Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Seventh Tower Book 3: Aenir by Garth Nix

Aenir (The Seventh Tower, Book 3)
Having left their bodies behind, Tal and Milla are now in Aenir, the realm of spirit and magic, to retrieve the magical Codex which will help Tal to find his brother and father and determine the course of their world.  In Aenir, they fight off a variety of magical beasts, and gain the storm shepherds as their spirit shadows.  At the end of this book, they once again face their enemy, the Shadowmaster Shusin and find that he is even stronger and stranger than before.

The Seventh Tower book Two: Castle by Garth Nix

Book Cover

On a quest to get a sunstone for Milla's ship and a Primary Sunstone for Tal, the two of them cross the ice fraught with dangerous creatures to reach the Castle.  Assisted by a map drawn by another Chosen who had also been outside of the Castle, Tal and Milla barely survive and get into the Castle only to be hunted by Sushin and his cohorts.  With Tal's crazy Great Uncle Ebbitt's assistance, Tal and Milla escape the Pit and the Hall of Nightmares and go to get the Codex, which Great Uncle Ebbitt says will help them to find Tal's missing father and brother and help to solve some of the mysteries of what is going wrong in the Castle.  The Codex, according to Great Uncle Ebbitt, is most likely in Aenir, the shadowland...

The Seventh Tower book 1 The Fall by Garth Nix

Book Cover

In this first book of The Seventh Tower series, we meet 13 year old Tal, one of the Chosen, who is educated in how to use the sunstones in a world that is enshrouded in darkness.  Tal's father has mysteriously disappeared, his mother is gravely ill, and he must obtain a new Primary Sunstone in order to care for his family.  Having failed in his attempts to gain a Primary Sunstone by asking his relatives, who scorn him, and entering in an Achievement contest, only to be thwarted by the Shadowmaster Shusin, who obviously has a grudge against him, Tal seeks to steal a Sunstone by climbing the tower above the veil, out of the darkness into the sunlight.  Having escaped capture, he is blown away by strong winds to the world outside of the castle, which he did not know existed and meets Milla, one of the Icecarls, a people who he also did not know existed.
Thus begins their quest and adventures together.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Before I Go To Sleep: A Novel by S. J. Watson

Before I Go to Sleep: A Novel
Do NOT start reading "Before I Go To Sleep" in the afternoon like I did because you will NOT be able to go to sleep until you finish reading it. 
I received an advance reader's copy of this book to review in the mail yesterday and picked it up and started reading it yesterday evening.  It was interesting, but then we had dinner and took the kids out for an evening swim and it was 9:30 before I really started reading again.  At 11:30 I was halfway through the book and I told my husband I could not go to sleep until I finished it.  He did not believe me.  He should have known better.  At 12:45 am, I finished the book and could go to sleep. 
This book is an amazing psychological thriller!
Every day, Christine wakes up and does not know where she is.  She looks in the mirror and does not recognize herself, expecting to see herself at least 20 years younger.  Taped to the mirror are photos of herself and a man with labels to indicate that the older woman she sees in the mirror is indeed herself and the man she awoke with in her bed is her husband Ben.  Every morning Ben tells her that she has amnesia from an accident that she was in many years ago and that she forgets everything when she sleeps.
She receives a call on a cell phone, a device that she does not recognize since they did not exist 20 years earlier when she lost her memory, from her doctor, who tells her that she is keeping a diary in order to try to retrieve her memories and overcome her amnesia.  Her diary documents a smattering of memories - bits and pieces that have come to her on various days, that she has written down, although each and every morning, she awakes not knowing anything again.  By reading her diary, some of her memories return, and she begins to wonder why her loving husband, Ben is lying to her about many things.  Is he lying to protect her, or for some more nefarious reason?  The plot twists and is not what I was expecting.
This is an intense book, and I totally recommend it!  I think it could make a great movie too.
I am glad that I got an advance copy to review - it is just amazing!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

the Yggyssey: How Iggy Wondered what Happened to All the Ghosts, Found Out Where They Went, and Went There by Daniel Pinkwater

The Yggyssey: How Iggy Wondered What Happened to All the Ghosts, Found Out Where They Went, and Went There
So, apparantly I have gone and read another book that is a sequel without reading the book that comes before it again.  That is ok, you don't have to have read the prior book to enjoy this one.  Written for children in grades 4 to 9 or so, this is a cute and funny book about Yggdrasil Birnbaum who lives in a haunted hotel and goes on adventure to find out where her ghost friends have been disappearing to.  Set in LA in the early 1950s with the ghosts of Rudolph Valentino, LaBrea girl , Chase, the ghost bunny, and many others, this book is full of Pinkwater's highly descriptive fun and nonsense.  I personally enjoyed it a lot, but I think that a lot of the puns and humor may be about things that 4th to 9th graders have no knowledge of and so they may miss some of the humor. 

