Review: The Seventh Wish

theseventhw.jpgBook: The Seventh Wish
Author: Kate Messner
Rating: 3.5 Stars

Basic plot: Charlie goes ice fishing and ends up catching a fish that grants her wishes. But the wishes all sort of backfire on her. When news hits the family that Abby, her sister, is facing the struggle of a life-time, Charlie’s determined to make one more wish…

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I love the opening with the ice flowers. That was a beautiful image to start the book. Especially with introducing the sisters, Charlie and Abby. (I do wish Messner that done a little more with this imagery later on in the book. So much potential there! This is where an Epilogue would have worked so nicely. A year later… Charlie and Abby go in search of ice flowers…???)

2) I loved the Fairy Tale element of this story. It had a Fisherman-and-his-Wife vibe. I love how the wishes don’t quite work out. (Like with Bobby vs. Roberto!)

3) I also loved the dramatic element. I don’t really want to reveal it in a spoiler, so if you want to find out, you will have to read the book yourself.

4) The word-game that the family plays was fun. “I’m thinking of a word…” It was truly heart-breaking when, in the second-half of the book, the dad tries to play the game, but the mom just can’t do it. It’s very touching when he reveals the word.

5) I love the Serenity Prayer and I like how it was worked into the story.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) There are some really tough themes in this book. And it’s coupled light-hearted fare like Irish Dancing and a Wishing Fish. This felt a tad disjointed to me. It’s like the book didn’t know what it was… A Fairy Tale? A Drama?

2) The drama element is well set-up, but then poorly executed at times. Especially when the mystery is solved half-way through the book. Charlie finds out right away, at the same time as her parents. I wish Messner had dragged this mystery out a bit longer. Let Charlie worry a bit more. Let her wonder why her parents are always whispering about something, or speaking in low tones on the phone. This wasn’t HORRIBLE, but I thought it could have been drawn out a bit more to better effect.

3) I can’t believe the mom and dad let Charlie go alone with Abby to the dance competition. I don’t want to give a spoiler here, so I won’t explain… other than to say that suddenly explaining that the dad had a flu bug or food poisoning was NOT the best set up. And there is NO WAY the mom needed to stay behind to bring him tea, water, etc. He’s an adult. He’d probably sleeping most of the day while they were gone. Frankly, I was not convinced. So much so that it brought me out of the story (which is not a good thing). It just seemed like the author needed some excuse to make the parents stay home. Well, in my opinion, it didn’t quite work. 😦

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3.5 stars (out of 5) – This was an odd mishmash of genres. I loved the Fairy Tale element of the wishing fish. I like the drama element. While I’m not sure if Messner fully pulled it off, I did like the book and it’s good enough to get 3.5 stars from me.

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Review: Orphan Island

imagesBook: Orphan Island
Author: Laurel Snyder
Rating: 3 Stars

Basic plot: Jinny is the oldest child, or “Eldest”, of nine orphans on a mysterious island. When the next child arrives in the boat, it will be her turn to leave because the rules say there can only be nine orphans living on the island. But Jinny doesn’t feel ready to leave yet. So what will happen if she stays?

WHAT’S COOL…

1) The mystery of the island is intriguing. It’s what kept me reading. What is this island all about? Where do the children come from? Where do they go? What happened to Deen? Who made all the rules? What happened to Abigail?

2) The island is like a character itself. (And come to think of it, so is the boat.) The nine orphans are living out an idyllic childhood on a beautiful desert island… the stuff of novels. And it’s safe there, as the island takes care of its own. Is there a child out who hasn’t daydreamed this very scenario?

3) The little rhyme… “Nine on an island, orphans all…” is used quite nicely in the book.

4) I liked the dynamic between the children. Very realistic. For the most part there is comradery, but (as in real life) there’s also Eevie. Oh, Eevie. The character that you’re ready to vote off the island!

5) The book cover is beautiful. I feel it captures the mystery of the island quite well with the boat and child in silhouette. And yet the trees and foliage are friendly, whimsical, and protective (like the island in the book).

6) [*SPOILER] I loved figuring out half-way through that the island is a metaphor for childhood. Jinny cannot stay safe in childhood forever, which is why the island starts to fall apart after she refuses to leave in the boat. It’s interesting that this affects not just Jinny, but the other children as well. [*END SPOILER]

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I had a hard time liking Jinny. She kept saying what a bad teacher she was, and neglecting her duty to instruct Ess, her “Care”. (I preferred Ben or Joon, by the way. But they’re not our main character, are they?)

