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Book Review: Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson July 7, 2010

Posted by Realitybypass in Book Review, Children Books, Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Young Adult.
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Hey folks!  Hope everyone in the stats had a great 4th of July weekend.  For our family it was a time of fireworks, memories and really good food.  Beyond that we also finished the book we’ve been reading together, Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson, so I decided it would be a good review today.

We’ve been reading Alcatraz a chapter at a time for about the last 2-3 months.  My husband is our reader and myself and our two boys, ages 9 and 13, are the erstwhile listeners.  To give credit where it is due I think part of the joy of this reading is listening to my husband who is a very good reader and creator of various voices, but it certainly helps that the story he was reading was a delight in and of itself.  Alcatraz is told from a first person point of view, but it’s from a future version of Alcatraz looking back to tell how his story got started.  The narration is irreverent, humorous and filled with delightful forshadowing of upcoming events in completely unexpected ways.  Sometimes a rutabaga is far more than just a rutabaga.

Alcatraz himself is a character walking the line of deciding what kind of person he is going to be.  He addresses the bad things he does with the same honesty that he acknowledges bravery and love.  He’s a boy who has been raised in the foster system and who has an unnatural ability to break everything he touches.  Come to find out that the ability is a Talent and his whole family has them.  His thirteenth birthday begins with a present in the mail, the arrival of his grandfather, who has the Talent to be late, and a gun toting librarian because…of course…the world is not what we think it is and Alcatraz is thrust into the middle of a war between the Hushlands and the Free Kingdoms all while learning more about himself, his talent and what it means to be a family.

The book was delightful.  Some folks might get annoyed with the interjections by the narrator and moments when he’s purposefully poking fun at writing conventions, but I found them hysterical.  The language of the book is very accessible for middle grade readers and young adults, but there are enough twists to how the language is used that adults can be delighted by a whole other level of what’s going on.

We’re buying book two and three now cause we have to know what happens next to the boy that breaks things and his family.  And we’re still curious about the sacrifice on a stack of outdated encyclopedias!

Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians

Genre: Modern Fantasy

Age: 8+

Content: Minor violence

Overall: 5/5 paws


Book Review: Rakkety Tam June 23, 2010

Posted by kmcalear in Book Review, Book Series, Children Books.
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Rakkety Tam by Brian Jacques

Genre: Fantasy

Age: 13+

Content: Violence

Overall: 5/5  paws

Review:  I discovered the Redwall series when I was in Junior High and used to fight my classmates for ‘checkout’ rights. In fact, whoever ran best in cross country used to get the first grab at the new books. I am pleased to say the books still delight me, even 15 years later. Brian Jacques’s storytelling reminds me of sitting down by a campfire or story time at school with a gifted tale teller. You know the ones, they do the voices and accents and even act out the parts as they tell the tale. Brian Jacques conveys that in text. This book made me laugh out loud, made me want to sit down to a feast (I swear! Everything in these books sounds amazing… can I have Hotroot soup and dandelion cordial? Ooo or Strawberry fizz!), and also made me tear up once or twice I will admit. Be fair warned, characters die, they fight, they thieve… but it’s all in the swashbuckling tradition and good does always triumph in Redwall tales. This particular tale delighted me with a new addition to the Redwall landscape, “highland squirrls” that are essentially Scottish Warriors with fur and a bushy tale. That is one of the most delightful aspects of the Redwall storytelling, the UK accents and cultures interwoven with the various woodland animals. The tale is much the same as most Redwall tales, vermin attack and the goodbeasts defend, but each time is as entertaining as the last. We meet all our good friends, Skipper of Otters, the Guosim, the Long Patrol… and a new season at Redwall Abbey. It’s a fun summer read, or if you’re talented with voices this would be an ideal series to read aloud to your kids. (I love the moles, burr aye! or the Hares, wot wot!)

Friday flashback: Youthful chills and thrills March 5, 2010

Posted by kmcalear in Book Review, Book Series, Children Books, Friday Flashback, Musings.
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Today I wanted to start one of our new “regular”, or in our case “semi-regular” postings. Wednesdays have always been our book review days, and Friday is going to be a Friday Flashback. We’ve noticed that our previous blogs from past years are being commented on over on blog.com, so Jana and I decided to re-run some of the former blogs on Fridays.

So without further ado, the first Friday Flashback: Youthful thrills and chills.

