Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Killing Sea, Richard Lewis

This is a book about the diastrous tsunami in 2004 that struck Indonesia. Ruslan, and Indonesian boy and Sarah, an American girl, are brought together in the aftermath of the disaster. Ruslan is searching for his father and Sarah is trying to get medical treatment for her sick brother. Sarah had been on a vacation with her parents when the tsunami struck. Along with Surf Cat, a helpful and courageous feline, they navigate through the destruction, barely believing what they see. This is a really emotion-filled book. Normally, when you hear about disasters in far-away places, they don't really affect you that much other than a twinge of pity for "those poor people." This book put a human face on tragedy and made you really feel for the people killed and hurt by the tsunami. It was a short, but sweet book, which I really enjoyed reading, though the book was a bit depressing. It depicts these people dying who Ruslan knew, and heaps of corpses being unceremoniously buried. 179 pages, 4 stars.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Hattie Big Sky, Kirby Larson

Sixteen year old Hattie Brooks is an orphan. Shuttled from relative to relative throughout her life, Hattie travels to the tiny town, of Vida, Montana, to claim her late uncle's homestead. She must brave harsh conditions. Also, the book is set in World War I, and Germans are all suspected of being "spies," and Hattie makes friends with one of the Germans living in the area, and must face the scorn of others. This book's beginning was a bit abrupt. It didn't even give time to develop Hattie's character before she was shuttled off to Montana, but other than that, it was a very enjoyable read. I liked the descriptions of the harsh Montana weather, from freezing winters, to boiling hot summers, and the instability of it all. Also, each chapter started with a letter from Hattie to her friend Charlie, who is fighting in the war. I love Hattie's character. She's brave, strong, and resourceful. There is also a wonderful cast of supporting characters. Also, Larson, the author, lives in Kenmore, Washington. The ending of the book is really sad, but a good ending. 283 pages, 4.5 stars.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Wonderstruck, Brian Selznick

I didn't think that I would like this book, but I did. A lot. Like Brian Selznick's other book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, half of the story is told in provocative black and white drawings. The drawings tell the story of Rose, a girl obsessed with one actress, who keeps a scrapbook on her, and Ben, a boy who longs for his father, who he never knew. Though their two stories are fifty years apart, they surprise and intertwine in surprising ways. I really loved some of the drawings, especially the ones that were of New York City. They felt so real, despite being black and white. The ending of the book was just perfect, too. I definitely want to read The Invention of Hugo Cabret, and would recommend Wonderstruck to anyone who's looking for a quick, but wonderful and thought-provoking read. 628 pages, 4.9 stars. (Don't let the number of pages fool you. Half of them are drawings, and the rest go by quickly.)

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Marcelo in the Real World, Francisco X. Stork

Marcelo is a seventeen year old boy who has hears music that nobody else can hear- it is part of an autism-like condition that no doctor has been able to diagnose. However, his father doesn't really believe in the music or Marcelo's differences, and he makes Marcelo work in the mail-room of his law firm for the summer... to join "the real world." Marcelo meets Jasmine, his coworker, and Wendell, the son of another partner in the firm. He learns about competition, jealousy, anger and desire. Marcelo's father is a real jerk. Marcelo had been planning on working at his special school and training ponies, which I personally think sounds awesome and way more interesting, but instead, he's forced to sit at a desk all summer long because his father wants him to "learn about the real world". But he does learn something, I think, from the experience. But this is a really sad book, and it made me really angry at different times. 311 pages, 3 1/2 stars.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Jellicoe Road, Melinda Marchetta

This book starts out being really confusing, but then it gradually begins to make sense. But I still don't get some aspects of the plot. Taylor Markham is 17 years old, and she was abandoned by her mother on Jellicoe Road, which is the seemingly beautiful road on which so many bad things take place. She is taken in by Hannah, who works at a boarding school, and she goes there for high school. But it's way more complicated than that. Taylor is battling her own emotions and her school is fighting a territory war with these Townies (from the Jellicoe Town) and the Cadets, Sydney boys   who come for six weeks to train every year. But it's set in the present day, so it's really weird.  Also, the leader of the cadets is Jonah Griggs, who once betrayed Taylor when she tried to run away at age 14 to find her mother. Though this book was confusing, there's something oddly beautiful about it, and there's an amazing cast of characters that support the plot. It was originally published in Australia under the name On the   Jellicoe Road. 419 pages, 3.25 stars.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Sherman Alexie

