Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Ruby in the Smoke review

The Ruby in the Smoke (Sally Lockhart Trilogy, #1)

Book talk:  Have you ever asked a question and had someone warn you to leave it alone?  That's exactly what happens to Sally.  When she tries to uncover the mystery of what happened to her father she only encounters more death and danger and people telling her that a proper lady should just stay home.  But life with her aunt is insufferable and she can't rest until she knows why she became an orphan.  With a few trusty friends, she just might be able to discover what a cursed ruby from India has to do with her past--or she might just doom them all!

Rocks my socks:  This is a great mystery set in Victorian England. Sally and her friends from the young photographer to the enterprising urchin are all wonderful characters, the villains are positively Dickensian, and the mystery unraveled in a suspenseful way full of clues and puzzles to work out.

Rocks in my socks: zip

Every book its reader:  
I'd give this to fans of mystery and historical fiction 6th & up.


Apparently there's a BBC adaptation of the book starring Doctor Who actors Billie Piper and Matt Smith!

Source: The Ruby in the Smoke by Phillip Pullman: buy it or check it out today!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Haroun and the Sea of Stories Review

Haroun and the Sea of Stories

Book talk:  Did you ever wonder where stories come from?  Haroun has asked his father the storyteller many times.  Each time he replies that he has a special tap into the Sea of Stories that he draws his inspiration from.  So when he freezes up at a major event, Haroun knows where he must go to fix things.  After tricking a genie Haroun sets off on a trip on the back of a strange bird and embarks on a quest to save not only his father's job, but the Sea of Stories itself.

Rocks my socks:  Haroun meets all kinds of fantastic creatures during his adventure from shadow warriors to floating gardeners.  The book is chock-full of word-play, wit, and aphorisms.  The plot is that of a classic adventure story with a boy setting out from the real world to discover a magical one, meet new companions, and save a world while learning something about himself in the process.  There's a reason this type of story is popular and this is a particularly good example of it.

Rocks in my socks:  The stylized writing felt a tad stiff to me at first but once I got into it I didn't mind at all.

Every book its reader:  I'd give this to kids looking for a classic fantasy adventure like The Wizard of Oz. There's plenty for adults to appreciate, and I'd say it's fine for 4th grade and up.  It would make an excellent read-aloud.

Source: Symposium Books in Providence, RI (

Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie: buy it or check it out today!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Daughter of Smoke and Bone series review

Daughter of Smoke & Bone (Daughter of Smoke & Bone, #1)Days of Blood & Starlight (Daughter of Smoke & Bone, #2)Dreams of Gods & Monsters (Daughter of Smoke & Bone, #3)

Book talk:  You may think that your family is weird, but Karou's isn't even human.  She has a pretty normal life on the surface: she goes to art school, hangs out with friends, copes with a break-up.  But those closest to her wonder why she has a habit of disappearing at a moment's notice.  They never suspect the truth--that she goes through secret doors to a workshop filled with monsters that send her all over the world collecting teeth.  These are no baby teeth either.  They are ripped from animals of all sorts and collecting them can be dangerous work.  Karou doesn't know how she came by this odd life, but she loves her monstrous family.  Then an angel with wings of flames comes into her life and Karou finally begins to unravel the story of her dismal past as she prepares to face an even more dangerous future.

Rocks my socks:  The world-building in this series is phenomenal.  Laini Taylor creates a unique and complex world that weaves together not only different countries but parallel universes.  The creatures that live in this alternate universe are creative part animal part human hybrids.  As Karou discovers more about her history, the complexities of the society are slowly revealed.  That's what I liked best about this series.  Nothing is simplified to black and white.  The characters are layered and develop and change over the course of the series, the society is complicated and different perspectives on its history are explored, and the decisions the characters are faced with are genuinely difficult.

Rocks in my socks:  
Perhaps because I read all three back to back I got frustrated with Taylor repeating herself and summarizing previous plot points.  In a similar vein, the constant references to gazes full of electricity conveniently interrupted to draw the tension out seriously wore on my nerves by the time I was reading book three.

Every book its reader:  I'd give this to fans of urban fantasy like The Mortal Instruments series.   Both the romance and the violence can get pretty intense at times so I'd save it for 8th grade and up.


Laini Taylor has a website:

The series has a website with a cool map and other downloads:

There's a series of trailers to introduce the series and the main characters, I'll put the first here:

Source: school library & ebooks from SF public

The Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor: buy it or check it out today!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Dodger Review


Book talk: Dodger earned his nickname for his ability to dodge out of danger and he's stayed true to his name.  He makes a living by finding coins, jewels, and other debris in the sewers of London.  One night as he's coming out of a drain he sees a lady in distress and rushes to her aid.  This sets off a chain of events that leads him to meeting Charles Dickens, getting a close shave from Sweeny Todd, and even attending a posh dinner party.  But when an international assassin is hired to kill him, will he be able to dodge him too?

