Sunday, August 24, 2014

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Katsa lives in a kingdom that is medieval in nature, but, of course, there are special people called Gracelings. They can be identified because they have eyes of different colors and each Graceling can have a different grace. A grace is the amplification of any skill; swimming, dancing, fishing, fighting, reading, or the playing of music. Katsa is “graced” with the skill of a tremendous fighter-sword, bow and arrow or dagger all are lethal weapons in her hands, as are her own hands and feet. Katsa lives in a castle with her uncle, the king. People fear her and she has but one friend, the son of the king. Despite Katsa’s own desires, she has to be the henchman for her uncle, hurting people to send his messages. To combat this, she has created the Council, which does good deeds throughout hers and the surrounding kingdoms. It is during one of these rescue missions where she rescues an old man, that she encounters a Leinid, someone that is from a kingdom that is farther away. He is also graced with fighting, but not as talented as she is. Slowly they become friends and then must go on a journey together to investigate the source of the kidnapping of his grandfather, the old man Katsa rescued. 

This is a well written, complicated and fast paced novel with some raw violence. What I liked about it is that the main character is a fiery woman who is talented at fighting. We get to know her thoughts and her struggles with her violence, as well as her struggles with her role as a female in a male dominated world. At one point a man asks her to marry him and she can’t do it because it’s not within her character to submit to a man, and that’s what marriage means in the middle ages. As the story unfolds, watching her mature is a wonderful experience. The only thing I would change about this book is that there is sex. I can’t get around that and I can’t recommend this book to anyone younger than 14 because of it. It’s a shame because I really enjoyed the rest of the book. 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Mara Daughter of the Nile by Eloise Jarvis McGraw

I have a weakness for historical fiction. This historical fiction novel is by the same author as The Golden Goblet, which is one of my favorites to use with my students and takes place at about the same time. It features a 17 year old girl Mara, a slave who strains against the reins of her masters during the end of Queen Hatshepsut's reign about 1457 b.c.e..  Mara is an interesting, clever, and devious girl whose wits are the means of her survival. Mara becomes mixed up in two plots-one to overthrow the pharaoh and one to prevent the overthrow.  Each campaign is lead by men, one stone-faced and cold and the other charming and fierce. Both men offer her the chance to escape slavery by being involved in a dangerous, life-threatening plot. In an interesting mixture of characters and action, Mara tries to please both masters and stay alive, while watching them create/prevent the revolution of Thutmose III. 

It’s an engrossing tale but isn’t historically correct (which bothers me). For example, in my cursory attempt at research, there is no evidence that Hatshepsut was overthrown and she was, in fact, still alive for a year after Thutmose III took over and there is no evidence that he took over violently or even that there was animosity. He just maneuvered politically, as far as I can tell. 

Anyway, forgiving the historical inaccuracies, this book is mostly a page turner although, at times, too descriptive and so a bit of a yawn. There are also times there is too much going on, too much drama, too many strings of plot to hold on to as it weaves this intricate tale, but overall it was fun to read and a great glimpse into daily life in ancient Egypt for girls.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

You are right. This is a modern, sci-fi twist on Cinderella. This one takes place in the future of Bejing, after WW IV, where computers are utilized to the max. In this story, she’s a cyborg, which means she’s human but with lots of robot parts, like her foot and her hand, for example. It also means she loses certain human rights and is owned by her stepmother. She was, at age 11, turned into a cyborg because of some kind of hover accident where she was burned and so her hand and foot were replaced with synthetic parts. Cinder is also a mechanic, a very good mechanic and not at all interested in girlie things. She has 2 stepsisters and lives with them and her stepmother.  Obviously the stepmother is mean to her and just uses her to work and make money and do things for her but doesn’t love her or care of her really at all. This is a story about Cinder’s need for her own identity and independence, much like the fairytale. There is, of course, a prince and  he falls for Cinder but she knows she’s inappropriate and there’s tension there. There is also a ball, but again, was different in a good way and there is an evil queen, which is a nice addition to the tale. This is a clever twist on an ancient tale and the ending...well I liked it. It was interesting and not predictable. Definitely made me want to read the sequel. I also thought, from the cover, that it was going to have inappropriate content, but it didn’t. I guess I shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover!

Ages 10-14

Monday, August 11, 2014

One Came Home by Amy Timberlake

One Came Home is a novel set in a rural town in Wisconsin in 1871. It begins with a rather jarring statement--the date of her sister’s first funeral. Of course that does a great job of creating curiosity in the reader, so you read on. In this case, the main character is an intelligent, sassy and yet naive 13 year old girl, Georgie, who is a great shot and quite stringent in her beliefs of right vs. wrong. Because of her moral compass, she reveals a secret about her sister which sets wheels in motion and eventually leads to this funeral, where everyone but Georgie believes that Agatha, her sister, is dead in her coffin. This is the story of how everything got to this point and then continues to explain how it is later resolved through some serious dramatic plot (and at times violent) elements. What makes this story so great is the voice of Georgie. It is humorous and vibrant and makes the story thoroughly enjoyable. I loved this book and found myself laughing out loud at times (causing some looks on the el), reading rapidly through very suspenseful parts as well as crying at others. It is an interesting tale that also reveals some about life in post-Civil War Wisconsin. 

Age 11-15 but has some violent parts so again, depends on your tolerance for violence

Friday, August 8, 2014

Unstoppable by Tim Green

Ok. I have to admit it. I like Tim Green and I know my students devour his books once they start. Tim writes about kids playing football, a great combo (two of my favorite things). In this book, initially I was afraid it was going to be a formulaic story with a mild twist, but I was mistaken.  Harrison is a foster child and had a rough, rough life. The story picks up in Harrison's life as a 13 year old who is large for his size and working on a farm where he is mistreated and neglected.  We also learn that he loves football, and although he never was able to play, he feels like he would be great. Through a bit of bad luck, he's removed and placed elsewhere. I'm not going to reveal too much but he does get to play football in his new home until another twist. This twist took my breath away. Impressively, even the writing and pace seemed to reflect the haze and confusion the characters were experiencing. The voice of Harrison is honest and developed well, although Green seems to gloss over the real work it must take to earn a person who has experienced that much heartache and trauma. He managed to make a student with a scary background seem so misunderstood and maligned that Green created strong empathy in his reader (me). I was rooting for Harrison the whole way and, surprise, surprise, I did cry in a couple places. Interesting story and could appeal to boys and girls alike, but they need to have a basic understanding of football to really understand some of the nuances of the story. Because of some violence, I’m not quite sure what grades to recommend it...depends on what kids can handle. I’d say 7th grade and up but younger could certainly appreciate this story, but have to be a little less sensitive to violence and trauma in novels.