2) We don’t get to find out what happens once the children leave the island. Like Abigail and Deen. We’re never given any idea of the mothers left behind and why the children are sent to the island in the first place. We’re left with this instead: [*SPOILER] “Out there were answers. She hoped she was ready for them.” This is where the metaphor of the island-as-childhood breaks down. In real life, we have adults who can help guide the child through the transition into adulthood. This isn’t death where we don’t have anybody who can explain things to us! [*END SPOILER] Instead, it would have been nice if Laurel Snyder had put in some Epilogue just to help with some of those answers.

3) There isn’t a whole lot of plot/danger in this book, especially in the first half. Apparently because nothing major can hurt the children. (Even if they throw themselves off the cliff, the wind sends them safely back to land.) This is not a huge strike against the book, but if you’re expecting more things to happen, you’re in for a disappointment.

4) The children have books on the island. Some of them are described as the one with the boy wizard (Harry Potter) or the girl with a monkey and a horse for friends (Pippi Longstocking). Since this island thing isn’t part of the real world (obviously!), I wish she hadn’t used real-world books. Although, I will give her credit that at least she does NOT use the actual titles for the books. Even so, the descriptions were enough to break me out of the spell of this world she had built. I wish she had been a little more creative in this area.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3 Stars (out of 5) – I liked this book well-enough. I loved the idea of the metaphor that was played out. Would I recommend it? Probably not so much for its target audience (kids), but maybe more for adults. Which is kinda weird considering the themes of the book. Maybe this would make a good book for a read-aloud, because there is so much to discuss.

Review: The Seventh Most Important Thing

9780553497304Book: The Seventh Most Important Thing
Author: Shelley Pearsall
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic plot: Arthur gets in big trouble when he throws a brick at the Junk Man. As part of his probation, he now has to work off hours doing the Junk Man’s bidding… which leads him to the List of the Seven Most Important Things.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I like the cover, even thought it’s slightly misleading. (Light bulbs are NOT the seventh most important thing.) But it works. Because, at least light bulbs are on the list 😉

2) Arthur is nicely developed as a character… How he struggles with dealing with his dad’s death. How he deals with his mom and sister. How he navigates the odd instructions given to him by St. James (aka the Junk Man, aka Mr. Hampton).

3) I love how Mr. Hampton is the one who suggests Arthur work for him during his probation. What a wise man.

4) This story, I found out after reading the book, is actually based on a true story. Sort of. The characters are fictional. But Mr. Hampton and his artwork is real. Which is pretty amazing. You can actually look online to see the full display of the artwork.

5) I’m glad there’s an epilogue. I like how it takes place seven years after the main story. (Seven is an important number in the book!)

6) I love the Biblical imagery in the book as it relates to the artwork. But I also like that it wasn’t in your face. The quotes especially: “The people perish for a lack of knowledge” and “Fear Not”.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I almost put this book back on the shelf at the library. Reading the back blurb, I wasn’t sure I wanted another juvenile delinquent story. But, I kept it and am I glad I did!

2) Somehow I missed that this book takes place in the 1960s. When I looked back, I saw that it gives the date in the first chapter. But like I said, I missed that. I wish the author had put more 1960s hints into the following chapters. To give us a better flavor of the times. (I kept wondering why these people didn’t have cell phones and such.)

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 stars (out of 5) – I really liked this book. And even more so, when I discovered the history behind it.

Review: My Lady Jane

22840421Book: My Lady Jane
Author: Cynthia Hand, Jodi Meadows, Brodi Ashton
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic plot: Young King Edward, son of Henry VIII, is dying and he is persuaded to set his cousin, Lady Jane Grey, as his successor. Which means, she must be married off to ensure a male heir (to make sure the crown doesn’t go to Edward’s sister, Mary). But this isn’t your typical historic fiction. It’s more like the story of Lady Jane Grey set in an alternate universe… with people who can shape-shift into animal form… and where death is largely exaggerated.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I normally do not like it when authors fiddle with history. That said, the narrators of this book (and yes, there are three of them!) definitely took people like me into consideration. They prepped me very nicely in the Prologue. Changing some of the names in the story also helped me make this adjustment. So, I read the story like I would read a fantasy or fairy tale. Yes, it’s still Lady Jane Grey’s story, but… not quite. And I was okay with that! 🙂

2) Okay, so this is a “What If” book. [*SPOILER] As in, what if King Edward the VI didn’t really die at the age of 15? What if Lady Jane Grey didn’t really have her head chopped off after being queen for 9 days? [END SPOILER] What if…? What if…? This is what gives us the alternate universe. And I found that quite intriguing, actually.

