Monday, December 30, 2013

Book Review of "A Little Princess"

A Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett

5 stars!!!

Description: India-born Sara Crewe travels to a London boarding school while her wealthy father goes back to India. Snubbed by some and adored by most, she consequently makes both friends and enemies of her classmates. As a pupil of status, Sara is treated with outward respect by the headmistress, but suspects that Miss Minchin really despises her; when tragedy strikes and Sara is reduced to poverty, she is no longer in doubt. Most of the school imitates the headmistress’s mean treatment of Sara, and when she thinks she can’t bear her circumstances any longer, a monkey and two Indian gentlemen surprise her with unlooked-for kindness, not knowing that Sara’s fate hangs in the balance.

Concerns: Sara believes in magic, although nothing that happens in the story is actually supernatural.

Summary: I can’t quite put my finger on what makes this book so fascinating. It could be the classic rags-to-riches theme that never grows old; or the way the author can depict every lively scene and character with delicious vividness; or perhaps the exceptionality of the courageous and proud Sara herself. Whatever the cause, this long-beloved book is one that no-one should miss. The captivating plot and characters will pull you right into the book and won’t easily let you go until you are through with this marvelous adventure.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Book Review of "Babe: The Gallant Pig"

Babe: The Gallant Pig, by Dick King-Smith

5 stars!!!

Description: Babe is a pig. And pigs, as all border collies know, are stupid. Not as stupid as sheep, of course, but still thick-headed. So when lonely Babe starts following his adoptive collie "mother" around the farm, he's got a lot to learn. Fly enjoys the company, but even though she knows that Babe can't be expected to get everything right, his strange ideas worry her. For example, she knows that sheep must be bullied and frightened into submission. Babe can't get that through his head. What's a rough-and-tumble collie to do with a pig that says please and thank you -- to the SHEEP???

Concerns: The dogs calls sheep names; also, the female collie is calmly referred to with a term that would be inappropriate if used elsewhere.

Summary: This is a fantastic book. The characters are wonderful, the story unique, and the peaceful bustle of farm life offers boundless amusement (I can't help laughing at the poor harassed ducks!). There's a smattering of thrills (sheep rustlers, stray dogs), and the moral of the story is broader than just minding your manners: as Babe demonstrates, heroes come in all shapes and sizes! A short but snappy and satisfying read; one of King-Smith's best.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Book Review of "Remarkable"

Remarkable, by Lizzie K. Foley

4.5 stars

Description: Visit the town of Remarkable, where you are sure to stay right next door to adventure! You can tour the Museum of Remarkablility and may also have time to meet the rest of Remarkable’s incredibly talented citizens – which actually would include everyone. Everyone, that is, except Jane. Plain Jane Doe (aged 10), is the only one in Remarkable without a single talent. When you first get acquainted you may find her life a bit boring, but don’t pack up and leave town yet, because this is where things start to get exciting: dangerous-minded twins enroll in Jane’s school following the appearance of a mysterious pirate on her doorstep; someone plants a bomb that turns everyone blue; there is a kidnapping conducted by a devious gang of pirates; and even the lake monster gets in on the action! In the midst of all the swirling confusion, you will be right there beside Jane when she discovers the secret that will rock her world. But when the key to fame involves risking the happiness of a friend, will Jane be willing to release her dream of a famous life?

Concerns: There is some brief but uncomfortably intense fortune telling (my reason for not rating this 5 stars).

Summary: This book can only be described as remarkable! I love the sense of humor the author brings to every page, while cleverly enticing the reader to become a part of the story by getting them caught up in the lives of the intriguing characters. After all, who wouldn’t love a story where there are jelly wars, a pirate with two peg legs who can ride a bike, a monster saves the day, and a local dentist who is furious because everyone in Remarkable has perfect teeth?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Book Review of Anne of Green Gables

Anne of Green Gables, by L. M. Montgomery

5 stars!!!

