Monday, January 30, 2012

The Airplane Boys Among the Clouds by John Luther Langworthy ****

So I was browsing through the other night & while looking at the listings of kids series books this one caught my eye.  More accurately, this one caught my husband's eye.  He likes planes & he likes history, & seeing a book written for kids back in 1912 about planes pretty much was a melding of the two.  He begged me to read this one next & review it on here, so now here we go! 
First off, this was fun to read.  It starts with the full title: The Airplane Boys Among the Clouds; or, Young Aviators in a Wreck.  I think I know what might happen to our two intrepid heroes, Frank & Andy Bird!  But wait!  They don't just fly their new-fangled fancy biplane up to the top of Old Thunder Top & give the eagles that nest there a nasty scare--they also deal with two mysterious men who've come to town.  Oh yeah, & there's an escaped convict too who takes pot-shots at them while they fly above him.  One of my favorite lines is when the police chief tells Frank Bird (remember, Frank's only about 17):
"He might try to steal your new biplane I've heard them talking about; or even burn down your whole outfit.  Better get a gun, & keep watch.  He's fair game, you know, if so be you catch him prowling around after dark.  An escaped convict hasn't any rights in the eye of the law."
Alrighty then, Chief!  I'll just shoot to kill then!  Wow!  Those were the good ol' days!  Lucky for the convict, Jules Garrone, that Frank decided to spring a trap on him instead.  And the Bird boys (including their friends Larry, Elephant, & I'm sorry to say Stuttering Nat) were quite upstanding lads to boot.  After they caught the dastardly devil this is what ensued:
"Frank had meanwhile tied his ankles as well, & helped drag him further into the shop.  When the man started to using language that was offensive, he warned him plainly that if he kept that up any longer they would find some means of gagging him."
Take that, you rotten scoundrel! 
Even with my limited knowledge of aviation it amused me to hear the references to guy wires & the smart little Kincaid engine that the boys had put on the biplane they'd built.  Also the fact they needed a good push sometimes to take off.  The wheels were referred to as bicycle wheels, & the Wright Brothers were referenced also--as contemporaries! 
So all in all, I'm glad Dog suggested this book.  If you'd like to download it yourself for free just click this link.  I don't think it's read too much anymore, but I can sense the amazed love that many a young boy 100 years ago would have had for this body of work.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Secret of Zoom by Lynne Jonell ****

The Secret of Zoom is another Mark Twain Award nominee, and though it's pretty fantastical in nature, I liked it! 
Christina lost her mother in an explosion back when she was just a baby, so she lives with her scientist father in an eccentric mansion that she's never allowed to leave.  She watches the kids from the nearby orphanage pick up garbage and live what looks like a miserable existance until she finally meets one, a boy named Taft, who asks her if she's found the secret tunnel.  This sends Christina on a search of the house, the eventual finding of the tunnel, and an amazing adventure.  Her whole life becomes questions:  what is Zoom?  Where do they take the orphans?  Why does the evil head of Loompski Industries value children with perfect pitch?  And is her mother really gone forever?
I couldn't put this book down and I can truely say the action never stopped.  But if you've read my blog before this then you know my schtick is I'm ultra-aware of characters that have developemental disabilities.  Before my son was born I never would notice this, but it seems like every book I read has at least some mention about the differently abled, if not a major character.  The Secret of Zoom is no exception.
I can say that I think Lynne Jonell wrote the character of Danny with accuracy and grace.  I know some would say he's been steriotyped, but I can see my own son reacting in the same ways to extreme stress and abuse.  And I'm thankful Ms. Jonell had her other characters treat him with compassion and care.  At one point Christina has to try to rescue Danny from out of the inside of a garbage truck, but at the same time she may be sacrificing the rest of the orphans she's trying to save.  What worth is Danny's life?
What if she did save ninety-nine orphans while leaving Danny in the garbage?  Could she really pretend to be a hero?  Could she even look Taft in the eye, knowing she had done that?
Christina bowed her head.  Ninety-nine wasn't going to be good enough.  It had to be one hundred.  And it had to be now.
Having read only two of the MTA nominees so far I can say that this book is my favorite.  We shall see if that changes or not!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje ***

How many times have you seen a movie of a novel before you read it?  I couldn't tell you the number I personally have seen, but The English Patient is one of those.  I first saw it when it was released in theatres back in the spring of 1997.  My husband and I saw it at the Battlefield Mall Cinema in Springfield, Missouri.  I loved the movie almost instantly--the romantic story line, the amazingly beautiful cinematography, and of course Ralph Fiennes.  I like Ralph.  A lot.
So here is the series of events that caused me to read the book 14 years after seeing the movie:  my husband finds the book laying in the hall of the high school he teaches at two years ago; he keeps it in his room and asks around to see who lost it but no one claims it; he puts it in the closet in his classroom and forgets it; about 10 days ago I'm talking with our foreign exchange student about movies we love and I mention it; Dog remembers he has the book at school and says he'll bring it home; he brings it home a couple days later after we both forget about it; I read it.  Not so dramatic, but there are so many turn along the way that might have led me to never reading it.
So, now that I've read it the question is what do I think of it.  And I'd have to say I liked the movie more.  Don't get me wrong, Michael Ondaatje's writing is beautiful and poetic.  He is a poet as well as a novelist, so this makes a great deal of sense.  A poet can convey emotion very succinctly--just a few seemingly unrelated words can be strung together and make a portrait of feeling that you can feel to your core.  But I guess I'm just a very pragmatic, practical person.  For me, there has to be a good reason for the emotion.  Why would someone shoot themselves?  To me you'd need a pretty darn good reason.  Why would someone turn their back on love when both of them desperately need it?  Again, I crave a solid reason.  And in the book, but not in the movie, for me the reasons just didn't seem real. 
Dog and I watched the movie again after I finished the book and it just confirmed my feelings about it.  I love the movie, and I think the characters from the book are carried over very well into the movie.  But I feel more comfortable with the motivations of the movie characters.
If you've neither seen the movie or read the book, I suggest reading the book first.  Then watch the movie and tell me what you think.

The Stupidest Angel by Christopher Moore ***

Overall, this book can be summed up with one word:  stupid.
But this is Christopher Moore, so I knew going into it that it would be stupid.  This man is a genius of stupidity, if that makes any sense.  He takes some really odd characters and basically makes their lives even more insane than they already were.  I was pleased to see some of the characters from two of his previous books I've read, The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove & Lamb, were included in this book. 
The setting is in Pine Cove, California, one of those trendy, artsy towns that you end up visiting and thinking it would be neat to live there.  And then you leave.  Basically there is a murder, a confused angel, and zombies.  Yeah, it's pretty stupid.
My only beef with the book is when the R-word comes up in reference to the angel.  In many ways I think Christopher Moore did a fairly decent job dealing with the word, but I just hate hearing or reading it at all.  I know it's out there, I know it's used by a lot of people, but I hate it and I don't see the need for it. 
Other than that, I overall recommend this book if you want to read something really stupid and silly.  If you want to read something that's silly but profound, I recommend Lamb.