Thursday, May 31, 2012

Blast from the Past

You know those books that you read as a child? Maybe someone was even kind enough to read them to you. When's the last time you read those books? I recently pulled "Where the Sidewalk Ends" by Shel Silverstein out of my closet and was like "Whoa! I used to LOVE this book!" I sat down and read a few of the bookmarked poems. It was a great little blast from the past. The nostalgia washed over me and I was beaming on my way to work.

Do you remember your favorite book as a child? When is the last time you read it? I bet if you pulled it out now all of those wonderful memories would swarm in front of you. It's such a great feeling!

Has this happened to you recently? What do you feel when thinking about your old favorites?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Review: A Spell for Chameleon [the first Xanth novel] by Piers Anthony

A Spell for Chameleon (The First Xanth Novel) by Piers Anthony
Pages: 344
Published by Random House Publishing, 1977
Borrowed from Andra Lyn of the Unabridged Andra Lyn

Goodreads Description:
Xanth was the enchanted land where magic ruled--where every citizen had a special spell only he could cast. That is, except for Bink of North Village. He was sure he possessed no magic, and knew that if he didn't find some soon, he would be exiled. According to the Good Magician Humfrey, the charts said that Bink was as powerful as the King or even the Evil Magician Trent. Unfortunately, no one could determine its form. Meanwhile, Bink was in despair. If he didn't find his magic soon, he would be forced to leave...

My Review:
I think the first thing I need to say about this book is that I have never read anything like it before. It’s really, just…WOW. I loved it.

Readers are thrust into the world of Xanth – a magical and dangerous world. It’s especially dangerous if you don’t have any magic, which is exactly Bink’s problem. Uh-oh. Bink (and you reading it) is obviously quite anxious about his lack of magical ability. Not only is Bink’s life in Xanth miserable due to the dangerous teasing of some of his peers, but also if he doesn’t prove his magical ability by his 25th birthday he gets exiled. You read correctly, exiled. Bink must cross the protective shield of Xanth into the non-magical world of Mundania. To prevent this from happening, Bink starts an incredibly dangerous journey to visit the good magician Humfrey. Humfrey may be able to tell Bink what his magic ability really is. The only problem is getting there isn’t easy when every part of nature is designed to attack you. Bink must be careful not to stand to close to a tangle tree lest he get strangled to death, or drink from a magic spring lest he be transformed into a fish forever. Really, there are a lot of ways to die in Xanth, but Bink manages to get to Humfrey’s castle in one piece. As it turns out, Bink does have magic, powerful magic, but since he can’t prove it to the king he is exiled to Mundania. Bink’s loyalty and fight for Xanth never stops even after his exile. The dangers of Xanth continue outside his exile. Bink really needs to discover his magic talent if he wants to protect his country, but can he?

Piers Anthony has crafted something incredibly witty. The first Xanth novel is nothing short of amazing. His writing is comical and even a bit ridiculous at times. Anthony’s wit made this book the most enjoyable. It is not your average hero on a quest story, although it resembles it nicely. The puns really make this novel.

The characters are like nothing I have read before. This novel may look like a hero on a quest story, but often the hero is undefined. When Bink has to defend his beloved country against a seemingly evil power, the protagonist becomes confused--is it Bink, is it the supposed evil force he his preventing, or could it even be some hidden magic that is putting everything in its place. I think Anthony’s confusion of good and evil was central to this book. There are many things going on beneath the surface of this book that makes me want to even read it again right now. I’m not certain how Anthony intended readers to interpret this however, especially among such comical writing. This may represent a problem, or perhaps I a missing the point. I’d actually really like to develop my thoughts on this aspect of the novel a bit. Have you read it? What do you think of the blurring of good and evil?

Something I read a lot of in other reviews was Anthony’s sexist nature. I did notice that the novel lacked a true feminine hero. However, this really did not disturb my reading at all. Agreed, his failure to understand women was a flaw of his. However, this particular detail did not ruin the novel for me. I think there are a lot of redeeming qualities to this book. On that note, I would love to discuss these thoughts further. There just is not enough room here to say all that I would like to, so leave a comment and I’d be happy to chat about this issue sensitively.

