Sunday, December 29, 2013

Sunday Shorts

The Ordinary Princess by M.M. Kaye
published 1980
112 pages

Synopsis from publisher -

Along with Wit, Charm, Health, and Courage, Princess Amy of Phantasmorania receives a special fairy christening gift: Ordinariness. Unlike her six beautiful sisters, she has brown hair and freckles, and would rather have adventures than play the harp, embroider tapestries . . . or become a Queen. When her royal parents try to marry her off, Amy runs away and, because she's so ordinary, easily becomes the fourteenth assistant kitchen maid at a neighboring palace. And there . . . much to everyone's surprise . . . she meets a prince just as ordinary (and special) as she is!

My thoughts -

This is a delightful middle-grade novel by the author of one of my favorite books, The Far Pavilions. In the author's forward, she writes, " was only after I had read at least twenty of the stories that I noticed something that had never struck me before - I supposed because I had always taken it for granted. All the princesses...were blond, blue-eyed, and beautiful....This struck me as most unfair, and suddenly I began to wonder just how many handsome princes would have asked a king for the hand of his daughter if that daughter had happened to be gawky, snub-nosed, and freckled, with shortish, mouse-colored hair. None, I suspected."  The Ordinary Princess is Kaye's answer to that question, and it's wonderful. Read it with your child, and rejoice in the wonderful-ness of being ordinary.

Finished - 12/13/13
Source - my shelves
MPAA rating - this is about as G as it gets
My rating - 8/10

The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a 13-year-old Boy with Autism by Naoki Hugashida (translated by KA Yoshida and David Mitchell)
published in Japan in 2007
135 pages

Synopsis from publisher -

You’ve never read a book like The Reason I Jump. Written by Naoki Higashida, a very smart, very self-aware, and very charming thirteen-year-old boy with autism, it is a one-of-a-kind memoir that demonstrates how an autistic mind thinks, feels, perceives, and responds in ways few of us can imagine. Parents and family members who never thought they could get inside the head of their autistic loved one at last have a way to break through to the curious, subtle, and complex life within.

Using an alphabet grid to painstakingly construct words, sentences, and thoughts that he is unable to speak out loud, Naoki answers even the most delicate questions that people want to know. Questions such as: “Why do people with autism talk so loudly and weirdly?” “Why do you line up your toy cars and blocks?” “Why don’t you make eye contact when you’re talking?” and “What’s the reason you jump?” (Naoki’s answer: “When I’m jumping, it’s as if my feelings are going upward to the sky.”) With disarming honesty and a generous heart, Naoki shares his unique point of view on not only autism but life itself. His insights — into the mystery of words, the wonders of laughter, and the elusiveness of memory — are so startling, so strange, and so powerful that you will never look at the world the same way again.

My thoughts -

Hmmm. The idea of this book is quite interesting - I just question how much "freedom" the translators took in their translation. Some of the wording seemed odd for a young boy from Japan. It is certainly brave of the young author to write these words, and it is a unique perspective on the mind of autism.

Finished - 12/14/13
Source - South side library
MPAA rating - G
My rating - 6/10

A Kiss At Midnight by Eloisa James
published 2010
372 pages

Synopsis from publisher -

Forced by her stepmother to attend a ball, Kate meets a prince . . . and decides hes anything but charming. A clash of wits and wills ensues, but they both know their irresistible attraction will lead nowhere. For Gabriel is promised to another woman; a princess whose hand in marriage will fulfill his ruthless ambitions.

Gabriel likes his fiance; which is a welcome turn of events, but he doesn't love her. Obviously, he should be wooing his bride-to-be, not the witty, impoverished beauty who refuses to fawn over him.

Godmothers and glass slippers notwithstanding, this is one fairy tale in which destiny conspires to destroy any chance that Kate and Gabriel might have a happily ever after.

Unless a prince throws away everything that makes him noble . . .

Unless a dowry of an unruly heart trumps a fortune . . .