Description: Spunky, fun-loving, impulsive scapegrace Anne Shirley is adopted by Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, the two most old-fashioned, quiet, down to earth folks on Prince Edward Island. They’re not exactly the ideal combination, especially in light of the fact that neither Matthew nor Marilla has a spark of Anne’s imagination, the very essence of which Anne practically lives and breathes. Not only does redheaded Anne turn their lives upside down and inside out, but she reaches the whole town as well! Disturbing the peace of the quiet town of Avonlea in ways that sometimes shock the inhabitants, Anne has many adventures, misadventures and just plain hilarious moments in her repertoire. Accidentally dying her hair green; walking a roof ridgepole; playacting in a sinking boat; serving liniment-flavored cake to company; from scrape to scrape, Anne works her way into the hearts of many (definitely including readers!) and we wonder how we ever did get along without her.

Concerns: Anne’s vivid imagination runs away with her sometimes and leads her to believe some woods are haunted.

Summary: I love this book!! 5 stars are by no means sufficient. Montgomery does an amazing job of creating realistic (yet unique) characters in entertainingly funny scenarios. A personal favorite is when Rachel Lynde (the town gossip) finds out that Anne’s temper may just be as fiery as her hair when Anne starts giving Lynde what-for in the most amusing, Anne-like way!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Link to website for the Mysterious Benedict Society

Nope, not a review.

It's a link to the website for Trenton Lee Stewart's Mysterious Benedict Society series, and my first thought was, why don't other books have a site like this?

It's pretty neat -- admittedly I've not tested out the games, but the character quiz hooked me. It's rather an easy quiz to rig, if you're aiming to be "most like" one of the kids, but it's still fun.

Now, a word of caution: it's not accurate.

It is NOT accurate.

I tried to be completely honest when I answered the questions, and it IS NOT ACCURATE! (smolder...) Which character was I? Answer partially copied below:

Nope. SO not me.

But it was fun. Check it out!

**For the record: last time I checked it, it was fine -- but it's not my site, so I'm not responsible for the content. I checked it out, I liked it, I'm passing it along because it was fun.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Book Review of Lad: A Dog

Lad: A Dog, by Albert Payson Terhune

5 stars!

Description: Lad is a collie of Sunnybank's countryside estate in the glory days before World War II. The book follows him through his life as he meets with one challenge after another; burglars, vicious dogs, the wiles of scheming neighbors, and all the stuff of life that puzzles a loyal dog who just wants to live in peace. The outrageous mischievousness of his fellow collie, Lady, Lad meets with a mixture of adoration and hopeless bewilderment; the very real danger of poisonous snakes and raging bulls, he meets with immediate courage. The last battle in this chronicle of his life is nothing less than breath-taking -- and heartbreaking.

Concerns: None.

Summary: Yes, I'm a sucker for a dog story. Lad: A Dog is a classic. The book is somewhat antiquated. If you're turned off by old-timey, slightly sentimental and moralistic tales, it might not be your style -- but if you like a dog story, you've got try it just because! Terhune wrote dozens of books about collies, and Lad is a multi-generational favorite. Doesn't everybody want a dog dog tough enough to defeat burglars, sheep-killing dogs and copperheads alike? This story -- although admittedly much embellished -- is based on true life story of a grand collie. If you like dogs, it's a must-read.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Book Review of Hank the Cowdog: Let Sleeping Dogs Lie

Hank the Cowdog: Let Sleeping Dogs Lie, by John R. Erickson

5 stars!

Description: Hank the Cowdog is Head of Ranch Security. The chickens are his responsibility. Whatever has been killing the chickens is, therefore, his problem. But life is so DIFFICULT when you have responsibilities. What if you can't figure out who the chief suspect is? When you have so much to deal with -- the neighbor's collie, a devious mailman, the vicious horses in the pasture -- even the toughest law enforcement officers get worn down. And what happens if the chief suspect is... you?

Concerns: This one is pretty reasonable (name-calling), but other books in the 50+ series have some tasteless moments. Dogs are like that every now and then.

Summary: Life from the eyes of a redneck dog! If you've ever wondered anything about what the world looks like when you've got four legs, a tail and perpetual fleas, here's your answer. It's a riot. Hank is the perfect boneheaded dog, and his ranch is everything you could hope for as a setting for a Texas Rangers mystery... canine style.