One more thing, the magic in this book is everywhere. EVERYWHERE! Really, I was enthralled. If you like magic read this book. There is your traditional magic such as basilisks, dragons, and harpies. But then, Anthony gets creative and invents magic in unlikely ways; there are fabric plants which produce clothes to wear, grass that binds you in your sleep and devours you, and even the dreaded wiggles that cause catastrophe by zapping invisibly from one place to the next and impaling anything in their way. There is so much magic in this book, it’s like the book itself is magic.

There is so much to love about this book. I can’t wait to check out the rest of the series.

I give this book a four out of five foxes. It follows all the traditions of magic and quest, but then twists them slightly in places for a comical and even satirical effect. This is a magical book and I am hoping the rest of the series is just as magical. I was initially confused by the blurring of good and evil in the novel, but am convinced it is part of Anthony’s scheme to redefine the protagonist and to question interpretations of what is power. Also, the issue of sexism really can’t be ignored. While I don’t find it a severe flaw to the reading of this novel, it had its moments of abrupt crudeness.  I hope you will check out this novel and tell me your thoughts. There really is a lot going on in this novel, and it is definitely worth reading.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Review(ish): When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

**I forgot the image when I first published, hence the update

Review(ish): When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
199 pages
Published by Wendy Lamb Books, 2009
Source: novel read for class

This is a book that I read for my Children’s Lit class this spring semester. It’s been a little bit since I read it, but I keep thinking about this story and wanted to share a little blurb about it here.

Goodreads description:
Four mysterious letters change Miranda’s world forever.

By sixth grade, Miranda and her best friend, Sal, know how to navigate their New York City neighborhood. They know where it’s safe to go, like the local grocery store, and they know whom to avoid, like the crazy guy on the corner.

But things start to unravel. Sal gets punched by a new kid for what seems like no reason, and he shuts Miranda out of his life. The apartment key that Miranda’s mom keeps hidden for emergencies is stolen. And then Miranda finds a mysterious note scrawled on a tiny slip of paper: 

I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own.
I must ask two favors. First, you must write me a letter.

The notes keep coming, and Miranda slowly realizes that whoever is leaving them knows all about her, including things that have not even happened yet. Each message brings her closer to believing that only she can prevent a tragic death. Until the final note makes her think she’s too late.
My blurb:
When I was assigned to read this book for class, I was already reading another book for a different class and struggling to keep up in some of my other classes. I honestly thought this one just one book I would have to skim or not read altogether, which is not something I like doing. When my classmates began discussing the book in my next class, I really didn’t feel compelled to read it. They talked about time travel, and how the setting was only set on a three-block radius. Also, the main character’s name was Miranda, which for whatever reason I just thought sounded funny. Please don’t ask me why. It was silly, I know. However, I loved my professor’s choice of novels for all of the class, and I decided to just take a peek at the book. I ended up finishing it one sitting, which is uncommon for my hyperactive self.

When You Reach Me really embraces the life of the growing child. I think Stead was spot on when dealing with the struggles of children around the age of eleven. She showed the difficulty of making and keeping friends, she even discussed the relationships one builds with adults at that young age and how important they become. When reading, I remembered being that age and I completely sympathized with the characters. I even related with Miranda on a certain level in my current situation; through Miranda, Stead addresses the complexities of making new friends and understanding people who are different. Stead also addresses one’s self-consciousness of his or her class, and other complex issues such as racism. This book has so much going on it that makes it a worthwhile read for any age group, but it is especially comforting and challenging for children who can relate to Miranda and her friends.

Since it has been some time since I read this story, I will not be making this a detailed review. I just wanted to share this novel with anyone who is looking for something new to read. This book will NOT disappoint.

I would give this book a five out of five foxes. The plot and characters are almost real to me. And, like I said, I haven’t stopped thinking or talking about this story since I read it months and months ago. Oh! And did I mention this book won the John Newbery Medal for 2010? Way to go Rebecca Stead!

