Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Eona by Alison Goodman

Eona, by Alison Goodman, begins where the first book, Eon, left off with the ten dragoneyes murdered and the ruling emperor, Kygo, being overthrown by his uncle, Lord Sethon whose coup was aided by Lord Ido, the last male dragoneye. Sethon fears Ido's power and has him imprisoned. Meanwhile, Eona, the first female dragoneye in one hundred years, has cast off her masquerade as a boy and discovers she cannot control her dragon power without the help of Lord Ido. Ironically she has to free him so she can learn to control her dragon and block the 10 grieving dragons that rush her when she links with her dragon. Emperor Kygo wants his throne back and needs the power of the two dragoneyes to get it. A love triangle between Eona, Kygo, and Ido ensue where Eona must learn who she can trust.

The action in the book is nonstop with a heavy dose of romance in the love triangle. The characters are complex and embody good and evil with only Lord Sethon being completely evil. The internal conflicts and plot twists make the story interesting and engaging. The writing is well done and Eona is a strong character who tries to do the right thing. The author does a nice job tackling eastern culture. I would have liked more exploration of what it was like for Eona to be female (after masquerading as a male for 16 years) in a male dominated society. Goodman does some when Eona is chosen as a naiso

This book is for an older audience than the first book, Eon, and has more sexuality, torture, and violence. While there is no sex, Eona controls Ido by tapping into the energies of his sexual side. It might be too confusing for younger readers because it happens when Eona and Ido enter an alternate, energy realm. There is a little swearing at the end which stood out because there wasn't any earlier in the book.  Fans of Graceling, by Kristin Cashore, will like this book.

Young Adult

:-) :-) :-) 3.5 out of 5 Smileys

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Rage of the Fallen by Joseph Delaney

In book 8 of the Last Apprentice series, Rage of the Fallen, by Joseph Delaney, Tom has landed in Ireland with the Spook and Alice where they intend to bind the Fiend who is the devil. Alice and Tom are bound together by a blood jar that protects them from the Fiend who wants to take their souls to Hell and torment them for eternity (that story is in book 4). When the blood jar cracks, their mission becomes more desperate as the Fiend is able to partially materialize before them. Ireland is a land of powerful magic and  Tom is being hunted not only by the Fiend, but a witch he thought he had helped Bill Akwright kill (book 5), Morrigan the powerful crow goddess witch, and mages who want to harness the power of the god, Pan, through an ancient ritual. Tom discovers an ancient and powerful sword that will aid him on his quest; plus, with the help of the witch assassin, Grimalkin, the three fight many adversaries in this action-packed horror story.

I don't like violent, horror stories but Delaney is an excellent writer with interesting plot twists and characters who struggle internally with the decisions they make. In this book, Celtic mythology is introduced and the Spook, who has been terribly upset by Tom's connections to the dark side, is less judgemental and not quite as black and white on the issue. At least he acknowledges when it has saved their lives and that the binding of the Fiend wouldn't have happened without the help of the dark witch Grimalkin. It doesn't make him happy, but at least he doesn't walk away. Alice's struggle with the dark side takes an intense turn in this story. She seems to be able to choose good when she is with Tom. I like how she represents a person's struggle with good and evil within themself. There are several symbolic images from Christianity used in the story. The goat that traps the essence of a god has a crown of thorns and must die at the hands of its enemies in order to be free just like Christ wore a crown of thorns and died on the cross unjustly. This seems to indicate the god represents goodness, but it isn't clear until the end of the story. There is also the Blade of Destiny that has eyes that cry tears of blood just as Christ sweat drops of blood as he prayed about his destiny on the cross. I might be way off on that one but it crossed my mind. The last Christian image is the way the devil had to be nailed to a rock through his hands and feet. Christ let his enemies nail him to the cross so he could defeat the devil. For the Fiend, it is a reversal of this. He must be nailed to a rock in order to bind sin versus Christ who set us free from sins. Interesting twist. Delaney was an English teacher before he became a writer and those teachers love symbolism - don't yah know ; )

I struggled the most with the violence in this story, but I sat with my eyes closed in "Saving Private Ryan" and parts of "Jurassic Park." If it doesn't bother you then you will like these books. I can't seem to put the books down even when a part of me wants to which is more of a testimony to Delaney's  good writing than anything. That said, there is a suicide, too many heads being chopped off, a human eating a chicken raw, a dead mans eye's pecked out by crows and a human sacrifice in an ancient ritual. The violence has picked up a few notches in the last few books making it more middle schoolish. The reading levels in the first six books are from 4-5; whereas the last two are in the 6's.