3) I really liked the character of Bess, Edward’s sister. She’s a smart and capable character. You can see the beginnings of what would become Queen Elizabeth I. [*SPOILER] Kudos to the authors for how they brought her to the throne at the end of the book. Without much head-rolling! [END SPOILER]

4) The love story between Jane and G was done well. I guessed about the alternate night-day thing pretty early on, and how this would naturally keep them apart. [*SPOILER] With him being a horse during the day (when she’s human) and her a ferret during the night (when he’s human). [END SPOILER] But I also thought this brought a nice romantic tension to the story.

5) The Shakespeare connection had the potential for me-not-liking-this. But I actually did like it! Of course, early on I recognized G’s efforts at poetry as belonging to the yet-unborn bard. (The only thing I didn’t like was how the narrators actually had to explain this later in the book… Just in case we didn’t get it??? I wish they’d have left that one alone!)

6) I liked trying to fit my knowledge of the true historical events with the book events… Especially seeing how the authors “fractured” these events into what, in essence, becomes a fractured fairy tale. (Note: After reading the book, I went to youtube for some refresher history lessons about the real Lady Jane Grey!)

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I felt the second wedding was unnecessary. At least describing it in full detail. :/

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I love history and I love the story of Lady Jane Grey. Fortunately, I love a good sense of humour and fractured fairy tales. So, I guess this book fits quite well with all those categories!

Review: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

tumblr_nu2gor8S001ta4uato1_1280[1].jpgBook: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry
Author: Mildred D. Taylor
Rating: 5 Stars

Basic plot: The Logan family must deal with the ugliness of prejudice in their Mississippi hometown during the height of the Great Depression. They are the only black family to own their land, and there are plenty of people who aren’t happy about that. But the family is determined to stick together to keep the land and persevere.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) Cassie is a wonderful narrator. She’s such a spunky character! (Although, in many ways, I see this book really as the story of her brother, Stacey.)

2) Which brings me to Stacey… What an insightful character. You can see him struggle to grasp the world around him. I love how he takes the blame for T.J. during the cheating episode. Although, he’s not all goody-two-shoes about it. He exacts his revenge (but learns a HUGE lesson in all of that).

3) And then there’s Jeremy. He’s really the only good white character in the book. I love how he stands up against the bigotry of his own father. I love the scene where Stacey’s own father warns Stacey about Jeremy and how he will one day turn on Stacey. Somehow I (and I think Stacey felt it as well) think that Stacey’s father is wrong on this one… that Jeremy would not fulfill this prophecy. I think Jeremy is different. And I think Stacey knew it.

4) But, wait! There’s more characters to love. I just love the whole Logan family. From Big Ma down to Little Man. (Why is Little Man called “Little Man”? Doesn’t matter. It works.) Papa. Mama. Even Mr. Morrison, who is not really a family member, but is living with them.

5) I love how Uncle Hammer [*SPOILER] gives up his beloved car for the family. It’s horrible that he has to do it, but it such a wonder portrayal of sacrifice on his part. [*END SPOILER] He does it for the family.

6) Oh, T.J.! This character wanted to make me cry. In so many ways, he is so despicable. Especially with what happens to Mrs. Logan. And while I hated this character, Taylor was able to make me also feel extreme pity for him. Yes, by the end of the book, I wanted to reach out to him and help him to get back on the road to redemption.

7) [*SPOILER] The fire at the end of the book was a great climax. Even better is the discovery of how the fire was set. However, even though this is a spoiler, I will not make this into a super-spoiler by revealing the answer to that question. [*END SPOILER]

8) And finally… The poem (referenced in the title of the book) is amazing. It makes me want to cry and fume and change the world all in one.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) Come on! I gave this book 5 stars! I rarely give out 5 stars, but this book gets it.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 5 stars (out of 5) – I can’t believe I haven’t read this book before now. It’s been on my list for awhile. It’s a wonderful, but sad, look into the past. And as history has a tendency to do, we see glimpses of our present world. A world that could use a whole lot more kindness. Thank-you Mildred D. Taylor for giving us this book!

Review: The Losers Club

losersclubBook: The Losers Club
Author: Andrew Clements
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic plot: Alec loves to read. This year, he has to stay in the after-school program and so he starts a reading club… which he calls it the Losers Club, so that everybody will just leave him alone to read. But then other kids start joining the Losers Club, including his former-friend-turned-bully.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) Alec loves to read. Hello? I’m hooked.

2) I love all (or at least most) of the books Alec loves. I completely understand his desire to just sit and read. To get lost in a book. When we were in grade 6, my friends and I would have fit right in with this club!