I was thinking the other day about how I ended up with a fascination for sci-fi, fantasy and the darker side of literature. My Dad reads mostly John Grisham and Michael Crichton political thrillers. I read them too, but in a book store my feet just naturally carry me into the fantasy section (or the mystery section too, but we’ll get to my other addiction another day.) Now Dad will watch fantasy and sci-fi with me, but it’s not his first choice. My mother describes all science fiction as “It’s all depressing, with all those ugly people!” Vulcans! Ugly!? Gasp!

So how did I end up loving Star Trek and tales of vampires?

It just happened.

In his book, On Writing Stephen King wrote “I was born with a fascination for the unquiet grave” (paraphrased). That really rang true with me. My youthful reading consisted of Bunnicula (a vampire bunny rabbit) and as many ‘Scary Stories to tell in the Dark’ as I could get my hands on. It didn’t matter that I spent as much time with the covers pulled over my head as sleeping, I couldn’t get enough of the thrills and chills.

One book I particularly remember was called ‘Wait til Helen Comes’. I read it 5 or 6 times as a kid, and it scared me every single time. I should go back and read it again, see if the youthful terror still gets me!

Inevitably reading turned to creating and my younger siblings became research subjects as I experimented with my own ghost and goblin creations. They, and the neighborhood kids, soon joined me in my terror filled sleepless nights and I found that being the agent of that terror was fun! Apparently they did too, since they kept coming back for more.

There’s something magical about a “scary story” that brings us back to Halloweens of our youth when familiar trees became a little more sinister, every bridge might just hide a troll and the strange house down the street hides witchy secrets. It bypasses the mundane and makes reality just a little more fantastic.

So my ‘writer’s advice’ or ‘reader’s advice’ for today is pick up some of those children’s books and young adult books you loved as a child (or some you managed to miss out on).

My list:

  • Scary Stories to tell in the Dark (Horror, elementary)
  • Wait til Helen Comes Mary Downing Hahn (Horror, upper elementary)
  • Bunnicula series James Howe (Horror, upper elementary)
  • Anything Roald Dahl, Especially The Witches (Horror/Macabre)
  • The Redwall series, Brian Jacques (Fantasy)
  • The Wild Magic series Tamora Pierce (Fantasy)
  • The Dark Moon series Meredith Ann Pierce (Fantasy)
  • Anything RL Stine. (Maybe not the best writer, but definitely some creative work) (Horror)
  • In a dark dark Room Alvin Scwartz (Children’s ‘spooky’)
  • I’m Going to Eat You Matt Mitter (Children’s ‘spooky’)


Book Review: Eleventh Hour – Graeme Base November 20, 2009

Posted by Realitybypass in Book Review, Children Books.
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Sounds like the books from October have been received and well loved.  Thanks again to everyone who entered and stay tuned for Christmas give aways.  🙂

Today’s Book Review comes from my local book club last night.  Due to busy holidays we decided to share our favorite picture books and drink hot chocolate.  Really not a bad way to spend the evening.

One of the most fascinating books which was talked about was Graeme Base’s Eleventh Hour.  This is a book with absolutely beautiful illustrations which tells the story of Horace the Elephant who is celebrating his eleventh birthday on the eleventh day of November.  He invites eleven friends to come and play games and have a feast at 11 o’clock.  Are we sensing a theme here?  However the feast is stolen just before eating time and now you need to figure out who did it.  There are plenty of clues through the book and ever illustration includes codes and cryptograms.  The book is absolutely fascinating to look at and try to solve and if you need a little help there is a sealed portion in the back which gives you instructions for where to start looking.

Great for both kids and grownups.  I think it may have to be a Christmas pressie at my house this year.

Genre:  Picture Book

Age: 8+ for reading level, all ages will enjoy the pictures, solving all the clues may be a 12+ or with parental help.

Content: Family friendly

Overall: 5 paws


Wednesday Book Review: The Ribbajack July 15, 2009

Posted by kmcalear in Book Review, Children Books, Fantasy, Young Adult.
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Genre:  Short Story/Mild Fantasy/Spooky

Age: Adolescent/Young Adult

Content: mild violence, mild romance, mild scares

Overall:  Buy or borrow

I really enjoyed The Ribbajack, both because Brian Jacques is one of my favorite authors and because the short stories are engaging and easy to read. Most of them have some sort of classic moral or didactic purpose to them which shows they’re classic cautionary tales with an interesting twist on them. They range from “the Ribbajack”, which is a cautionary tale about the danger of revenge, to “The Mystery of Huma D’Este” where a bully gets his comeuppance and “Rosie’s Pet” where a girl only learns to behave once she becomes a werewolf. The stories touch on themes children will face from bullying, abuse, and disobeying parents. The language is very regional British, which may give trouble to some readers, but the book would be a delight to read out loud. I think the tales would also be great fresh stories for any storytellers to use.

