Monday, May 31, 2010

Bella at Midnight

Bella at Midnight Bella at Midnight by Diane Stanley

Awards: SLJ Best Book; Booklist Editors' Choice
AR Reading Level: 6.0
On the library stacks: YA Fiction
Recommended for: Girls aged 10+

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is a delightful retelling of Cinderella in a way that was not obviously so "Cinderella". It took me about halfway through the book to see glimpses of the Cinderella we love and know from the world of Disney. And even then, it was only enough to make me smile at how cleverly this book was written.

Isabel was born to a noble family. Her father is a real piece of work and her mother dies right after she is born. So she is sent to the city of Castle Down where a poor, but respectable farmer and his wife take the baby in until she is weaned. But Isabel's wicked father never comes to get her and so she is raised to believe that she belongs only to the farmer's family. Isabel grows up playing with Prince Julian who lives in the nearby castle, but as they get older they drift apart. The prince must go to a faraway land as part of a peace treaty and eventually Bella's aunt comes to get her to take her back to her birth father's family. Cue the wicked stepmother and you get an idea how things might work out for poor Bella. Except Isabel is a strong woman, and the way in which everything works out might surprise you.

I enjoyed this book from start to finish. I love that each chapter is told in a different character's voice. I loved that it wasn't too over-the-top predictable. I love that there are small elements of magic, but there are also some nice religious elements too. This is a sweet, feel good story that is definitely a keeper.

Also reviewed by: Book Nut and Becky's Book Reviews

Book 48 of 100 for the 100+ Reading Challenge, Book 38 of 55 for the Countdown Challenge (2006), Book 29 of 50 for the New Author Challenge, Book 23 of 50 for the RYOB Challenge, Book 5 for the Once Upon a Time Challenge, Book 22 of 25 for the MG Reading Challenge, Book 23 of 50 for the YA Reading Challenge

Source: Purchased

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Mapping of Love and Death

The Mapping of Love and Death (Maise Dobbs #7) The Mapping of Love and Death by Jacqueline Winspear

Series: Book 7 (Maisie Dobbs)

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

How I love series! Maisie Dobbs is a thirty-something private investigator/psychologist/nurse. The year is 1932 and the location is London, England. Most of the books in this mystery series touch on the impact of World War I in some way or another, and this one is no exception. However, this book starts out very differently.

The year is 1914 and the location is the Santa Ynez Valley in California. A young, but wealthy heir/mapmaker named Michael Clinton has just purchased what he believes to be a valuable piece of property. When he hears that war has been declared in his father's native homeland, he heads to England to try and enlist. Despite the fact that Americans were not generally allowed in British units, his family connections and unique skills as a cartographer override the rules.

But in 1932, Michael Clinton becomes the source of investigation for Maisie. His remains have just recently been unearthed from a bunker in France and it appears that there are some questions that need answering: How did he die? Did he have a girlfriend? And where is his will?

This book is a nice mystery combined with some significant changes in Maisie's personal life. After seven books, I am ready to move forward from the WWI focus to the changes in Europe as WWII approaches. I do think that this book appears to bridge that gap and I'm excited about the next book. I liked that this book touched a little more on Maisie's emotions and I actually felt a little emotional reading some parts. I also liked that the mystery kept me guessing to the end. I highly recommend this series.

Also reviewed by: A Work in Progress

Book 47 of 100 for the 100+ Reading Challenge, Book 37 of 55 for the Countdown Challenge (2010), Book 3 of 8 for the Orbis Terrarum Challenge (England), Book 9 of 12 for the Historical Fiction Challenge, Book 14 of 25 for the Support Your Local Library Challenge

Source: Library

Friday, May 28, 2010

1001 Ways to Celebrate America

1001 Ways to Celebrate America 1001 Ways to Celebrate America by Greg Godek

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm always on the lookout for fun things to do with my kids. I spotted this little book for $1 at the Scholastic Warehouse last year and decided to see if there were any good ideas in this one.