3) The younger brother, Luke, was a neat character. I like his Yoda impersonations. I also like how Clements connects the two brothers story-wise through the bully, Kent: The Losers and the Mini-Losers.

4) I love WHY Alec lets the younger Lily join the club. Especially what he says to her about how she identifies herself as a loser. (But I won’t spoil it here.)

5) Lots of wonderful reading quotes in this book. For example this passage about the value of old books:

Nina looked at the book. “It’s really old—actually, a lot of your books are old, practically antiques. Like that copy of Treasure Island in your backpack? That book is ancient.”

“So what?” he said. “And anyway, books aren’t like that. A book is either good or not. And if it’s good, it never gets old.”

6) Kent’s character arc was well-done. He doesn’t seem quite like the caricature of the school bully. He’s a little more complex.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) A bully named Kent?? Really? This seemed very strange to me.

2) While I like the brother Luke’s Yoda impersonation, I thought it was a little weird to have the mom do it. Why have two characters have the same quirk?

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – This has become one of my favourite Andrew Clement books. Probably because of all the reading that is done in the book.

Review: The Warden’s Daughter

w204Book: The Warden’s Daughter
Author: Jerry Spinelli
Rating: 3.5 Stars

Basic plot: Cammie is the Warden’s daughter at a prison. Her mom is dead and she is desperately seeking a mother-figure. She latches on to Eloda Pupko, a trustee housekeeper (i.e. she’s a prisoner). But Eloda isn’t quite cooperating with all of Cammie’s demands…

WHAT’S COOL…

1) Cammie was a difficult character to like. I can only compare her Mary Lennox in The Secret Garden. BUT… I felt that she did grow on me.

2) I liked the bit about the toothbrush and the birthday party. Yes, well done, Mr. Spinelli! (BTW, I was with Cammie on this one, not the simpering toothbrush-girl. Although, she could have handle the situation a bit better.)

3) Reggie drove me crazy! She is obsessed with the prison’s most notorious inmate (a murderer) and wants his autograph… just ’cause he’s famous. Yet I like the arc with her character. And she works well as a foil to Cammie, making Cammie seem not quite so bratty. Especially when Cammie finally stands up to her and shows Reggie the mother of the murdered child, which puts the prisoners in perspective for Reggie.

4) I like the revelation at the end with regards to Eloda Pupko. But I won’t spoil it here. 😉

5) And Boo Boo. What a complex character!

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) At times it was really, really hard to like Cammie. I understand that this is part of the book (and it gets better near the end), but it’s still takes a toll on the reader.

2) At other times, I wanted to yell at Cammie’s father. Like why [*SPOILER] did he give her the key to the women’s exercise yard? [END SPOILER] I felt he allowed Cammie way too much freedom. She even bossed him around!

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3.5 Stars (out of 5) – I was certainly drawn into the story. I found that I didn’t like Cammie for most of the book, which is hard on the reader. We want to root for the protagonist. But in the end, I liked how everything turned out. (Which is why I tagged on the 0.5 star.)

Review: Papa Luther

imagesBook: Papa Luther: A Graphic Novel
Author: Daniel D. Maurer
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic plot: A graphic novel that interweaves Martin Luther’s famous life moments with the daily little, family moments of life with his children.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) This graphic novel takes history and makes it interesting.

2) I like the character arc of Luther’s children, Hans and Magda… the childish bickering that culminates in a more serious way near the end (which I won’t spoil!).

3) It seems that the author used some of Luther’s real quotes… all marked by a little cross. The historian in me thought that was a neat touch. (Yay! History! Quotes!)

4) The end made me cry. In a good way. (Even though, I kinda knew it was coming. Or at least guessed it was coming.)

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) A few of the “definitions” given of theological terms (eg: heresy) seem to be a weird modern definition and not something a 16th century guy like Luther would have said.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I thought this was a nice simplified treatment of the great historical events of the Protestant Reformation. And I thought the book remained true to history without being bogged down in all the theological nitty-gritty. Having the children be the centerpiece of the story was a good move for a graphic novel aimed at kids!

Note: This year marks the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation being celebrated this year on October 31st. This book offers a beautiful and condensed overview of these historical events.

Review: The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre

9780062074676_zoomBook: The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre
Author: Gail Carson Levine
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic plot: Perry is adopted as a baby by Lady Mother and Lord Tove. What Perry doesn’t know yet is that she’s Bamarre, not Lakti (like her parents). When the fairy, Halina, shows up (and fairies only show up to Bamarre), her whole life changes. No longer is she the pampered daughter, but now she’s a daughter on the run…

WHAT’S COOL…

1) Perry is a beautiful mixture of likeable and believable. She’s been raised to feel superior to the Bamarre, and this flaw in her comes out again and again. Even when she is learning to become one of them. Even with this unlikeable trait, I felt drawn to her.