Reading Level 6.6

:-) :-) :-) 3.75 out of 5 Smileys

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Darke by Angie Sage

The castle has been overtaken by an evil darkeness that is spreading like the black plague, causing every living thing it comes in contact with to become comatose. Septimus must save the inhabitants of the castle and wizards marooned in the Wizard Tower who are fighting the darkeness in the action-packed 6th book of the Septimus Heap series.

Jenna and Septimus are not getting along. Jenna is frustrated because Septimus is so preoccupied with his upcoming Darke week test. He forgets to wish her happy birthday and he won't go take a look at the attic where weird things are happening. Instead, he's  thinking about his test where he must rescue Alther who was accidentally banished by Marcia to the Darke. Hence,  Jenna seeks help from Beetle and the two discover some ugly darke magic in the castle. By the time Septimus notices the dangers around him, the darke has not only taken over the castle and raised a Darke dragon, but his mom, Sarah, is swallowed by the evil as well. He has to rescue her now as well as Alther. He gets help from his very large family, Jenna, Beetle, Marcia, Spit Fyre and more, as he faces his daunting quest.

This book does not follow where book five left off, so don't expect the characters of Jim Knee and Syrah to take part in the action.  Jenna asserts herself more in this book and has a no nonsense attitude. It was particularly funny when she attacked her attackers. Jenna contemplates what it means to be a princess and the obligations that come with that title. I kept waiting for the witches cloak to play more a part in the story and I thought Marcellus should have elaborated more about past witch princesses. I wonder if this will be explored more in book 7? Septimus changes in how he views his brother Simon. Simon takes responsibility for his bad choices in the past and accepts its consequences even when they are unpleasant. Septimus has to decide if he'll forgive Simon.

Many parts of the book are fun such as Beetle using his wits against Merrin, and Jenna putting Marissa in a headlock, Spit Fyre fighting the Darke dragon, and Merrin swallowing the Paired Code. On the other hand, there were other parts of the book I thought were lacking. For instance, I thought the part where Sarah goes back into the castle to get the duck as being out-of-character. She wouldn't put her children at risk to do that. In all the books she puts her kids first and it didn't make sense. The story also has the source of darkeness coming from a cursed ring that must be destroyed in a magical fire that will melt it. This part of the plot follows Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and I would have liked a different way of destroying it. I thought what Marcellus did to Merrin as being out-of-charater too. I don't remember him ever being violent. Was he in the last book and I don't remember? I also thought the chapter called, The Pig Tub, was slow. I know the author was setting up for the next chapter when everyone is reunited but it didn't need an entire chapter on its own. I think it was to show Nicko as not being interested in Snorri but I don't remember their relationship from previous books and found it didn't move the plot along very much,  if at all. I also thought Septimus's rescue of Alther was anti-climatic. Tertius Flume just isn't much of an evil henchman. But these are minor issues with a fun, fantasy story. Harry Potter fans will enjoy it.

Reading Level 6.1

:-) :-) :-) 3.5 out of 5 Smileys

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Stories Julian Tells

This book has "disappeared" twice in my four years as librarian at this school. That's unusual in itself, but when the illustration on the cover is ugly and it still "disappears" then I know I have to read it.

The Stories Julian Tells, by Ann Cameron, is 20 years old and while it has a forgettable cover, it is a gem inside with terrific writing, characterizations, and plot.

Julian and his younger brother, Huey, get in trouble with their dad when they eat most of the pudding the three have made for their mom. After, the boys, along with their dad, order plants from a catalog for their garden. When Huey asks Julian what a catalog is, Julian makes up a story about invisible cats that live in them and who are released when the catalog is opened. I love the twist in this story and how the dad reacts to the boys fighting. I won't give it away. Next, they plant the garden. In a hilarious chapter, Julian wants to grow so he eats the leaves of a fig tree in the garden. His dad can't understand why the tree won't grow. The chapter on pulling teeth brought back memories for me and the last chapter ends with Julian making a new friend.

The book reminds me of early readers with episodic chapters that all tie together as a whole. There is repetition of vocabulary that is higher than early readers and some wonderful descriptions such as pudding that tastes like a "raft of lemons." This is a great story for readers who are just starting to read longer chapter books.

The parents in the book are presented as caring and loving but some readers might not recognize in the first chapter that Julian's Dad is a loving and caring parent. He might come across as harsh. For instance, when he's ordering the boys around to make the pudding I read it as playing a game to make cooking fun, but it could also be interpreted as shouting: "Stand back!... Pick up those seeds, Huey!... Sugar, Julian!... Wipe that up Huey!... p. 3) Julian describes how the boys love Dad when he laughs but he has wild black hair and when he is angry they "shiver to the bottom of our shoes" p. 2. This characterization is why the first chapter might leave some wondering about dad; he sounds wild and unpredictable when he's angry. However, that is not the case. In the following chapters it is evident that he is a loving, sensitive father.

