Monday, May 28, 2012

The Serpent's Shadow by Rick Riordan

So, I'm predictable. While I have lots of "old" books to review for this site, I wanted to do something newer. My last review was about the first of the Egypt trilogy by Rick Riordan, and I was excited because the third book was coming out the following week. It came out, I got it on release day, and it certainly didn't disappoint.

The Serpent's Shadow is a great conclusion to a great series. Carter and Sadie have made themselves a good home full of other kids who have magician talent in the Egyptian tradition. Their uncle has retreated to the First Nome in Cairo, to help put the House of Life back together. Not everyone likes how they're doing it, though, and so while they have to try to find a way to stop Apophis, the chaos snake, from, well, plunging the world into total chaos, they also have to fend off a rival group of magicians who do not like the Kanes and their ideas.

Apophis, the crazy snake guy

While fending off an attack from the anti-Kane magicians, Sadie runs into a ghost who says he can help. He's the most famous of ancient Egyptian magicians, who has many times been sentenced to death by the gods for his spell attacks against them. Their dad, now the embodiment of Ra, allows his sentence to be suspended, because the young Kanes are convinced that he can help them defeat Apophis. But, can he be trusted?

Action, character growth, good story-telling... All fantastic qualities of a good series writer, and very, very well done. I am sorry to think that we won't hear more about the Kanes, but also am happy to know that Mr. Riordan has more good stuff in store for us this year in his other series.

Rating, once again PG. The battle scenes are well written, so they're intense. And, there's a touch of romance-y kind of stuff, nothing major, but it's there.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Hoot by Carl Hiaasen

Juvenile burrowing owl
A not so juvenile burrowing owl

"Look," said Roy, "every day we've been reading about regular people, ordinary Americans who made history 'cause they got up and fought for something they believed in.  Okay, I know we're just talking about a few puny little owls, and I know everybody is crazy about Mother Paula's pancakes, but what's happening out there is just plain wrong. So wrong."

That's how Roy Eberhardt makes his impassioned plea to his classmates (in Hoot by Carl Hiassen)  about saving these little guys you see pictured here.  Roy doesn't normally talk so much, and most of the kids in his class don't really know him because Roy is the new kid.  (His dad's job with the Department of Justice moves the family around a lot.)  New kid or not, Roy can't stop worrying about the baby burrowing owls who will be trapped in their nests when the construction crews start up their bulldozers on a lot designated to get a new pancake house.

Roy is a middle-schooler with a lot on his plate.  (Just, you know, no pancakes, because he's worried about those owls.)  Roy misses living in Montana, and school is complicated.  He IS the new kid.  Again.  There's a bully named Dana (sorry, Dad!),  and a tough girl with serious biting power named Beatrice who may or may not be Roy's new friend.  Beatrice has an oddly nicknamed brother who doesn't wear shoes, but is willing to pull some crazy stunts in order to protect the burrowing owls.  Roy wants to save the owls, but he's uncomfortable with the extreme measures that Beatrice's brother is willing to take.

Hoot isn't an easy tale, but it's a really good one.  (It was a Newbery Honor book in 2003 which means that librarians agree with me.)  Hiassen is known for his over-the-top characters and his dedication to Florida's precious ecosystem. There's a certain amount of scorn apparent in most of his work for the institutions of Big Business and Government; that contempt blazes off of some of the pages of Hoot.  I haven't read a Hiassen book, yet, that didn't make me laugh, but he doesn't offer easy answers or soft-pedal the reality of growing up*.

As Roy's mom says "Honey, sometimes you're going to be faced with situations where the line isn't clear between what's right and what's wrong.  Your heart will tell you to do one thing, and your brain will tell you to do something different.  In the end, all that's left is to look at both sides and go with your best judgment."

My best judgment on Hoot is to rate it as a PG-13 based on the illegal activities (both civil and corporate), the age of the characters, and the tough decisions that face Roy.  I say this knowing full well that my oldest niece read this when she was eight or nine, so if your young reader is an advanced reader just know what s/he is getting into with Hoot.

*We'll revisit these themes tomorrow when I review Hiassen's  Skinny Dip for The Family Addition.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A Mother's Day Post

I have two other books lined up to review (The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman and The Fault in Our Stars by John Green), both of which I liked, but I wanted to share with you some of the books that are important to me as a mother.  These books are important to me because my children want to hear them consistently during our pre-bed story reading time.  None of them are ground-breaking.  All of them are geared toward toddlers.  All of them can be recited verbatim - or close enough - by my children.  Carrie reads anything in the English language; books, magazines, deodorant labels, that sort of thing, and as an aunt of the Highest Order of Aunthood she has passed a number of great books to my kids as well as Amy's.  Amy reads books to know what her kids are reading and Chanin reads books to keep up with her boys too.  So, I thought I'd share the books that I read to keep up with my kids.  Sweet Girl and Little Man give all of the following three stars (out of three: we have to use the same rating system as Angry Birds, duh) and I hope that they continue to love books throughout their lives.  That would be an excellent Mother's Day present.