Rocks my socks:  This book is chock full of interesting facts about Victorian London from Dickens and Disraeli to toshers and cockney rhyming slang.  Dodger somehow finds himself rubbing elbows with a variety of famous and infamous people from the era as he woos a damsel in distress and finds his way out of the gutter.

Rocks in my socks:  The characters are all caricatures rather than fully fleshed out individuals.  I'm sure it was a conscious decision on Pratchett's part, but it just didn't work for me.  I didn't really connect with any of the characters--which is surprising considering how much I like tricksters and kind-hearted thieves.  It was a pleasant and at times entertaining read but it wasn't a particularly moving or memorable one for me.

Every book its reader:  I'd give this to fans of Pratchett or anyone looking for a fast-paced romp through Victorian London.


There's a well-produced book trailer for the book:

Source: Bookshelf store in Truckee, CA

Dodger by Terry Pratchett: buy it or check it out today!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Brief Reviews Summer 2014 part 1

The Violinist's Thumb: And Other Lost Tales of Love, War, and Genius, as Written by Our Genetic CodeNonfiction is not my favorite genre, but I really enjoyed this book about genetics.  The information is conveyed through a series of interesting anecdotes that I found myself bringing up in conversation often because they were too good not to share.  The scientific explanations that accompany the stories are all told in accessible language that left me with a much better understanding of DNA than my university biology class did.  I'd recommend it to anyone looking for an entertaining and informative popular science book. From John Fitzgerald Kennedy to Henri De Toulouse-Lautrec and from Einstein's brain to Polar Bear livers, this book has it all! The Violinist's Thumb by Sam Kean: buy it or check it out today!

We Were Liars I avoided reading anything about this book before I read it because I had so much faith in the author that I knew I'd like it.  I assumed from the cover and the author's previous books that it would a light-hearted, witty summer romp.  Perhaps I should have researched it more because boy howdy was I wrong!  I had an emotional ending to the school year for various reasons, so I was glad to read something light.  Then I was completely blindsided by the traumatic ending.  The tone (and genre) turned on a dime.  If you had asked me if I liked the novel at any point before the big twist I would have said I was loving it and I did read it in one sitting.  But I disliked the ending so much that it cast a pall on the whole novel.  We Were Liars by E. Lockhart: buy it or check it out today!

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop TalkingAs an introvert, I loved this book for naming and normalizing so many things that I do and feel.  It contained a lot of great advice on how to live a happy and healthy life as an introvert.  All of the descriptions of the horrible experiences a lot of introvert children go through made me call my mother to thank her for being awesome.  Even if you're not an introvert, this is a great book to read because chances are you'll have to teach, manage, raise, date, or befriend an introvert at some point in your life and this will help you understand why they act the way they do.  The pace was a bit slow at times, but the information contained in it is excellent.  Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain: buy it or check it out today!      

Longbourn This novel is set during the events of Pride and Prejudice, but focuses on the world of the servants and what is happening to them as the Bennet girls are buffeted by the winds of love upstairs.  My feelings about the novel are torn.  On the one hand this is a well-researched look into the life of Regency era servants and I enjoyed reading about all the gritty details.  The servants themselves are faceted characters and I cared about their stories.  On the other hand I don't like the way the original characters are portrayed and in some instances changed completely by adding twists to their back stories.  The tone of the novel is very modern with its focus on the social injustices of the era.  There's even an extended tangent on the horrors of war.  It has none of the sparkling wit of Austen and doesn't even attempt to imitate her style.  Which makes me question why this story was even set in Pride and Prejudice.  I would have enjoyed it much better if it was the story of Regency servants of a household invented for the novel.  As is I found myself longing for an Austen sensibility that just wasn't there.  Still, if you can put the original aside when reading it and take it on its own merits it's an interesting and compelling piece of historical fiction. Longbourn by Jo Baker: buy it or check it out today!

The Whistling SeasonThis was a great summer read for a teacher.  I borrowed it from my aunt & uncle and read it while relaxing in a lounge chair on their back porch.  The narrator is looking back on his childhood as a homesteader in Montana attending a one-room school.  The book is full of the evocative nostalgia you'd expect from someone recounting beloved stories from their childhood.  The characters are all well drawn and the period details are fascinating.  The story is at turns moving and humorous but always well-written.  The narrator was an intellectually curious child so it's full of random tid-bits that he discovers.  I wasn't a big fan of the ending, but the lessons learned in this one-room school house will stay with me for a long time.   The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig: buy it or check it out today!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Brief Reviews Spring 2014 part 2

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood (Persepolis, #1-2)I enjoyed reading this graphic memoir for the perspective that it provided.  I read volume one and two for my book club and while I'm usually not a fan of memoirs, I appreciated the glimpse this one gave me into a culture and events that I knew very little about. There were many poignant and humorous moments in this coming of age story full of acts of defiance and attempts to understand the world that anyone can relate to.  There's a reason this book has received so much acclaim and it largely lives up to the hype.  Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi: buy it or check it out today!