Unless one kiss at the stroke of midnight changes everything.

My thoughts - 

I'm honestly not sure how this ended up on my shelf - it is really not my typical genre. I have to say, though, it was pretty darn entertaining. Obviously nothing was a major surprise, but the banter was fun and the story a unique twist on the Cinderella tale. If you are looking for a quick, fun read you could certainly do worse.

Finished - 12/17/13
Source - my shelves
MPAA rating - R, kids. It's a bodice-ripper.
My rating - 7/10

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Book Thoughts - Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
published 7/10/12
464 pages

Synopsis from publisher -

Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty's anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high.

Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered — in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen's Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.

My thoughts -

I've seen this novel on several "Best Of" lists, so when I saw it on my library shelf I had to grab it. Turns out Seraphina deserves all the accolades it has received - this is one fantastic book.

Hartman creates a world for Seraphina that is complex and satisfying, with dragons and humans that clearly have years and years of history behind their tumultuous relationships. I appreciate that while Hartman gives her dragons plenty of personality, they are NOT just humans with scales. They are very, very different beings, and this creates tension on a bunch of different levels.

While Seraphina does find a love interest, this is not a "young girl falls in love" story - this is a story about a girl learning how to accept herself, and figuring out her place in the world, and solving a complicated mystery - oh, and also, she meets this guy. I found it incredibly refreshing to read a YA novel with a female protagonist that did NOT have the love story as the central theme of the book.

The aspect of the novel I appreciate the most is how well it works on multiple levels. Seraphina can easily be read as a fun, intriguing mystery with dragons - as a piece of entertainment, it's fantastic. But Hartman infuses the novel with so many layers - interesting discussions can be had about race, about people with differing abilities, about body image and self-acceptance. Additionally, Hartman is a great writer - she made me laugh, she wrote some incredibly beautiful passages, she kept me riveted from start to finish.

I absolutely loved this novel, and I can't wait to read more in this world. I highly recommend this, both for young adult readers and for those who just love a good fantasy novel. I think this will be a favorite for many years to come.

Finished - 12/12/13
Source - South side library
MPAA rating - PG-13 for violence
My rating - 9/10

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The State of the Stacks - It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

You probably won't be surprised by this, but I LOVE Christmas books. Last year, I posted about the books I enjoy reading for myself - this year, I am posting about books I have collected for my kids that are also fun for ME to read.

Little Tree by e.e.cummings and Chris Raschka
published 2006

Synopsis from publisher -

" Little tree/ little silent Christmas tree/ you are so little/ you are more like a flower/ who found you in the green forest/ and were you very sorry to come away? " So begins e. e. cummings` beloved tribute to the tiny evergreen tree, taken away from the cold forest to be decorated and adored by two children in their home at Christmas. Simply and sensitively told from the innocence of a child`s eyes, e. e. cummings` little tree comes to life as the children bestow upon it their heart-felt promises of comfort and love.

My thoughts -

This sweet board book is one of the first Christmas books I read to my kids, and it is such a favorite that we leave it out all year long. It's illustrations are very geometric in design, and contain lots of little surprises to keep young readers engaged. This is a great read-aloud story for young ones, but has enough depth to engage older readers as well. I will probably have to get a new copy soon - we've almost read it to pieces!

Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus by Frances P. Church and Joel Spector
text originally published in 1897; this edition 2001

Synopsis from publisher -

In 1897, a young girl wrote to The New York Sun asking whether Santa Claus truly existed. The paper's response, written by reporter Francis P. Church, has become a beloved holiday literary tradition. An original approach to a children's classic, this captivating book creatively reinterprets that heartwarming letter about the truth behind Santa Claus and Christmas. It is accompanied by charming Victorian artwork. Joel Spector is an artist and illustrator known for his elegant pastel images. His work appears regularly in magazines and newspapers including Business Week, Newsweek, Good Housekeeping, and The  New York Times.

