Monday, October 25, 2010

The Seer of Shadows by Avi ****

Alright, I'm starting in on the Mark Twain Award nominees for 2010! I thought I'd try to read them all this year, so I figured why not do it in alphabetical order by the author's name? Therefore, my first book is one by Avi (though I've actually read one of the nominees before I realized it: Leanin' Dog).

Horace is a young apprentice to a photographer in New York City in 1872. When his mentor gets a commission to photograph a high society woman so that she can place her picture on her dead daughter's grave, Horace gets his first chance to take a picture himself. But when he does, he discovers a hidden gift--the image of a ghost appears on his photographs. And the ghost seems to be coming to life through Horace's pictures. And she isn't happy.

Written in a way that will help children really get into the past, Avi has told a story that I know most children between the ages of 9-12 will appreciate--it's spooky, yet doesn't talk down to kids or sugar coat the time period.

Not a bad start to the new season of awards!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows ****

I kinda like epistolary novels, one's that are written in the form of letters exchanged between the characters. I read a great one once, Fair and Tender Ladies, that I highly recommend. I also recommend this one.

Not many people in England are very aware of the Nazi occupation of the Channel Islands, let alone Americans. But it was the closest Hitler got to conquering the British Isles, and it's still amazing to think how close he came. From 1940 to 1945 the Channel Islands were occupied and fortified by German military forces, and the citizens of the islands were subjected to the same atrocities as other occupied territories.

The authors of this book lovingly spin a tale from letters exchanged between a young author in London and the remains of a small resistance group in Guernsey. They didn't resist overtly, but rather by gathering and finding comfort in each others' company and in their love of books, they were able to survive the war.

I believe that we in the US just can't grasp fully what it was like for Europe during WWI and WWII--we haven't been invaded, had bombs dropped on us on a daily basis, or had to deal with the kind of deprivation that was experienced on the continent and adjacent British Isles. The fact that a potato peel pie could be a delicacy to these starving people (the peels made the crust, the mashed part was the insides) is something I surely hope we never have to face here.

I hope you give this page-turner a try!


A special thanks goes out to my friend Wendy from high school, who suggested this book to me, and my Aunt Patt who seconded her idea! Give me more!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan *****

Yes, I'm back volunteering in my son's school library! I can find out about & read all the cool books for kids, and I've got to say there are quite a few good ones out there.

Now I knew I'd probably like this book from the get-go because it deals with the Greek gods. I remember distinctly checking out D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths from the library at Ferguson Junior High when I was in the 7th grade, not realizing at the time that I would be starting a life long love of mythology. The book not only talks about the Greek myths in a wonderful and interesting way, but the illustrations are the best ever! I think it's one of the best books you can get for the kid in your life (I bought it for myself online a couple years ago!).

Back to the book at hand--Percy Jackson is a 12 year old delinquent who's been tossed around from school to school for most of his life, always causing unexplained trouble where ever he goes. But now he's finally found out what makes him different--he's the son of a god! As he travels across the US on a quest with his new two best friends, he learns what his own special powers are and which Greek god is his father.

As if all that isn't good enough, Percy travels through St. Louis at one point and battles Echidna and Chimera at the top of the Arch!! I love it when my home town is featured in books--it's pretty darn rare to be honest. But having some Greek monsters cross paths with the Gateway Arch--that is just too cool!

I feel like Rick Riordan wrote this book especially for my 7th grade self! Thanks Rick, I feel like a 12 year old again (minus the awkwardness, ugly glasses, crippling shyness, bad hand-me-down clothes...alright, maybe it's good I'm not 12 again!). Five stars all the way!

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Falls by Joyce Carol Oates ****

Have you ever read a book where one of the characters hits too close to home, reminds you of a relative or (even worse) yourself & you just have to cringe every time you read about that person in the book? The Falls had a character like that in it for me. I'm not going to say which one it was, but it was damn hard reading about this person because I wasn't sure if I liked or hated them. And I suppose that having those feelings is a sign of very good writing.

The story starts in 1950 at Niagara Falls. Married for barely 12 hours, a young man is running toward the Falls, to throw himself in. You hope that he will be stopped by someone, anyone. Maybe the man who takes tickets on the footbridge to Goat Island. But no one stops him. No one is able to. He succeeds in killing himself, & scaring his wife for the rest of her life.

The Falls is about this woman, but it's mostly about the Falls themselves & the city that encompasses them. Through her story I learned more about the city of Niagara Falls than I'd thought possible. Did you know that the Love Canal was in this city? I thought it was in Buffalo for some reason. And did you know that the people that work in the tourist trade at the Falls are discouraged from telling visitors how many people have killed themselves there?

The story of this woman & her second husband & the family they make together is a history of Niagara Falls, both the city & natural phenomenon. I really want to visit the Falls now, though I also am a little afraid to. The siren song of the water, as described by Joyce Carol Oates, holds out fascination & fear to me, even from afar.