Archive for the ‘Animals’ Category

Book review: Water for Elephants

Monday, May 10th, 2010

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Author:Sara Gruen
Reading Level (Conceptual):For grown-ups
Reading Level (Vocabulary):For grown-ups
Genre:fiction
Year of publication:2007

Fizzy says:

Great book. REALLY cool. It follows the story of one man for one summer, as he runs away to the circus. Accidentally.

Gruen definitely did her research, and gets deep into the gritty life of traveling circuses around the 1930's. The hierarchy that separated bosses, performers, and workers is very clear, and Jacob, the narrator, doesn't fit into any of those categories, which leads to an interesting and fast paced novel.

I read it in about a day and a half. SUPER good. Recommend it to anyone.

Emily says:

Beautiful and deep, but interspersed with the fascinating circus lore is unspeakable cruelty, human to human, and especially, human to animal. Balanced, sometimes, by unbelievable grace.

If you found this review helpful and/or interesting, consider supporting our book habit: Buy this book!: Water for Elephants

Book review: Flipped

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

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Author:Wendelin Van Draanen
Reading Level (Conceptual):Children 12 and up
Reading Level (Vocabulary):Children 8 and up
Genre:fiction

This is a cool book because we get to see the same turn of events from two very different perspectives. It is about two neighbors, a girl and a boy, who switch off hating each other and being in love.

Definitely an easy (maybe elementary school) read, but still fun, and cute (I know that word is in all my reviews...) Very conversational, a nicely told story. I love the chicken on the front.

--Fizzy


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Book review: Wolf’s Head, Wolf’s Heart (Wolf, Book 2)

Saturday, July 11th, 2009

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Author:Jane Lindskold
Reading Level (Conceptual):Children 12 and up
Reading Level (Vocabulary):Children 8 and up
Genre:fiction
Year of publication:2003

My daughter will read nearly any book that is put in front of her, and she knows just about intuitively when one is "good" or not. In other words, we are entirely in sympathy with, for example, The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories by Christopher Booker, in which he explains that there are really only a few stories to be told and the important thing is to tell the tale creatively and well.

On the other hand, my daughter and I have noticed that in many young adult book series, nearly every book in the series uses, not only the same basic plot, but also the exact same plot elements in the exact same order. This is truly frustrating, because, once we've caught on to this failing, basically, not only do we know exactly how each book will end, but we also know pretty much what the twists and turns will be before the end. This is even more frustrating when the characters are as interesting and unique as they are in Jane Lindskold's Wolf Series. And, even worse, Lindskold's plot twists seem to always include a planned rape, described, not too graphically, but at length, and then a protracted and bloody battle.

So, what can we now say about Wolf's Head, Wolf's Heart, the sequel to Through Wolf's Eyes, which we raced through just a while ago?

Well, this book is pretty much the same as the first one. The wolf-girl's early sufferings have gifted her with nearly superhuman hearing, smell, strategic sense, and strength. But she still lacks social skills. Each of those who ends up on this Quest (and yes, the Booker plot of this one is probably not the same as the Booker plot of the first book in the series), has certain special gifts and limitations, very nicely described by the author.

Wolf's Head, Wolf's Heart certainly keeps you turning the pages. And the many loose ends left at the end of the book ensure that, assuming that the really nasty rape planning session didn't turn you off too badly, you will want to read the next book in the series.

I am hopeful, but not optimistic, that perhaps by the third book, the author might have found alternative plot elements to put in service of her story.

-- Emily


If you found this review helpful and/or interesting, consider supporting our book habit: Buy this book!: Wolf's Head, Wolf's Heart (Wolf, Book 2)

Book review: The Great Perhaps

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

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Author:Joe Meno
Reading Level (Conceptual):For grown-ups
Reading Level (Vocabulary):For grown-ups
Genre:Fiction, parenting
Year of publication:2009

This novel is a deeply Confucian, metaphorical attempt to explain the outcome of the US Presidential Election of 2004. And the explanation is that many societies and ecological niches require a bully to be in charge of them in order to function well enough to survive. The bully may well shed some blood, and may often be wrong, but at least he (and it would always, pretty much, be a he), causes stuff to happen.

The metaphors here come fast and heavy-handed. The husband, Jonathan Casper, is a nerdy scientist who forgets his promises to his family as he quests after a "prehistoric" giant squid. In her off-hours, the wife, Madeline, chases a giant man-shaped cloud. At work, Madeline investigates the pecking order of pigeons by disrupting their power structures and witnessing the devastating results. (Perhaps like many academics, Madeline neglected, before she started her experiment, to understand what a pecking order is. How lucky she is to have an adviser to explicitly explain that pigeons NEED to be dominated by moderately violent males in order to avoid rampant rape and murder by the underclasses in their society.)

One of the two Casper daughters copes with her problems with excessive piety. The other responds to the chaos at home by building a bomb and ignorantly attempting to apply the Communist Manifesto to the running of her school.


Luckily, in the end, each of these characters acquires a male mentor who explicitly tells him or her what to do to solve all the problems. Just like the US got four more years of George W. Bush. Difficult problems; easy answers.

Neat. Overly neat. Well written. Psychotic.

Not for young readers, which is a shame. The book would be great for a beginner's game of "spot the metaphor".

-- Emily


If you found this review helpful and/or interesting, consider supporting our book habit: Buy this book!: Great Perhaps, The

Book review: Through Wolf’s Eyes

Saturday, June 27th, 2009

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Author:Jane Lindskold
Reading Level (Conceptual):Children 12 and up
Reading Level (Vocabulary):Children 8 and up
Genre:fiction
Year of publication:2002

This is a book about a girl who was brought up by wolves, before being "rescued" by "civilized" people. The catch is that they think she is next in line to the throne of an ailing king. As her new friends try to teach her manners and human customs, a war is breaking out, and traitors work against everyone but themselves.

