Archive for June, 2006

Book review: The Golem’s Eye (Bartimaeus Trilogy, Book 2)

Friday, June 30th, 2006

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Author:Jonathan Stroud
Reading Level (Conceptual):Children 12 and up
Reading Level (Vocabulary):Children 12 and up
Genre:fiction
Year of publication:2004

Sardonic musings of a demon summoned by a very young, but now, successful, wizard.

Bartimaeus Book Two: The Golem's Eye is a very good book, but before you read it you should read Bartimaeus, Book One: The Amulet of Samarkand, because things in Book Two will make much more sense that way.

This book switches perspective between three very different characters:
  • Kitty the feisty commoner,
  • Bartimaeus the sardonic djinni, and
  • Nathaniel (John Mandrake) the annoying magician.
My favorite character is Bartimaeus, because he gives you footnotes to explain stuff better, tell us his very personal thoughts, and talks very funnily.

-- Fizzy, age 11

Parent's note about the Bartimaeus trilogy:

As you can tell, my 11 year old really loves these books (she's finished the first two so far). But they are a bit of a departure for her -- there's real murder and mayhem in them, which, until recently, she would not have tolerated.

She loves them because the narrator of the book is a djinn who stands back from the action and makes kind of sarcastic comments about the other characters and the plot.

In these books, the gifted boy protagonist has been put in a position where he's been co-opted by an Evil Government because of his great intellectual abilities. The djinn has to obey the boy's commands, and a lot of the humor/sarcasm comes in when the djinn explains to the reader how morally compromised the boy is becoming. (And, to his credit, the djinn doesn't hesitate to tell the boy either, not that the boy listens most of the time.)

There a complex relationship between this book and slavery too. The djinn is a slave, and even though he respects the good qualities of his boy master, he also hates having to obey his commands. Most of the time, the djinn makes this clear. But he's sometimes more supportive of his master than I think an average slave might actually be.

-- Emily


If you found this review helpful and/or interesting, consider supporting our book habit: Buy this book!: Golem's Eye, The (The Bartimaeus Trilogy, Book 2)

Book review: The Time Traveler’s Wife

Monday, June 19th, 2006

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Author:Audrey Niffenegger
Reading Level (Conceptual):For grown-ups
Reading Level (Vocabulary):For grown-ups
Genre:science fiction
Year of publication:2004

Is being "unstuck in time" a gift or a curse? As it did for Billy Pilgrim in Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse 5, the inability to lead life in order from beginning to end does present its challenges to Henry, the time traveler and to Clare, his wife.

Our teenager had many more misgivings about this book than I did. And, thinking back on it, I think she's right.

Fizzy's review:

A bit too mushy for me, and it bothered me that the man-woman relationship was based on the traditional beliefs that men are brave adventurers and women stay at home and worry and do housework while they cry and wait for their husbands to return...

BUT. I really liked the fact that Niffenegger took an interesting view on Time, similar to how I've always thought about it. She portrayed Time like a recorded tape, so you could rewind or fast forward (time travel), and each moment would always stay the same, not be totally changed because of your presence, or contain an infinite set of possibilities.

I really enjoyed the book from that perspective, reading about her interesting and unusual theory about what time travel would be like (if it was possible) emotionally for the traveler, and its physical qualities.

For older readers. Their relationship is very heavily based on sex....


Emily's review:

Henry suffers from a genetic abnormality that causes him to lurch between present, past, and occasionally the future, when subjected to stress. Whenever he lands in an alternate time, he finds himself naked (lacking even tooth fillings), nauseous, hungry, and disoriented. He quickly realizes that if he is to survive, he must learn how to run fast (in case he materializes, naked, in a crowd), break locks (so he can steal clothes and money), and change the past in only selective ways. Many of his time jumps cause him, his friends, and his family great hardships.

And yet, in this thoughtful book, which resonates with ideas from sources as diverse as Homer's The Odyssey, My Fair Lady, Jules Verne's The Time Machine, Peter Pan and the aforementioned Slaughterhouse 5, among others, time travel has its rewards as well. For one thing, during his trips to the past, Henry is able, Henry Higgins style, to shape Clare, into the wife he'll need when he finally marries her.