**Note: There's well over 50 book in the series. It's unlikely they'll all get reviewed, so this is a favorite.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Book Review of Naya Nuki

Naya Nuki: Shoshoni Girl Who Ran, by Kenneth Thomasma  

4 stars 

Description: Shoshoni girls Naya Nuki and Sacajawea live in an Indian village in Montana. The Shoshoni are a strong and brave tribe, but as they travel to the prairie to hunt buffalo, their trip is overshadowed by one terrifying fear: the Minnetare tribe. The Minnetare have a history of attacking the Shoshoni, killing warriors and taking prisoners.  With every step toward the prairie, the risk of enemy attack grows stronger, but it is a risk that will have to be faced – if Naya Nuki’s people don’t get buffalo, they will starve. One fateful day, their fear becomes reality as scouts gallop into camp with the horrifying news: the enemy is near. Naya Nuki, Sacajawea, and others are taken captive and find themselves forced to walk the one thousand miles to the Minnetare village in North Dakota. Every day, escape grows in Naya Nuki’s mind… but the penalty for an attempted escape is death. Will Naya Nuki survive not only the imminent Minnetare chase, but also the dangers of traveling so far in the wildness alone?

Concerns: As a story about Indians, the book contains Indian traditions that are sometimes less than scenic, as well as references to the “Great Spirit”.

Summary:  Naya Nuki is a brave eleven year-old whose wildness survival savvy is remarkable. Travel with her as she battles the challenges of the wild including an encounter with a fierce grizzly, the relentless pursuit of the Minnetare, and a near-fatal buffalo stampede. This extraordinary story has excitement and suspense throughout and combined with the courage and wit of Naya Nuki, it is no less than exceptional.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Book Review of The Lone Ranger

The Lone Ranger on Powder Horn Trail, by Fran Striker

4 stars 

Description: Texas has an outlaw on the loose -- but things looks hopeless when renegade Dave Lowry escapes into the badlands beyond the jurisdiction of the Texas Rangers. With justice for the unsolved shooting at stake, the Lone Ranger and Tonto step in to take up the outlaw's trail. A classic western chase follows, as the hunters and the hunted do their best to outdo one another across badlands, mountains, and landslides, while each maintaining their own code of honor... and the Lone Ranger discovers he may have met his match.

Concerns: Gunplay isn't always bloodless (a knife, too).

Summary:  Come on. Gunfights, posses, desperate chases on horseback, treacherous ambushes, split-second draws and the man behind the mask... it's classic. There's nothing of literary merit in the little book, and it's often flat-out ridiculous (Tonto: "You find-um tracks?"), but it's great fun if you're looking for sheer entertainment. It's an old book, so it's not going to pop up at Barnes and Noble, but this type tends to sell at library book sales for a dime a dozen. It's cheesy, but had sweaty horses and six-guns. I liked it!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Book Review of Ginger Pye

Ginger Pyeby Eleanor Estes

4 stars

Description: Jerry Pye wants a dog more than anything in the world. With one hard-earned dollar, he buys himself a puppy that he names Ginger Pye. Ginger quickly becomes an integral part in the family life of the Pyes as Jerry, his sister Rachel, his three year-old Uncle Bennie and Ginger have many adventures (and misadventures!). But their happiness is threatened when a mysterious stranger (none other than the Unsavory Character) follows them in an attempt to dognap their beloved Ginger. When Ginger disappears, naturally everyone blames the Unsavory Character...  but he is not who he seems, and revealing his true identity may be a task only Bennie can accomplish.

Concerns: None.

Summary: Ginger Pye is a story that every eight-year-old and up will be intrigued by, not just for the suspense that keeps one turning the pages, but also for the humor and wit prevalent throughout. Personally, my favorite aspect of the tale is the character Uncle Bennie, whose intellect is surprisingly adept for a three year old, but whose whimsical views of life are nonetheless thought-provoking! Don't miss Ginger Pye it has all the makings of a legend!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Book Review of Baby Island

Baby Island, by Carol Ryrie Brink

5 stars!

