Tag Archives: Book review

A trip to Ancient Rome

12 Oct

Jennifer A. Nielsen has a new series and the first book is entitled The Mark of the Thief.

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Nic is a Gaulish slave in mines in Ancient Rome. Temperamentally, he is much like Sage, the protagonist of Nielsen’s Ascendance  series: a cocky underdog. In some ways the story felt very similar to that series, just transplanted to a new location.

This novel felt more erratic that the previous series, with one action packed dilemma after another. The biggest differences are the location and the incision of magic.

Publisher’s Summary:When Nic, a slave in the mines outside of Rome, is forced to enter a sealed cavern containing the lost treasures of Julius Caesar, he finds much more than gold and gemstones: He discovers an ancient bulla, an amulet that belonged to the great Caesar and is filled with a magic once reserved for the Gods — magic some Romans would kill for.

Now, with the deadly power of the bulla pulsing through his veins, Nic is determined to become free. But instead, he finds himself at the center of a ruthless conspiracy to overthrow the emperor and spark the Praetor War, a battle to destroy Rome from within. Traitors and spies lurk at every turn, each more desperate than the next to use Nic’s newfound powers for their own dark purposes.

In a quest to stop the rebellion, save Rome, and secure his own freedom, Nic must harness the magic within himself and defeat the empire’s most powerful and savage leaders.

I don’t know if I will read the next novel in the series when it comes out next year. I think this series will be for ardent fans of Nielsen’s first series.

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Imaginary friends

12 Dec

As a twin, I never needed an imaginary friend, but I know lots of people who had one when they were young. My favorite belonged to a roommate I had in Colombia. Her imaginary friend was named  Chalk Lipstick.

In Dory Fantasmagory by Abby Hanlon, Dory’s older siblings won’t play with her because they say she acts like a baby.

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She also has endless energy, a vivid imagination and imaginary friends. Since her siblings won’t play with her, she spends a lot of time with her imaginary friends  outsmarting the monsters all over the house, escaping from prison (aka time-out), and exacting revenge on her sister’s favorite doll.

Her imagination actually helps solve the problem with her older siblings. When Dory (aka Rascal) becomes a dog she’s invisible to the little-girl–stealer but appealing to her older brother, who, it turns out, always wanted to have a dog.  Unfortunately, with this success, Dory refuses to turn back into a little girl, which turns her siblings against her again. In a final act of bravery,however, Dory proves that she is no longer a baby.

This is a great book for kids ready to move on to chapter books. Dory is six and has a very strong and compelling voice. Child-like drawings with hand-lettered speech bubbles add to the true to life humor of this book.

This would be a great  read aloud or early venture into chapter books.

A Delightful Read

21 Sep

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What a wonderful read! Dana Alison Levy has updated the traditional family story, introducing us to the Family Fletcher: two dads and four adopted boys, all of different backgrounds. It is an all male world and follows the family through one year, from the first day of school to the last. We see them on Family Night, Hallowe’en, camping and dealing with a grumpy neighbor.

Families have lumps and bumps and this one also has cat barf, turtle pee and lots of boy noise. I laughed out loud more than once and came to love this family. Each boy has his own challenges to face and they aren’t always resolved the way each boy hopes, as often happens on the real world. The dads tell the box, “It’s good to get out of your comfort zone, to not be an expert at everything.”

The book had the same feel of the Penderwick series by Jeanne Birdsall. Although I think this book might be a longshot for a Newbery Award, I think it is more likely to win a Stonewall Award or at least end up on the Children’s Notable.

Random book thoughts

14 Sep

From a rather bumpy start, due to my last-minute decision to change jobs,  the school year seems to be developing its rhythm. I have unpacked two of the boxes I shoved in my classroom closet. I almost wept the other day, the first day I asked my students to read with a partner. It sounded so beautiful and I forgot how much  love that sound. Although I am still tired, I am not as tired and I’m going to bed able to read or knit before I do so.

I have a stack of books I’m working through.

In the car, I am listening to  The Goldfinch  by Donna Tartt. I am not loving it. I find the protagonist whiney. There are 24 or 26 discs and I am not sure I will keep going on this one. It has received a lot of press, but everyone I know who’s read it didn’t really like it.

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At school, as I unpacked to two  boxes I mentioned above, I found my copy of Falling in Love With Close Reading, which I’ve mentioned before. I was about halfway through when it got misplaced in the big switcheroo. Now I can finish it. I still plan to do a boo group with it at school, but I need to finish it first.

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At home, I’m reading the YA novel The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski.

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According to Wikipedia,

 the winner’s curse says that in such an auction, the winner will tend to overpay. The winner may overpay or be “cursed” in one of two ways: 1) the winning bid exceeds the value of the auctioned asset such that the winner is worse off in absolute terms; or 2) the value of the asset is less than the bidder anticipated, so the bidder may still have a net gain but will be worse off than anticipated.

Rutkoski took this idea and has turned it into a compelling read. The main character, Kestrel, is the daughter of a general of a conquering army. One day at a slave auction, she buys a slave, more out of a desire to stir the pot during the auction, than because she needs him. I’m only about a quarter through, but I am seriously engaged. The slave, Arin, is more than he seems and I can tell that trouble is brewing and a revolt of some sort is in the  offing. Just where Kestrel will end up is yet to be determined. I have a few predictions, but I’m not ready to share.

