Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Book Review: Heap House

Title: Heap House
Author: Edward Carey
Genre: Middle Grade/ YA

About the book (Taken from Goodreads):
Clod is an Iremonger. He lives in the Heaps, a vast sea of lost and discarded items collected from all over London. At the centre is Heap House, a puzzle of houses, castles, homes and mysteries reclaimed from the city and built into a living maze of staircases and scurrying rats.

The Iremongers are a mean and cruel family, robust and hardworking, but Clod has an illness. He can hear the objects whispering. His birth object, a universal bath plug, says ‘James Henry’, Cousin Tummis’s tap is squeaking ‘Hilary Evelyn Ward-Jackson’ and something in the attic is shouting ‘Robert Burrington‘ and it sounds angry.

A storm is brewing over Heap House. The Iremongers are growing restless and the whispers are getting louder. When Clod meets Lucy Pennant, a girl newly arrived from the city, everything changes. The secrets that bind Heap House together begin to unravel to reveal a dark truth that threatens to destroy Clod’s world.

My Review:
There is something about this book that makes your brain hesitate. The absolute strangeness of it all is almost too much. The absurdity of the setting leaves you wondering if you can suspend your disbelief. Then all of sudden, you’re there. Pulled into Carey’s wonderfully peculiar world. You accept Heap House for what it is: ugly, creepy, and curiously addicting. 
Seriously, this book is weird! The best way I can describe it is: a mystery of peculiar magic set in a gothic fantasy world in alternative Victorian London. 
In short, the setting is intriguing, the story line strangely addicting, and the ending unsatisfying. There is a second book, but I’m still debating as to whether or not I want to be sucked into the series. 

Overall: 3.5 Stars.

Parental Note: Is this middle grade? It has swearwords and vague sexual references.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Book Review: Audrey (Cow)

Title: Audrey (Cow)
Author: Dan Bar-el
Genre: Middle Grade

About the book (Taken from Goodreads):
Audrey is a cow with poetry in her blood, who yearns for the greener pastures beyond Bittersweet Farms. But when Roy the horse tells this bovine dreamer that she is headed for Abbot's War, the slaughter house, Audrey knows that she must leave her home and friends sooner than she ever imagined. With the help of a whole crew of animals and humans alike, Audrey attempts to escape the farm she lives on--and certain death.

My Review:
As Agnes the cow would say, “Holy human!” What a fun book.
Audrey is a very original story told through an ever changing points of view. Both animals and humans add their bit to the story. Each telling what they think happened. This cleverly designed narrative leaves some things to speculation and hearsay as not every animal or human knows exactly what happened, but as the gaps fill in, the story builds with a surprising amount of suspense.
Audrey lives at Bittersweet Farms and that is exactly the kind of life she’s given. Just the same, this book manages to come across as fun and hopeful despite the dark subject matter (avoiding the slaughterhouse) and Audrey’s escape is both thrilling and hilarious. 
Warning: parents may find themselves raising a vegetarian after their child reads this book.

Overall: Four stars. Very original and full of humor, all the different character voices create an interesting narrative, but I did find myself occasionally wishing for a more fixed point of view.

Amazingly this book is based on a true story.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Top Ten Books In Verse

Ink's Top Ten Middle Grade Books In Verse

#1 Red Butterfly by A.L. Sonnichsen
My absolute favorite. Click HERE to read my review. 

#2 The Weight of Water by Sarah Crossan
Almost tied for first. Click HERE to read my Review.

#3 Love That Dog by Sharon Creech
Great for teaching poetry. Includes the original poems mentioned in the story in the back of the book.

#4 Heartbeat by Sharon Creech
Simple & lovely. Read my review HERE.

#5 Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
My review Here.

#6 Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

#7 Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse
Winner of the Newbery Medal (1998)
A Historical Fiction 

#8 Hate That Cat by Sharon Creech
So funny! A great follow up to Love that Dog.

#9 Witness by Karen Hesse
Historical Fiction

#10 Pieces of Georgia by Jen Bryant

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Book Review: The Weight of Water

Title: The Weight of Water
Author: Sarah Crossan
Genre: Middle Grade, Book in Verse

About the book (Taken from Goodreads):
Armed with a suitcase and an old laundry bag filled with clothes, Kasienka and her mother head for England. Life is lonely for Kasienka. At home her mother's heart is breaking and at school friends are scarce. But when someone special swims into her life, Kasienka learns that there might be more than one way for her to stay afloat."The Weight of Water" is a startlingly original piece of fiction; most simply a brilliant coming of age story, it also tackles the alienation experienced by many young immigrants. Moving, unsentimental and utterly page-turning, we meet and share the experiences of a remarkable girl who shows us how quiet courage prevails.