Interesting book, although not well written. It is cool to be in the mind of a wolf looking in on the silliness of human politics.

Note: I would not recommend this for people under 12 or 13. The story includes a couple of Very Intense scenes. In one, a rape is planned and then attempted. There are also lengthy descriptions of bloody, deadly battles.

-- Fizzy, age 14


If you found this review helpful and/or interesting, consider supporting our book habit: Buy this book!: Through Wolf's Eyes

Book review: The Prophet of Yonwood (Books of Ember)

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

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Author:Jeanne Duprau
Reading Level (Conceptual):Children 8 and up
Reading Level (Vocabulary):Children 8 and up
Genre:fiction
Year of publication:2006

Very preachy and had a LOT of people blindly following orders, which bothered me. The book was written as if the reader was like five, which also bothered me.

The two books in the series before this were also very easy reads, but at least had interesting plots and you didn't know exactly what was going to happen... However, the ending was satisfying, and the two prequels are pretty good.

--Fizzy, age 14

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If you found this review helpful and/or interesting, consider supporting our book habit: Buy this book!: Prophet of Yonwood, The (Books of Ember)

Movie review: UP!

Sunday, May 31st, 2009

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14 year-old: \”I cried for the whole movie. It was very, very depressing.\”

Me: \”So are you glad you saw it?\”

She: \”Yes, but younger kids should not see it. It is too depressing. But because of the previews, they are going to want to.\”

Her Dad: \”It is a Disney movie. You know that the mom has to be dead in order for the plot to progress.\”

We discussed the fact that dear daughter is truly a very sensitive child. She admitted that she is. \”Nevertheless, young kids should not see this movie.\”

We all agreed that the dogs are brilliant, the plot is not entirely original, but not predictable either, and the visuals and music are impressive.

Book review: Dragonhaven

Monday, May 4th, 2009

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Author:Robin McKinley
Reading Level (Conceptual):Children 8 and up
Reading Level (Vocabulary):Children 8 and up
Genre:fiction
Year of publication:2007

This book was very slow for a long time in the beginning, but good. It is from the perspective of a teenage boy who lives in our world, which, it seems, has dragons in it. A protected species, of course. I know that sounds very cheezy, but it is well put together, and a fun, quick read (except the beginning).

Jake finds a dragonlet and then, all of a sudden, the novel gets interesting when it is up to Jake to save Smokehill Dragonhaven Natural Park...

--Fizzy, age 14

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

Book review: A Mango-Shaped Space

Sunday, May 3rd, 2009

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Author:Wendy Mass
Reading Level (Conceptual):Children 12 and up
Reading Level (Vocabulary):Children 12 and up
Genre:fiction

I loved this book. It is about this girl named Mia who has this syndrome called synesthesia. Some different parts than usual are connected in her brain, so that letters and sounds have colors (this is real!) Her cat's name is Mango. In the book she learns that she is the "weird" one in her school and has to deal with it, because at first she thinks she's crazy.

Anyway, really good book: lots of emotions and colors. There is one really sad part, though.

-- Fizzy, age 14


If you found this review helpful and/or interesting, consider supporting our book habit: Buy this book!: Mango-Shaped Space, A

Book review: Dark Lord of Derkholm

Thursday, February 21st, 2008

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Author:Diana Wynne Jones
Reading Level (Conceptual):Children 12 and up
Reading Level (Vocabulary):Children 12 and up
Genre:fiction
Year of publication:1998

"The cool thing about Diana Wynne Jones is that we've read many of her books, but her stories are all very different. She doesn't repeat herself. This one goes from amazing to intense, maybe it's even a little too intense," says my 13 yr. old.

As you can tell, we here are huge fans of Diana Wynne Jones. We admire the magical worlds she creates and her characters -- human, wizard, and fantastical -- captivate us. We find the plots of her stories unpredictable but plausible, at least in the magical environments in which they take place.

Dark Lord of Derkholm is about a planet that is used as a playground by a imperial power, in the person of one "Mr. Chesney". The inhabitants are compelled to stage elaborate wargames, games in which they and the tourists who pay to join them risk losing lives, families, and livelihoods. (Lest this be thought of as a metaphor for the American adventure in Iraq, please note that this story was written back in 1998, before our Mr. Cheney lead us there.)

I have a friend whose brilliant son graduated from college and then promptly enlisted in the military. "Maybe I won't get sent to Iraq," he told her. "Yeah, and why are they teaching you Arabic?" she asked him. There are young people who need to truly understand how terrible war can be. And maybe we should try to communicate this to them before they are old enough to sign on the dotted line of that enlistment contract.

But what about the kids who have already drunk the Kool-Aid? Those who know that war is not a game. Do they need to know that mercenaries sometimes rape innocent children? That sometimes heroes die in battle? That those who sponsor the wars often profit vastly from the carnage? Maybe not. But I think I'd have been happier if my friend's son had thought about these things before he enlisted.

So, do we recommend Dark Lord of Denholm? Not for sensitive children. Because they will fall in love with the griffins and the dragons and flying horses and annoying geese and Derk and his human children and then they will read about how all these gorgeous characters suffer just because they live in a society that plays at war.

Do I think our children ought to read books like this one? Even though they can hardly bring themselves to read on? Yes. In a country where our leaders feel comfortable cheerfully singing "Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran" to the melody of a Beach Boys song, our children need to read about how a downtrodden society can pull itself together and say "No" to war.

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If you found this review helpful and/or interesting, consider supporting our book habit: Buy this book!: Dark Lord of Derkholm