Finally, I’m listening to The Queen of the Tearling  by Erika Johansen, while I knit.

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I didn’t realize until looking for this image, that the rights to the movie have already been sold and Emma Watson is an executive producer and plans to star in the movie as the Red Queen. Frequently compared the A Game of Thrones, The Queen of the Tearling  is the story of Kelsea, the heir to the Tearling throne, who has been hidden away since she was an infant. She is summoned to reclaim her throne on her 19th birthday, setting in motion a whole series of events that involve a certain amount of gore. It’s a little derivative, but pretty good to listen to while I am otherwise occupied. It is meant to be a trilogy and we shall see if I persevere through all three books.

Long weekend reads

1 Sep

It’ s Labor Day, and I’ve had a long weekend to read and knit, trying to squeeze as much in as I can before I get really busy again. I have a sock and a half-finished, which is Ok because it’s always a bit too warm at the beginning of the year to wear my back to school socks.

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I read The Luck Uglies by Paul Durham. I had taken it out from the library earlier this summer and returned it without having cracked the spine. I took it out again and read it in one day.

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I know a couple of 5th grade girls who will LOVE this book. First of all, I loved the names. The Village is named Village Drowning. The Castle has a Grim Green. And the characters all have lovely names: Rye O’Chanter, Quinn Quartermast, Malydia Longchance, and Harmless.

From the Publisher: Strange things are happening in Village Drowning, and a terrifying encounter has eleven-year-old Rye O’Chanter convinced that the monstrous, supposedly extinct Bog Noblins have returned. Now Rye’s only hope is an exiled secret society so notorious its name can’t be spoken aloud: the Luck Uglies. As Rye dives into Village Drowning’s maze of secrets, rules, and lies, she’ll discover the truth behind the village’s legends of outlaws and beasts . . . and that it may take a villain to save them from the monsters.

The main character, Rye O’Chanter is a feisty girl who lives with her mother and sister. She follows the rules….most of the time. This is a fun novel of good vs. evil, intrigue, adventure and just a bit of magic. The language and humor are intelligent and engaging and I am looking forward to reading the next book in the series to see if Durham maintains the wonderful feel of this  first book.

Home from Holidays part 1

7 Aug

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I’m home from my trip to Canada. My book tally was low: one book finished one purchased and one started.

On the way to Canada, I read Dangerous by Shannon Hale.

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Well written and faced paced,  Dangerous has a smart female heroine. I took this one on the plane to Canada and finished it before we landed in Toronto. I sort of tough my sister, who loves Shannon Hale’s previous books, might want to read it.  Once I was into the book, I knew my sister wouldn’t like it. The book has Hale’s good writing, but it is the setting that would turn her off. If this book didn’t have Hale’s name on the from, I probably wouldn’t have read it either.

While in Ottawa, the world marked the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War 1. We toured the Canadian War Museum, which is amazing. I cried more than once. I’ll write more on this later. The only book I bought was  The War that Ended Peace  by Margaret MacMillan.

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I read her previous book, Paris 1919, which death with the Paris Peace conference that followed World War 1, which was eminently readable. I am really looking forward to this one.

On the plane ride home, I started  The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton. This was a Christmas gift from my sister and I am finally getting to it. I am about a quarter in and it is not what I expected from the cover, but I am hooked.

I got home late last night, so I haven;t picked up the girls yet. I am very excited to see them. I hope they forgive me.

The Power of a Story

23 Jul

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The cover looked scary, so I almost rejected The Night Gardener  by Jonathan Auxier without opening it. When I did, I looked at the subject headings:

1. Ghosts – Fiction

2. Household employees – Fiction

3. Brothers and sisters  – Fiction

4, Orphans  – Fiction

5. Storytelling  – Fiction

6. Blessing and cursing  – Fiction

7. Dwellings  – Fiction

8. Horror stories

Number eight was worrisome because, if you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know I have an aversion to scary stories. I have learned over time, however, many are not as scary as I fear. If you think of this list as you would an ingredients list on a food package, horror is only the 8th ingredient. Ghosts are first, but the things in between are not so bad.

So, I decided to give it a try, and like Mikey, I liked it. Do you remember Mikey?

Back to  The Night Gardener.

Molly and Kip, unaccompanied minors are driving their fish cart, pulled by their horse, Galileo, to a house everyone warns them not to go to. They feel they have no option. They are alone, unskilled, in a foreign country, and are willing to work for room and board. Molly does possess a very useful soil, aside from her willingness to work hard. She is a story-teller. The house they arrive isn’t what it seems. Something mysterious is happening and the family seems to be wasting away. The children encounter a mysterious stranger and an ancient curse. along the way, Molly tells stories and Kip wonders how a story differs from a lie. Molly thinks, “Both lies and stories involved saying things that weren’t true, but somehow the lies inside the stories felt true.” As the story unfolds, and Molly and Kip realize that they must end the curse and save the family, she elaborates:“A story helps folks face the world, even when it frightens ‘em. And a lie does the opposite. It helps you hide.”

I had a little trouble getting into the story at first. The drama unfolds slowly, but it is worth persevering. By the middle of the book, I was hooked and wanted to see how it would end. I don;t think this is a book I would read aloud in class, but I’d definitely recommend it to some of my students who love middle grade fiction. The book feels as old as a fairy tale and is very well written, aside from the Irish Brogue, which I think Auxier could have left out.

 

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