I went through this book with a pencil to remind myself what I wanted to come back to with my kids. Some ideas:
  • Get photocopies of documents from Ellis Island ancestors
  • Take cookies to the fire station and donuts to the police station
  • Read the writings of Abigail Adams
  • Play Monopoly, Life and Scrabble
  • Have the kids draw pictures of the Statue of Liberty, the Liberty Bells, the American Flag, and an eagle. Hang them with pride.
  • Learn about the Erie Canal
  • Learn to make fried chicken
There are also some cute lists of American couples, baseball stars, classic American phrases, songs, books, TV shows, inventors, etc. There were some parts where I think the author confuses true Americana with Walking Down Memory Lane. But this was worth the $1 I spent and the hour I took to read it. A fun way to gear up for the summer patriotic holidays.

Book 46 of 100 for the 100+ Reading Challenge, Book 28 of 50 for the New Author Challenge, Book 22 of 50 for the RYOB Challenge, Book 36 of 55 for the Countdown Challenge (2001)

Source: Purchased

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Reading List for Accelerated Readers

I have, on occasion, been asked to provide reading lists for kids that read on an accelerated level. I recently put together the list below and thought it might be helpful to post it here. Of course, there are many great books written below these levels--I just had to cut the search off somewhere. Generally, non-fiction are written at higher levels.

Most books, even for adults, are written on a 4-6th grade level, so there are plenty of great books out there not on this list. To me, the most important thing is that the kids enjoy what they read.

I used to create this list. I have not read many of them, so please don't come after me if you object to the content! Happy summer reading!

Interest level K-3

Written on 5-6 grade level
Paddington books by Michael Bond
Fairy Chronicles by J.H. Sweet
The Little Wooden Horse books by Ursula Moray Williams
Max the Dog science adventure books by Jeffrey Bennett
Flower Fairies Friends series by Pippa le Quesne and Kay Woodward
Bella Sara series by Felicity Brown
Rainbow Magic: The Petals series by Daisy Meadows
Jack Sparrow series by Rob Kidd

Interest level 4-8

Written on a 9th grade level
Books by Jules Verne: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Around the World in Eighty Days, Michael Strogoff, The Mysterious Island
Buried Treasures series by W.C. Jameson
Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain
The Story of King Arthur and His Knights by Howard Pyle
The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann Wyss
Tales from Shakespeare by Charles Lamb

Written on a 7th-8th grade level
Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll
Books by L.M. Montgomery: Anne of Green Gables series, Rilla of Ingleside
Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
Books by E. Nesbit: The Book of Dragons, The Story of the Treasure Seekers
Enola Holmes series by Nancy Springer
Books by Robin McKinley: Chalice, The Hero and the Crown, The Door in the Hedge
Edge Chronicles series by Paul Stewart
The Jungle Book series by Rudyard Kipling
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Oz books by L. Frank Baum

Ranger’s Apprentice series by John Flanagan (6th-7th)
Series of Unfortunate Events books by Lemony Snicket (6th-7th)

The Sword in the Stone by T.H. White

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Wild Girl

Wild Girl Wild Girl by Patricia Reilly Giff

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I saw the cover for this book, I knew I would have to get it for my daughter. Of course, it helped that it is by Patricia Reilly Giff, so I figured it would be good!

While this book will certainly attract tween horsey girls, this book gives a nice perspective on a modern immigrant experience of a 12-year old girl. Lidie has been living with her aunt and uncle in Brazil for the last five years. After her mother died, her father and brother moved to New York where they train race horses. But they couldn't afford to send for Lidie until later. When Lidie arrives, nothing is like the happy family she had planned. There are growing pains within the family and for Lidie at school. Her experience is somewhat mirrored by a young filly named Wild Girl that arrives at the farm and with whom Lidie forms a connection.

This is a realistic book and is not overly melodramatic. Overall, this is a quick sweet read that I would recommend for girls starting around 4th grade. I think my daughter will love it!

Also reviewed by:
Have you read this one? 

Book 45 of 100 for the 100+ Reading Challenge 
Book 21 of 25 for the MG Reading Challenge 

Source: Purchased

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Millennium, #1) The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Series: 1 of 3 (Millennium)

Awards: Macavity Award Nominee (2009), Anthony Award Nominee for Best Novel and for Best First Novel, Glasnyckeln by Skandinaviska Kriminalsällskapet (2006), Galaxy British Book Awards for Crime Thriller of the Year (2009), Exclusive Books Boeke Prize (2008), Strand Critics Award Best Novel Nominee, Strand Critics Award Best First Novel Nominee, International Dagger Award

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book and this series is EVERYWHERE. I've gone back and forth on whether or not I should read it, but I finally decided to take the plunge. It's been a long time since I've read a really gripping thriller, so I was looking forward to a good corporate crime novel. And for the first 100 pages or so, I really enjoyed it.