So what of the time traveler's wife? What's it like to always be the one left behind, the one who understands less? Well, it was pre-determined that she'd marry Henry, so of course she does. And she knows that often, when Henry is absent from her present, it is because he's visiting with her in the past. And, sometimes, Henry does take advantage of his gift to provide hints to his friends: "Buy Internet stocks." Although the abrupt disappearances are hard on Clare, Henry is often able to say to her, "This will work out in the end, don't worry about it so much now." And Clare does have significant power over Henry. He needs her when he materializes in his past and he needs a comfortable place to return to after his time displacements. She knows some things he does not and she can help him live in the present.

Although it's true that Henry's genetic abnormality is the cause of his death, one could say that it is because they are alive that everyone dies.

The Traveler's Wife is a beautifully written, evocative meditation on the Serenity Prayer and how it applies to those who are severely gifted as well as those who care about them:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference. ...



-- Emily Berk

If you found this review helpful and/or interesting, consider supporting our book habit: Buy this book!: Time Traveler's Wife, The

Book review: Criss Cross

Saturday, June 17th, 2006

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Author:Lynne Rae Perkins
Reading Level (Conceptual):Children 12 and up
Reading Level (Vocabulary):Children 8 and up
Genre:fiction
Year of publication:2005

Newbury-award winning novel. Each chapters unfolds from within the consciousness of a different young person in a group of young teens. It certainly is -- interesting.

One thing that's weird, though. Is that when you are always INSIDE the brains of the characters, it's hard to always keep track of what's actually happening to whom and/or whose brain you are inhabiting, even if it says so right at the beginning of the chapter. Not to mention that, once the novel is over, you still have no idea what the characters look like.


This is not one of those books that's big on plot, either. So, I guess that means that it's not such a big deal when you realize that you have no idea what's actually going on.

Which isn't to say that we didn't like this book. It certainly is quite creatively written. What it's not is pull-you-in-and-never-let-up exciting.

-- Emily


If you found this review helpful and/or interesting, consider supporting our book habit: Buy this book!: Criss Cross

Book review: Bull Run

Friday, June 16th, 2006

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Author:Paul Fleischman
Reading Level (Conceptual):Children 8 and up
Reading Level (Vocabulary):Children 8 and up
Genre:fiction
Year of publication:1993

A review by a 10 year old reader...

Bull Run is written weirdly. There are sixteen people's stories of the first battle of the civil war. The story switches from one person to the next for the whole book.


Here are seven of the sixteen people:
  • General Irvin McDowell is a union general who has to command thousands of men when he has never dealt with more than one hundred men.
  • Shem Suggs is in love with horses and always has been. So he enlists in the army to take care of the horses. He ends up riding on a horse in the war whose rider had been killed.
  • All of Flora Wheelworth's daughter's husbands are fighting in the war and she feels too idle so she organizes a soldier's friend league for the confederate soldiers. They made shirts and uniforms and other stuff for the soldiers.
  • James Dacy is an artist for a newspaper. He was sent to the battle scene to draw pictures of what the war looked like. (He did not show what it looked like when his side was losing and fleeing though.)
  • Toby Boyce was eleven years old and wanted more than anything to be in the war and kill a Yankee. He tried to get in the band by playing a fife but he didn't know how. So they lent him a fife and he learned and got in the band. To him it was really boring until they were finally in a fight and he was so scared he ran away.
  • Gidion Adams was a Negro who joined the union pretending to be white. He knew how to write and none of the white men did so he wrote letters for them even though they said black people were dumb and couldn't do any thing right. (But Gidion signed the letters of these kinds of people with "Your Wood-headed Jackass" instead of their names.)
  • Nathaniel Epp was a photographer who took pictures of soldiers so they could send their pictures to their families but of course he made them pay. One time while taking a picture the man who he was taking a picture of was shot so he got a picture of him falling. He developed it anyway because he felt bad and it ended up making him money because he said it was a picture of a man's spirit leaving him and had people pay a shilling to see it.
This story was hard to follow but I think the author did a good job.

Fizzy, age 10


If you found this review helpful and/or interesting, consider supporting our book habit: Buy this book!: Bull Run

Book review: My Father’s Dragon

Monday, June 12th, 2006

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Author:Ruth Stiles Gannett
Illustrator:Ruth Chrisman Gannett
Reading Level (Conceptual):Children 5 and up
Reading Level (Vocabulary):Children 5 and up
Genre:fiction
Year of publication:1948

Three whimsical tales; adults may feel that they are so whimsical that the plots become downright arbitrary, but the story involves young readers and the words are not hard. The hardcover presents the intricate black-and-white illustrations beautifully.