A wonderful book that can be read over and over again. I just have to figure out how to keep it in the library. Scribes during ancient times would put curses on or in books and chain the books to podiums. I'll have to check into it ; )

Reading Level 3.5

:-) :-) :-) :-) :-) 5 out of 5 Smileys

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Heart of a Samarai

Manjiro, a poor fourteen-year-old fisherman, gets shipwrecked with four other Japanese young men on an island where they are rescued by an American whaling ship in 1841. Japan has had 250 years of isloationist policy where if a citizen comes in contact with a foreigner they cannot come back to their country because they are tainted. The Japanese sailors are in a fix when the whaling ship comes along. Do they starve to death on the island or do they hitch a ride with a bunch of barbarians?

Obviously, they choose the barbarians. While Manjiro's  companions stay separate from the crew and make no attempt to learn the language or work the ship, Manjiro is fascinated by sailing and whaling and he quickly learns the language and interacts with the crew. When offered an opportunity to travel to American with the Captain he takes it while his companions are dropped off at a Hawaiian port. In America, Manjiro goes to school where he has to learn to deal with bullies and acceptance. He lives in the U.S. for about 10 years before looking for gold in California. He is successful enough to travel back to Japan where he is imprisoned for years as a spy before policies shift and Japan decides to make contact with the world. Then Manjiro's language and knowledge of American culture becomes critical to the leaders in helping them open their world to others.

This book is written from a western point of view and I found some parts stereotypical, particularly from the thinking in the character Goemon. I found the book lacking in authenticity and understanding of Japanese culture. I would really like to give it to one of our students from Japan and get their view on it. I thought Manjiro sounded American in his thinking not Japanese. Also, Manjiro wouldn't have spoken as well as he did in the book, but it would be really difficult to write how someone acquires language at the age of 14. I just know from living in Asia that he wouldn't be that fluent with tenses and sentences on the whaling ship.  She had some short choppy sentences but then would switch to complete sentences, but these were minor occurences and didn't take away from the story. I did like how the author shows that Manjiro had to face prejudices from Jolly and the bully at school. It was refreshing to see that Jolly changed in the story. I also liked how the author writes about Manjiro being interested in a girl but how he overhears her talking about him and realizes that he has no chance with her being a foreigner. It is hard to be accepted as an outsider.

I thought the plot was rushed at times and covered some huge time periods. I also thought the bond between Manjiro and the Captain should have been established more. The Japanese are so intensely loyal to family that I found it unbelieveable that Manjiro would leave his family behind when he was the breadwinner and follow the captain. It would have been more believeable if he had no family. This is a true story so I wonder if this part was true or not. Sometimes the truth is harder to understand than something made up.

I'm not sure why this is young adult except that the killing of whales might be distressing to children and the vocabulary high. I thought the author handled the whaling well and Manjiro had sympathy for the magnificent whale. It is an interesting book and would be a good one to use for book club because there is so much to talk about in it. There is little violence and just  one small part where Manjiro thinks a girl is cute.

Reading Level: Young Adult

:-) :-) :-) 3 Smileys

Sunday, June 5, 2011


For second grader Reuben life is peaceful and happy in Oklahoma where his dad is a dance instructor and his mom a cook at the town cafe. All that changes when the 1933 Dust Bowl hits the town ruining crops and causing people to flee to other states. Reuben's parents lose their jobs and his dad almost loses his life in an oil fire. They decide to leave for Minnesota where Reuben's dad becomes a wingwalker for the circus and his mother cooks. Many of the characters Reuben meets are "different" and find happiness in being accepted by the other circus members.

This book has great details and is a slice of life back in the 30's when times were difficult. The tension comes from Reuben's fear of heights, job loss, danger of oil job, and danger of wingwalking. Reuben expresses and narrates the story from the viewpoint of a kid. At the end Reuben has to face his fears. The author does a nice job connecting the beginning and end so the reader comes full circle in the story. Some readers might find Reuben's narration boring - the voice isn't unique or strong.

My library reading level says 5.6 which I think is too high. Scholastic lists the reading level as 4.2 which is more realistic. The photos and story will appeal to third or fourth graders. It would be a good book to discuss fears, courage, and accepting others who are "different". I will have to try it as a read aloud and see what the students think of it.

Reading Level 4.2

:-) :-) :-) 3.25 out of 5 Smileys

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Turtle in Paradise

Eleven-year-old Turtle has not had an easy life being raised by her scatterbrained, single mom during the Depression. Her soot-colored, grey-eyes see the world for what it is while her mother has had as many different jobs as boyfriends.  Turtle copes by being tough and cynical. When her mother gets a job as a housekeeper for a rich lady that doesn't like children, Turtle is shipped off to her aunt whom she has never met in Key West, Florida. Turtle learns to love her new, extended family and have adventures with her cousins and grows to love her crabby grandmother who has a hard protective turtle shell like her.