For those of you who have read it, I have an analytical question I would like to share with you. I did this for homework, but ended up writing a paper on it. Since I have written that paper, I don’t want to let the subject drop and would just love to discuss it further with anyone else who has read the story or plans too. Here is my question:
In Rebecca Stead’s novel When You Reach Me, how are cycles employed? The cycle of the key, first hidden in the hose, then stolen, then gifted to Richard parallels the relationship of Miranda and Sal, which was falling apart before Miranda even knew it, and then healed. What is the significance of this cycle and how do each of the characters mature from it? What does Stead say about cycles and things that had been lost? Where else are cycles found in the story? How are they different from each other? How are they similar to the cycle of the key? What do these similarities and differences argue about the stages of life?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Review: Bink and Gollie by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee, illustrated by Tony Fucile

Review: Bink and Gollie by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee, illustrated by Tony Fucile
Published by Candlewick Press in 2010
Pages: 81
Source: I purchased this book for my Children’s lit class

Goodreads Description:
Meet Bink and Gollie, two precocious little girls — one tiny, one tall, and both utterly irrepressible. Setting out from their super-deluxe tree house and powered by plenty of peanut butter (for Bink) and pancakes (for Gollie), they share three comical adventures involving painfully bright socks, an impromptu trek to the Andes, and a most unlikely marvelous companion. No matter where their roller skates take them, at the end of the day they will always be the very best of friends. Full of quick-witted repartee, this brainchild of Newbery Medalist Kate DiCamillo and award-winning author Alison McGhee is a hilarious ode to exuberance and camaraderie, imagination and adventure, brought to life through the delightfully kinetic images of Tony Fucile.

My Review:
This story, written like three smaller stories, is about two friends whose imagination allows them to enjoy their friendship and go on mini adventures together. The two are quite hilarious and caring at the same time.

Bink, the younger of the two friends is full of wild notions and demands Gollie’s attention. Her energy is contagious throughout the pages. Even her appearance was energizing. Her hair stands in every direction and her mismatched clothes and socks set her as the comical character. Bink is the initiator, she always devising new plans and creates excitement in the most mundane occurrences such as buying a pair of socks.

Gollie, on the other hand, is much more reserved. She is the mature one of the pair and appears more stable than Bink; She even looks after Bink in an older-sister sort of way. They make a great pair. Gollie is taller than Bink, has straight brown hair that is topped off cleanly with a bow. Her appearance, like Bink, suggests the type of character she is. Each girl has a real character flaw; Gollie is a tad controlling while Bink is stubborn. I was glad to see these characters in a children’s story because they were people I already knew and I’m sure children could relate to these qualities. I’ve worked in daycare, and I know children do NOT always get along.

As for the plot, it was a laugh fest. From buying outrageous socks, climbing the Andes Mountains, and ice-skating with a goldfish, the two friends are impossibly hilarious. What I love about this story is that Bink and Gollie’s friendship isn’t just a wacky adventure all the time. They have their disagreements and real struggles.

Also, DiCamillo and McGhee do not shy from a mature voice just because it is a children’s book. I think this is necessary to challenge children. For example,
“And I’ve removed one of my outrageous socks,” said Bink. “It’s a compromise bonanza!”
This book is the best friendship story I think I’ve ever read.

One more thing I would like to comment on is the story’s illustrations. Fucile did an amazing job with the illustrations in this story. Since the two friends are the only characters in the story, they are depicted in their very own world. It is sketched and left in black and white with gray shading. Bink and Gollie are almost always depicted in color along with any element in the story that is directly related to the two of them. Fucile’s use of color emphasizes the energy the two girls have together and of the imagination that bodies forth throughout the novel. On page 22 Fucile depicts the two girls as separate using borders around them. This is when the two were in dispute. Beneath this drawing however, the girls are drawn completely gray and the borders are lost. I think Fucile really understood the theme in his art because, based on the previous description I shared, the grey depicts the loneliness the friends felt without the other and that, despite their differences, they were the same in their need for the other.

I give this a five out of five foxes. I think Roald Dahl would be really proud of this story. Even though it is a children’s story, I enjoy reading it still and will most likely read it again in the future. The story is full of compromise, and the adorable and innocent play of the two friends. The story regards children with maturity and the ability to come to compromise on their own. This is truly a marvelous book and a treasure for any bookshelf. 

Want to read it?? Check out the Bink and Gollie website here

Monday, May 21, 2012

Review: The Fossegrimen Folly (Camp Lac Igam Book 1) by Michael Almich

The Fossegrimen Folly: Camp Lac Igam book 1 by Michael Almich
Published by Michael Almich at Smashwords, 2012
215 pages
Received as a gift from the author
available as an ebook only

Goodreads Description:

Shy didn't want to go to summer camp. Beyond the cabins in the trees and the new friendships, he discovers that Camp Lac Igam is different. Adventures and mythical creatures abound. 