My thoughts -

This classic is probably a bit old for my kids yet - the text, while lovely, is still a little dry for their taste. They can, however, appreciate the beautiful illustrations, and it's fun to watch them sit and turn the pages, completely entranced by the artist's evocation of the Victorian era.

A Snowman Named Just Bob by Mark Kimball Moulton and Karen Hillard Crouch
published 2003

Synopsis from publisher -

Sometimes life presents us with unexpected magical moments. So it is in this tale of a snowman named just Bob: when a young child builds a snowman, he comes to life just long enough to impart a few thoughts about the importance of building and holding friendships dear. Illustrated with warmth and whimsy, this book is a classic story the whole family can share.

My thoughts -

This book has wonderful illustrations as well as a delightful story about a young boy and his snowman. Bob is the kind of snowman I always wished I could build, and he introduces kids to the magic of winter and friendship. It's a book for kids that I don't mind reading over and over again.

The Christmas Story by the Metropolitan Museum of Art
published 2009

Synopsis from publisher -

The timeless story of Christmas is beautifully retold through paintings by some of the worlds greatest artists. Borrowing from The Metropolitan Museum of Arts extensive and rich collection, The Christmas Story depicts the Nativity through visual narration with the aid of paintings by, among others, Petrus Christus, Gerard David, and Hans Memling. Gold accents on the book jacket and interior pages make for a glorious and lush book.

The artworks, sensitively coupled with excerpts from the King James Version of the Bible, create a book that will be treasured by the entire family for years to come.

My thoughts - 

What more is there to say? The King James Bible mixed with great works of art from the Met make this a true piece of art - again, my kids are too young to truly grasp it's merit, but it will be a book they will grow into through the years.

Christmas in America edited by David Cohen
published 1988

Synopsis from publisher -

A photographic panorama of our nation during the holiday season. From Thanksgiving to Epiphany, 100 of the country's top magazine and newspaper photographers scattered across the nation to document how we prepare for, celebrate, survive and clean up after Christmas. 175 photos.

My thoughts -

This is a fantastic collection, ranging from humorous to poignant. It's a book to page through, not necessarily to read from cover to cover, but each page has a treasure to discover. While not specifically designed for kids, mine absolutely love it.

The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore and Robert Sabuda
published 2004

Synopsis -

It's the classic Christmas story paired with incredible paper popups by artist Robert Sabuda. Breathtaking.

My thoughts -

We have 4 holiday books by Sabuda, and each is absolutely gorgeous. These are, clearly, not great for younger kids - mine still have to be reminded to be gentle each time they look. But oh, the wide-eyed wonder these books elicit in children.

These are just a few of the (ever-growing) stacks of holiday books that have found a spot on our shelves. What are your favorite holiday books to share with the youngsters?

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Kid Konnection - Fancy Nancy by Jane O'Connor

Kid Konnection is a weekly feature hosted by Booking Mama, featuring all things kid's books. Since I spend a good deal of time each week reading kids books, I thought it would be fun to join in!

Fancy Nancy by Jane O'Connor
published 2005
32 pages

Synopsis from publisher -

Meet Nancy, who believes that more is ALWAYS better when it comes to being fancy. From the top of her tiara down to her sparkly studded shoes, Nancy is determined to teach her family a thing or two about being fancy.

How Nancy transforms her parents and little sister for one enchanted evening makes for a story that is funny and warm — with or without the frills.

My thoughts -

I have to admit to being skeptical about this series when I first saw it- considering my daughter's current love of ALL things princess, I saw the cover and assumed we were in for more of the mindless Barbie/Disney Princess/ballerina/etc. type of fluffy story with no real substance.

BUT I was very wrong - Fancy Nancy is very pink, and she is very sparkly, but she is definitely not mindless. Jane O'Connor obviously loves words, and she decorates her books with great ones. Nancy uses words like improvise, and understated, and tells the reader, "Why say hello when you could say bonjour!" My kids love learning new words, and Nancy is such a fun way to introduce great ones into their vocabulary. 

