Thursday, August 23, 2012

Book review: "The Grimm Legacy" by Polly Shulman

Title: The Grimm Legacy
Author: Polly Shulman
Publisher: Puffin Books, 2010

Elizabeth's new job is one she never thought she'd have. She works at the New York Circulating Material Repository, a lending library of sorts that loans out objects instead of books. She's delighted with her new position as page, one she got on the recommendation of her social studies teacher after she writes a research paper on the Brothers Grimm. And being the new girl at school coupled with a new stepfamily who treats her as a lesser, she is happy to have a place to spend her time. Soon she is let in on the secret, special collections that are kept in the basement, objects that come straight from the land of what she once thought was fiction. But all is not well in the magical world, and Elizabeth, along with her fellow pages, set off on a dangerous quest to stop the evil from destroying the Repository.

This book was recommended to me as a read-alike for A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle, but now that I've read it I'm not sure why. The only similarities are the fantasy elements and the quest story, in addition to the main character's self disgust of her looks. However, I did really like the premise, and it's a great one: the Grimm fairy tales (along with other myths and folklore) actually did happen, and the Repository has some of the objects in its special collection, the Grimm Collection. Unfortunately, the execution left much to be desired for me.

I found the writing style overly simplistic, with a lot of explanation of the magical world, and the job of page itself, told through dialogue in the form of Elizabeth asking somewhat ridiculous questions and giving us the benefit of the answer. For example, when explaining the job of page, Elizabeth asks her coworker Marc something along the lines of, so am I a dishwasher or something? Marc rightly looks at her likes she's crazy, and she goes on to say it's because she was asked if she washed dishes at home in her job interview. Other things like this happen throughout the book, and it just made me crazy, especially at the beginning.

The exposition really bugged me too, which went mostly as I mentioned above. We learn that Elizabeth's mother passed away and her father, who remarried, is using all his money to put her stepsisters through college without leaving much for Elizabeth. I hated the way her stepfamily is the stereotypical fairy tale stock characters, pretty much straight out of Cinderella. This was most likely done on purpose, but I found it mostly unneccesary unless you count needing a reason for Elizabeth to not have her parents present at all in the story.

I also didn't really understand why Elizabeth disliked herself so much. She had no friends at all, as her best friend had conveniently moved to California, and she was often getting down on herself. This coupled with her irritating propensity to misunderstand pretty much everything (EVERYTHING) made me want to stop reading early on.

However, I kept at it, and it did eventually turn around a bit. The best part is by far the Grimm references and all of the objects from the tales, and the adventure portion is pretty good too. Elizabeth dials back the annoying-ness, and the ending doesn't have all the loose ends tied up quite yet (though most of them are). Once I got about halfway through the book it was pretty easy to finish, and I'm glad I did get all the way through.

This was a fun story with a great premise, just a bit of a lackluster execution. I'd say this is a good book for middle schoolers looking to read about teens and magic. It's all very tame, both in romance and violence, with enough to interest and engage.

Disclosure: I got this book from my local library.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Top Ten Favorite Books Since I Started Blogging

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

Today's Top Ten Tuesday is the ten favorite books I've read since I started blogging, which was back in June of 2010. I decided to only count the ones I've reviewed, since I can't necessarily remember all of them. After going through my list, here are my favorites:

1. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (this is cheating a bit since it was a reread)

2. Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol

3. Mockingbird by Katherine Erskine

4. Diamond Willow by Helen Frost

5. Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

6. The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

7. 3. Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

8. The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex

9. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

10. One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

And also because I think it would be close to the top too, Chime by Franny Billingsley.

Those are my top ten. Head over to The Broke and the Bookish to share yours.

Monday, August 20, 2012

My book review of "Liar and Spy" over on The Broke and the Bookish

In case you're interested, my review of Rebecca Stead's latest novel, Liar and Spy, is up on The Broke and the Bookish. Head on over to check it out!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Book review: "The Running Dream" by Wendelin van Draanen

Title: The Running Dream
Author: Wendelin van Draanen
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2011

Jessica is an all-star runner, on track to really make a name for herself in the sport, until a horrific bus accident takes away one of the most important things for her: her right leg. Now, she is unable to walk well, let alone run. At first she is in a very dark place, sulky and heartbroken. But eventually she realizes she needs to get back out in the world, and get moving again.

