the former government. Serena Joy was vocal about womens' roles in society as being domestic and submissive. However, she does not appear to like her new right-wing government and  is just as miserable as Offred and full of anger and hate throughout the novel. Ironically, the Commander is presented not so much as an object of power and cruelty but as one who is also trapped and miserable like the other two women. He too breaks the rules and sends for Offred to come to his office alone at night, gives her gifts, and takes her to a prostitution house.  He attempts to get Offred's approval while he fears his wife. Love is absent in this totalitarian regime. The victims are not only the handmaids but the oppressors as well. Everyone suffers the loss of choice as they follow the church-state decrees.

Every month, Offred has sex with the Commander and his wife in a  ritualized ceremony. Offred, eyes closed, lays with her back on Serena and the two hold hands while the Commander performs his "duty." There is nothing erotic about the handmaids, their job is strictly biological. Offred is tattooed with a number on her foot, cannot shut the door to her room completely, must have an escort when she goes to the market, stay covered from head to foot, and is watched by the Eyes or Gilead's secret police. Offred isn't even her real name. The handmaids take on the name of the male in the household they work; the words combine "of" and "Fred". I like the play on words "off" and "red" which show her as a person who doesn't quite fit the mold of handmaid.

Offred has flashbacks that tell of her friendship with Moira, a husband, and daughter. Offred was trying to escape to freedom with her husband and daughter when the Republic caught them and she was forced to become a handmaid. These flashbacks remind her of the freedom and happiness she once had; they give her a sense of identity as she tries to survive in a repressive regime. This is in contrast to the character Janine who loses her identity and sanity because she accepts the regime's structure.  The flashbacks also show a slow progression of rebellion in Offred, an ordinary citizen, who starts to take risks that would mean death as she tries to escape through the underground resistance group. This is contrasted with her strong-willed mother and Moira who outwardly rebel and are silenced as a result. Offred shows a shift from victim to survivor when she double crosses the Commander and his Wife, has an affair with Nick, and becomes associated with the underground network. Offred's love for Nick shows her overcoming her intense fear of punishment in order to choose a life of freedom. There is hope in Offred's flashbacks and the ending  suggests she escaped through the underground.

The novel doesn't point the finger at one gender but shows everyone as perpetrators in this dysfunctional, misogynous regime which makes the novel worth reading. The extreme violence in the book is told by Offred after the fact sparing the reader of detailed gory scenes. Some readers might not like this because Offred is detached and not emotional about the violence; others may find it fits with her character that is trying to survive. In the salvaging chapter after the handmaids tear a man apart with their hands, Janine with blood smeared on herself, is clearly unhinged and babbles: "Hi there," "How are you doing?" "You have a nice day." As a reader, there is enough horror that I don't want a detailed description of how the handmaids killed the man who was accused of rape. Janine's reaction is enough. It is interesting how Atwood shows similarities between religious fundamentalism and cultural feminism. For instance, the harsh punishments setup by the Republic for abortion with public hangings and the killing by the handmaids of the rapist are both extreme.  It is this warning against extreme zealous behavior that makes this novel interesting, current, and controversial. 

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

Monday, May 16, 2011


Fourteen-year-old Tory and her three genius friends are investigating a decades old murder near a research facility where Tory's dad works when they uncover some illegal testing on a dog. They decide to rescue the dog and become infected with a virus that changes their DNA and gives them superpowers. As they uncover the murderous plot they have to deal with peer pressures, an unwelcome debutante ball, animal cruelty, bone identification, and their newfound fantastic powers.

The story is slow in parts and action-packed in others with a little mix of mystery, fantasy, and science fiction. The dialogue was not well written and I found the short. choppy. sentences. annoying. Also, the chapters didn't flow into the next and the suspense got lost. The author is the writer for the Bones TV series and I think she wrote the chapters like scenes.

The characters swear throughout the book. Tory is interested in two boys and one kisses her on the cheek. The boy-girl relationships are not developed. There is some violence with people chasing the four kids and trying to kill them. A light read with little depth. More appropriate for middle school. I borrowed this from my public library and won't purchase it for the lower school.

:-) :-) 2 Smileys

Saturday, May 14, 2011


I checked this book out from my public library in Minnesota as an eBook and read it on my computer. It's a fun pirate adventure that would be better in the Middle School Library versus the Lower School Library because of the content.