Saturday, July 23, 2011

so, I saw a door standing in the middle of a field (this one is not a book review)

As I drove around behind the bank to go through it's drive-through service area, I noticed a door standing in the field behind the bank. It immediately piqued my curiosity as thoughts of fantasy novels where people step through doorways in the middle of nowhere into other worlds, realms and dimensions flooded my mind. Fairly certain that this door did not lead to another dimension, and not recalling having seen this door during previous banking trips, I remained curious about it's presence standing in the field behind the bank. So, after making a deposit at the drive-through, I drove to the edge of the parking lot to take a closer look at the door standing in the field.
Then, I saw that the door was in a wooden frame - about the size of an outhouse, and it looked like the type of door one would see inside a house - painted white, with inset pannels. Curiouser and curiouser, I noticed what lay beyond the door - not through it, but beyond it to the left - a large vegetable garden. Wondering if the garden belonged to one of the home owners whose fenced yards backed up to the field, or to the church whose parking lot bordered the field, I parked, and walked out to see what the door was all about and to look at the garden. The door, as I said, was set in a wooden frame and the frame made a box around some metal boxes within it. It was a double door - but still the width of a regular door, and the two pieces of the door were padlocked together which at first seemed odd because there is empty space around the door and you can just reach around the door to touch what is within if you want to. As I drew closer to the door, I saw why it is padlocked and why it does not matter that you can reach around into the space behind it if you want to. You would not want to reach inside because the metal boxes inside of the framework are beehives.
I then walked around the beehives and the bees flying around them, behind the door and on to the garden. It is fenced and has 10 raised garden plots in frames of wood each one fenced individually, one with a mesh tent over it to keep birds out. There are water hoses and some jugs of water and lots of veggies growing there. Still wondering who it belonged to, I returned to my car past the beehives behind the door standing in the field which had originally evoked my curiosity. When I reached my car, an elderly man drove up and stopped next to it - and he told me about the garden. It is a CSA garden run by the church, approved and assisted by the city and there are quite a few others in the city.  I returned a few weeks later with my youngest daughter who thought it reminded her of Monster's Inc. 
Here are some photos:

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Troubletwisters by Garth Nix and Sean Williams

Twelve year old twins Jack and Jaide receive a strange letter from Grandma X, whom they had never heard of before, and their house comes crashing down at the beginning of this children's fantasy adventure.
My 12 year old son read this before I did and when he was halfway through the book I asked him what it was about and he said he could not tell yet.  Now I know why.  This is a fun, fast paced adventure, but this entire book is just the introduction to the series, which has yet to be written and published.  Jack and Jaide are Troubletwisters, twins who have the powers to become Wardens who help to guard the world from The Evil.  In this first adventure The Evil animates insects, rats and dogs to attack the twins who learn that Jack can travel in shadows and Jaide can harness the winds. I think it will be a good series and we look forward to reading it.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Room by Emma Donoghue

Room: A Novel
This is a creepy story told by Jack, the 5 year old son of his Ma, with whom he has lived for all of his life in an 11 x 11 soundproofed, fortified shed that is their prison, where Ma has been for 7 years since she was kidnapped by a man who we only know as "Old Nick". 
Jack has never known anything in his life except the room in which he lives and he thinks that everything he sees on tv - all of the world outside of the room exists only within the tv and that only room, he, Ma, and Old Nick, who visits Ma at night while Jack is supposed to be sleeping in the wardrobe, are the only real things in the world.
Ma has taken good care of Jack and his days are filled with fun things to do with Ma.
But some days, she is "Gone" and does not get out of bed and Jack has to take care of himself. 
This story is told well from Jack's perspective and we learn from him how scarey and strange the outside world is to a 5 year old who has only known room for all of his life. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

I Am Legend
Robert Neville is the lone human survivor of a plague that has turned everyone else into vampires.  He fortifies his house with garlic and has a generator and manages to survive and try to decipher what the cause of the vampirism is.  Deducing that the "vampirism" is caused by a bacteria that was spread by spores, he sets out to find a cure...
The book starts out more interesting than it ends. 
And there are other short stories following it in the book. 
I did not realize that and could not figure out what had happened and how those "chapters" related to the first part.  I quit reading the short stories after reading the first few and realizing that they are totally unrelated to the I Am Legend story.

Slaughter-House-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Well, think a big part of what makes this an important, powerful classic was the time in which it was written, during the Vietnam War  when the anti-war message was big news, although according to this book, time does not really matter, especially to those familiar with the planet Tralfamadore. 

I am aware that this book used to be taught in high schools, probably due to the political climate and relevance and controversy at that time.
The fact that the book reads like the author was on drugs when he wrote it may also have been part of it's appeal since that was also a time period when drug usage was seen as a cool, anti-establishment, popular cult phenomenon.

Sometimes I wonder how and why certain books are chosen to be taught in schools and why they keep on teaching them.  Is it just because someone decided to teach the book and created teaching materials for it so everyone else just uses it and follows suit because someone else liked it and it is easy since there is already created teaching material to go with it?   Some books have been required reading in schools for years and kids hate them and don't read them; they just watch the movies and read the Spark Notes.  I once substitute taught in a high school class that was reading Frankenstein.  I asked them if any of them had actually read the book and if they liked it.  Not one student had read it and they all hated it.  I taught them how to B.S. their way through writing a paper about a book they had not read and how to skim through and find important sounding quotes from the book for the assignment they were completing.  I learned that was possible from my daughter who was in high school at the time and made excellent grades in English class and never read novels that she did not like, but wrote very well about then nevertheless. 

Slaughterhouse Five is about Billy Pilgrim who travels in time between WWII and other points in time, having been abducted by aliens called Tralfamadorians who taught him that time always exists and they travel around in it. The nonsense part of this book is very descriptive and well written and reminds me a bit of the writing of Daniel Pinkwater.  Vonnegut really did witness and survive the bombing of Dresden and he does manage to showcase it's horrors in a unique way in this book.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Rashi's Daughters Book I : Joheved by Maggie Anton

Rashi's Daughters, Book 1 by Maggie Anton

Set in Medieval France in the 1000s, this book is a fiction love story about Rashi's eldest daughter, who the author calls Joheved.  Salomen ben Isaac, known as Rashi, is the most famous Jewish commentator of the Bible and Talmud. I usually find romance novels rather dull because they tend to all tell the same story, but this book successfully combines wonderful historical fiction about Rashi and the Jewish religion in France in the middle ages and the lifestyle of the people along with the romance story.
There are some interesting religious facts woven into this story.  For instance, I found it interesting that when the Joheved, and her sister Miriam were betrothed, they were considered married, although they were too young to marry at the time and did not actually marry their husbands for a year or longer after the betrothals.  I have heard that was the custom also in Biblical days and so, Joseph and Mary were really considered to be married once they were betrothed even though they had not had a wedding yet. 
There are other interesting characters and plots in this book as well and I really enjoyed it very much. 
I want to read the other two books in this series, but my public library does not have them.  I am going to see if they can get them on an inter-library loan.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating

While bedridden, with a mysterious illness, the author of this book was given a pot of violets and a little snail that her friend had found while digging up the violets in the woods.  With nothing else that she could do, Elisabeth spent time observing the snail and soon had someone create a terrarium for it as a more proper home.
This book is well written and filled with quotes from other sources about snails.  Who knew so much study had been dedicated to snails?  It also is filled with Elisabeth's musings about her illness as she misses the normal active life she used to lead.
Did you know that there are such things as microscopic snails that are blown about in the air?  It kind of creeps me out that we could be breathing in snails!  Which also brings to mind the "Inside Ralphy" episode of "The Magic School Bus". 
I was touched by the fact that the presence of a snail to watch helped Elisabeth to get through a year of her debilitating illness.  She shares her thoughts and her later research on snails in an interesting, lyrical book.

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

The complete subtitle of the book is: “This is a story about a mother, two daughters, and two dogs. This was supposed to be a story of how Chinese parents are better at raising kids than Western ones. But instead, it’s about a bitter clash of cultures, a fleeting taste of glory, and how I was humbled by a thirteen-year-old.”

     From the exerpts that I had read from this book online, I was prepared not to like it and not to like Amy.  However, I really liked the book.  It is a well-written, open and honest sounding memoir.  Amy tells how she is raising her children in what she calls the Chinese way, which she feels is greatly superior to the lazy Western way of raising children.  Her younger daughter, however, rebelled completely at the age of 13 which made Amy have to re-think her parenting techniques and compelled her to write this book.
I think that Amy wrote it to try to justify to her girls how she raised them and to try to tell them how much she loves them and that she thinks she is acting this way to help them to reach their potential.
    Most Western parents will find some of the things that Amy has said to her children and some of the things that she has made them do rather horrifying. She has micromanaged her daughter's lives and screamed at them to force them to practice piano and violin. Even when they travel, she finds places for them to practice their instruments and often also finds tutors to tutor them in practice sessions there as well.  She once refused to accept hand made birthday cards from her daughters telling them that the cards obviously had taken very little effort to produce and were thus an insult to her.  The girls later made nicer cards for her which she accepted. 
     I think there are some very positive things about Amy's parenting style.  She is very involved in her daughter's lives.  She sat through all of their piano and violin lessons with them, learning everything the instructors were teaching, taking notes, making drawings sometimes and studied music on her own as well, in order to help her daughters be succesful at playing their instruments.  Her application of that, however, is what most people would find to be too much - screaming at her daughters, not allowing them to take breaks, making them practice for up to 6 hours a day or more. 
     I do think that Western parents and the US school system are too lax and we should raise our expectations some, more like the Chinese parents do because children are more capable than we give them credit for and our education system is far behind those in some other countries.
I don't, however, recommend screaming at children and degrading them and taking away all free time like Amy did.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Faith Club: A Muslim, A Christian, A Jew - Three Women Search For Understanding by Raqyna Idliby, Suzanne Oliver, and Priscilla Warner

The Faith Club: A Muslim, A Christian, A Jew-- Three Women Search for Understanding

I just finished reading this book and it has really made me think.  A lot.  I personally am a Jew - raised in the Reform Jewish religion, and I became a born again Christian 20 years ago when I was 27 years old.  So, I know about the Jewish and Christian points of view that are presented in the book.  I know very little, however, about the Muslim religion.  I read the books "Three Cups of Tea" and "Stones Into Schools" this year and they gave me more insight into the Muslim religion than I had before and this book has taught me even more.
After 911, Rayna, the Muslim mother in this book had decided to try to write a book for children about the connections between the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian religions, so she mentioned that idea to a Christian friend of hers - Suzanne, who then contacted Pricilla, a friend of a friend who happened to be a Jewish mother who was a writer.  I guess they never wrote a children's book, but this book is about their "Faith Club" as they call themselves and their discussions of the three major world religions that they had together and how their relationship changed all of their views of the three religions including their own personal religious views as they got to know one another over a few years. 
Interestingly, none of these three women are or were very fundamentalist in their religions.  Had they been, I doubt they could have had the relationship that they do.  To me, Suzanne an Pricilla seem to be pretty typical representatives of the Christian and Jewish religions as I know them.  I am not sure about Rayna since I really don't have any friends who are Muslim.  She talks a lot in the book about her difficulty in finding like-minded Muslims who are not fundamentalist and radical in their views which makes me think, sadly, that she may be more atypical than typical as a representative of her religion. 
I identify very much with Priscilla, because my Jewish background has highly influenced my understanding of God even though I am a born again Christian.  Like Priscilla, I am unsure if there is an afterlife, because the Jewish religion does not focus on or teach about that. I have long wondered how the Christian religion can claim to be the "fulfillment" of the Jewish religion when they focus so much on the afterlife which is not even a major part of the Jewish religion, nor is there a concensus on it as part of the Jewish religious beliefs.  Like Priscilla, I also have high blood pressure and expect to have my medication for that changed soon.
I understand the feeling of being a minority and the influence of the Holocaust. 
I enjoy the explanation of the Muslim religion that Rayna shares and Suzanne's journey to accept the other two religions.
I think that this is a very good book and I highly recommend it.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

After Ever After by Jordan Sonnenblick

After Ever After

Apparantly this book is a sequel.  I did not read the first book, but I enjoyed this one very much.  It is the story of Jeffrey Alper, an 8th grade cancer survivor as he survives 8th grade.  His best friend, Tad is also a cancer survivor, his older brother has run off to Africa to learn to play drums and "find himself", and Jefferey has his first ever girlfriend.  This book is well written.  It made me laugh and cry.  I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Un Lun Dun by China Mieville

Un Lun Dun

This book is like a bizarre cross between Alice In Wonderland and Pink Floyd's movie The Wall.  The main character, Deeba, is a 12 year old girl whose best friend, Zenna, has been having strange experiences in her life lately including animals staring at her and her face appearing in the clouds.  Together, the girls wind up in UnLondon,  an alter city to London - (I see a similarity to Mieville's book The City & The City) - which is a place where trash, lost laundry and other unwanted things from London wind up.  The inhabitants of UnLondon are strange and unusual and include a man with a pincushion head, a diving suit full of water and fish named Skool, and ninja trashcans called binjas. Together, Deeba and Zenna learn that Zenna is the shwazzy- the chosen one who is supposed to save UnLondon from the sentinent, evil Smog.  After Zenna is injured by the smog, and the girls return to London, Zenna has no memory of UnLondon at all, leaving Deeba to return and take her job over and save UnLondon. 
This is a fun and creative book and I enjoyed it very much.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Lunch Lessons: Changing The Way We Feed Our Children by Ann Cooper and Lisa M. Holmes

Lunch Lessons: Changing the Way We Feed Our Children

I thought this was just going to be a book about lunch recipes or something. 
I was suprised, however, to see that it is much more.
It goes into the history of the school lunch programs and tells about several schools and districts that have reformed their school lunch programs into truely healthy learning environments. At some schools, food is a part of the curriculum and the students plant, grow and cook some of their own food, and when they study different countries, the school cafeteria prepares and serves healthy, yummy ethnic food from those countries. Some school cafeterias no longer serve battered, fried mystery blobs or nachos w/ fake cheese stuff on them as entrees.  They actually serve fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables and milk and meats from local farmers.
I wish that all school lunch programs would be so healthy and wonderful. 
Sadly, with all of the educational budget cuts it does not look like that will be happening any time soon.  The author lists ways to be an advocate for your child's school lunch program and gives tips on green living.
The book also has some yummy recipes that I want to try out.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Mothers & Other Liars by Amy Bourret

Mothers and Other Liars

I read this whole book yesterday.  I stayed up way too late reading it because I had to finish it.  I could not put it down.  Ruby is raising her 10 year old daughter Lark, and is pregnant when she reads a tabloid article about a baby who had been kidnapped 10 years ago.  The photograph accompanying the article is of her daughter Lark, who she found in a rest stop drash dumpster 10 years ago.  Thinking that Lark had been abandoned, she had raised her as her own daughter, but now that she knows she had been kidnapped, she feels that she has to do the right thing.  Some parts of the story are rather unrealistic, but it is emotional and tender and had me in tears at times.  I enjoyed this book and highly recommend it.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The City & The City by China Mieville

The City & The City

I don't usually read mysteries, but this is a mystery set in a fantasy setting.
The main character is Inspector Tyador Borlu of the Beszel Extreme Crime Squad who is investigating the murder of Mahalia Geary, who apparantly was murdered in the city of Ul Qoma, which exists in the same physical location as Beszel, but, the citizens of both treat them as separate cities and they legally are required to "unsee" the other city and it's residents.  The murder victim had believed that there was a third city, Orciny, hidden in the "blind spots" between Beszel and Ul Qoma, that secretly and mysteriously controlled both cities.  Borlu investigates the murder and the belief in the city of Orciny and the relationship between Beszel and Ul Qoma as he untangles the crime that occured.  I found this book intriguing and a very good read.  This is the first book that I have read by this author and I look forward to reading others by him.