This is a serious, but funny book. I know, I know, contradiction! But it's true. For example, it's about a very serious subject: a Native American boy, Junior, who leaves his reservation to go to an all white high school, but he also likes to draw cartoons. His cartoons are very funny, and always correlate with what's going on in the story in a very humorous way. Junior leaves his reservation on the advice of his geometry teacher. I liked this book, which was interesting, though it may be a bit cliched. I'm not sure.One of my favorite things about the book was the voice of the narrator. He sounded exactly like a teenager would sound, always viewing everything in a funny, weird, teenager-ish way. One of it's "themes" is to never give up, no matter how unlikely it seems that you'll succeed. I'd never read Sherman Alexie before, and I liked the book pretty well. It was a good book, but I think people here make a big deal about it because he writes about Washington state. But thanks Mr. Gacek, for recommending it to me. 230 pages, 4 stars.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

I Am the Messenger, Markus Zusak

This fanciful and funny book was written by the same author as the Book Thief, which is one of my favorite books. I Am the Messinger is certainly not as serious as the Book Thief at first glance, but it is actually pretty meaningful. Ed Kennedy, an underage cab driver without much of a future inadvertently stops a bank robbery. Then, he gets an Ace of Diamonds in the mail, with some addresses on the back. That's when he becomes "the messenger." He is chosen to care about people in need in many different ways, and to help them. But one question remains. Who's behind Ed's mission? I really loved this book, though the plot doesn't sound that interesting at first. But it was a clever book, and I liked the characters, including the Doorman, his stinky, coffee-loving dog, his ever-cursing mother, a whole host of dysfunctional friends, the people who he's helping, and of course, Ed Kennedy himself. I really enjoyed reading this book, which was a pretty fast read. Also, the ending was really sweet and just felt right. 357 pages, 4.9 stars.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Jamie Ford

In 1986, Henry Lee is in a crowd outside the Panama Hotel, which was once the entrance to Seattle's Japantown. It was boarded up for decades, but now the new owner has discovered the belongings of Japanese families who were sent to internment camps during World War II. Henry remembers a young Japanese American girl, Keiko Okabe, who he innocently befriended in the 1940s. He flashes back, and this is their story. I found the plot very interesting. I didn't even know that Seattle used to have a Japantown. You know, we always think of the Nazis as the bad guys in World War II, which they were, but some pretty bad things happened in the US too. Innocent Japanese people were rounded up and sent away from their homes just because of their nationality. It's really horrible to realize that the US did that. They also had the right to send away Germans and Italians, but they didn't. Just the Japanese. This book is very sad, but it also had hope in it too. And I love the ending; it was bittersweet, which is the feeling that this book is really all about. 285 pages, 5 stars.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Help, Kathryn Stockett

This novel was a bestseller, and still is on the bestseller lists. It is set in Mississippi in 1962. "Skeeter", a white woman hoping to become a journalist, returns from for years at college to her hometown, only to find that her childhood companion and maid, Constantine, has mysteriously disappeared, and no one wants to tell her where Constantine is. She meets Abileen, a black maid, and Minnie, a sassy cook, and decides to write a book about the help and what they think of working for white people and their experiences. The Help has good storytelling and compelling, well-thought out, and unforgettable characters. It's also very difficult to put down. I just couldn't stop reading. Skeeter, Abileen, and Minnie each narrate different chapters, each with their own story to tell. All three of them are very human, memorable, and unique. They all have their own story tell. Abileen and Minnie are brave enough to tell their story. I loved this book, and would definitely recommend it. 451 pages, 5 stars.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Princess of the Midnight Ball, Jessica Day George

This is a retelling of the Grimm's Brothers story of the twelve princesses cursed to dance each night underground for an evil king until they die. I really loved this retelling, it was exciting and interesting, and felt like an old fable. Though a retelling, it was pretty faithful to the original story and had the typical elements of a fairy tale: magic, a hero, and a curse of some sort on a beautiful princess (in this case 12 of them!) I read this book in about two hours, so it was a pretty easy read, but also very engaging and entertaining. It is set on the continent of "Ionia," loosely based on 19th century Europe, in a country similar to Germany. I really liked the descriptions of the underground world of the King Under Stone, as the cruel king is known. There is a fanciful forest, a strange lake full of black liquid, and a beautiful but sinister palace. The author writes in a straightforward and beautiful way. I really love retellings of fairy tales (Ella Enchanted, Fairest, etc.) but this one of the best yet. I'm pretty sure Jessica Day George has written others, and I look forward to reading them. 272 pages, 4.75 stars.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammett

This is a famous detective novel, first published in 1929. It was later made into a film with Humphrey Bogart playing Sam Spade, the hard-boiled private detective.  It deals with the mysterious, much-coveted "maltese falcon," which is supposedly encased in black enamel. Underneath, however, it is jewel-encrusted, thus making it extremely valuable. This is an exciting mystery story, full of unexpected twists and turns. You're never quite sure who the murderer is until the very end. Another thing that I liked about it is that it's not just a murder mystery; the main mystery is where the falcon is, and who's got it, as well as who committed the  murders.  Three people are murdered all told. I also like the character of Sam Spade. He's calm, cool, and collected and does not get flustered at any point in the book, even when he's being drugged or stood up with a gun. I hope to read The Thin Man sometime, another one of Dashiell Hammett's mysteries. There was also a movie made of that one too. 217 pages, 4.5 stars.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Cardturner: A Novel about a King, a Queen, and a Joker, Louis Sachar

This book is all about bridge, a card game. I didn't think that I would be that interested in it, but I was. You wouldn't think that bridge would be so exciting, but it was. It's sort of like pinochle, but a lot more complicated, I think. It's about this boy named Alton who must be a "cardturner" for his blind, sick (and very rich) uncle who plays bridge. Alton is a sort of quirky narrator. His parents are pressuring him to get Lester, his uncle, to leave them a lot of money when he dies, but he doesn't really want to. Also, bridge is a complicated game, and he has to explain some parts of it. When he does, he puts a whale before it to show that a boring part is coming up. This is a reference to Moby Dick; in the middle of the exciting story, Melville suddenly spends about 100 pages describing every aspect of a whaling ship. In fact, when I tried to read Moby Dick, that's what turned me off. It was so boring. We don't know everything there is to know about a whaling ship! But anyway, Alton uses a whale symbol, which I thought was kind of funny. And, the sections where he explains bridge are actually pretty interesting. Inevitably, Alton's uncle Lester dies, and then he starts to hear instructions from him. Alton and Toni, a girl that he's met,  enter the national bridge competition. Toni also hears voices: from a woman named Annabel, who played bridge. You really have to read the book to understand it. It's an interesting story. 315 pages, 4 stars.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Falconer's Knot, Mary Hoffman

This is a mystery novel set in 14th century Italy. Silvano, a young nobleman who rides through his home of Perrugia with his hunting falcon, is cast under suspicion of murder and his father sends him to a friary so he will be safe until his name is cleared. But then a rash of murders begin at the friary. Silvano and Chiara, a young unwilling novice who he has met, must try to solve the murders. There are a lot of complicated side-plots in this intriguing book as well, including two women, both widowed by the murders. This was a pretty suspenseful book, and I liked how it was set in 14th century Italy. There is a lot of talk about frescoes and other paintings in the walls cathedrals that is really interesting, and I love the world that is described in this book. However, the actual mystery itself wasn't that complicated. There was no real connection between the seemingly separate murders, even though the murderer was the same. You'll see if you read it. 285 pages, 4 stars.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Jubilee, Margaret Walker

This was a really moving book, based on a true story of the author's ancestors. It is about the time of slavery in the South in the mid 19th century. The heroine is a mulatto girl named Vyry, the daughter of the white plantation owner and a black slave. I liked how the main character was a black slave girl, the lowest among the low in the Southern hierarchy. She's female and black, but courageous and brave. Walker weaved her family's oral history with thirty years of research, and she has created a great story. The book spans from the 1840s past the civil war. Jubilee chronicles the harsh brutality of slavery, and the way slaves were mistreated and abused, and how white people thought that slavery "was better for the blacks" because they "couldn't take care of themselves." It makes my blood boil.
Also, even after the Civil War was over and slavery abolished, blacks were still mistreated- perhaps even more than when they had their owners protecting them. I'm not sure about that, but horrible massacres occurred; many innocent people were killed, though not Vyry. Her house, however, was burned to the ground by the Klu Klux Klan. I really liked this book, and hope to read more of Margaret Walker in the future. 497 pages, 4.75 stars.