Jill is a fencer who is trying to win a tournament that would place her in the Junior World Championships. She loses and is so disappointed she can't even have fun on her family's vacation in the Bahamas. She finds the tip of a magical sword on the beach and puts it in her pocket. Later that day she falls off a tourist boat and finds herself 300 years back in time on a pirate ship. The pirate Captain, Marjory Cooper, makes Jill a crew member and takes the magical sword piece from Jill. The sword belongs to the pirate Edmund Blane who has poured dark magic into it and who is deeply hated by Captain Cooper.  Blane wants the sword tip back and feels its magic calling him. When Jills path crosses Blanes on the high seas, she has to learn to use her fencing skills not just for sport but for life and death.

There is a gruesome twist in the plot regarding the sword, Cooper, and Blane. The pacing picks up after Jill ends up with the pirates. Jill has to learn to believe in herself and goes through internal conflicts as she lives the pirates life. I kept waiting for Jill to surprise people with some modern knowledge about herself but she doesn't say much. I also kept expecting her to protest more about where she was when she first ended up with the pirates - at least ask what year it was.Later, I expected her to share more with Henry since they were friends and had kissed, but she doesn't. I thought the doctor's character, Emory, could have been developed more as well. I kept waiting for Jill to talk about modern medicine but she only thought about it in her head. The character of Blane is one-sided and not that of a complex villian. We don't learn why he chose dark magic and acted evil. I wanted to know more about him.

The book is violent with battles, implied rape, and murders. In the beginning of the story, Jill gets drunk on rum and Henry is supposed to keep an eye on her. Later on Jill is quite sick of rum and would give anything for a Coke. There is the threat of Jill being raped when she is first captured by the pirates. The book is similar to Bloody Jack: Being an Account of the Curious Adventures of Mary "Jacky" Faber, Ship's Boy by L.A. Meyer and Graceling by Kristin Cashore.

:-) :-) :-) 3 Smileys

Friday, May 13, 2011

Booklists by Genre

Click on the hyperlink that gives book summaries (not reviews) in a PDF file. The lists are based on genres and I will add to it as I complete them. So far I completed Fantasy & Funny Books hyperlinked to a PDF file.

Adventure booksFantasy Books
Funny BooksMystery Books

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Art & Max

The brilliant book, Art & Max by David Wiesner,  has two distinct characters. Max is high energy and loveable in an annoying way. He flies across a double-page spread running over two assistants and knocking Art's paint brush out of his hand. Max is so excited to see Art paint he's a bit reckless in his enthusiasm. Art is the expert who has three assistants and is a bit of a snob. Art is annoyed with Max in the beginning but changes at the end when Max opens his eyes to new possibilities in creating a work of art.

Art lets Max paint with him but tells him to stay out of the way. Max doesn't know what to paint and asks Art. Art replies by telling him to paint him. Max takes Art literally and paints him. The acrylic paint hardens and cracks on Art before exploding off the page to reveal pastels beneath Art. Max is fascinated by what the medium is doing while Art is furious with Max. Excited, Max rushes off the page with one finger in the air indicating he has an idea and that Art should just wait there for him. He comes back with a fan and blows the pastels off of Art who is feeling dry-mouthed from inhaling pastel dust. He asks for a drink of water and the medium turns into watercolors. Art drinks the glass of water and the watercolor washes off him completely leaving only his outline. Completely fed up with Max, Art stomps off the page while Max says "wait a minute" and grabs a hold of Art’s outline. Art completely unravels so that he disappears from the page. Max holds the tangled outline in his hands and with a baffled look says, "Arthur?"

Max then sets to work with determination, his long lizard-like tongue hanging out of his mouth, as he concentrates on putting Art back together. His first attempt is quite comical and the students laugh the hardest at this page no matter what age group I read it to. Next, Max puts art back together and the students "ooh" and "aah" as the simple lines become more complex and Art becomes recognizable. Once he is back together Max holds his finger up because he has another idea. ("Uh-oh," the students groan, along with Art's three reptillian assistants who are shaking their heads.) Max comes in with a vacuum cleaner and blasts Art with paint. Art looks completely different covered in dots to represent Pointillism.

Reading Level 0.7

The Bake Shop Ghost

Cora Lee Merriweather runs the best bake shop in town, but no one notices her, just her delicious cakes. When she dies others try to buy the shop but she gets angry and scares them away. When Annie Washington buys the shop she confronts the ghost trying to figure out why she is haunting the place. Annie tries to bake a cake that will please Cora Lee but none of her recipes seem to be good enough for her. When Annie runs out of recipes she comes up with a surprising solution to the problem. See how Annie’s act of kindness transforms Cora Lee from a unhappy ghost with a “lemon-pucker” mouth to a ghost with a big smile. Sometimes it is the small things that make the biggest difference.

The book incorporates smells, sounds, and colorful descriptions. While reading the book aloud, I changed my voice with the different characters who bought Ms. Merriweather’s shop. Annie changes in the story as she learns to respect the ghost’s opinion. The two slowly become friends which allows Annie to figure out how to help the ghost.

