Sunday, May 31, 2009

Heartfelt Award

I'm so excited to have gotten an award despite my lack of posts for a couple of weeks! We all get busy don't we? I was determined to take an official blog vacation for about a month to get some other projects done, but so far haven't been able to commit to such extreme measures. Mostly this is because I wanted to catch up on all my reviews, but I haven't managed to do that yet. "The best laid plans of mice and men" and all that.

But I was excited to get the Heartfelt Award from Jeane of Dog Ear Diary. Like Jeane, I didn't have any success getting the cute graphic to upload, but if you want a peek, check out The Book Resort. I may just be motivated enough to sneak in another review in the next couple of days.

I really had good intentions to pass this award along to nine others, but when I looked at my list there were just too many. So I'm just going to tell you what I like about Dog Ear Diary! If you check out the list of books by genre in Jeane's sidebar, you will notice the variety and the many books about animals. There are some books that I will probably never read, so I like to learn a little bit from her reviews. But she also has a lot of Sci-Fi/Fantasy which I love, so it's fun to read about her perspective on those. As an added bonus, there are often giveaways for beautiful bookmarks that she creates. And if you love cats, there's a cute picture of a new kitten, Numa. If you aren't already familiar with Dog Ear Diary, check it out!

Thanks for the award, Jeane!

Monday, May 11, 2009

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

Author: Alexander McCall Smith
Originally published : 1998 (Polygon)
Length: 256 pages
Personal Enjoyment Rating: 4.5/5
Amazon Rating: 4/5 (419 Customer Reviews)
Goodreads: 14,927 ratings, 3.67 average rating

I'll admit up front that my memory of this book is a bit of a blur because I read it during the 24-hour Readathon. I was excessively tired from the get-go that day, but I know that I LOVED this book. I have had it on my shelf for several years now and just ignored it. Little did I know I was missing out.
Precious Romatswe--an intelligent, intuitive and determined woman, decides to open her own detective agency in her beloved country, Botswana. Things start out a bit slow for the agency, but eventually she receives some cases where she proves her ability to unravel a few mysteries. As she goes about cleverly solving cases, we learn about her life that has not always been easy, and the values she embraces.
What made this book move beyond good to great for me was how inspirational of a character Precious is. She is independent and determined, and even though she experiences things that could jade her a bit, she maintains a love for life and people and it infuses her with energy and purpose. I also loved the descriptions of the land. I have always been in love with Africa (from afar unfortunately), and enjoyed this brief (and somewhat hazy)visit.

No notes for this one, which I regret because it is part of a series.

Prude-ometer (subjective content assessment): A brief date rape scene. I don't remember if there was bad language or not.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

A Wizard of Earthsea

Author: Ursula K. Le Guin
Originally published : 1968
Length: 205 pages
Personal Enjoyment Rating: 4/5
Amazon Rating: 4/5 (410 Customer Reviews)
Goodreads: 5,728 ratings, 4.00 average rating

I have wanted to read this book for a long time, it being heralded as a must-read classic of fantasy. I had super high expectations, and while I wasn't disappointed, it wasn't at all the experience I was expecting.
It's a simple story powerfully told. When Ged is a young boy, he discovers he has magical powers. He eventually attends a school for wizards, where his pride leads him to attempting a spell that will bring the dead back to life. The spell doesn't work right, and brings into the world a shadow that aims to hunt Ged down and overpower him. Ged's remorse is intense, and the remainder of the story tells of his effort to flee from the shadow, until he comes to realize that he must hunt the shadow to conquer it.
I didn't find this to be a page-turner, like I expected, but each page was worth reading, if that makes any sense. The storytelling was great--I could really feel Ged's regret and pain when he realizes the mistakes he has made, I could picture the landscape of the islands he travels to. The themes were satisfying. It reminded me a bit of The Secret Sharer by Joseph Conrad--the idea that you have to acknowledge your dark side in order to conquer it.
My only dissatisfaction comes from wishing that it was either a more compact short story, or a longer more, detailed novel. It seemed like it was in a no-man's land in between the two. Maybe the rest of the series will give me what I felt was missing. I definitely want to read more of Le Guin. Any recommendations on what to try next?

A Single Shard

Author: Linda Sue Park
Originally published : 2001 (Clarion Books)
Length: 152 pages
Awards: Newbery Medal 2002,
ALA Best Book for Young Adults 2002
Personal Enjoyment Rating: 4/5
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5 (145 Customer Reviews)
Goodreads: 1,885 ratings, 3.99 average rating

12-year-old Tree Ear, an orphan who lives under a bridge with the crippled Crane-man, enjoys watching the master potter of his Korean village when he's not scavenging for food to eat. When he breaks one of the potter's creations, he must work to pay off his debt. While he dreams of eventually learning to use the potter's wheel, his responsibilities increase, until he is given the honor of taking the potter's finest work to the city to present to the royal court. His journey does not always go as planned, but he is committed to fulfilling his assignment not matter what.

There's so much to love about this Newbery winner: lovable characters with great names, meaningful and humorous relationships, a picture of life and pottery in 12th-century Korea, important life lessons learned, and a compelling story. Readers of all ages can enjoy it, making it a great read-aloud selection. I laughed, I cried, and I will not soon forget Tree Ear and his adventures and perserverence.

Friday, May 8, 2009

I, Juan de Pareja

Author: Elizabeth Borton de Trevino
Originally published : 1965
Length: 192 pages
Award: Newbery Medal 1965
Personal Enjoyment Rating: 3/5
Amazon Rating: 4/5 (33 Customer Reviews)
Goodreads: 156 ratings, 3.76 average rating

"I, Juan de Pareja, was born into slavery early in the seventeenth century." Trevino has taken what little is known of the lives of the Spanish painter Diego Velazquez and his slave, Juan, and created an inspiring story of courage and persistence. After a childhood filled with tragedy and abuse, Juan is inherited by Velasquez, and works in his studio preparing materials. Juan soon begins to paint but does so in secret, because slaves are forbidden to learn the arts. Although he feels guilty keeping his painting from his master, he feels compelled to fulfill his need to paint. Eventually he knows he will have to confess to Valasquez, who believes in painting things as they really are--to innacurately "beautify" a painting would be wrong.
While this was an interesting and somewhat educational children's novel, I certainly didn't find it to be a page-turner. I had a hard time imagining a child finding it at all engaging, and thought it was peculiar that the main character is an adult for a very large portion of the book. There's a lot of death, which I'm sure was quite realistic for that time period, but it got to be pretty depressing. I was reading this while camping and I would gasp and say "Oh, no!" When my kids asked what was wrong, I would say, "Someone died." After a few times of this, they would say, "Someone else died, didn't they?" It does end on a positive note though, and I felt like it was a good book, just not a great one.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Little Skink's Tail by Janet Halfmann

I don't usually review picture books, but I won an autographed copy of Little Skink's Tail from Shelly of Write for a Reader this last month, and my daughters just love it! My seven-year-old has read it on her own at least 20 times now. And as a parent, I found myself enjoying the story as well. It's one that won't drive you nuts after reading it for the umpteenth time. Little Skink gets his tail swiped by an owl, and imagines what he would look like with the tails of his fellow creatures. In some instances, this is pretty humorous as well as educational.

My daughter's comments:
"I like how the skink looks--he has a blue tail and a brown body. My favorite part is the picture of him with the squirrel tail and the squirrel looking at him funny."

The book has beautiful illustrations and a couple of activity pages in the back. Highly recommended for younger readers!

Thank you Janet Halfmann and Shelly B. for the giveaway!