This is a great series - both of my kids love these books, which just shows they are not only for little girls. They are fun for kids AND adults, which make them real winners in my book!

What books can you recommend to introduce new words into my kids' vocabularies? 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Book Thoughts - Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen

Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen
published 10/1/13
336 pages

Synopsis from publisher -

It is 1845, and Frances Osgood is desperately trying to make a living as a writer in New York; not an easy task for a woman--especially one with two children and a philandering portrait painter as her husband. As Frances tries to sell her work, she finds that editors are only interested in writing similar to that of the new renegade literary sensation Edgar Allan Poe, whose poem, "The Raven" has struck a public nerve.

She meets the handsome and mysterious Poe at a literary party, and the two have an immediate connection. Poe wants Frances to meet with his wife since she claims to be an admirer of her poems, and Frances is curious to see the woman whom Edgar married.

As Frances spends more and more time with the intriguing couple, her intense attraction for Edgar brings her into dangerous territory. And Mrs. Poe, who acts like an innocent child, is actually more manipulative and threatening than she appears. As Frances and Edgar's passionate affair escalates, Frances must decide whether she can walk away before it's too late...

My thoughts -

This book was somewhat frustrating for me. I thought the premise was quite interesting, and since I enjoy Poe's work very much, I was excited to gain a bit more insight into his life. His relationship with his much younger wife has always been a bit of a mystery, and I have to admit a fascination with the mind behind the stories.

I understand this is a work of fiction, based on a supposition at best, but I had a very hard time believing Cullen's vision of Poe. Honestly, I had a hard time believing in either of the main characters - I didn't ever feel like I truly understood the motivation behind the increasingly dangerous choices they were making. Their relationship didn't really make sense, and Cullen often had her characters using what felt like 21st century opinions to justify the actions of Poe and Frances.

The character that felt the most true to me was Virginia Poe, who was clearly supposed to be crazy. Her desperation and fear seemed a logical reaction to the situations around her, and she was the one I had the most sympathy for. Poe and Frances came to seem somewhat petulant, and I had a hard time rooting for their relationship.

Despite this, I did find myself continuing on with the story. I think Cullen is actually a good writer, who just didn't quite find the best subject for her work. Her descriptions of person and place were evocative, and I enjoyed the actual reading of the novel.

While it wasn't what I had hoped it would be, Mrs. Poe did keep me interested enough to finish the novel. I would be interested to read more work by the author, because I think she has potential greater than what was realized in this work.

Finished - 11/29/13
Source - review copy from publisher via Netgalley - thank you!
MPAA rating - PG-13 for some adult themes
My rating - 6/10

Monday, December 9, 2013

The State of the Stacks - Anticipation.....

I've seen a lot of bloggers/booksellers/other book related outlets start listing the books they are most anticipating for 2014, and I started thinking about what I was looking foward to. I realized that the books I am MOST excited about are "next-in-the-series" novels that are set to be published in the coming few months - series that I've LOVED and can't wait to read more.

Hollow City: The Second Novel of Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs - available 1/14/14

I read Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children at the beginning of the year and was completely captivated by a novel that was truly unlike anything I'd ever read before. In addition to the wonderful use of some very creepy pictures, I thought the story was compelling and original, and I'm VERY excited to read the next chapter in the adventures of Jacob and his new friends.

It has another great book trailer - check it out....

Cress: Book 3 of the Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer - available 2/4/14

I've read the first (Cinder) and second (Scarlet) books in the unique series of fairytale retellings, and think this third has the potential to be the best. It's the tale of Rapunzel, which is one of my favorites, and I'm already fascinated by Cress from just the brief glimpses we've seen of her in the first two books. This is a really great series, and I'm excited to read the next installment.

The One by Kiera Cass - available 5/6/14

I've read and enjoyed both The Selection and The Elite, and feel like this series is only getting better with each book. I love the combination of royalty meets reality tv, and America is a truly delightful heroine. I think I can honestly say I don't care WHO she picks, I just can't wait to find out!