This first installment of the Camp Lac Igam series is a rollicking adventure at summer camp that forces young Shy to learn to deal with bullies, believe in himself, and be courageous for his friends. When he discovers his special ability to see through fairy deceptions, he finds himself face to face with the mythical fossegrimen. The treasure hunt begins, but can they survive the consequences of what they find?

My Ramblings:

When I began reading Almich’s novel, I was nervous about reading a book whose target audience was middle-grade boys; I thought I would get bored reading it, but to my great surprise the story was incredibly entertaining.

The Fossegrimen Folly is a great story for any reader looking for a fast-paced story. Camp Lac Igam is a place I think ANY person would love to visit. It is a place filled with magic, danger, and trap doors. Shy is a wonderful character that I related to and sympathized with, and I think Almich did an excellent job with the plot and characters of this novel.

There are so many things I would like to say about this book, but I’ll try to keep this review short. What I liked best was that I immediately fell in love with Camp Lac Igam. I want to live in the Lake cabins with the other girls and experience the secret passageways between cabins like in the Forest cabins. I was also very happy with the Fey; Almich did a great job portraying the good and scary aspect of the Fey (mythical creatures) and their interactions with humans. The fairies and monsters fit so well in the scenes that Almich created. There was even a nice little bit of folklore history sprinkled in the story, which I think any reader can appreciate.

I also loved the protagonist, Shy. Shy is a perfect hero because of his modesty, braveness, and even his flaws. Much of the conflict is created by Shy’s ability to see through the Fey’s “glamour.” However, Shy learns that is special ability is both a blessing and a curse, and if he does not listen to the advice of others he could very well start a war. I liked Shy because he grew throughout the novel and as a reader I was glad to witness his steps toward maturity. Even if he did make a few mistakes along the way, that only makes Shy more relatable.

There are many other wonderful things about this novel, but you will just have to read it to find out.

What I didn’t like was the number of grammatical errors. As unfortunate as it is, too many grammar mistakes can completely halt one’s reading and cause unwanted disruptions. I did experience a few of these disruptions, but the plot was compelling enough to move me past the mistake. Also, the number of exclamations in this story was dizzying, I felt like I had to be yelling half the sentences in my head; it was tiring. I began to ignore all the enthusiasm in the novel because I was distracted from the story. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think swallowing toothpaste is really exciting. Anyway, that is a bit picky, but it did disrupt my reading.

Also, as much as I loved each of the characters, I was hoping to know a little more about some of the supporting characters and even Shy. I think each character had his or her fun quirks, but I think the characters could have been created with a little more depth. However, on that note, I’m sure the sequels will reveal more and more about the characters.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a good adventure story. It is especially well written for boys around the age of 11. I know I will be waiting for the sequel to this book. After reading the cliffhanger at the end of book one; I can’t wait for book two!

I give this book a three and a half foxes. The setting was entertaining and the characters were lovable.The plot was compelling and fast-paced, but the grammar mistakes often distracted me from the reading.

Want to hear the thoughts from Almich's intended audience? Hear this review from my ll-year old brother, David. 

You can find Michael Almich on Goodreads or read his blog here

Thursday, May 17, 2012

London in the Fall

Since I will be studying in London in the fall, I felt it necessary to prepare myself. Now I'd like to familiarize myself with some good British literature. Any suggestions?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Review: Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

Harriet The Spy Review
By: Louise Fitzhugh
Published by Random House Publishing, 1964
169 pages
source: Nook book

Goodreads Description:
Harriet M. Welsch is a spy. In her notebook, she writes down everything she knows about everyone, even her classmates and her best friends. Then Harriet loses track of her notebook, and it ends up in the wrong hands. Before she can stop them, her friends have read the always truthful, sometimes awful things she’s written about each of them. Will Harriet find a way to put her life and her friendships back together?

This children’s story may have been written almost fifty years ago, but it is still relevant today. Fitzhugh writes an inspiring story about the life of a child, Harriet.