My Review:
This book deals with so many heavy issues and with such a light touch; it is truly amazing. Written in simple free verse, each line flows with imagery, emotion, and exquisite detail.

The main character Kasienka is an immigrant from Poland. She is thought to be stupid by her teachers and fellow students because of the language gap. And that’s just the beginning of her troubles. Everyday, Kasienka must deal with racism and hostility from her fellow students. If being excluded and bullied at school isn’t bad enough, home isn’t much better. Beyond their daily struggle with poverty, her mother is obsessed with finding her father; a man who left them years ago (and quite obviously to Kasienka, doesn’t want to be found).

Unlike so many books in verse, The Weight of Water is a full story; it’s not just poetry, moments, or “snap-shots” of Kasienka’s life. This book, despite how short it is, has a full well-rounded plot. 

Overall: Five Stars. An amazing story full of hope, beautifully written with intriguing well-crafted characters. 

Friday, May 22, 2015

Book Review: Brown Girl Dreaming

Title: Brown Girl Dreaming
Author: Jacqueline Woodson
Genre: Middle Grade, Memoir, Book In Verse
Awards: National Book Award, Newbery Honor Book

About the book (Taken from Goodreads):
Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world.

My Review:
When I picked this book up at the library, I was surprised to find it under the non-fiction category. It is in-fact, a memoir. A memoir written in free verse: what a beautiful concept!

Woodson writes with a deep sense of purpose as she takes you on this unique journey through her childhood. Each poem immerses you in a part of her life. You can feel, smell, and touch every moment. The poems run like little streams into each other, forming a river of words, through which Woodson’s childhood becomes a clear pathway to her future.

As much as I enjoyed this book, the sad truth is I probably would not have read it as a MG reader. There is a certain lack of “story.” Imagery, setting, and characters are all brilliantly crafted and flowing with purpose, but without a plot to pull me through, I don’t think I would have finished it.

Most of the people who seem to be enjoying this book are teenagers and adults, and I think that’s okay. It’s a story of such warmth and beauty that it should be read by all ages.

My Rating: Four stars.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Book Review: Red Butterfly

Title: Red Butterfly
Author: A.L. Sonnichsen
Genre: Realistic, Middle Grade Fiction, Story in Verse

About the book (Taken from Goodreads):
Kara never met her birth mother. Abandoned as an infant, she was taken in by an elderly American woman living in China. Now eleven, Kara spends most of her time in their apartment, wondering why she and Mama cannot leave the city of Tianjin and go live with Daddy in Montana. Mama tells Kara to be content with what she has … but what if Kara secretly wants more? 

Told in lyrical, moving verse, Kara’s story is one of a girl learning to trust her own voice, discovering that love and family are limitless, and finding the wings she needs to reach new heights.

My Review:
Kira’s questions are piling up: Why doesn’t her father visit? Why doesn't her mother leave the apartment? Why can’t she go to school?

Life has always been this way, but Kira wants answers. And, bit by bit, she’s finding them. Finally, just when everything falls into place, and the puzzle pieces of her life form a clear picture, it blows up in her face.

There’s so much hope in this story and so much love. This book re-defines what it means to be a “Mother.” Sonnichsen can put so much emotion in so few words.

Overall: Five stars. It is a must read!Written in simple but elegant verse, this is a poignant story, with heartbreaking characters.

P.S. Read the author’s note at the end, and you’ll understand why it is written so well!

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Book Review: Heartbeat

Title: Heartbeat
Author: Sharon Creech
Genre: Middle Grade, Book in Verse

About the book (Taken from Goodreads):
Run run run.
That's what twelve-year-old Annie loves to do. When she's barefoot and running, she can hear her heart beating . . . thump-THUMP, thump-THUMP. It's a rhythm that makes sense in a year when everything's shifting: Her mother is pregnant, her grandfather is forgetful, and her best friend, Max, is always moody. Everything changes over time, just like the apple Annie's been assigned to draw. But as she watches and listens, Annie begins to understand the many rhythms of life, and how she fits within them.

My Review:
Newbery Medalist Sharon Creech, author of Walk Two Moons, skillfully uses simple words and rhythmic lines to capture the story of a young girl finding her identity, while seeing for the first time both the painful and magical sides of life. Annie is 12 years old when her mother becomes pregnant, her grandfather begins to lose both his mental clarity and bodily strength, and her best friend, Max, becomes even more moody and distant. Annie must weigh her choices. Choosing between what she can do for others and what she must do for herself. 

Overall: Three stars. This book is short and lovely. It deals lightly with big issues using simple, but expressive language.

Other great books by Sharon Creech: