Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Rapunzel's Revenge

Authors: Shannon and Dean Hale
Illustrator: Nathan Hale
Published: 2008
Length: 144 pages
Personal Enjoyment Rating: 3.5/5
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5 (20 Customer Reviews)
Goodreads: 1,039 ratings, 3.75 average rating

Who ever knew that hair could be such an effective weapon? Rapunzel's got serious killer braids in this fairy tale retelling set in the Wild West of all places. This was my very first graphic novel, and it took me a few pages to get used to looking at pictures instead of reading a lot of words, which I know must work different parts of my brain! The story is very original, with a strong female role model, swashbuckling adventures, and a little bit of romance. I almost always had one of my kids looking over my shoulder while I was reading it--they were fascinated. I've obviously been holding out on them by not introducing them to graphic novels yet!

High Druid of Shannara Series

My overall rating of the series: 3/5

I absolutely love the first two series in the world of Shannara, and keep reading subsequent books in hopes of reliving the experience. But so far it hasn't happened. The Voyage of the Jerle Shannara was enjoyable but not exceptional, and the Word/Void trilogy was more of an urban fantasy that had me switching gears a little bit.
As usual, it's difficult to review a book in a series, especially one with so many installments. A plot description isn't going to mean much to anyone who hasn't read previous ones. However, I'll attempt a sketchy description:
The Ard Rhys (leader of the Druids), formerly known as the Ilse Witch, is sent into the Forbidding (the place where demons and other evil creatures have been banished by the Elves) by her political enemies. The only one who can save her is her young nephew, Pen Ohmsford, who has the necessary ability to "communicate" with plants and animals. Not surprisingly this involves a quest into unknown lands to obtain the talisman that will enable him to break into the Forbidding, and free his aunt.
The first two in this series, Jarka Ruus and Tanequil seemed a little fluffy to me. Brooks revisits his usual themes with a new generation of Ohmsfords trying to ignore their magical heritage, but any excitement and complexity are reserved for the last book, Straken. I can't really rave about any of these, but I did enjoy them as a fantasy escape. I still have hopes for the next and final series, The Genesis of Shannara, but it may be that the magic for me ended with The First King of Shannara.

Where this series fits in:

The Original Shannara Trilogy
* The Sword of Shannara
* The Elfstones of Shannara
* The Wishsong of Shannara

The Heritage of Shannara
* The Scions of Shannara
* The Druid of Shannara
* The Elf Queen of Shannara
* The Talismans of Shannara

A Shannara Prequel
* First King of Shannara

The Word/Void Trilogy
* Running with the Demon
* A Knight of the Word
* Angel Fire East

The Voyage of the Jerle Shannara
* Ilse Witch
* Antrax
* Morgawr

High Druid of Shannara
* Jarka Ruus
* Tanequil
* Straken

Genesis of Shannara Trilogy
* Armageddon's Children
* The Elves of Cintra
* The Gypsy Morph

Want to know more? Check out Terry Brooks' website.

Confessions of a Shopaholic and Shopaholic Takes Manhattan

Confessions of a Shopaholic
Author: Sophie Kinsella
Published in US : 2001
Length: 312 pages
Personal Enjoyment Rating: 4.5/5
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5 (894 Customer Reviews)
Goodreads: 21,204 ratings, 3.69 average rating

Shopaholic Takes Manhattan
Originally published : 2002 (?)
Length: 352 pages
Personal Enjoyment Rating: 3/5
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5 (331 Customer Reviews)
Goodreads: 12,462 ratings, 3.80 average rating

I have been holding off my review of these books in hopes of seeing the movie first, but I have finally accepted that that's not going to happen. I'll enjoy it on DVD when it comes out, but until then . . .
I grabbed Confessions of a Shopaholic on a whim one day at the library. I haven't read a lot of Chick Lit, and had heard some positive buzz about this series. I was thoroughly entertained and laughed so much while reading this. I even read parts out loud to my husband (who is something of a Money Nazi.) In a nutshell, it's about a young working woman whose debt has spiraled out of control, and she comes up with zany ways to get a handle on it. I'm not a shopaholic at all, but I am an eataholic (not a word, is it?), so I could relate to the rationalizations and failures she experiences. The only thing I couldn't handle was her compulsive lying. That caused me so much stress because I hate dishonesty. I'm a horrible liar myself, so I rarely even try, and I hate being lied to, especially stupid pointless lies, like the ones Becky Bloomwood tells.
I picked up Shopaholic Takes Manhattan when I knew I needed another light page turner when life got a little hectic. Still a shopper at heart, albeit with a little more self-control, Becky heads to New York with boyfriend Luke with plans to possibly relocate there. This one adds a little bit of mystery and intrigue along with the expected humor. I didn't like it nearly as much as the first one though, and I'm not sure if I'll read any more. I am anxiously awaiting the DVD release of the movie, but I can't tell from the previews how well it follows the original story.

For those who have seen the movie, is it any good? Does it stray from the story much? I like to be prepared before I see a movie based on a book.

The Tales of Beedle the Bard

Author: J. K. Rowling
Originally published : 2008
Length: 111 pages
Personal Enjoyment Rating: 4/5
Amazon Rating: 4/5 (323 Customer Reviews)
Goodreads: 8,453 ratings, 3.83 average rating

My life has been devoid of Harry Potter since I finished The Deathly Hallows soon after it came out, so it was good to leave the Muggle world for a bit and enjoy these tales, which range from lighthearted to gruesome. The highlight was Dumbledore's commentary after each one. The collection would have been pretty frivolous without his humor and insights.

My favorite tale is "The Fountain of Fair Fortune." I love that the witches find solutions to their problems within themselves. The most memorable tale is "The Warlock's Hairy Heart." I'm not sure if a couple of my children would appreciate this story that much yet, with hearts being cut out and and an illustration of the result, but I appreciated the message. Dumbledore comments, "No man or woman alive, magical or not, has ever escaped some form of injury, whether physical, mental, or emotional. To hurt is as human as to breathe."

"The Tale of the Three Brothers" concludes the book. This of course was already recounted in Deathly Hallows, but it was good to hear again. Dumbledore says in his commentary of this one, "The moral of [this tale] could not be any clearer: Human efforts to evade or overcome death are always doomed to disappointment." This is a bit off topic, but this is why I have a problem with the Twilight series (which I enjoyed, don't get me wrong.) It's pretty ingrained in me from many books that I love (such as Tuck Everlasting and Harry Potter) that death is inevitable and necessary. I guess my motto would be "Choose Mortality." I do enjoy books that introduce a character that has somehow overcome death, to be used as a tool to introduce truths about life. But I had better stop my rambling...

All in all, Beedle's tales are entertaining, but they ended so abruptly it left me wanting more. Dumbledore says that Aberforth's favorite story was "Grumble the Grubby Goat." Well, I want to hear it too! Where is it? Surely the children of the wizarding world had a much longer collection of stories.

Would I recommend this? It's short enough, you might as well give it a try. But only if you're a fan of Harry Potter.

Review Day

I'm pretty much free until this afternoon, so I'm dedicating this day to laundry and book reviewing. It may seem silly that I am writing a post to declare this, but it's just my way of making a commitment so I don't let myself get distracted by other things. I'm still in my workout clothes and my hair looks like I stuck my finger in a light socket, so that should keep me from venturing out into the world. I've got one cute kid home today, and she's the chatty one, so I'm sure we'll be having some conversations about very random things throughout the day. She's watching "Space Chimps" right now, but she'll be sharing her commentary with me a lot. I probably shouldn't even go into my bedroom, because it is in sore need of a few hours of attention, but I can just close the door, right? And dinner tonight is leftovers. Yay! It's Slow-Cooker Taco Soup, one of our family favorites. I'll add the recipe to make this post a bit more meaningful (it's from All Recipes.com):

1 pound ground beef
1 onion, chopped
1 (16 ounce) can chili beans, with liquid
1 (15 ounce) can kidney beans with liquid
1 (15 ounce) can whole kernel corn, with
1 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce
2 cups water
2 (14.5 ounce) cans peeled and diced
1 (4 ounce) can diced green chile peppers
1 (1.25 ounce) package taco seasoning mix
1. In a medium skillet, cook the ground beef until browned over medium heat. Drain, and set aside.
2. Place the ground beef, onion, chili beans, kidney beans, corn, tomato sauce, water, diced tomatoes, green chile peppers and taco seasoning mix in a slow cooker. Mix to blend, and cook on Low setting for 8 hours.