The author, Jacqueline Ogburn, said she came up with the story after listening to Charlie Daniels song, The Devil Went Down to Georgia, and that she used a common folktale motif of a ghost or spirit dueling with a mortal.

Marjorie Priceman’s illustrations in watercolor are detailed and reminiscent of Ludwig Bemelmens pictures in his Madeline series. The setting is somewhere in Europe and the buildings reminded me of France. She captures the energy of the grumpy ghost driving people out of her shop.

Other books like this are: Fergus and the Night-Demon : an Irish Ghost Story, by Jim Murphy ; illustrated by John Manders and The Perfect Pumpkin Pie, by Denys Cazet.

Reading Level 3.6

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Penny from Heaven

When I read the first page of this book I thought, Is this a book about religion?

It isn't.

The setting is New Jersey during the 50's where eleven-year-old Penny Falucci, the narrator, spends time with her cousin, Frankie, who usually cooks up an adventure that gets them both into trouble. Her father is dead and no one will talk about it. Her mother doesn't get along with her father's family but she doesn't ban Penny from seeing them every Sunday where Penny goes for dinner. This huge Italian American family is boisterous, eccentric, and loveable. When Penny seriously hurts herself in an accident she finds out the truth about her father and why the two families don't get along.

This book won a Newbery Honor in 2007. The writing is terrific with great character development. The tension comes from the families not getting along, Penny frustrated with her Mom who is afraid to let her do activities with other kids her age, and Frankie who talks her into sneaking out to places behind her Mom's back. Penny loves baseball and she listens to the Dodgers games with her uncle. Some might find this book slow but I loved it and thought the character development terrific. The action picks up as the plot moves toward the climax of the story.

Penny suffers a nasty injury in the book and there are some sad parts. Penny also starts to notice boys and thinks about dating. I thought the pacing was good and I found it hard to put down. If you read Countdown by Deborah Wiles, and liked it then you will probably like this book.

Reading Level 4.5

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

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Palace of Laughter

Late one night the circus comes to town and no one hears its big top go up except Miles Wednesday, the curious orphan boy, who lives in a barrel on the hill. He sneaks into the circus the next day and is fascinated by the acrobatic girl who can fly. When he discovers her locked up in a wagon he hatches a plan to set her free and the two become friends. Miles discovers that this circus has a dark side that is doing something to the townspeople. When he discovers that the circus owner has kidnapped his friend and the girl's friend, the two set off on an adventure to set them free.

The descriptive writing was wonderful in this book but the plot meandered at times. I thought it slowed down in some spots, such as when Miles gets stuck at the apple orchid because of the boy who tricked him. I'm not sure how it advanced the plot and I found it annoying. At the end of the book, one of the gang boys decides to kidnap Little and I thought it was distracting. I wasn't sure how the tiger fit into the story but this is the first book in a series and it might be explained later.

There is some violence and the clowns are creepy, but I thought the humor balanced out the scary parts. The theme of friendship, happiness, and family run throughout the book. If you like fantasy stories, you will enjoy this entertaining story.

I borrowed this eBook from my public library.

Readling Level 6.4
:-) :-) :-) 3 Smileys

Monday, May 2, 2011

Ring of Fire

Elettra helps her father and two aunts run a hotel in Rome, Italy. When Dad goofs up some reservations and triple-books 3 families for the same room, Elettra ends up sharing hers with three other 12 year olds. They discover that they were born on the same day, February 29, and that Elettra has some type of superpower which is like a surge of energy that pours through her body. The energy is so powerful it has caused blackouts in the city. The mystery begins when the four kids are handed a briefcase by a man who is being chased by unknown evil people. The man is murdered and they open the briefcase where they discover ancient artifacts that lead them on a scavenger hunt through Rome.

The book setups for a sequel and not all the answers are tied up in the end. The reader is more caught up in the mystery than Elettra's superpower, which isn't really explained in-depth and doesn't have any plot development where she is tutored on how to use the superpower. The powers seem to come and go in heat surges and depends on how close the kids are to solving a clue. The other children have powers too but nothing is revealed. The characters are not developed in-depth with tension created through internal conflicts - most of the suspense and tension are external.The beginning and the subplots might be confusing with all the characters that are introduced.

There is violence in the book that involves a man being murdered, one of the characters being kidnapped and knowing she will be murdered, and the kids in danger. There is plenty of suspense and the pacing picks up in the second half of the book. If you like solving clues, you should enjoy this book.

Reading Level 4.3

:-) :-) :-) 3 Smileys