Told in the present tense, Jessica tells her story to the readers as it happens to her. She tells us about her rehabilitation, getting her prosthesis (fake leg), and the incredible support she receives from her teammates and peers, as well as her community at large. She also makes an unlikely friend in Rosa, a freshman with cerebral palsy who has difficulty communicating and needs a wheelchair to move, but who is brilliant at math. Jessica's journey of healing both physically and mentally brings together not only the people in her school to fight for her cause, it also unites her community around her goals.

Wendelin van Draanen's writing is incredibly realistic, and it is clear she did her research. Never was I left thinking something didn't sound right or feel unsure about the medical issues, the track lingo, or the problems that Jessica's family had with insurance. Everything felt authentic, including Jessica's struggle to accept this drastic change to her life and move on. She not only had to deal with the future of her running career, but also the day-to-day difficulties and worries, like if boys would ever find her attractive now.

I really appreciated the inclusion of Rosa in this book. van Draanen could have easily focused on Jessica and her recovery alone, but Rosa adds so much more complexity and richness to the story. Rosa often writes Jessica philosophical notes, which often ground her and help her to realize what she does have instead of what she's lost. The most important message we come out with is that we need to see the person, and not the condition.

Bonus: Oscar Pistorius is briefly mentioned, which I found really great since I had been thinking about him a lot while reading this because of his competing in the Olympics this year.

This was a great, realistic, inspirational read about overcoming seemingly impossible odds to meet your goals and to truly appreciate what you are given.

Disclosure: I got this book from the library.

Note: I started to listen to this on audio, and let me save you the time: Don't bother. I thought it was horrible and had to stop a few tracks in. I just couldn't stand listening to the woman narrating; it felt like she was overacting, plus she kept raising her inflection at the end of almost every sentence.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Audiobook Review: "Chomp" by Carl Hiaasen

Title: Chomp
Author: Carl Hiaasen
Publisher: Listening Library, 2012 (print available from Knopf Books for Young Readers
Narrator: James Van Der Beek

Wahoo Cray lives in the Everglades on what most people would call a zoo. His dad, Mickey Cray, is an animal wrangler, and takes care of animals like raccoons, snakes, and gators, including the enormous Alice. It is Alice that gets the attention of the survival reality TV show, Expedition Survival! They want to do an Everglades episode, and Wahoo takes the job on behalf of his dad. They need the money since Mickey got knocked in the head by a frozen iguana and started getting debilitating migraines and double vision as a result. And so they put up with Derek Badger, the show's idiotic, spoiled, and phony host. But things start to get out of hand when Derek insists on doing the show in the actual wild. Wahoo and Mickey meet and bring along Tuna, a girl with an abusive father who really wants to find her, and Derek ends up bitten by a bat and runs off into the Everglades on his own. It will be a miracle if they all get out of this alive.

I haven't read much of Hiaasen's work, just Hoot, but I already have an idea of the flavor of his writing. I'm guessing his adult novels are similar, with more mature subject matter and probably less animals. What I love about Hiaasen's writing is the fullness and roundness of all of his characters. He gives almost every character who enters into the story a background and a reason why they are the way they appear in the novel. Mickey is probably my favorite character out of them all—sure, he's Wahoo's dad, but he is such a part of the novel in a way that you don't necessarily expect adults to be in literature for children. Wahoo often has to watch after his father because he tends to let his mouth run when he sees something he doesn't like, but Mickey is also a very smart man with a strong desire to protect those who need it.

The story itself is something of a survival story, though not in the way the characters expected. With his signature humor, Hiaasen takes Wahoo, Tuna, and Mickey, as well as all of the other characters they meet along the way, on a thrilling and dangerous adventure full of tension and suspense.

James Van Der Beek does the narration, and he does a great job. It wasn't the very best narration I've ever heard, but it is certainly a job well done and very enjoyable. I appreciated how he didn't really give Tuna a high voice that sounded fake, and he did the accents pretty well. He really did a great job giving the different characters different sounding voices, especially one character named Link. There were just a few spots where I wish there were more pauses, but I think that had more to do with production and editing than with Van Der Beek's performance. Also, Dawson read me a story.

All in all, a very enjoyable audiobook experience with great characters and action. I'll be picking up another of Hiaasen's audiobooks for younger readers soon.

Disclosure: I got this audiobook from my local library.
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