Description: Capable twelve-year-old Mary Wallace and her not-so-capable, ten-year-old sister Jean are traveling alone to Australia when the ship capsizes! In the chaos that ensues, Mary and Jean are put on the wrong lifeboat – the one with the four screaming babies! The two sisters are set adrift with babies Elisha (the “pink” twin), Elijah (the “blue” twin), Ann Elizabeth (the spoiled but lovable one-year-old) and Jonah whom Mary has a hard time keeping Jean from throwing overboard in hopes it will calm the storm like in the biblical Jonah story. When they reach Baby Island, they have all sorts of misadventures just trying to survive alone on a deserted island.

Concerns: None.

Summary: Practical Mary simply wants to live through this baby-abundant adventure while nutty Jean naturally wants to survive, but also have fun! Baby Island certainly has the means; tracking the mysterious Friday, searching for pirate’s treasure, conversing with a talking parrot, and attempting to keep the identical twins from getting mixed up all contribute to a wild, crazy and witty adventure all the way through!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Book Review of The Strictest School in the World

The Strictest School in the World: Being the Tale of a Clever Girl, a Rubber Boy, and a Collection of Flying Machines, Mostly Broken (The Mad Misadventures of Emmmaline and Rubberbones), by Howard Whitehouse

5 stars!

Description: Fourteen-year old Emmaline Cayley is fascinated with the science of aviation, so naturally she decides to build her own airplane! However, she runs into one problem: she is afraid to fly. To solve this problem, Emmaline enlists the help of Robert Burns (aka Rubberbones) to pilot her plane. But all of Emmaline’s plans come to a screeching halt when she is sent away to a boarding school. This isn’t just any old boarding school – it’s the strictest one in the world. Emmaline must drop her plans for flying machines, instead putting her brain to work finding out what is concealed in the tower that makes all the students tremble in terror. Escape is ever in her mind, but in all the years of the school’s existence, no one has ever gotten out alive.

Concerns: Brief fortune telling.

Summary: I loved this book! It’s hilarious, it’s adventurous, and it is just all-around fun! The lengthy title does not even begin to describe the adventures that await you; the ferocious field hockey games are my personal favorite, the description of Aunt Lucy’s infamous cooking made me shudder in disgust, and Rubberbones’s death-defying feats are a thrill to even the most reckless explorer!

P.S. Proceed at your own risk. There are dangers in every chapter.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Book Review of Tuck Everlasting

Tuck Everlasting, by Natalie Babbit

5 stars!

Description: Meet Winnie Foster, a 10 year old girl who is tired with her boring life as the only child in an annoyingly controlling family. One fateful day, Winnie decides to run away from it all, change her name, and accomplish something great to make her mark on the world. Before she gets far, she stumbles across a mysterious family called the Tucks who, though strange, seem nice enough – until suddenly they kidnap her. As the alarming chain of events unfolds, Winnie realizes that in meeting the Tucks, she discovered a secret that could change the world forever… but the appearance of a stranger with a dangerous proposition threatens the lives of the Tucks and the welfare of the entire world.

Concerns: Some very dubious worldview / eastern religion-y discussions (i.e., we’re all on the wheel of life…); a character is killed.

Summary: I love this book, and since first stumbling across it a year ago, I’ve read it approximately half a dozen times. It is one of those mysterious and yet poignant books that are enjoyed by all ages. It’s a breathtaking adventure of dangers and secrets; Winnie must figure out a way to save the Tucks and keep their deadly (or rather, un-deadly) secret safely hidden. Through it all, she is faced with a choice that could change her life forever.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Book Review of Basil in Mexico

Basil in Mexico, by Eve Titus

4 stars

Description: Basil of Baker Street, the world's most famous mouse detective, is at it again! A mystery story of many tales in one, we follow clever Basil and the faithful Dawson as they tackle the dastardly Professor Ratigan in London and travel to Mexico to solve the puzzle of a stolen work of art. Success seems to be in their grasp... but they are faced with a sudden blow when Dawson is kidnapped on the eve of a full-scale rebel army attack!