1.  Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker and Tom Lichtenheld
Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site [Book]
Probably not how the moon gets up there
If you have a kid that loves the big trucks and machines that dig, bulldoze, dump, haul, and lift, then this is an excellent choice.  It's the end of the day and the construction site is shutting down to go to bed.  Each machine/truck gets a chance to star as one-by-one they settle down to sleep.  The illustrations are cute but not overly so.  Little Man loves him some trucks, and he's got the first two set of verses memorized.  Sweet Girl is also a fan, and I will forever remember exactly what an excavator does now. {Scooping gravel, dirt, and sand, Excavator shapes the land.  He digs and lifts throughout the day, But now it's time to end his play.}

2.  The Mine-O-Saur by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen
The Mine-O-Saur
Dinosaurs not to scale
This book actually came to us in the mail through Dolly Parton's Imagination Library.  It's a program through United Way that sends a book a month to families with children.  Honestly, I don't remember how we got signed up and I don't know if they still do the program, but it's a great idea and this is a pretty awesome book.  It's time for school and all the dinosaurs are having a good time, but the Mine-O-Saur is wrecking everyone's fun by taking everything.  He takes the toys in the schoolyard before the bell rings.  He takes the snacks at snack time.  And then at recess he takes all the blocks and builds an amazing tower.  But by then no one wants to have anything to do with the Mine-O-Saur.  He soon realizes that it's not fun to have things but not friends and so he returns everything he can and apologizes.  Everything ends well.  It's a good message and though Little Man still has Mine-O-Saur issues, I did hear him telling his sister "Good sharing!" as he took her jump rope away from her.  Eh....we're working on it.
Llama, Llama Red Pajama [Book]
Check out that blanket

3.  Llama Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney
Llama llama has a popular series of books.  This is our favorite.  I believe it has something to do with my dramatic interpretation of: "Llama llama red pajama hollers loudly for his mama.  Baby llama stomps and pouts.  Baby llama jumps and shouts."  I am an excellent stomper and pouter.  Sweet Girl also happens to like Baby Llama's blanket, and she knows blankets.  She sleeps with seven of them herself.  This book covers Baby Llama going to bed and then feeling anxious without Mama Llama.  Things escalate (stomping, pouting, shouting, I think we've covered that) but Mama Llama comes up to reassure Baby Llama.  We have some pretty big anxieties in this house, so I appreciated the fact that it was addressed in a straight forward manner.  However, if your child learns bad behaviors from examples of bad behaviors then steer clear.  Unless of course you like stomping, pouting, shouting, etc.

4.  Fuzzy Fuzzy Fuzzy by Sandra Boynton
Fuzzy Fuzzy Fuzzy
Udder-ly awesome
If you don't own or have never read any Sandra Boynton books, you are missing out.  These books are seriously awesome.  The illustrations are cute, the rhymes are fun, and Ms. Boynton does more for the cow than Chick-Fil-A.  We have a lot of her books.  We love Snuggle Puppy, Barnyard Dance, Lets Dance, Little Pookie, Pajama Time, the list goes on.  This books is actually a touch and tickle book.  There's not much in terms of plot; illustrations and a couple of words throughout.  But the best part, for us anyway, is the last page asks if the reader would like to start over with the fuzzy fuzzy guy then you lift the flaps on two eggs.  One egg is cranky and says "No!" while the other egg says "Yes!"  One night, after having read this a couple of times before, Little Man decided this was the funniest book EVER.  I had to read it ten times before we could move, and he literally had tears rolling down his face from laughing so hard at the eggs at the end.  He would get so excited about the No! and Yes! part that he would start giggling two pages before we got there.  He doesn't go into hysterics about it anymore, but I recorded him today reading the book.  You can hear him "reading" along and his sister's feet make a cameo.  I already loved Sandra Boynton, but I would have loved her just for hearing his little voice try to say "Incredibly Soft."  Enjoy! We sure have.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Static #1 (Flight 29 Down) by DJ MacHale and Stan Rogow

My bags are there.  I just know it.
Bad news:  The airline "misplaced" two of our four bags today. 
Worse news:  I will be wearing contacts 24/7 until our bags are located.
Good news:  I don't have to do laundry tonight.
Better news:  I have time to write and post this review on schedule.

Now that all of that is out of the way, let me get straight to the review.  And I hope that I am not causing too much of a problem by reviewing this book/series of books (yes, we are recommending another one in a series, but really it's not our fault.  You should blame the authors for writing so many good series, not us the innocent readers and reviewers).  You see, this series is out of print.  Yikes!  But, you can still check them out at your local library.  Or you can be like a certain Aunt Sissy and hunt down some used copies on Amazon.  Either way, I think your tweenager would like this series.

Based on the hit Discovery Kids channel series, Static #1 (Flight 29 Down) starts off with a bang.  Flight 29 crash landed and it's seven survivors, all teenagers and one pilot, bound for their school-sponsored eco-trip, have no idea where they are.  The pilot quickly organizes a search party in order to explore the unfamiliar surroundings. Not knowing when or if they will return, the remaining classmates, Nathan, Daley, Melissa, Taylor, Eric, Lex and Jackson must now work together in order to survive.  Their resources are scarce and besides the wreckage of their airplane, shelter is almost nil.  Ranging in age from 10 to 16, the survivors navigate their personalities, hunger, and fear to try and make it through each day. Unlikely friendships are formed and some pretty impressive feats are accomplished.  If it sounds like the TV show Lost, it is... almost.   It's more like Lost and Saved by the Bell had a love child.  How's that for a mental picture?

My daughter gobbled this entire series up as fast as she could get her hands on them.  Are they winning any Pulitzer Prizes?  No.  But they are highlighting common issues (peer pressure, stereotypes, boy/girl relationships) in a nice little paperback package.  Add to that the element of suspense and the underlying theme of adventure and teamwork and they make for fun reads.  Since this is the first in a series you can safely assume the survivors are not rescued by the end of the book. What fun would that be?  There are six more books in the series.  And yes, we have all of them.  Now, if we only had our luggage...