Turtle sounds older than 11 and is quite funny using sarcasm. She's very direct and mature for her age, but then she's the one who keeps her mom together; not the other way around. I can see some readers thinking Turtle isn't believeable. I enjoyed the character and thought it was believeable considering the two live in poverty and Turtle has probably been taking care of herself at an age earlier than most children. I didn't find the boys' diaper gang believeable. Although it was funny, I can't see a group of boys taking care of babies. It is more likely that they'd be down at the docks with the boats.  I'm not sure why the author makes it obvious who the biological father is in the story to the reader but not Turtle. And then at the end there is no resolution with the father. But these are minor issues in a well-told, fun story.

Reading Level: 4.1

:-) :-) :-) :-) 4 out 5 Smileys

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Harmonica

Henryk doesn't remember his parents faces, but he does remember "their love, warm and enfolding as a song." Thus begins the story of a boy remembering the joy of being with his parents and singing "so off-key we could crack crockery." The family was poor and loved to listen to Schubert. One day Henryk's father came home with a harmonica and taught him to play it. Then the Nazi's came and "like a length of kindling in one stroke, they split our family." Ironically, the commandant at the concentration camp loves Schubert and Henryk plays for him. Henryk muses, "He worked us, beat us for no reason, without mercy. Yet he recognized beauty. I could not imagine how that could be." When the other prisoners whisper "Bless you," Henryk realizes that in this inhumane place his harmonica gives everyone, good and evil, hope; and so, he chooses to play his harmonica with all his heart.

The illustrations, by Ron Mazellan, are gorgeous. In the beginning of the story when Henryk remembers his family the color is warm and glowing. On pages 5 and 6, the lace curtain is blowing in the room while his mother hugs him and his dad looks on with joy. The movement and happiness is captured quite beautifully. It is one of my favorite pages along with the next one that shows a close up of the father and son's hands as Henryk's father gives him the harmonica.

While at the camp the colors shift to cool and are grim and dark, portraying the bleak surroundings. The commandant has a hat on one page with a skull on the brim. Another page shows Henryk playing the harmonica and surrounded in light while the commandant in front of a red backdrop listens to him with his hand over is heart and a blissful expression on his face, a bullwhip in his hand, and dogs at his feet. The white blackdrop bleeds into the red suggesting the music touching the evil and reminding the commandant of what was once good in life. On the page where Henryk wonders how the commandant can love Schubert there is a skull lightly painted in the background above the commandant. The boy is in the front and his striped pajamas look like prison bars but in front of the commandant as well as on Henryk. The picture suggests that while Henryk is in prison, so is the commandant whose life is hollow and bankrupt of all beauty. It is a powerful painting.

While this book is written at a grade 3 level the content is for grade 5 and up. It is a picture book that requires discussion and is not really appropriate for young kids. It would be a great mentor text for teachers.

Reading Level 3.6

:-) :-) :-) :-) :-) 5 out of 5 Smileys


A Warlock is someone who breaks their oath. In the book, Warlock, by Michael Scott, the 5th book of the series, The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, Sophie and Josh are going their separate ways with Josh following Dee and Dare and Sophie following the Flamels. Nicholas Flamel is dying and Sophie lets Perenelle use her aura to help him live. Sophie questions her loyalty to Perenelles and whines, I mean contemplates, how her life has changed so dramatically in one week and how she'd like to turn back time. That's one storyline. There are about 5 others going on with each chapter alternating from a different characters viewpoint. There's Scathach's mess with Joan, Prometheus, Saint-Germain; the evil foursome of Dee, Josh, Machiavelli, and Billy the Kid with an interesting twist;  Auntie Agnes and Sophie, the Flamels trying to save the world,  and more.  I thought the monster attacking was anti-climatic.

Scott is incredibly knowledgeable about world myths and he weaves that history in his storyline. There are lots of quotes from famous people. What I find that has gotten lost in the last two books are the main characters. They haven't changed and they say the same things. The minor characters have become more interesting and  the humor is less. Of course as they near the deadline of the world ending the author might be trying to make it more grim because the stakes are higher. I wish the main characters were more fleshed out, there was more humor, and the monster part drawn out more like the Scathach's adventure.

If you liked Necromancer, this book is similar. I checked this eBook out of my public library and will purchase it for the TAS library this summer. Look for it in August 2011.

Reading Level: Young Adult

:-) :-) :-) almost 3 of 5 Smileys