2) Gail Carson Levine is the Queen of the Re-imagined Fairy Tale. With some of her books, it’s obvious right away which story she riffing. Think: Ella Enchanted. With other books, it creeps up on you and you slowly realize which fairy tale she’s conjuring up. Think: A Tale of Two Castles. This book is akin to the latter. [*SPOILER] There are hints on the first page (with the reference to the hair and the fact that the father was caught in the garden), so it soon becomes clear that this is a Rapunzel story. And I LOVE Rapunzel stories. When Willem is climbing the tower and we see (with Perry) that Lady Mother is in the tower now… we know this can’t end well! [END SPOILER]

3) I like how other little fairy tale elements are brought into the story… like the table-cloth and the seven-league boots.

4) The twist on the Father (Lord Tove) and Lady Mother left me guessing throughout the book. The revelations are wonderfully done and our loyalties morph as Perry’s do.

5) Levine is also amazing in her world building. One of the best I’ve seen. I actually believe in her worlds. I love that she doesn’t always explain things to the reader, but just says them, as if we should already know… Like the history of the Bamarre and the Lakti. She doesn’t dumb things down and tell us: “Well, I’ve created this world where it’s like this.” Instead, she treats it like it’s real and that we already know this, and then, lo and behold, we do get to understand the whole situation. (She also does this well in A Tale of Two Castles.)

6) I like the fairy, Halina. I won’t say more.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) The cover of the book kind of weirds me out. I don’t know why. There are elements in it that I like. I like the blue overtones. I like the hair flying. Maybe it’s the weird glowing blue on her boots???

2) I was expecting an explanation of why Lady Mother gives the seven-league boots to Perry. I thought that maybe a deep secret is that Lady Mother is (secretly) Bamarre? But alas, this is one of those details that isn’t explained, and ends up giving us lots of questions. Like why did the mother hide the boots from the father? And why give them to Perry in the first place? Did I miss something???

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I love Fairy Tales and Gail Carson Levine definitely delivers with this book! As I said before, she’s the Queen. Maybe the Fairy Queen? Long live the Fairy Queen!

Review: The Wizards of Once

wizards-of-onceBook: The Wizards of Once
Author: Cressida Cowell
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic plot: Xar is a Wizard (but without magic) and Wish is a Warrior (with a magic sword) in a place where Wizards and Warriors are taught to hate each other. Brought together, they form an odd team against a deadlier threat. The Witches, thought extinct, are back.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) Xar and Wish are likeable, but also have their own quirks (and at times can be unlikeable!) I like that Xar is not just a copy of Hiccup. He shares some attributes with Hiccup, but he’s different enough.

2) I liked how Wish’s eye patch comes into the story. (I won’t spoil it.)

3) I really like the talking raven, Caliburn. I love his philosophy and his wisdom. Great character!

4) As with How to Train Your Dragon, the illustrations in the book are wonderful and unique. They add the extra oomph.

5) I like how the parents in this series are not quite the bumbling idiots from HTTYD. I respected them. I even feared them (especially Wish’s mother: Queen Sychorax). Yet, the children each seek approval and love from these parents, which ultimately humanizes them.  (Note: I noticed in the early HTTYD books, Cowell portrays her parents as 2D buffoons. But then in the later books, especially during the dragon rebellion, this changes slightly. I wonder if she rather regretted this earlier characterization?? And with this new series, I’m guessing she wanted to start with a different tone.)

6) The Witches make for a formidable foe. I like how she ties the plot points together. When we finally meet the Kingwitch, I was like: Yeah, that makes sense.

7) The Unknown Narrator is a nice touch. I have my guesses, but I can’t/won’t say for sure yet. I’m assuming this is something that will play itself out as the series continues.

8) I don’t like cliffhanger books. I like a book to have its own ending. This book has that! Yay! But, it’s also lets you know that there’s more to come. (Which is a good thing. Because now I am excited for Book 2, which probably won’t be out for a year and a day. But I’m cool with that.)

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I wasn’t too crazy about Squeezjoos, the little baby sprite. He was a little too much like Toothless-meets-Jar Jar Binks. I like Toothless. I don’t care for Jar Jar.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – Which is a high rating from me. (Rarely do I rate a book 5 stars.) This book is definitely written by the author of How to Train Your Dragon, but it has enough differences that it is its own book/series. I was afraid the book wouldn’t live up to my expectations, but I’m glad to say, it passed the test… with flying colours! 🙂