If you found this review helpful and/or interesting, consider supporting our book habit: Buy this book!: My Father's Dragon

Book review: David and the Phoenix

Monday, June 12th, 2006

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Author:Edward Ormondroyd
Reading Level (Conceptual):Children 8 and up
Reading Level (Vocabulary):Children 8 and up
Genre:fiction
Year of publication:1981

My young daughter liked the ending, in which the phoenix does what phoenixes do. The friend who extolled this book to her also warned her that she found the ending horrifying.

If you found this review helpful and/or interesting, consider supporting our book habit: Buy this book!: David and the Phoenix

Book review: True Believer

Friday, June 9th, 2006

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Author:Virginia Euwer Wolff
Reading Level (Conceptual):Children 12 and up
Reading Level (Vocabulary):Children 8 and up
Genre:fiction, girl heroine
Year of publication:2001

Virginia Euwer Wolff impresses me with her ability to capture and express the needs, wants, temptations, fears, motivations, and ways of life of her fictional heroines.

True Believer is the second first-person fiction I've read by Wolff; the first was The Mozart Season, another great favorite of mine. Like The Mozart Season, True Believer is told in the voice of an entirely believable girl.

But unlike Allegra Shapiro, heroine of The Mozart Season, LaVaughn, narrator of True Believer, has so many worries in the present day that she cannot dwell on her past or the past of her family. LaVaughn describes her day-to-day life in the inner-city projects, a life so relentlessly hard that keeping her eye on her future becomes nearly impossible sometimes, in free verse so compelling that it reads like prose.


Even though many of the adults and students around LaVaughn realize that she has the intellectual potential to escape the environment that seems to be grinding nearly everyone else around her down, and even though many of them reach out to her as best they can to help, LaVaughn's success is never guaranteed. It is up to LaVaughn herself to avoid many compelling distractions, focus on her future, and allow those who see her potential to help her steer toward success.

True Believer is book two in Virginia Euwler Wolff's Make Lemonade Trilogy. As of the writing of this review, I have not read the other books in the trilogy; the third book is not yet published.

If you found this review helpful and/or interesting, consider supporting our book habit: Buy this book!: True Believer

Book review: The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out Of Darkness

Tuesday, June 6th, 2006

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Author:Karen Armstrong
Reading Level (Conceptual):Sophisticated readers
Reading Level (Vocabulary):Sophisticated readers
Genre:Non-fiction: Autobiography
Year of publication:2004

Thoughtful autobiography of a former nun turned writer about religious thought.

If you found this review helpful and/or interesting, consider supporting our book habit: Buy this book!: Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkness, The

Book review: Seeing & Writing 2

Tuesday, June 6th, 2006

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Author:Donald McQuade
Reading Level (Conceptual):College-prep
Reading Level (Vocabulary):College-prep
Genre:non-fiction
Year of publication:2003

The Seeing and Writing book is a very different book. It too is a book for the entry level college (or perhaps advanced high school?) writer. The over all premise of the book is that we live in a real world where visual text messages have as much, if not more, sway than a full page of text. Certainly, it is a much more interesting book to read and look through and does not pretend to hold the act of writing to a separate standard... a higher standard... than visual images. Rather, the book attempts to have the reader ponder the significance of visual images, text images, and the power of linking the two.

The "voice" of the text is much more savvy. Perhaps a tad too trendy for my country bumpkin kids. I am being somewhat selective on which subjects/essays I will have my two work with in the text. There are several exercises in the book that I think my highly visual kids will respond to. The book is also linked to a website which nicely extends the text.
Similar books

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Book review: Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver

Tuesday, June 6th, 2006

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Author:E.L. Konigsburg
Reading Level (Conceptual):Children 12 and up
Reading Level (Vocabulary):Children 8 and up
Genre:fiction, historical
Year of publication:1973

Eleanor of Aquitaine and some of her friends hang out in heaven and discuss Eleanor's life and loves.

Fascinating discussions about the Crusades, British and French history, religion, architecture, and the role of women in Medieval royalty ensue. Illustrations, by the author, in the form of "miniatures" are lovely and fascinating.

If you found this review helpful and/or interesting, consider supporting our book habit: Buy this book!: Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver