Friday, October 17, 2014

Book Review: Fly Away

Title: Fly Away
Author: Patricia MacLachlan
Genre: Early Middle Grade Fiction

About The Book : 
Lucy and her family make their annual trip to visit Aunt Frankie in North Dakota just as the floodwaters rise, threatening her home.  Author of the Newbery Medal–winning Sarah Plain and Tall (1985), MacLachlan writes with simplicity and clarity. The book has large type, and wide-spaced lines of text make this volume an inviting choice for readers who are beginning to read longer chapter books.

My Review:
Lucy’s whole family can sing, even her little brother Teddy, of whom no one else in the family thinks can even talk. Lucy can’t sing, but she has a secret too: she is a poet. Artfully written, simple and elegant, MacLachlan tells a story about family, secrets (good secrets!), and bravery.
This is a quiet book and some readers may find it boring as there is little drama and not much danger, however, I think there are plenty of young readers who are ready for stories with a little more substance, even if it means a little less action.

Overall: Four Stars. Great first chapter book for young readers. A short, simply told story full of meaning, and an excellent way to introduce a child to poetry.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Book Review: Under the Egg

Title: Under the Egg
Author: Laura Marx Fitzgerald
Genre: Middle Grade Fiction

About The Book (Taken from Goodreads): 
When Theodora Tenpenny spills a bottle of rubbing alcohol on her late grandfather’s painting, she discovers what seems to be an old Renaissance masterpiece underneath. That’s great news for Theo, who’s struggling to hang onto her family’s two-hundred-year-old townhouse and support her unstable mother on her grandfather’s legacy of $463. There’s just one problem: Theo’s grandfather was a security guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and she worries the painting may be stolen.

With the help of some unusual new friends, Theo's search for answers takes her all around Manhattan, and introduces her to a side of the city—and her grandfather—that she never knew. To solve the mystery, she'll have to abandon her hard-won self-reliance and build a community, one serendipitous friendship at a time.

My Review:
Theo doesn’t have a cell phone, she doesn’t “google” and she doesn’t have a nickel to spare. She wears repurposed hand-me-downs, lives in an ancient townhouse falling to ruin, and keeps chickens in the back yard. One of the best things about this book is how clearly I could visualize everything: Theo, her Grandpa Jack, the house, the street (and no, I’m not from New York), her Mother, EVERYTHING!!! Even now it is all as clear in my head as if I had a movie. 
How the author did this I am not sure, because the book is not the least bit weighted down by descriptions. There is the occasional lengthy description, but these are mostly about art, and perfectly done: 

“But at the center of that beauty was a kernel of pain and sorrow, like an oyster whose pearl began in the thorny prick of a grain of sand. The composition as a whole carried an unshakable sense of––what was the right word––melancholy? No, straight-up sadness.”   

Almost all the characters are fantastic: quirky, realistic, and well developed. Bodhi however, the daughter of two famous actors, is my least favorite. She’s just not as interesting as everyone else. Being fun, rich, worry-free and famous, she is the opposite of Theo in every way.  Plot-wise she works well and is a useful character, but I never felt like her actions or personality were particularly believable. She is the least organic part of the narrative.

Overall: Five Stars! This is just a really fun read all around. A fantastic combination of mystery, coming of age, and art history.

If you enjoy art-history mysteries, you might also like:
From the Mixed-Up files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler or
Chasing Vermeer

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Letter from Mrs. Ink

Dear Readers, I, Edwin Riddle, received this letter from Mrs. Ink on Monday:

Dear Edwin,

I am writing to let you know I have begun research on a new an exciting (though possibly “non compos mentis”) project. I have been in correspondence with a girl by the name of Lulu Evenstine. This possible lunatic swears that not only can she see fairies, but that she has been to “Fairyland.”
         After reading her first letter I thought her to be certifiably insane and quite possibly a raving psychopath. However, upon further correspondence, was convinced she was simply a bit loopy, nutso, or possibly “touched” as they say, but not wholly psychotic, as I first assumed.
         Now however, I am almost entirely convinced she is neither batty nor “off her rocker” and almost certainly telling the truth. She has sent me her diary as proof of this adventure to fairyland, and I have sent it on to you for validation. As you know, I am not a particularly accurate gage when it comes to deciding who is, and who is not “stark raving mad” so if you decide she is, in fact, as nutty as a fruitcake or mad as a hatter (or a March hare for that matter) I will discontinue my research immediately.


         Evelyn Ink
         P.S Good News! Scout has found me. How he escaped from those batty grammarians and that asylum, the so-called “Society of Eloquent English,” and crossed most of North America to find me, I guess we will never know!

         P.S.S Great job on the blog, it looks fantastic. I have included three book reviews for you to post this month:

Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald
Fly Away by Patricia MacLachlan
Lost Children of the Far Islands by Emily Raabe

Please Note: I, Edwin Riddle, have not yet had time to review said diary, but would like to point out that not only do I NOT BELIEVE IN FAIRIES (likely the poor child is suffering from some kind of mental disorder and clearly delusional) but also Mrs. Ink has stolen someone’s cat. Scout was returned to me last week and is currently curled up in the office windowsill.

This report was brought to you by Mr. Edwin Riddle
Of Public Relations, Personal Investigations, and Subterfuge

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Top Drawer Tuesday: Jane Austen

I did not realize quite how hilarious, shrewd, and sarcastic Jane Austen was (even after reading all six of her novels), until I took a look at some of her letters to friends and family. The quote above is a good one, but here are a few more witty remarks:

"You deserve a longer letter than this; but it is my unhappy fate seldom to treat people so well as they deserve."

"You express so little anxiety about my being murdered under Ash Park Copse by Mrs. Hulbert's servant, that I have a great mind not to tell you whether I was or not."

"At the bottom of Kingsdown Hill we met a gentleman in a buggy, who, on minute examination, turned out to be Dr. Hall -- and Dr. Hall in such very deep mourning that either his mother, his wife, or himself must be dead."

For whatever reason, after I read these last two, I can’t look at that poorly drawn, and the only known (authentic) portrait, of Jane Austen without seeing a smirk stuck up in the corner of her mouth. 

"Next week [I] shall begin my operations on my hat, on which you know my principal hopes of happiness depend."


Friday, October 3, 2014

Book Review: The Great Unexpected

Title: The Great Unexpected
Author: Sharon Creech
Genre: Middle Grade Fiction, Fantasy

About The Book: 
Humorous and heartfelt, this is a story of pairs—of young Naomi and Lizzie, both orphans in present-day Blackbird Tree, USA, and of Sybil and Nula, grown-up sisters from faraway Rook's Orchard, Ireland, who have become estranged.

Young Naomi Deane is brimming with curiosity and her best friend, Lizzie Scatterding, could talk the ears off a cornfield. Naomi has a knack for being around when trouble happens. She knows all the peculiar people in town—like Crazy Cora and Witch Wiggins. But then, one day, a boy drops out of a tree. Just like that. A strangely charming Finn boy. And then the Dingle Dangle man appears, asking all kinds of questions. Curious surprises are revealed—three locked trunks, a pair of rooks, a crooked bridge, and that boy—and soon Naomi and Lizzie find their lives changed forever.

As two worlds are woven together, Creech reveals that hearts can be mended and that there is indeed a gossamer thread that connects us all.

My Review:
First of all––I loved the characters!
Best friends Naomi and Lizzie are fantastically funny, well developed characters who fill each scene with hilarity and charm. Entertaining dialogue bounces off every page creating a quirky and whimsical read. There is a certain timelessness that encapsulates these two girls, their story, and the whole town really.  

The not so great... Chapters hop between Naomi and Lizzie in present day Blackbird Tree, USA and two grown up sisters in Ireland. The “Across the ocean” chapters are a bit jarring and disruptive (especially at first). I got used to them, but the story takes its sweet time closing the gap between the two worlds. It makes perfect sense by the end, of course, but I can’t say it is a seamless read and it’s quite pointless to try and flog yourself into guessing the connections. 

The ending wasn’t brilliant. I won’t give anything away, but I will say some aspects of the story were wrapped up just a little too neat and tidy (answers and money for everyone) while other parts were left completely unexplained, and those were the parts I wanted answers to!   

Overall: Four stars. This book was hard for me to rate. Too fun to be three stars, but the herky-jerky plot and poor ending makes me wonder if it really deserves four??? Oh well, four it is. I did enjoyed this book (mostly because the characters are hilarious) and I would have given it five stars but for the ending.  

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Top Drawer Tuesday: Emily Bronte

Fall, leaves, fall
By Emily Bronte

Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers, away;
Lengthen night and shorten day;
Every leaf speaks bliss to me
Fluttering from the autumn tree.
I shall smile when wreaths of snow
Blossom where the rose should grow;
I shall sing when night’s decay
Ushers in a drearier day.

Source: Poets of the English Language (Viking Press, 1950)

Friday, September 26, 2014

Book Review: Saving Lucas Biggs

Title: Saving Lucas Biggs
Author: Marisa de los Santos and David Teague
Genre: Middle Grade / Teen Fiction

About The Book: 
When thirteen-year-old Margaret's father is unfairly sentenced to death by the cruel Judge Biggs, she is determined to save him, even if it means using her family's secret-and forbidden-ability to time travel. With the help of her best friend, Charlie, and his grandpa Josh, Margaret goes back to a time when Judge Biggs was a young boy and tries to prevent the chain of events that transformed him into a corrupt, jaded man.

My Review:
The past and present collide in this rollicking time travel novel about how action and choices affect the course of one’s life and community. This book also touches on standing up for what you believe, combating evil without violence, forgiveness, and never giving up on the people you love.
Switching back and forth between Margaret in 2014 and Joshua in 1938, this book tells the story of a town called Victory. The story comes together chapter by chapter, until the two characters collide and take on Joshua’s future and Margaret’s present by attempting to change a string of events that will lead to the unjust death sentence of Margaret’s father and the future of Joshua’s friend, Lucas Biggs. 
Each character has a strong independent voice, but I have to say I was hooked at the first line, where Margaret is sitting in court, and has just heard her father’s verdict––guilty:
In the time it took a man to speak a single sentence, I discovered three things: there's a reason a judge's robes look like the Grim Reaper's, a blooming jacaranda tree can feel like a big slap in the face, and there is such thing as a silent scream.

Overall: Five Stars! I loved this book. I admit there are a lot of characters to keep track of and you must pay attention to the names and dates at the beginning of each chapter if you don’t want to keep saying, “Wait … what?” and having to flip back. The book deals with big issues like corruption, greed, and some of the harsh realities of adulthood like dreams lost, growing apart, and losing those close to you. The writing is beautiful––fully poetic at times, but not at all cluttery or flowery. The characters are believable and lovable.