Monday, September 27, 2010

The Giver

The Giver (The Giver, #1)The Giver by Lois Lowry

AR Reading Level: 5.7
On the library stacks: YA and Children's Fiction
Awards: Boston Globe/Horn Book Award/Honors; SLJ Best Book; Golden Duck Award; Young Reader's Choice Award/Nominee; ALA Notable/Best Books; Newbery Medal
Series: Book 1 of 3 (The Giver) 
Recommended for: Grades 7+

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jonas lives in a futuristic dystopian society where "sameness" rules. Couples may apply for children from the government, but they are given no more than one boy and one girl. When the children turn 12, they are given a job in the community, chosen for them by The Elders. Jonas is given a special honor when he is selected to be the Receiver of Memories.

What neither Jonas nor any other of the community realizes is that they are living life completely without choice. It has been that way for so long that no one sees color, hears music, feels pain, or experiences true joy or love. But as the Receiver, Jonas experiences them through The Giver and it encourages him to change everything he knows to be true.

This book is definitely thought-provoking. It is interesting to imagine what life would be like without the ability to choose for ourselves. This book is often challenged (here's my shout out to Banned Books Week) for its treatment of suicide and euthanasia. I wouldn't give it to my child until at least 7th grade, and even then I will be ready to have a good sit-down discussion about the book with her.

I kind of wish the book were a little longer and had been geared definitively for the YA crowd instead of skirting with the Children's section. I felt the pacing was uneven, especially toward the end when I was really hoping for a lot more detail. But I think the book is wonderful for helping us to appreciate the great gift we have of forming our own opinions, thinking for ourselves, and experiencing a fullness of life--both the bad and the good.

Also reviewed by: Piling on the Books ~ Literarily Speaking ~ Book Thoughts ~ Teen Lit Review ~ Pizza's Book Discussion ~ my cozy book nook ~ Fuzzy Cricket ~ things mean a lot ~ Good Clean Reads ~ Bookfoolery and Babble ~ Stephanie's Confessions of a Book-a-holic ~ So Many Books, So Little Time ~ Your link here? 

Book 88 of 100 for the 100+ Reading Challenge, Book 40 of 50 for the RYOB Challenge, Book 39 of 50 for the YA Reading Challenge 
Source: Purchased

Friday, September 24, 2010

Junie B. Jones and a Little Monkey Business

Junie B. Jones and a Little Monkey Business (Junie B. Jones, #2)Junie B. Jones and a Little Monkey Business by Barbara Park

AR Reading Level: 2.9
On the library stacks: Children's fiction
Award: ALA Notable/Best Books
Series: Book 2 of 17 (Junie B. Jones)

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The beginning of each Junie book is similar. I have started to have my 1st grader fill in some of the blanks, such as "the B stands for _______." (Beatrice)

In this early book in the series, Junie finds out she is going to be a big sister. When the big day finally arrives, Junie stays at her grandparents house. Her grandma comes home and says that Junie's new brother is the "cutest little monkey." Junie takes this quite literally with some disastrous consequences when she shares her news at school during Show and Tell.

Junie's pretty much a brat in this one. The word "dumb" and "fat" were incredibly overused. But I did see some similarities between Ramona Quimby and Junie in this one that I thought were cute.

Book 87 of 100 for the 100+ Reading Challenge 
Source: Borrowed from teacher library

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Life of Pi

Life of PiLife of Pi by Yann Martel

AR Reading Level: 5.7 
On the library stacks: Adult fiction
Awards: Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature; Booker Prize/Honor Book; Book Sense Book of the Year Award/Honorees; Governor General's Literary Award

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is one of those books that I have been meaning to read for years. So when my in-person book club voted to read it this month, I was happy to have an excuse to get to it.

Pi Patel is a young Indian boy whose father is a zookeeper. Pi develops an interest in religion at a young age, surprising his agnostic parents. Pi's parents decide to immigrate to Canada and their Japanese cargo ship sinks in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. But Pi survives, along with a tiger, hyena, orangutan, and zebra. His faith carries him through a terrible ordeal at sea until he is rescued.