From School Library Journal
Grade 5-8-Jacques offers six original ghost stories to follow up on Seven Strange and Ghostly Tales (Putnam, 1991). The title story is more grotesque than scary, and the ghost in “A Smile and a Wave” is inexplicably evil, existing only to scare the main character into wearing her detested coat. The most satisfying selections are “Miggy Mags and the Malabar Sailor,” in which a mongoose champions a young girl against her abusive uncle, and “Rosie’s Pet,” a preadolescent werewolf love story. The heavy northern English dialect used in the tellings would work well in an audio book, but may deter some readers. While this is an acceptable addition to general collections, true fans of the scary and strange will find more satisfaction in the short-story collections by Australian writer Paul Jennings, such as Unreal! (Formac, 1992).
Farida S. Dowler, formerly at Bellevue Regional Library, WA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Wednesday Book Review: The Trickster Series May 20, 2009

Posted by kmcalear in Book Review, Book Series, Children Books, Fantasy.
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Today’s review is Trickster’s Choice and Trickster’s Queen by Tamora Pierce, one of my favorite authors. Tamora Pierce’s tales always feature a young heroine who needs to come into her own as an independant woman professionally and personally and the Trickster series is no different. Aly is the daughter and niece of famous and powerful people and needs to find her own way in the world and learn to respect those who gave her the tools to find it. The book masterfully shows the growth of the young character and serves as a good heroine for teens and pre-teens. One of the strengths of the entire set of Tortall books is the clever near-medieval world created in them, with Knights and spies, pirates, monsters and Mages. Her Wild Magic series is a favorite of mine and is tattered on my shelves from many re-readings. The characters are engaging, the plot is fascinating and the series reads well. My only disagreement with it are personal, I disliked Aly’s love choice for not being three dimensional. Fans of the series will appreciate the cameos from other beloved characters that came before Aly, as they are referred to both as teachers and assist in their own ways, without overshadowing the young protagonist.

Genre:  Fantasy

Age: Young Adult

Content: mild violence, mild romance

Overall:  Buy or borrow

Grade 7-10-Alianne, daughter of Alanna (Alanna: The First Adventure [Random, 1989]), is ready to create her own legend. As the book opens, Aly, 16, longs to follow in her father’s footsteps as a spy, but her parents refuse to allow it. Annoyed, she sails off in her boat, only to be captured by pirates and sold into slavery, fortunately to kindly Duke Balitang. She meets Kyprioth, the Trickster, and strikes a bargain: if Aly keeps the Duke and his family safe for the summer, Kyprioth will return her to her family and persuade her parents to let her be a spy. With magic, spells, winged horses that are part human and part metal, crows that take human form (and provide a romance for Aly), brutal fighting, treason, and attempted kidnapping, this fantasy has plenty to hold readers’ attention. It also offers an interesting examination of race, as well as a look at an adolescent’s finding her independence, an especially difficult task with such a powerful mother. Aly is a strong, intelligent, and resilient feminist who stretches this fantasy to a parable of girl-power. The book at times bogs down in the sheer number of characters and relationships, and in the author’s zealous attention to descriptive details, but Pierce’s fans will enjoy it.
Connie Tyrrell Burns, Mahoney Middle School, South Portland, ME
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Child Appropriateness? March 23, 2009

Posted by kmcalear in Children Books, Critiquing.

I just saw “Coraline” this weekend and really enjoyed it; even though it definitely had it’s creepy moments. It did get me thinking, though both about Cautionary Tales and “child-approriateness.” I found some moments definitely creepy for me, particularly when Other Mother turned into some sort of half insect-like spider monster being, but she still looked like the mother. Anyway it was scary, and would probably frighten a child; but the point of the tale was to remind children to appreciate what they have and to see the truth in people, not the facades. The consequences of Coraline’s falling for the “perfect world” of Other Mother is imprisonment and she learns what happened to the other children who accepted the lies of the perfect world. I think back to the fairy tales of the past, and how many of them carried the warning of “obey your parents” or “obey the church” or you’ll run afoul of witches, demons, monsters and other worldly dangers.

If you read Chinese mythology, as well, many of their tales told to children involve wandering ghosts and vengeful spirits designed to keep children safe by presenting dark consequences for disobedience. So I suppose my question is… do we have a place for cautionary tales for children, how “scary” is appropriate and how much is too much? Should scary stories wait until children are old enough to be told “this is make believe?”

I’d love to hear your thoughts, or even your thoughts on the age-appropriateness of Coraline?