And, of course, the book I'm most excited for is The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin, rumored to be dropping in 2014. Please, please, please let it come!! The Passage and The Twelve are absolutely fantastic, and I can't wait to see what happens - Cronin has promised that all the answers will be revealed. There's no synopsis, no cover art, no release date - but I'm sure hoping 2014 is the year!

Alright, your turn - what are you eagerly anticipating in 2014? My bookshelves need to be filled!!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Kid Konnection - Can You Find It Inside?

Kid Konnection is a weekly feature hosted by Booking Mama, featuring all things kid's books. Since I spend a good deal of time each week reading kids books, I thought it would be fun to join in!

Can You Find It Inside? Search and Discover for Young Art Lovers by Jessica Schulte
published 2005
32 pages

Synopsis -

Whether it's a restaurant by Edward Hopper, a breakfast table by Fairfield Porter, or a game of keep-away by Seymour Joseph Guy, in this book each of the thirteen paintings, reproduced in full color, invites young children to explore works of art depicting a variety of indoor scenes.

Written in simple rhyme with major works form The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, this book asks children to take a close, closer and closest look at classic fine art at an early age.

My thoughts -

My kids have both started to enjoy the seek-and-find type books, so when I saw this one at the library we were all excited. I love that the author uses actual reproductions from the Metropolitan Museum  - I am fascinated by art as an adult, but didn't have much experience with it as a kid, so I'm hoping to give my children chances to enjoy it from an early age.

The rhymes are catchy, and the objects to find are not too challenging, which has made this a book my kids can look at independently. It's been fun as a mom to walk into a room and see them "reading" this one by themselves - finding more and more things in each picture to discover.

What are some more seek-and-find books I should look for? I've seen the I Spy series, and of course Where's Waldo, but I'd love more titles to look for at the library....

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Book Thoughts - Children of God by Mary Doria Russell

Children of God by Mary Doria Russell
published 1999
464 pages

Synopsis from publisher -

The only member of the original mission to the planet Rakhat to return to Earth, Father Emilio Sandoz has barely begun to recover from his ordeal when the Society of Jesus calls upon him for help in preparing for another mission to Alpha Centauri. Despite his objections and fear, he cannot escape his past or the future.

Old friends, new discoveries and difficult questions await Emilio as he struggles for inner peace and understanding in a moral universe whose boundaries now extend beyond the solar system and whose future lies with children born in a faraway place.

My thoughts -

I think it's safe to say that Mary Doria Russell doesn't write "easy" books. There are no easy scenes, no easy characters, no easy answers. Russell writes about struggle - the struggle to find a place; the struggle to find hope from despair; the struggle of faith amidst betrayal. I have not found her novels easy to read, but I have found them to be highly rewarding, and utterly unforgettable.

While Emilio Sandoz would ostensibly be the hero of the novel - it is, after all, his story readers of The Sparrow  want more of - he is not necessarily the MAIN character. Russell gives equal time to the others on Sandoz' mission, to Kitheri and Supaari on Rakhat, and on Sofia, the other survivor of the first mission. All Russell's characters- human and alien alike - come to feel like friends, flaws and all, as the reader follows them on their journey to find the answers they seek.

Russell's background as a biological anthropologist is a backbone of this novel - she is clearly interested in the the impact of one society on another, and the devastating consequences that can occur when societies collide. Her worldbuilding is intricate and complex, and the customs and political machinations within each society are an integral part of the story. This complexity was actually my only minor quibble with the novel - sometimes I felt like I was getting bogged down in detail, when all I really wanted to know was what the characters were going to do next.

I started reading this novel wanting to know what happened next to Emilio Sandoz after the devastating events of The Sparrow. I got those answers, but not necessarily in the way I expected them. Russell's second novel was thought-provoking and surprising, but certainly not disappointing. I think, for the right reader, this will be a reading experience you will never forget.

Finished - 11/28/13
Source - my shelves
MPAA rating - R for violence, adult situations
My rating - 8/10