I did really enjoy the beginning of the novel, but as it went on it moved slower and I became less interested. I understood the message the author was trying to portray with his story, but I guess I didn't find it as life-changing as the cover advertised it would be. I will say it was well-written, clever and unique (although I did see the end coming), but I was left somewhat underwhelmed. Still, I think it will make for a good discussion this evening.

Also reviewed by: Piling on the BooksJules' Book Review ~ Bending Bookshelf ~ my cozy book nook ~ Lost in Books ~ At Home With Books ~ Book Clutter ~ Your link here?

Book 86 of 100 for the 100+ Reading Challenge, Book 39 of 50 for the RYOB Challenge, Book 8 of 8 for the Orbis Terrarum Challenge (Spain), Book 49 of 50 for the New Author Challenge 

Source: BookMooch

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Junie B. Jones Smells Something Fishy

Junie B. Jones Smells Something Fishy (Junie B. Jones, #12)Junie B. Jones Smells Something Fishy by Barbara Park

AR Reading Level: 2.6
On the library stacks: Children's Fiction
Series: Book 12 of 17 (Junie B. Jones)

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After reading Junie B. last week, my son JB was delighted to be instructed by his teacher to take a Junie B. home for his nightly reading. We actually own this one as well, so we each read aloud out of our own copies, switching back and forth.

In this installment, Junie B. Jones wants a pet to take to Pet Day at school. She has a dog named Tickle, but the teacher said no dogs or cats. I won't tell you what she ends up taking in, but there was a raccoon, fish, earthworm (named Noodle), ants and flies involved before the big day actually arrived.

I love any book that gets kids excited about reading, and this one certainly does the trick.

Book 85 of 100 for the 100+ Reading Challenge, Book 38 of 50 for the RYOB Challenge

Source: Purchased

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Vanishing - TLC Book Tour

Vanishing and Other StoriesVanishing and Other Stories by Deborah Willis

Publication date: August 17, 2010
First published: May 12, 2009
Publisher: Harper Perennial
ISBN: 9780062007520
Price: $13.99
Pages: 288
Deborah Willis' website here.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It has been awhile since I have read a really good book of short stories. Not only was this book beautifully written, but I was easily sucked into each of the stories.

The stories in Vanishing are linked together by a common theme of loss. In some it is loss of a loved one--a parent, partner, child or spouse. The loss may be due to death, illness, personal choices and betrayals, an emotional withdrawal, or purely unexplained. The stories focus on how the loss affects those left behind to pick up the pieces.

I have to admit that the stories are gloomy and somewhat dark. There was a lot of sadness and some things were a little disturbing. It seemed like there were a lot of affairs involved, including relationships between teenagers and adults. I probably enjoyed the stories like Rely and Frank a little more since the focus was different.

This is the first book published by this young author and I think she shows incredible talent. The prose was concise and yet lyrical at the same time. The book had a nice pace to it and the stories seemed well thought out, but they didn't drag on too long. A great debut!

About the Author:
Deborah Willis’s work has appeared in the Bridport Prize Anthology, Event, and Grain, and she was a winner of PRISM International's annual fiction prize. Short-listed for the Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction and long-listed for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, Vanishing and Other Stories is her first book of fiction.
I am the last host on this tour. Please visit the other stops: Booksie’s Blog ~ Eleanor’s Trousers ~ The Lost Entwife ~ Raging Bibliomania ~ All About {n} ~ In the Next Room ~ she reads and reads ~ Cozy Little House ~ Rundpinne ~ Confessions of a Bookaholic ~ Life in the Thumb

Book 84 of 100 for the 100+ Reading Challenge, Book 48 of 50 for the New Author Challenge, Book 7 of 8 for the Orbis Terrarum Challenge (Canada)

Source: I received this book from the publisher as part of the TLC Book Tour.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

June B. Jones and Some Sneaky Peeky Spying

Junie B. Jones and some Sneaky Peaky (Junie B. Jones, #4)Junie B. Jones and Some Sneaky Peeky Spying by Barbara Park

AR Reading Level: 2.9
On the library stacks: Children's fiction
Series: Book 4 of 17 (Junie B. Jones)

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the second time I've read this one aloud to one of my kids. I wondered if my boy would like it any less than my girl, but he didn't. He's a new 1st grader and this is his first exposure to Junie B. He loved it. As an added bonus, the books are quick to read and I think the humor is hilarious.