Prince Puggly of Spud and the Kingdom of Spiff The kingdoms of Spiff and Spud couldn't be more different.  One values fashion above all else while the other prides itself in its more humble and mismatched tastes.  But not everyone in Spiff rejoices in uncomfortable fashions.  The princess would much rather read in her pajamas than go to some stuffy ball.  When Prince Puggly of Spud and the Princess of Spiff meet up they hatch a plan to teach the Spiffians a lesson in blindly following trends.  This book is pure, entertaining froth.  The light and humorous rhymes pair up with the creative typography and the fanciful situations and characters (such as King Dandy von Fop) to create an amusing tale that would be fun to read aloud. The theme of individuality as expressed by fashion is well-worn, but the way the story is told with its jaunty rhymes and playful layout is perfectly charming. Prince Puggly of Spud and the Kingdom of Spiff by Robert Paul Weston: buy it or check it out today!

Domovoi TPBThis comic starts off with a full page spread of a sassy talking cat, so it was basically love at first sight.  But after the initial excitement of attraction wore off, I found that we didn't have much in common.  Most of the characters are never fully introduced and many situations are left unexplained. The narrative was disjointed and confusing moving from one scene to the next seemingly based more on what would be pretty to draw than what would add to character or story development.  The artwork is absolutely gorgeous and just flipping through for the pictures alone is worth it.  As a story I just didn't connect with it though.  Another disappointing pretty face.  Domovoi by Peter Bergting: buy it or check it out today!

The Queen of Attolia (The Queen's Thief, #2)  This book is difficult for me to review because I can't go too far into why I dislike it without revealing major spoilers.  I absolutely adored the first book and perhaps it's because I grew so attached to the protagonist that I was so upset by the ending of this book.  Let's just say that I am apparently not as quick to forgive as he is.  I was so upset by the ending that it was all I could talk about for days to anyone who would listen.  Even before the final twist I didn't like this book as much as the first.  There was a lot of planning out war and tedious descriptions of battles and whether or not stores will last which is fascinating to some but not my cup of tea.  I much preferred the heist theme of the first.  The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner: buy it or check it out today!

Fool's Errand (Tawny Man, #1)Golden Fool (Tawny Man, #2)Fool's Fate (Tawny Man, #3)

Now this is a fantasy series that did not disappoint!  It's the third trilogy set in this world and I was glad to get an update on Fitz and the Fool.  Each book is over 600 pages, but I wanted them to be even longer.  I care deeply about these characters and there wasn't a single false step to jolt me out of the story.  I read them all in less than a week--one when I was working.  I normally sit with colleagues at lunch but that week I couldn't help finding a corner to myself where I could read on my break.  I even read on the bus despite it making me nauseated--it was worth it!  Even when I wasn't reading the books the moment my mind was free to wander it would travel to the world of the series and play out different scenarios and try to predict what would happen next.  The world building, the complex characterization, the moral and philosophical questions, and the action scenes are all superb.  I couldn't ask for better. If you haven't read the series start with Assassin's Apprentice and thank me later.  The Tawny Man series by Robin Hobb: buy it or check it out today!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Thief Review

The Thief (The Queen's Thief, #1)

Book talk: Gen is chained up in a dungeon, with shackles chaffing against his wrists as he slowly starves.  But he isn't concerned.  Gen is an experienced thief, which is what got him into prison and what will get him out.  There isn't a prison that he can't steal himself out of and he knows he'll be free of this one soon...somehow.  He isn't surprised when the King's Magus brings him out for a consultation.  He has a job that only a thief can do.  It will be dangerous and difficult and he may not make it out alive, but the Magus assures him that he will definitely die if he doesn't go along with it.  So Gen agrees to go with the Magus and steal an ancient treasure from the Gods.

Rocks my socks:  I am a sucker for any story involving sly thieves with hearts of gold--the sassier the better!  Gen does not disappoint on this count.  He takes pleasure in annoying the rest of the party throughout the novel, but when the going gets tough is quick to display his skill and cunning.  The world-building and invented mythology is interesting and their adventures on the road keep the pace moving admirably.  The characters are believably portrayed with flaws and layers and grow over the course of the novel.

Rocks in my socks:  There's a lot of energy put into creating a twist at the end that was ultimately fairly predictable.

Every book its reader:  I'd give this to fans of fantasy and stories about thieves.  5th grade and up.


Megan Whalen Turner has a website:

There's a jaunty trailer for the book:

Source: school library

The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner: buy it or check it out today!