Concerns: None

Summary: Consider this book a low-calorie item on the literary world's fast-food menu. If you've read Sherlock Holmes, the mimicry is perfect. If you haven't read Holmes, the story itself is incentive enough. It's a fast-reading mystery with just enough dangers and complications scattered along the way -- not an outstanding or even terribly well-written classic with deep life lessons, but it's a great trip to take just for the fun of it.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Book Review of Snow Dog

Snow Dog, by Jim Kjelgaard

5 stars!

Description: In a northern wilderness that is ruled by a killer wolf who hates mankind, a northern fur trapper loses his dog. The trapper's search for the dog proves fruitless, and when he gives up, we follow the trail of the dog and her pups as they fight and live and grow and die in their quest for survival, ever stalked by the menacing wolf and his pack. At last, the trapper meets one of the grown pups - but the two have little time to overcome their mutual wariness before they are faced by a growing threat in the forest. The snow has grown deep and the game scarce, and the now-starving wolf pack has come back to finish the job it started years before.

Concerns: It's a wilderness, and it can be savage. Wolf/dog fights, several casualties (including a man). One wolf in particular is frequently and flippantly called a devil. One matter-of-fact and innocent reference to a... female dog.

Summary: Set in the harsh and yet fiercely beautiful forest deep in the north country, this is an enthralling tale of a fierce struggle for survival. Reads like an old western or Royal Canadian Mounted Police story, but this time about a trapper and his dog. The description of the frozen wilds is fascinating; wild creatures include everything from the moose and snowshoe rabbits to the lynx and the grizzly bear, the rivers and marshes are almost visible on the pages, and the struggles and triumphs of the hard life are almost real as the glint of savagery in the eyes of the wolves. A favorite from the first time I read it.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Book Review of The Jungle Book

The Jungle Book, by Rudyard Kipling

4 stars

Description: First, lose your image of a Disney-ified Baloo (and don't go correcting my grammar. Disney-ified either is or should be a word). Kipling's jungle displays not a tribe of goofy animals, but the the life and death struggle of a wolf pack. The jungle is a dangerous place; it can be a savage place. Above all, this jungle is the setting for a fantastic adventure of a boy and the wild creatures that protect and defend him as he grows and finally decides for himself what kind of a life he will lead.

Concerns: It's a different sort of book because it deals with a very wild setting. Can be violent and a mite dark (the sequels are more so). Humans in the book consider Mowgli a demon/sorcerer. Threats of execution. ***NOTE: review covers Mowgli and His BrothersKaa's Hunting, and Tiger! Tiger! It does not include other non-Mowgli stories (i.e. The White Seal), which are often published in the same volume.

Summary: Reading this book introduces the jungle as a strange and wondrous place. Danger is real, but so is friendship and loyalty; the harshness of life runs side by side with the sweet. Beyond the mysteries of the jungle itself, the story is fascinating way to follow a queer life story that spins completely outside the world as we know it. It's an odd tale, but it's worth exploring (and come on. With a name like Mowgli, how can you go wrong?).

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Book Review of Beauty

Beauty, by Robin McKinley

5 stars!

A masterful version of the fairy tale Beauty and the Beast. Suddenly impoverished by the loss of their merchant ships, the ill-named Beauty and her family are forced to move from their wealthy town home to the half-wild north country, where rumors of goblins and wild things still lurk in the thick trees of the wilderness beyond their doorstep. The family settles in, finding they can live happily and content in their new world - until one of them trespasses into the dark forest. From that day, their lives will never be the same.

Concerns: Magic.

Summary: To the undying relief of the reader, Beauty factually tells us she's not pretty, and moves on. She doesn't care. Good. We don't either. Instead of focusing on image and romance ad nauseam, we get a tale of mystery, secrets, and friendship. One of the best reworked fairy-tales I've read. From the magnificent horse Greatheart to the enormous library (Mark Twain?), to scattered hopeful sparrows lured to a windowsill, Beauty holds all the wonders of a new world, and it delivers on its promise.