The original Swedish title of this book is "Men Who Hate Women". This is a much more apropos title than what we have been given in English. But it's the story of a respected journalist/publisher (Mikael) of a small magazine (Millennium) who ends up serving a short prison term for libel of an important Swedish businessperson. But before he serves his sentence, Mikael is contacted by an aging corporate magnate (Vanger) who wants him to write a history of the family business and hopefully solve a 40-year old murder in the process. He offers him a place to live, more money than he's worth, and proof that will vindicate Mikael in his libel suit. So Mikael, with the help of a young computer hacker (she's the girl with the dragon tattoo), gets involved in the seriously dysfunctional Vanger family and unearths far more than anyone could imagine.

The book is well-paced, but I have to admit that I didn't find it particularly well-written. I don't know if it's a function of the translation or if it just hasn't been edited very well. But sometimes I found the writing to be jarringly elementary. Another major problem I had with this book is my personal aversion to delving into the underworld of sexual deviancy. This book is very explicit and also contains graphic violence.

I do find it heartbreaking that Stieg Larsson never got to see his series published. He never got to see how popular his books have become, reap the monetary benefits, or enjoy the fame and accolades from fans around the world. But, I should have stuck with my gut and left this one unread.

Also reviewed by:
Did I miss yours?

Book 44 of 100 for the 100+ Reading Challenge, Book 35 of 55 for the Countdown Challenge (2005), Book 27 of 50 for the New Author Challenge, Book 2 of 8 for the Orbis Terrarum Challenge (Sweden)

Source: Borrowed

Monday, May 17, 2010

13 Little Blue Envelopes

13 Little Blue Envelopes 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson

Awards: YALSA Top Ten; ALA Best Book for Young Adults

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a fun book about Ginny, a 17-year old girl who travels to Europe following her dead aunt's instructions through a series of letters. When Ginny completes the task given to her in the first letter, she can open the next letter. Her aunt sends her on a similar journey to the one she took before she died, in an effort to help Ginny experience new things, see life in a new way, and take her out of her comfort zone.

Books by Maureen Johnson just make me smile. I thought this book was funny and sweet, and yet there were some moments in the book that had surprising depth. I do wish that Ginny had been a little older taking this trip alone, and there were some moments were I thought she was downright stupid from a safety perspective. But it was a fun journey that I found highly entertaining. This would make a great summertime read for high school age and up.

Also reviewed by:
Can I add yours? 

Book 43 of 100 for the 100+ Reading Challenge, Book 21 of 50 for the RYOB Challenge, Book 22 of 50 for the YA Reading Challenge, Book 34 of 55 for the Countdown Challenge (2005) 

Source: BookMooch

Thursday, May 13, 2010


Cotillion Cotillion by Georgette Heyer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a book I have been wanting to read for awhile. It seems to be a favorite for Georgette Heyer fans and now I can see why!

As is typical for me with Regency novels, this started out slow. There always seems to be a learning curve while I move myself back in time, figure out who the characters are and what their titles mean, and adjust my head to the antiquated language and slang. But by the end I was turning pages so fast and I had to force myself to go to bed. I couldn't wait to see how it all ended and I was not disappointed.

Kitty Charing is the ward of a grouchy old man who has decided that she will inherit his fortune if she chooses one of his great-grandnephews to marry. Kitty is horrified by the proposal and is desperate to get away to London so she can figure out what to do with her life. But in order to do so, she convinces Freddy Standen (one of the nephews) to agree to a sham engagement. While in London, Kitty is exposed to a world of fashion, frivolity, and nobles behaving badly. She makes new friends and finds old family, but everyone seems to want something that they can't have. As the heroine, Kitty tries to set it all to rights, and in the process she figures out her own heart as well.

This was my in-person's book club pick for this month. While I certainly enjoyed reading it, I don't really think it's a book that will generate a lot of discussion. Still, I'm happy that I got an excuse to move it up my TBR list. I definitely recommend this one.

Also reviewed by:
Can I add your review here?

Book 5 for the Georgette Heyer Challenge, Book 42 of 100 for the 100+ Reading Challenge, Book 20 of 50 for the RYOB Challenge

Source: BookMooch

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Double Comfort Safari Club

The Double Comfort Safari Club (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, #11) The Double Comfort Safari Club by Alexander McCall Smith

Series: The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency #11

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow! I can't believe there is already 11 books in this series. I wasn't even aware that this one had come out until I saw them for sale at Costco last week. I came home and put a hold on it at the library right away. I love my annual trips to Botswana reading these light mysteries.

In this installment, Precious Ramotswe receives a letter from America. She must find a safari guide who has been bequeathed an inheritance from a wealthy American tourist. Grace Makutsi's fiancee is involved in an accident that may threaten their relationship. A man transfers ownership of his house to his fiancee before realizing that the fiancee was only after his money. And, a married couple who are friends of Mma Ramotswe each suspect the other of having an affair.

These books are calming and comforting, with a few lovely passages hidden like treasures in the pages. Another wonderful book in this series.

Book 41 of 100 for the 100+ Reading Challenge, Book 33 of 55 for the Countdown Challenge (2010), Book 1 of 8 or the Orbis Terrarum Challenge (Zimbabwe), Book 13 of 25 for the Support Your Local Library Challenge 

Source: Library

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

Award: ALA Notable/Best Books

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In my opinion, the less you know about this book going into it the better. It's a book that is more to be experienced than read. It's written in a postmodern style that uses visual writing. That means there's some color, some photographs, and even some blank space that is used to more effectively tell the story, help the reader feel a mood, evoke an emotion, or experience something that might not translate as well with just the written word. (I know this because I had to look it up.) But, the words themselves are stunning.

This book is about the impact of 9/11 on a New York family set in 2003. Most of the book is told from the perspective of precocious 9-year old Oskar Schell, who loses his father on that fateful day. But it's also about Oskar's grandparents who were present for the Allied bombing of Dresden during WWII. Their stories weave in and out as the reader gets perspectives from Oskar and both of his grandparents through flashbacks and their writings from the present-day.

I can see how this book provides strong opinions--both positive and negative. But I was floored by its creativity, sensitivity, and humanity. It's not a book that is terribly realistic. Oskar is much older than his 9 years and he is granted an amazing amount of freedom in New York City for one so young. I read this book as more of a myth and allowed myself to feel the impact of the language and images--some of which hurt and some of which were brilliant and beautiful.

Also reviewed by:
Did I miss yours?

Book 40 of 100 for the 100+ Reading Challenge, Book 26 of 50 for the New Author Challenge, Book 19 of 50 for the RYOB Challenge, Book 32 of 55 for the Countdown Challenge (2005)

Source: BookMooch

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

North of Beautiful

North of Beautiful North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Terra is a senior in high school who lives in Washington State. She's a smart girl with a hunky boyfriend, and she has dreams of being an artist. But there are two things about Terra that are constant problems to her: She has a verbally/emotionally abusive father and she has a large port-wine stain on her face.

Terra begins her transformation of breaking free from her father and learning to accept her beauty when she meets Jacob, a goth guy that she literally runs into in an icy parking lot. Jacob was adopted from a Chinese orphanage as a small child and is going through his own difficult time as his parents divorce and his father remarries. For me, the story really takes off when Terra and Jacob visit China with their mothers and experience a period of rediscovery and change as they look at life in a new way.

This book was far too long for the predictable plot, but I liked the use of maps and geocaching in Terra's discovery of true beauty. (I'm a geocacher and I loved seeing it used in everyday fiction!) I would have given this book 4 stars because it was a sweet story, but any book that takes me a week to read is just moving too slow for my taste. That said, I think most teen girls would enjoy this one.

Also reviewed by:
Did I miss yours? 

Book 39 of 100 for the 100+ Reading Challenge, Book 25 of 50 for the New Author Challenge, Book 21 of 50 for the YA Reading Challenge 

Source: Borrowed