This only takes about 10 minutes to put together, and then it goes in the crockpot until dinner. I usually cook about 4 pounds of ground beef at the beginning of the month with the taco seasoning, and then freeze in 4 baggies so that I just need to defrost the seasoned meat and pop it into the pot. The only thing I have to do is chop an onion and open cans. We serve it with chips, sour cream and cheese, and then cornbread on the side. Delicious and easy. And it lasts my family of six two nights.
Okay, now on to reviews.

Friday, March 27, 2009


Author: Cornelia Funke
Published in U.S. (The Chicken House) : 2008
Length: 656 pages
Personal Enjoyment Rating: 4/5
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5 (61 Customer Reviews)
Goodreads: 1,609 ratings, 4.35 average rating, 546 reviews

Since this is the third of a series, I'll try to be pretty general. I think the most important thing for readers to know before they delve into Inkworld is that this series is not at all like Harry Potter. Don't let the fantasy label and the lengthy tomes deceive you into thinking that you will experience the twists and adrenaline of the wizarding world. This is a different experience entirely. Different, but good.
The atmosphere that Funke creates is captivating. The characters, while not particularly deep, are interesting and likeable. Inkdeath is very much like the first two, with a little more of an emphasis on the conflict between the fate dictated by the written words and the free will of the characters. Dustfinger is the main ingredient that spices up the story a bit; it just wouldn't be the same without him.
My main complaint is the length of the books. I think they could be shorter. Inkdeath seemed to go on and on. At the same time, I'm glad that kids and teens can pick up a book and not reject it because it's more than 500 pages. That way they won't be traumatized when they have to read War and Peace someday. (I can dream, can't I?)

Chapter summaries here.

Prude-ometer (subjective content assessment): There's a lot of killing in this one, but they don't dwell on the gore of it.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Non-Fiction Five Challenge

As soon as I saw this I knew I wanted to sign up, but I haven't had a chance to pick out which books I will read. It doesn't start until May 1, so hopefully I'll get it together by then.
If you want to join, visit Trish's Reading Nook. She has a sticky post at the top with rules and signups.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Volume II: The Kingdom on the Waves

Author: M. T. Anderson
Originally Published: 2008
Length: 592 pages
Personal Enrichment Factor: 4/5
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5 (5 Customer Reviews)
Goodreads: 271 ratings, 4.23 average rating, 120 reviews

I mentioned a few things necessary to have on hand when reading Volume I of Octavian's "astonishing" life events. For Volume II you'll need only one thing: an antidepressant. I say this not to deter anyone from reading the book, only to properly prepare for a tough ride.

When the atmosphere in Boston becomes increasingly unstable, Octavian heads south to Virginia in hopes of joining Lord Dunmore's Royal Ethiopian Army. Freedom is promised to slaves willing to fight for Loyalist interests, and Octavian is among many with dreams of a new and free life promised at the end of the war. This is the most difficult part--reading of their hopes but knowing the reality that blacks will not begin to see significant change for many, many years after the war. Things, in fact, will get much worse.

As Octavian transitions from "Observant" boy to angry, hardened soldier, the brutal realities of war are recounted. Octavian's strength and comfort comes from stories--whether they be the ancient classics he has studied or the accounts of escape from fellow soldiers. He records their stories in his journal because "when we or our forbears passed over the water on ships, we lost our names and our stories; and now, in these ships, moving upon these waters, we shall regain them." Is this enough, though, to keep Octavian's spirits high? Consider this statement of Octavian's:

"I prayed that the Lord should destroy utterly the children of men. It seemed to me that we were a race so poisoned in every motive that we should never find happiness; for should felicity appear in one nation, another must sweep down upon it to destroy it; and it seemed to me that we must be obliterated with a new and profounder deluge: one deep enough to encompass all nations, so that Christ might begin again with a better creature."

Noah better get his ark ready.

My notes on this book can be found here.

Prude-ometer (subjective content assessment): Language, crude sexual language or situations, violence--but all seem to be an accurate part of war. I like this comment by the author in response to whether this book is appropriate for teens: "If we're going to ask our kids at age 18 to go off to war and die for their country, I don't see any problem with asking them at age 16 to think about what that might mean." There was one scene between two young male lovers but with the archaic language, I really don't know all that they were talking about. It remains above my head.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Once Upon a Time III

Once upon a time I signed up for way too many challenges, but I lived happily ever after anyway.

This challenge is hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings.
Details and signups for the challenge can be found here.

There are a few options to choose from, and I'm going with "Quest the Third." My plan is to read five books that are either fantasy, folklore, fairy tales or mythology, and then add a reading of A Midsummer Night's Dream in June.

Here are my picks, although you don't have to have a list prepared to sign up. For me that's a big part of the fun, so here goes:

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling
The Kingmaking by Helen Hollick
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Briar Rose by Jane Yolen

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Spring Reading Challenge 2009

Hosted by Katrina of Callapidder Days.
Details of challenge and sign-ups here.
My picks :

1. A Single Shard by Park
2. Dear Mr. Henshaw by Cleary
3. A Visit to William Blake's Inn by Willard
4. A Gathering of Days by Blos
5. Ginger Pye by Estes
6. I, Juan de Pereja by Trevino

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Challenge Organization

World Citizen Challenge
I signed up for the World Citizen Challenge a while ago, but never officially picked my books. Here's my list:

1. Politics: Diplomacy by Henry Kissinger
2. Economics: The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World by Niall Ferguson
3. History: Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fate of Human Societies by Jared Diamond
4. Culture: Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty by Bradley K. Martin
5. Worldwide Issues: Globalization: by Louise I. Gerdes (YA)
6. Memoirs: Monique and the Mango Rains by Kris Holloway
7. And one extra: Rogue State : Kim Jong Il and the Looming Threat of North Korea by Jasper Becker

I have also signed up for a couple of Mini-Challenges hosted by Becky:

George Eliot Mini-Challenge:
1. Felix Holt
2. Romola
**I may end up choosing to reread Middlemarch for one of these, we'll see what kind of mood I'm in.

Elizabeth Gaskell Mini-Challenge:
1. Read Cranford
2. Watch Cranford Miniseries
***In my dreams I may read North and South

It is with great restraint that I don't sign up for Becky's Trollope and Tolstoy challenges. I may not finish my current challenges this year at the rate I'm going, but I think I'm okay with that. As usual, you can see my (limited) progress in my right sidebar.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Volume I: The Pox Party

Author: M. T. Anderson
Originally Published: 2006
Length: 368 pages
Award: National Book Award for Young People, Printz Honor Book
Personal Enrichment Factor: 4.5/5
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5 (39 Customer Reviews)
Goodreads: 1,426 ratings, 3.90 average rating, 472 reviews

You need to have three things on hand for reading this book:
1. A punching bag
2. A dictionary
3. A box of tissue

Octavian is a black boy growing up in pre-revolutionary Boston, under the tutelage of an eccentric group of scientist/philosophers who form the College of Lucidity. He has been told by his mother that they are of royal lineage, and with childlike acceptance doesn't question the bizarre experiments and lessons he is the object of (like the weighing of his poop). Octavian learns that he is part of an experiment to determine "whether the capacities of the African are equal to those of the European." At first the terror of it sits just under the surface. Then, the College loses its funding when Octavian's mother (justifiably) insults their main benefactor, and the college is taken over by the sinister Mr. Sharpe, whose aim is to please a group of greedy southern contributors wanting proof (however skewed) that the African is inferior. There are a few characters involved in all of this that I became so angry with. I just wanted to strangle/maim/shoot/mangle them. Hence the need for a punching bag.

A dictionary on hand is also necessary. The book is written primarily from Octavian's point of view in 18th-century English, with many ancient classical allusions laced throughout. It comes across as slightly pretentious, but is true to his character, he having been given the finest education available. He not only has been taught the classics, but he reveres them. Something about the writing reminded me of Jane Eyre. Maybe the gothic feel of it, maybe the first person narrative--I can't really pinpoint why I got this impression.

There are some situations that would be major spoilers to mention, but I, sensitive soul that I am, saw fit to shed some tears and needed some tissue on hand. At one point, Octavian has an entire section scribbled out, and the emotional impact of it is pretty strong. Also some of the writing in this I found brilliant and moving. Bono, a servant in the household who Octavian looks to as an older brother says this about the attitudes of the white society:

They want us to be nothing but a bill of sale and a letter explaining where we is and instructions for where we go and what we do. They want us empty. They want us flat as paper. They want to be able to carry our souls in their hands, and read them out loud in court. All the time, they're on the exploration of themselves, going on the inner journey into their own breasts. But us, they want there to be nothing inside of. They want us to be writ on. They want us to be a surface. Look at me: I'm mahogany. (Page 136)

This is just one of many excellent passages, I'll let you discover them for yourself if you choose to read this. I was transfixed and had hard time putting it down. I've described my rating as an "enrichment" factor rather than "enjoyment" factor because it is not exactly pleasurable to read--it's dark and gritty and tragic, but definitely worthwhile and satisfying.

I found a couple of articles about M. T. Anderson worth reading:

Tomes for Teens (Washington Post)
Like his protagonists, he's a character study (Boston Globe)

My notes on the book can be found here at ChainNotes.

Prude-ometer (subjective content assessment): Mild language here and there, a reference or two of sex from Roman texts (you know how those Romans were), a couple of disturbing scenes of abuse. Classified as Young Adult, but as a parent I would consider individual maturity.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Life Beyond Books Challenge: Bench Finished!

I haven't forgotten that this is actually a blog about books, but things have been very busy lately. I am excited that I finally got my bench done that I started over a year ago. It was fun to make and reminded me of how much I love working with wood.

The bunny and sign are interchangeable with others for different times of the year. Next up will be Uncle Sam with a sign that says "Let Freedom Ring." (I got these patterns from J & J Crafts.)

A couple of other things have been eating up my reading time. I have joined a "Biggest Loser" type of contest that lasts for 8 weeks. We all put in $25 and the top three losers win some extra dinero. So I've been spending a little more time preparing meals and working out. Wish me luck! At the end of the contest our city has a 5K run that I've always wanted to participate in, and I know if I lost some weight I could run better. Right now it's very stop and go for me.

I'm also trying to cut our food expenditures this month, which involves making more stuff from scratch. I love finding cheaper ways to make things, and am having a lot of fun. My next project is to make homemade pizza pockets instead of buying the expensive frozen ones. I also want to experiment with making chicken pot pies--my kids love the Marie Callendar ones that cost over a dollar each.

So if you're mainly interested in book reviews, and are miraculously still reading this boring post, I plan on reviewing these books soon:

The Pox Party (Octavian Nothing Volume I)
The Kingdom on the Waves (Octavian Nothing Volume II)
The Book Thief (a reread)
Confessions of a Shopaholic
Shopaholic Takes Manhattan
Rapunzel's Revenge
The Omnivore's Dilemma
So Brave, Young and Handsome
The Bean Trees
The Plain Truth

So if I can figure out how to make pizza dough, kickbox, and write reviews simultaneously, I'll be good to go!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Winner of People of the Book

Thank you to everyone who entered the giveaway! The winner of People of the Book is


Congratulations! I've sent the winner an email.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Book Giveaway: People of the Book

For the Book Giveaway Carnival hosted by Bookroom Reviews, I'm giving away a like-new, hardcover copy of People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks.

Here's a description of the book from Geraldine Brooks' website

Available now, from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of March, an intricate, ambitious novel that traces the journey of a rare illuminated Hebrew manuscript from convivencia Spain to the ruins of Sarajevo, from the Silver Age of Venice to the sunburned rock faces of northern Australia.

Inspired by the true story of a mysterious codex known as the Sarajevo Haggadah, People of the Book is a sweeping adventure through five centuries of history. From its creation in Muslim-ruled, medieval Spain, the illuminated manuscript makes a series of perilous journeys: through Inquisition-era Venice, fin-de-siecle Vienna, and the Nazi sacking of Sarajevo. . .

For more info, visit the author's site.

To enter, just leave a comment by March 8, and I will announce the winner March 9.!
(US/Canada only)

Also check out over 100 other giveaways that are part of the carnival here.

Life Beyond Books Challenge: Blanket finished!

I've got one more task done in my personal challenge to attempt to live a more balanced life in which books get set aside for at least part of the day. I finished the blanket just barely in time for my daughter's seventh birthday, with help:

It's just about as basic as you can get, but I've seen my kids' blankets get thrashed over the years, so I didn't feel the need to make it too elaborate. It's quite imperfect, because I was frantically trying to get the binding on before she woke up on her birthday, but she loves it all the same:

Next up: I'm hoping to finish the bench for my porch in the next week or two.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Friday Night Knitting Club

Author: Kate Jacobs
Narrator: Carrington Macduffie
Published by: Blackstone Audiobooks (2007)
Length: 12 hours
My Rating: 3/5
Amazon Rating: 3.5/5 (245 customer reviews)

This was one of those books I had never planned on reading, but I just happened to see in the audiobook section of my library (which is pretty limited), and for some reason I thought it was a cozy mystery. I must not have even read the back of the case! It took me a little while into listening to realize I was mistaken. I kept thinking, "Where's the mystery?" So my opinion of the book may be a bit marred by this misguided expectation.
Well-written and well-narrated, this just wasn't the kind of book I get excited about. It's the story of Georgia Walker, owner of a knitting shop in Manhattan, and a single mom successfully raising an equally independent 12-year-old daughter, Dakota. Her life gets shaken up a bit when two people come back into her life--Dakota's father, who had left her before Dakota was born, and "Cat," her best friend from high school who Georgia believes betrayed her. About this time, Georgia also begins the knitting club, which consists of other women with relationship troubles of their own. The common thread uniting the members of the club is their individual efforts to find their identities by reaching out of their comfort zones.
While I didn't find the story very engaging until the end when an unexpected (for me, anyways) tragedy comes along in Georgia's life, there were some things I liked about it. I appreciated the structure with knitting instructions which paralleled the themes that were emphasized in each section. I also liked the fact that it was emphasized that you can participate in domestic arts like knitting and baking and still be a strong and independent woman. I don't know how to knit(this book made me want to learn, though), but I can bake and do it too often to be good for my waistline! Georgia's daughter Dakota was the baker for the knitting club, and the book ends with her recipe for "Dakota's Oatmeal, Blueberry, and Orange Muffins." I just had to try them out; here's a picture:

I also appreciated this advice from James' mother: "We don't always get what we deserve. Sometimes we get more. Sometimes we get less. At least we get something. " Good to remember!

My notes here.

Prude-ometer (subjective content assessment): Moderate language including a couple handfuls of the "F" word, too much for me; references to sex throughout but nothing explicit.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Grapes of Wrath

Author: John Steinbeck
Originally Published: 1939
Length: 464 pages
Personal Enjoyment Factor: 5/5
Amazon.com Rating: 4.5/5 (600 Customer Reviews)

Everyone knows what The Grapes of Wrath is about, right? Good opportunity for a seven-word review:

Joads hit road, take loads, hopes erode.

Okay, so just a few more words. I consider this a must-read, and it is strikingly relevant to our times.

My notes here.

Prude-ometer (subjective content assessment): There's quite a bit of mild language, particularly heavy in the beginning, references to sex and a couple of dirty jokes.