Monday, June 30, 2008

The Report Card

Title: The Report Card
Author: Andrew Clements

What it's about: Nora's this really smart girl in the fifth grade. She's, like, a genius, really, but she keeps it hidden so she won't be pressured into gifted classes. Then she decides to do something to prove that grades don't matter as much as some people try to make out: she gets an awful report card. From there on, her plan unfolds and spirals out of control in ways that she can't even imagine.

What I thought: Cute and witty. Nora's an interesting narrator because she's both smart and normal, and her commentary on events shows both of these things. The premise is interesting, too, because it makes a good point: are standardized tests and whatnot really the best way of measuring intelligence?

Overall: Clements is a good writer, and this is another success.

Pippi in the South Seas

Title: Pippi in the South Seas
Author: Astrid Lindgren

What it's about: Pippi Longstocking and her friends have adventures, and then Pippi's father invites her to come to the island in the South Seas where he rules as king. Pippi, Tommy, and Annika go to Kurrekurredutt Island and have more adventures there, all in the typical Pippi Longstocking fashion.

What I thought: Who wouldn't absolutely love the antics that Pippi gets up to? Even as an older reader, I still crack up at the baldfaced lies that Pippi will tell, ridiculous as they are, the stories she invents, and the simply ridiculous things that happen when she's around. And yet everything makes sense in its own way. That's the charm of Pippi Longstocking.

Overall: Maybe not my favorite of the three Pippi books, but still absolutely enchanting.

Most excellent! I may yet meet the quota for June. I have a novel picked out for reading tomorrow afternoon, so I shall apply myself for that and have it read in time.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Lights! Camera! Action Dog!

Title: Wishbone Mysteries #11: Lights! Camera! Action Dog!
Author: Nancy Butcher

What it's about: A movie is being made in Oakdale, and Joe gets roped into participating. While he's on the set of this movie about Oakdale history, mysterious accidents start occurring, and Joe decides to get to the bottom of things.

What I thought: Well, first of all, one thing I liked was the character interactions in this one. Joe is kind of a jerk to Sam and David, which brings some interesting conflict. The book referenced in this book, Time and Again, is also a really great novel, and it has good parallels to this mystery's plot.

Overall: A very good book for this particular series.

East of the Sun and West of the Moon and Other Tales

Title: East of the Sun and West of the Moon and Other Tales
Author: Collected by P.C. Asbjornsen and Jorgen E. Moe

What it's about: We've got twelve Norwegian folk tales in this collection: "East of the Sun and West of the Moon," "The Three Billy Goats Gruff," "The Husband Who Was to Mind the House," "The Lad Who Went to the North Wind," "The Princess on the Glass Hill," "The Giant Who Had No Heart in His Body," "The Blue Belt," "The Three Princesses of Whiteland," "Soria Moria Castle," "The Three Princesses in the Blue Mountain," "The Cat of Dovrefell," and "The Widow's Son."

What I thought: These tales are all really similar. Lots of repetition of things in threes, lots of youngest sons and youngest princesses, rings, wishes, and trolls. "East of the Sun and West of the Moon" is pretty interesting for having a female heroine, and it makes me want to read East as one of my next novels. "The Giant Who Had No Heart in His Body" was another one I liked. It had some neat elements, like the giant hiding his heart (something we also see in Paper Mario) and the prince befriending various animals who help him. I liked "The Blue Belt," too. "The Three Princesses in the Blue Mountain" is probably my favorite out of this collection, though, because of the world under the mountain. The whole collection, though, suffers from the traditional method of storytelling which focuses more on events than characterization.

Overall: A good collection of stories, if not the most engrossing.

A Wolf at the Door

Title: A Wolf at the Door and Other Retold Fairy Tales
Author: Edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling

What it's about: Stories include "The Months of Manhattan" by Delia Sherman, "Cinder Elephant" by Jane Yolen, "Instructions" by Neil Gaiman, "Mrs. Big: 'Jack and the Beanstalk' Retold" by Michael Cadnum, "Falada: The Goose Girl's Horse" by Nancy Farmer, "A Wolf at the Door" by Tanith Lee, "Ali Baba and the Forty Aliens" by Janeen Webb, "Swans" by Kelly Link, "The Kingdom of Melting Glances" by Katherine Vaz, "Hansel's Eyes" by Garth Nix, "Becoming Charise" by Kathe Koja, "The Seven Stage a Comeback" by Gregory Maguire, and "The Twelve Dancing Princesses" by Patrica A. McKillip.

What I thought: "Instructions" isn't really a story, just a collection of, well, instructions. Stuff to keep in mind if you find yourself in a fairy tale. Very witty and very keeping in line with the sort of stuff that I've known Gaiman to write. "Falada: The Goose Girl's Horse" is an interesting take on that fairy tale, but now that I've read The Goose Girl, I have to say I prefer the longer version. "Swans" was always a favorite of mine in this collection because of how it melds a fairy tale world with a modern one, references to magic and royal duties alongside Star Wars and a regular grade school. "Hansel's Eyes" I found pretty creepy but deliciously so. It's a great update to the old story. And I have to say that I just absolutely love "The Twelve Dancing Princesses" because it's at the same time so quintessentially a fairy tale and a more developed story.

Overall: A really great collection. Definitely worth picking up if you like fairy tales.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Drive-In of DOOM

Title: Drive-In of DOOM
Author: Brad Strickland and Thomas E. Fuller

What it's about: The Moonlight is an old drive-in theater in Oakdale, and it's planning to re-open. Joe Talbot, Samantha Kepler, and David Barnes, along with their canine pal Wishbone, are excited about helping to get the drive-in into shape. But not everyone is behind this plan. Someone is vandalizing the theater, and it's up to Joe and his friends to figure out who it is.

What I thought: Okay, first of all, yes, the title really does have "DOOM" in capitals like that. I find it kind of really hilarious. Also, this is a pretty good book. Like all the Wishbone mysteries, it has a lot of good research behind it, and I felt that this one also did a good job of making the characters come to life. Plus, there's a bit more danger and excitement than in some of the stories, so that helps.

Overall: Good entry to the series.

Moon Boy

Title: Moon Boy vol. 1
Author: Lee YoungYou

What it's about: So apparently, Myung-Ee is an "earth rabbit", a member of this tribe of rabbit people that used to live on the moon. So's Yu-Da, this one guy in her grade school. The two of 'em end up clashing a fair bit, and then one day Yu-Da disappears. Five years later, Myung-Ee goes to a new school, and who should be there but Yu-Da? However, he doesn't remember Myung-Ee. Also, he's being watched by members of the fox tribe, these fox people that like to eat moon rabbits. Um. And they're watching Yu-Da 'cause they need him for a special reason. Myung-Ee decides that she's gonna save him from the foxes.

What I thought: Despite the fact that the plot sounds absolutely ridiculous, the writing for this is really pretty great. It's a manga, by the way. The art is also good, your typical shojo fare. There are some really funny moments in here, though, and if you're into graphic novels n'at, I recommend giving this a shot.

Overall: Surprisingly good.

The Collected Alison Dare, Little Miss Adventures

Title: The Collected Alison Dare, Little Miss Adventures
Author: J. Torres & J. Bone

What it's about: Alison Dare is this kid whose parents are, like superheroes or something, and she gets into mischief a lot. In one adventure, she finds a genie, in another, she talks about her superhero dad, and in another, her family foils a museum heist.

What I thought: I wanted to like this, but I didn't like Alison. One of those types who doesn't care about the consequences for her shenanigans, kinda. Um... Also, this might've been the stylistic aim, but the whole thing was kinda cheesy, and there was no sense of actual danger. Eh. It was short, too. I'm not coming back for the next volume.

Overall: Pretty underwhelmed here.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Maltese Dog

Title: Wishbone Mysteries #6: The Maltese Dog
Author: Anne Capeci

What it's about: Mysterious pranks are targeting Sequoyah Middle School's basketball team, and it looks like the prankster might be Joe! Joe and Wishbone know that's not true, and they work to find the real culprit with a little help from the classic mystery novel The Maltese Falcon.

What I thought: Good amount of suspense, good characterization, fun story... A solid entry into the series. What else is there to say?

Overall: Pretty good.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Dear Mr. Henshaw

Title: Dear Mr. Henshaw
Author: Beverly Cleary

What it's about: It's basically the letters and diary entries of a sixth grade boy named Leigh. Through his letters to famous author Mr. Henshaw and the entries in the diary Mr. Henshaw suggests Leigh keep, we learn about Leigh's struggle to fit in at a new school and to accept the realities of his parents' divorce.

What I thought: Cute and surprisingly witty. There's not much in the way of a plot, but it's enough to just follow the development of Leigh's character. Fairly deep for a kid's book.

Overall: Good story.

Man, as much as I like Wishbone and books like this one, I can't wait for July so I'll have a fresh slate and be able to focus on longer novels! I've got The Shadow of the Wind and Ender's Shadow to work on, as well as some other novels.

Be A Wolf!

Title: The Adventures of Wishbone #1: Be A Wolf!
Author: Brad Strickland

What it's about: Wishbone jumps into the story of Beowulf, paralleling the Old English tale to the events he and his owner Joe are undergoing in real life. Joe loses his backpack while at a friend's house, and it's revealed at the friend's neighbor, a mean old lady, must have picked it up. Joe and Wishbone need to summon their courage and face this "monster".

What I thought: The writing in this, especially in the Beowulf sections, is actually pretty good. The Oakdale storyline is kind of predictable where it ends up, but it ends up being pretty touching.

Overall: Really a pretty fun read.

Tales of the Missing Mascot

Title: Wishbone Mysteries 4: Tale of the Missing Mascot
Author: Alexander Steele

What it's about: After a football game, someone steals the head of the mascot costume for Sequoyah Middle School's football team. Samantha Kepler is determined to get to the bottom of the mystery, with help from her pals Joe, David, and Wishbone.

What I thought: The concept of a "locked room mystery" is the driving force behind this tale, and the conclusion is actually not visible from miles away. As usual, this book has all the charm of a Wishbone story.

Overall: A pretty fun, if simple, read.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Haunted Clubhouse

Title: Wishbone Mysteries 2: The Haunted Clubhouse
Author: Caroline Leavitt

What it's about: Joe Talbot wins a clubhouse in a raffle, and he and his friends are super excited about it. Along with Wishbone, Sam, and David, Joe invites two other kids to join his club, Bobby and his younger sister Henrietta. Their club starts out fine, but mysterious occurrences start happening, leading some of the club members to think there's a ghost causing trouble. Joe has to keep a clear head and figure out the rational explanation for the hauntings, with the help of Wishbone and his friends, of course.

What I thought: Not a bad book. It's not especially exciting, but it's entertaining. The mystery is nicely set up, though.

Overall: Good, but nothing special out of the Wishbone mysteries.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Two Princesses of Bamarre

Title: The Two Princesses of Bamarre
Author: Gail Carson Levine

What it's about: So, there are these two princesses, right? Anyway, Meryl, the older sister, is very brave and outgoing, while Addie is shy and cowardly. When Meryl comes down with the Gray Death, though, Addie has to be the brave one and search for cure for the sister she's devoted to, overcoming her fears along the way.

What I thought: Addie's an interesting heroine. She's got some genuine character flaws, but at the same time she's not unlikable. The world of Bamarre is nicely developed, and the whole story has the nice feel of a fairy tale, a quest story, but it's also fresh since it's also not very obviously based off any particular story.

Overall: Fun, charming read, especially for fans of fairy tale re-tellings.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

To Sniff A Thief

Title: Wishbone Mysteries #1: To Sniff A Thief
Author: A.D. Francis

What it's about: So, this book stars the characters from the Wishbone television series. Wishbone and Sam share the spotlight in this book. There's a cat burglar in Oakdale, and after Sam is accused of one theft, she applies herself to finding out who the thief really is. With inspiration from the book The Amateur Cracksman and some help from Wishbone and her friends, she manages to save the day.

What I thought: With these stories, it's usually not too hard to figure out who the culprit is. However, the story is told in a fun way, and your interest is held by figuring out how the crime gets pulled off and how Wishbone, Joe, Sam, and David figure it out. It's also interesting to learn more about other mystery books, since one of the characters is always reading a mystery that holds the clue to their own case. This book has that particularly well integrated, too.

Overall: A short but fun read, especially for fans of the Wishbone series.

Also, I gotta admit that you'll probably be seeing a fair amount of Wishbone reviews coming up, since I have fourteen books to read yet this month and only nine days to do so!

The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray

Title: The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray
Author: Chris Wooding

What it's about: Thaniel Fox is a wych hunter, someone who hunts the creatures known as wych kin which plague London. While on a hunt, he finds Alaizabel Cray, a pretty girl who appears under odd circumstances. It is revealed that she's possessed by a wych as part of a secret cult's efforts. Thaniel, Alaizabel, and their allies have to stop this cult from dooming London and the world.

What I thought: Really a good read. Alaizabel is a good character, strong-willed without being spunky and tomboyish. Thaniel is kind of a predictable hero, well-written for what he is, but not really bringing anything new to the table. The language of the story is great, though. You really get a vivid picture of the world. Also, the plot is awesome. I mean, who doesn't love dark magic, human sacrifices, and all that jazz?

Overall: Great read. Check it out if you like historical fantasy.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Kiki Strike: The Empress's Tomb

Title: Kiki Strike: The Empress's Tomb
Author: Kirsten Miller

What it's about: So, Ananka and Kiki and the rest of the Irregulars are back for more adventures. So, Ananka's parents aren't too happy about how their daughter is slacking off from school, especially since they know nothing of her adventures and just think she's being a delinquent. So she's threatened with boarding school. Meanwhile, Oona has problems of her own, which stem from her father. There's also the giant squirrels that are committing robbery in the parks, a slavery ring, and a mystery involving ancient Chinese relics, including the excavated tomb of an empress. The Irregulars are having trouble trusting each other as secrets about in this book.

What I thought: Basically, more of the same awesome. A romance subplot, more dissent and distrust between the girls that needs to be overcome, plenty of Ananka's witty asides, and some really mysterious and gripping stuff. What's not to like? I'm just super excited for the next installment, especially considering the bombshell dropped in the last sentence. I mean, jeez, talk about cliffhangers!

Overall: Definitely a good read. Just make sure you pick up Shadow City first!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Princess Ben

Title: Princess Ben
Author: Catherine Gilbert Murdock

What it's about: So Benevolence, or Ben, is a princess. Her parents die when she's fifteen, and she's suddenly heir to the throne, with her aunt Queen Sophia as regent. Sophia's ultra strict and kinda mean, yanking Ben from her sort of wild life to the proper life of court and royalty. Ben hates this. Because of her disobedience, she has to live in a tower room, and she discovers a secret room with instructions for learning magic. Ben applies herself to this, and with her skills, she eventually ends up bringing peace to her kingdom. (Yes, vague, I know, but I'm not going to spoil the whole thing, you know.)

What I thought: So, Ben is definitely not your typical princess character. For one thing, girl's pretty fat, no bones about it. She loves to eat. Come on, how many times do you read about fat princesses? Also, she's not perfect, and the romantic subplot comes into play rather late. Plus, the evil aunt character turns out to not be as evil as she's originally painted, and Ben grows to understand Sophia's point of view. This book bills itself as not a typical fairy tale, and that's completely true. Nonetheless, it has its charm, and it's good if you're tired of stories where you can predict the whole thing.

Overall: Surprisingly good. Follows its own path and ends up the better for it.

So, I just need to review Kiki Strike: The Empress's Tomb, and I'll be caught up. On one hand, caught up is good. On the other, I need to read a lot to make sure I'm on track!

The Man with the Golden Torc

Title: The Man with the Golden Torc
Author: Simon R. Green

What it's about: Eddie Drood is a member of the powerful Drood family. The family keeps the world safe from evil supernatural creatures and whatnot. However, Eddie is suddenly on the run from his own family, as they've branded him a traitor. Now Eddie has to team up with a former enemy and discover the secret of his family.

What I thought: So, okay, Eddie's a good character, a likable narrator. And the writing for this is really pretty good. Nice pace for all the action. Major plus for the really interesting secret world of magic and the supernatural. The relationship between Eddie and Molly was really good. Took a turn for the cheesy at the end, but that wasn't even too bad, all things considered. I liked the mystery of the Drood family and their secrets, too.

Overall: Pretty good. I'm picking up the sequel.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Surviving the Applewhites

So I noticed something just now as I was updating. The Kiki Strike entry dates from Sunday, but I really posted it today. It's 'cause that was, um, when I started writing the review in Blogger, and I guess it posts it from the date when you start a saved entry. 'Cause this system of blogging has an auto-save feature for entries. So, yeah, whoops, some dates may be off.

Title: Surviving the Applewhites
Author: Stephanie S. Tolan

What it's about: Told from two points of view, those of delinquent Jake Semple and the rather normal E.D. Applewhite. The Applewhites are a family of artists. The father's a director, the mother's a writer, the eldest daughter is a dancer, and the rest of them are all talented, too. Except for E.D., who's not very artistic, but at least she has common sense and isn't a typical artsy type like the rest of her family. Jake Semple, meanwhile, has been thrown out of schools because he's a troublemaker, and staying with the Applewhites is his last chance before juvenile hall. He and E.D. butt heads frequently, but they learn to appreciate each other as the whole Applewhite family rallies together to stage a performance of The Sound of Music.

What I thought: I have to admit, when the theatrical aspect came into play, I started enjoying the book a lot more. Gotta say that I can definitely understand the artistic type, you know, the crazy ones. I'm a theatre major, after all, and I also hang around with writerly types. You totally get to know the scatterbrained artistic souls. So, yeah, could totally sympathize with Jake and E.D. as they lived with this family. There were actually a good bit of funny moments in this book, too, stemming from that, and most of the "life lesson" moments weren't done badly. This was a fun read, although it's not my normal genre and not something I'll probably read again.

Overall: Not a bad book.

The Star of Kazan

Title: The Star of Kazan
Author: Eva Ibbotson

What it's about: So the story takes place in Vienna around 1908, I think. Historical fiction. Anyway, the main character is a girl named Annika. She's an orphan, and she was found by two women, a cook named Ellie and a maid named Sigrid. These two work for three professors, all siblings, who share a house. Anyway, the professors let Ellie and Sigrid keep the baby Annika, and as Annika grows up, she has a good life. When she turns twelve, however, this is all shaken up by the arrival of a woman who claims to be her mother.

What I thought: This story is cute but not cloying. It remembers the past very fondly, painting a grand picture of Vienna in a peaceful hayday. The characters are all very nice, and you want to cheer for them. Annika's a good kid, but she's not some Pollyanna, which is good. You know, sympathetic, but with her share of flaws, too. And the story's neat because there's some mystery to it. The attention to detail is nice as well.

Overall: May be a children's book, but anyone can enjoy it.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City

Title: Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City
Author: Kirsten Miller

What it's about: Twelve-year-old Ananka Fishbein is an ordinary girl until she meets Kiki Strike and discovers a series of tunnels under New York known as the Shadow City. Along with Kiki and four other girls who form the group known as the Irregulars, Ananka will have to help save New York from a terrible threat.

What I thought: When I first picked this book up from the library, I thought, hey, it looks like an interesting concept, but knowing my luck and the way books for teen girls are usually written, it'll turn out to be insipid and dumb. Man, I was pleasantly surprised. Ananka is a clever narrator, and she's a good choice for the job, too. All of the Irregulars are well-developed characters, really. Kiki's interesting, too, and I think it's cool that she's not the narrator, as that lets her keep her mystique. The descriptions are really vivid, too, and detailed.

Overall: Amazingly deep for something that could have been shallow and stupid.

And I'm really behind on reviews, aren't I? I have read and need to post entries for The Star of Kazan, Surviving the Applewhites, The Man with the Golden Torc, and Princess Ben. So, yeah, I'll be getting to those. Soon.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Snow Crash

Title: Snow Crash
Author: Neal Stephenson

What it's about: Hacker and main character Hiro Protagonist lives in a futuristic America where by this point, there's only four things the country does best: "music, movies, microcode (software), and high-speed pizza delivery." Basically, he delivers pizza for the Mafia. On his last delivery, he gets a hand from a girl named Y.T., a Kourier who finishes his delivery for him. Hiro and Y.T. end up becoming partners of a sort, and they end up both working towards the goal of stopping a new computer virus that snow crashes people's minds.

What I thought: Any book that manages to combine cyberpunk with Sumerian mythology and does it well, that book has to be awesome. And Snow Crash, by that definition is awesome. It's an odd choice of a read for me, seeing as how it lacks the happily ever afters and true love that I usually like in stories, but, man, this book doesn't need 'em. It gets by just fine on face-paced present tense narration peppered with, erm, salty dialogue. There's also some sexual stuff. It goes with the story, so I could deal with it, but it's not something for immature readers. But, like, the mythology here is really deep, man, and it's pretty sweet how it all comes together. Plus, the America that Stephenson sets this story in is really interesting, with all its franchulates and Metaverse and stuff. This took me, like three days to read, and I was reading it constantly, too. It's definitely engrossing, and all the thinking you'll do will tire you out.

Overall: An interesting read, worth giving it a shot.

Also, sorry for totally failing at updating this. Snow Crash took me a fair while, and then I just sort of got a block when it came to reviewing it. I've actually already finished another book over these last two days, Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City, so look for that in the next day or so.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Goose Girl

Title: The Goose Girl
Author: Shannon Hale

What it's about: This story is a retelling of the fairy tale that bears the same name. Princess Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee of Kildenree is a meek girl who gets along better with animals than with people. When she is sixteen, her mother tells her of an arranged marriage with the prince of neighboring country Bayern. This marital alliance is for the good of Kildenree, as Bayern is a large and war-like country. Ani leaves for Bayern, uncertain of what the future holds but eager to finally be her own person. Accompanying her is her serving maid Selia and a guard named Talone. The journey ends in betrayal, and Ani must hide herself in Bayern until she has the means to confront the traitor who now poses as princess. To do so, she becomes a goose girl to the royal flock and learns about friendship, love, and what it means to be yourself.

What I thought: Well, I first read this book this past Christmas, once again in February, and now for the third time in June. Three times in about six months. I think that says a lot about how good this is. For one thing, the descriptions are beautiful, really painting the world of the story. Speaking of the world, it's a really developed one. The culture of Kildenree isn't too much touched on, but there are some nice developments that are mentioned in passing, and we learn a lot about the country of Bayern and its customs through Ani's work trying to fit in there. As for the story itself, it's a lovely adaption of the fairy tale, not afraid to change things up to make a more real story. Ani's an interesting heroine who changes quite nicely in her character development arc. Enna's also pretty well-developed as a character, which is good 'cause she stars in the sequel. Another plus is that while there's a definite romance in there for Ani, it's not a dominating part of the story, and it definitely doesn't play a sappy role in the resolution. I mean, it helps, but Ani does most of the work herself and with the help of her friends. And there's plenty of action, too, and life or death stuff. Really, this is an all-around great story.

Overall: One of my favorite stories ever.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Off-Season

Title: The Off-Season
Author: Catherine Gilbert Murdock

What it's about: D.J. Schwenk is back in this book which picks up a few days after Dairy Queen. Life's looking pretty good with D.J. She's getting along well with her school work, playing football, and having fun with Brian. However, pretty soon some misfortunes come along which challenge D.J. and force her to be stronger than she ever thought she could be.

What I thought: This book really shows how great an author Catherine Gilbert Murdock is. D.J. returns as our flawed but likable leading lady, and the character interactions are really interesting. We get to see D.J.'s older brothers and meet Amber's girlfriend, all of whom are interesting in their own ways. As far as D.J. goes, on one hand, she manages to deal with the obstacles in front of her; on the other, she doesn't, like, breeze through things, either. It's hard, it's a struggle, and we really feel this as we read. I just have to say that D.J. is a very realistic character who is enjoyable to read about. Also, her relationship with Brian takes some very interesting turns and never gets barftastically schmoopy, either.

Overall: If you liked Dairy Queen, you'll find this sequel just as good.