Harriet dreams of becoming a spy and spends her time after school spying on her neighbors. The humorous journal entries and comments Harriet makes while on her spy route makes this book enjoyable from start to finish. Harriet is never caught without her notebook, that is, until her classmates find it; classmates she had written about in her secret notebook. The consequences of this scandal leak into every part of Harriet’s life. Wishing for a turn in events is Fitzhugh’s great power in this story. I kept hoping the best for Harriet, but had to wait to the end to find out how things were resolved. Harriet the Spy is a novel

What I loved about this story is the plot complications. Fitzhugh makes blurry accusations about every character in her novel; the children are nasty to each other, the parents are doting yet clueless, and the other adults in Harriet’s life just don’t seem to understand her needs.

Things are never easy for Harriet M Welsch. Her aspirations of becoming a spy become tangled when she faces the accusations of her schoolmates. I enjoyed reading the personal thoughts of an eleven-year-old and her gradual steps into maturity. Maturity, which Fitzhugh seems to point out, never truly climaxes.

My favorite of Harriet’s reflections is:
“There is more to this thing of love than meets the eye. I am going to have to think about this a great deal but I don’t think it will get me anywhere. I think maybe they’re all right when they say there are some things I won’t know anything about until I’m older. But if it makes you like to eat all kinds of wurst I’m not sure I’m going to like this. (Pg. 59)”

I rate this book a four out of five foxes. It is a story that has been loved by children for many years now and I suspect it will remain popular. Fitzhugh reveals some insights to the challenges of friendship that are relevant in any time period. However, the books setting makes it a little dated and I had some difficulty relating to Harriet in respect to her setting.

If you haven't read this book. You should certainly do so.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Shelves full of books!

I just volunteered at the Scholastic book fair in my hometown and came home with an armful of new books! Here's a list of a few titles that will be added to my bookshelves. Now I just need to read them.

1. Entwined by Heather Dixon

2. Tangerine by Edward Bloor

3. Cinder by Marissa Meyer

4. Cloaked by Alex Finn

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Review: Supernaturally by Kiersten White

By Kiersten White
Published by Harper Teen in 2011
237 pages

Evie’s back, and spunky as ever!

Kiersten White’s sequel to Paranormalcy wasn’t quite what I was anticipating, but it offered a good amount of drama, action, and romance to satisfy any reader.

In this novel, Evie has finally settled down into a normal life. After her time at the center, she is finally living in an apartment of her own, has a regular job, and even goes to school (with lockers and all.) Except, normal is never normal for Evelyn Green. When a new friend, Jack, shows up in Evie’s apartment, she gets drawn back into her chase of paranormals with the IPCA. Will Evie ever be normal? Will she ever feel at home? The faeries seem to be after Evie and she is bound to defy them. With Jack’s help, she may have the opportunity to finally be rid of the faeries and forget all the evil they have done to her. However, Evie has to decide is this is what she really wants or if she can overcome her hatred.

What I liked about the novel was White’s humor. Her language is relatable to most teens today, which is a comfort when reading. Her humor is engaging to readers who will enjoy the sarcasm of Evie and her friends. Also, there was a spectacular surprise in the novel, which I admit, I might have gasped… out loud… in the library (okay, I did.)

What I didn’t like was the lack of maturity in characters. Evie and Lend remain very much the same throughout the novel. At one point in my reading I couldn’t help but think, “When is this girl going to grow up?” Unicorn dreams were really a bit much.  On that note, Evie wasn’t completely child-like; she did have a significant epiphany near the end of the novel, which I appreciated after my annoyances with her immaturity for so long. In my reading, I enjoyed White’s characters, but hoped for more depth. As for the plot, I’d say this book satisfied my need for a good, twisted plot. It had a slow start; I actually considered leaving it unfinished, but I am very glad that I didn’t. It was certainly worth waiting to get to the spectacular twist I mentioned previously and won’t tell you what it is.

I give this book three out of five foxes. It had a slow start, but the plot was captivating. Characters were lovable, but lacked depth. I would recommend this book to all book lovers, and it is certainly a worthwhile sequel for those who have read Paranormalcy.
Okay, so I know I disappeared for a little while (okay, four months), but now that summer has finally arrived. I promise to dish out some reviews for you to eat up. And to make up for my absence, I am going to share a little of what I learned during my busy college days. Get ready! I am anticipating a summer of reading and I plan to share every minute of it.

Currently, I am reading A Spell for Chameleon by Piers Anthony thanks to my dearest friend Andra, who loaned me this little gem. (thanks, Sweetheart!)

Let's get reading!

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