In this installment, Junie B. has a spying problem. She hides in the hamper, scaring her Grandpa who has just taken out his teeth. She also hides in the grocery store where she spies her "perfect" kindergarten teacher pop a grape in her mouth in the produce department. This leads to Junie "accidentally" telling the principal. But on Grandparent's Day, it all comes out right in the end.

While I think these books are fun, they are not great for the beginning reader who rightfully get hung up on words like "hided" and "pasketti." So, if you are introducing chapter books to a young reader as I am, I would steer clear. But still, this only took us two days to read together and a good time was had by all.

Also reviewed by: Puss Reboots ~ Your link here?

Book 83 of 100 for the 100+ Reading Challenge

Source: Purchased

Monday, September 13, 2010


Brainiac: Adventures in the Curious, Competitive, Compulsive World of Trivia BuffsBrainiac: Adventures in the Curious, Competitive, Compulsive World of Trivia Buffs by Ken Jennings

On the library stacks: Non-fiction
Recommended for: Trivia fans

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don't even watch Jeopardy! (don't forget the exclamation mark) nor did I see Ken's historic 74-win run. But I do like trivia and since Ken and I went to the same college at about the same time, I thought I would give this book a try.

I got an unexpectedly delightful surprise on the first page when I realized that I knew the friend that Ken drove down to the Jeopardy! try-outs with! In fact, I have a picture of him playing a rousing game of Spoons in my college apartment on my 20th birthday. (Katie: It's EARL!) I'll admit that frequent mentions of his friend Earl throughout the book really tickled me, but I would have liked the book without them.

Set against the backdrop of Ken's $2.5 million stint on national television, this book explores the history of trivia. We learn about how trivia has become more popular in recent years first through books and newspapers, and then radio and television. We learn about pub trivia and the cutthroat world of high school and college quiz bowls. And there are thoughtful discussion of if/why we should even care about trivia.

I thought this book was fascinating and funny. I laughed out loud numerous times and I loved the trivia questions sprinkled through each chapter. This is a fun book that's a quick read (and you may even feel a little smarter when you get done with it!).

Also reviewed by: A Reader's Journal ~ So Many Books, So Little Time

Book 82 of 100 for the 100+ Reading Challenge, Book 55 of 55 for the Countdown Challenge (2006), Book 37 of 50 for the RYOB Challenge, Book 48 of 50 for the New Author Challenge

Source: Purchased at my library book sale

Friday, September 10, 2010

Our Eleanor

Our Eleanor: A Scrapbook Look at Eleanor Roosevelt's Remarkable LifeOur Eleanor: A Scrapbook Look at Eleanor Roosevelt's Remarkable Life by Candace Fleming

AR Reading Level: 8.0
On the library stacks: YA Non-fiction
Awards: SLJ Best Book; VOYA Award/Honor; ALA Best Book for Young Adults; ALA Notable/Best Books

Recommended for: Ages 12+

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After reading The Lincolns last year, I've had this one high up on on my TBR list. Similar in style to The Lincolns, this book contains letters, photographs, newspaper clippings and other mementos from the life of Eleanor Roosevelt.

This is a truly fascinating book that I really enjoyed reading. The weird thing is that I like Eleanor significantly less now than when I started the book! Eleanor was not a good mother to her 5 children, had a passive-aggressive relationship with her mother-in-law, ignored FDR while she pursued her own political goals, and she was an anti-Semite. At the same time, however, she was a champion of the poor, the aged, (most) minorities, servicemen, the homeless and the unemployed. Many of the government welfare programs of today stem from her encouragement during FDR's unprecedented 3+ terms in the White House.

I had a few minor quibbles with the book. It needed a little more editing. Sometimes the same fact would appear just pages apart, as if we had never learned it before. Also, there were parts where I felt like the author's personal feelings got in the way. Her assumptions of what was good or bad about Eleanor, particularly in regard to political views, might not be the same for every person.

This is resource is a gem. Eleanor's influence on the world is legendary. Even though I may disagree with some of her political and moral views, I can't help but respect many of her amazing accomplishments. I would caution that this book should only be given to kids who are mature enough to handle discussions of FDR's marital infidelities and the question of Eleanor's own faithfulness and sexual preferences.

Also reviewed by: Gamila's Book Review ~ Through the Looking Glass

Book 81 of 100 for the 100+ Reading Challenge, Book 38 of 50 for the YA Reading Challenge, Book 22 of 25 for the Support Your Local Library Challenge

Source: Library

Thursday, September 9, 2010

On Agate Hill

On Agate Hill: A NovelOn Agate Hill: A Novel by Lee Smith

On the library stacks: Adult fiction

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Tuscany Miller is a potential doctoral candidate who wants to use old documents stashed in the home of her father and his lover as the basis for her thesis. This book is the collection of diary entries, letters, and memorabilia detailing the life of Molly Petree, an orphan who spent time living in the home, named Agate Hill.

This is a sad Appalachian post-Civil War tale. It is kind of a wandering aimless book that didn't have a whole lot keeping it together. I really disliked the beginning which is Molly's childhood diary, with its misspellings and grammar issues. But once she got to the girl's boarding school she attended as a teenager, I did enjoy the thoughts of the headmistress, her sister Agatha, and Molly. However, the final part of the book where Molly marries, has a series of awful tragedies and ends up right back in Agate Hill was just depressing.

The whole book just seemed so implausible. I can't imagine any person writing to a professor in the flippant tone that Tuscany uses. I didn't understand why Agatha would write huge letters to her sister since they lived together and worked together at the same school. And how did the artifacts of the headmistress and her sister end back up in Molly's possession? In addition, so much of the emotional turmoil was never really explored. Murders, death and abuses were just kind of presented and never dealt with by the characters in any meaningful way.

Also reviewed by: A Life in Books ~ Your link here?

Book 80 of 100 for the 100+ Reading Challenge, Book 54 of 55 for the Countdown Challenge (2006), Book 36 of 50 for the RYOB Challenge, Book 47 of 50 for the New Author Challenge

Source: BookMooch

Friday, September 3, 2010

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Harry Potter, #5)Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

AR Reading Level: 7.2
On the library stacks: YA fiction
Booklist Editors' Choice; Bilby Award; ALA Best Book for Young Adults; VOYA: The Perfect Tens; ALA Notable/Best Books; Bram Stoker Award/Nominee; Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Children's Literature
Series: Book 5 of 7 (Harry Potter)

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Years ago I went on a little boycott/hiatus of all things Harry Potter. My husband dutifully read all the books, some multiple times, while I persisted in my obstinate ways. But my 9-year old recently blew through the first four books in the series and wanted to know if she could read the next one. My husband recalled that things get awful dark and we agreed that I would pick up where I left off to assess the age appropriateness of the rest of the series for our kids.

The first 3/4 of the book put me soundly to sleep every night for the past week. I love to stay up late reading, but I was a goner by 11pm every night. The last 1/4 had its redeeming moments, especially the departure of the Weasley twins which I thoroughly enjoyed. But really not a lot happens in this book considering it's the longest book in the series. It also seemed like Rowling tried too hard to provide teenage angst, and moody Harry with his bad attitude really got on my nerves.

As far as my kids go, I did find this book dark and violent, especially Harry's detentions with Professor Umbridge. I also found the Hitler-esque regime disturbing. There are mild swear words in this book, although some are not relevant to the American audience. Since every parent has to decide what they feel comfortable letting their child read, I'm going to have my kids wait until at least 5th grade to read this one. This is a case where just because my child can read it, doesn't mean they should. For parents who are unsure, I found this article to be a useful guide of various Harry Potter media by age and stage.

Also reviewed by: Muse Book Reviews ~ Jules' Book Reviews ~ Book Addiction ~ 2 Kids and Tired Book Reviews ~ Your link here?

Book 79 of 100 for the 100+ Reading Challenge, Book 35 of 50 for the RYOB Challenge, Book 53 of 55 for the Countdown Challenge (2003), Book 37 of 50 for the YA Reading Challenge

Source: Purchased