Saturday, January 28, 2012

Sweet Venom by Tera Lynn Childs

When I bought this book, I would never have guessed
 that I would give it 4 stars (well, more like 3 1/2 stars, but it's a good day, so I'm rounding up!). 

This is the story of Grace, Gretchen and Greer, three descendants of Medusa, misaligned in history as a monster, but who is actually a protector of humans from the monster realm. Grace is a brainy girl who just moved to a new city (San Francisco) and started at a new school. Gretchen is a tough, foster child turned monster killer, and Greer is a "stuck up" debutante. Through the course of the book, they learn about each others' existence, and about their mission and duty to protect humans from monsters. They discover that each has unique gifts and powers to help them achieve this mission, and they learn that if they work together, they can succeed. 

I know this doesn't sound like the typical book I read. Here is the scenario of how I came to buy/read this book. 

BookDiva: "Dancegirl, I think you should let me start reading to you in the mornings again."
Dancegirl: "Mom, do you have to? I'd rather just get up and start practicing."
BookDiva" "It will make my heart smile and my eyes sparkle just to get to spend that time with you in the morning. Puh-Leeze! I'm begging you. With my entire heart!!"
Dancegirl: "Aargh. MOM!" (I think she was embarrassed by my soulful pleading in the Barnes and Noble Young Adult section!)
BookDiva: "And I will let you choose ANY book you want."
Danegirl: "Seriously? All right. DEAL."

So she picked a book, a paperback, and then while I was at the check out counter she came running up to me, "This one! I want this one. I want to change it out!!" So, I let her (well, I actually bought both books, so now the Book Diva has something to give Dancegirl during the next BookDiva visit.) 

And we started the next morning. And as soon as we read through page 100, Dancegirl absconded with the book and finished it in the next day or two. Then I finished reading it, and then we talked  about the story and the characters and the climactic ending during a half hour drive in the car to a doctor's appointment. . .  Just because we wanted to talk about the fun book and our thoughts about it, not because I was trying to create some sort of discussion. 

Whoo hoo. The begging was completely worth it! 

The book is a great "beach" read. Not a lot of thinking needed, but there is a plot driven story that pulls you into the adventure. The added element of the sisters learning about each other and how to work together is a nice touch. The characters are believable and interesting (although a bit stereotypical . . . but I think that is a conscious choice by the author.)  This book will appeal to "teenage" girls who like adventure stories, especially those who enjoy the Percy Jackson/Lightening Thief series. 

Dancegirl and I are reading Emma by Jane Austen now. She decided that she'd rather read classics with me (slow and steady) and read the exciting books on her own. At least she has agreed to continue to read with me!  

(But Tera Lynne Childs has some some other books I'm going to order and offer to read to Sophia (at least the first 100 pages . . .) if she starts to think my morning reading is not so fun! (Mwah ha ha ha!) 

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine

I am reading this book right now . . . I just finished with the teenage female brain section. FASCINATING!!
I have been underlining something on every page it seems. Sometimes I just star the entire section. I'm learning tons . . . and giving myself reasons to try to be more patient with my teenage-ish daughter(s). I can't wait to read the 40 year old female brain portion and figure out what is going on with me! I'm looking forward to some explanations on my current state of mind.  (And then I'm going to get her book The Male Brain and get some insight into The Boy and whatever name I'm calling my husband on this blog that I can't remember at the moment! (Maybe just Mr. Book Diva . . . it's easy. Probably not his first choice, though.)  . . . Aack! Maybe my forgetfulness should have me worried . . . have you seen my post about Still Alice

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D. Schmidt

I ADORE Gary Schmidt. This was my favorite book for a year . . . until I read Wednesday Wars also by Gary D. Schmidt. A beautiful story beautifully written. I got to read it a second time for a book club, and then again for another book club, and I think I'm going to read it again this year. I can't put my finger on why I like this book so much! This go around, I'm going find out WHY I like this book so much, and I'm going to see if there are principles of "Leadership Education/How does this book teach me to be a leader?" that I can pull from this book.  

I'm reading David Copperfield right now, and as I'm reading I'm pondering "becoming the hero in my own story." I think Lizzie Bright is also about becoming the hero of your own story . . . perhaps they would make a good companion book pairing for my scholar lit class . . . something to think about, as I'm reading them, anyway! I think it's great fun to put together two obvious companion books (Like Macbeth and Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett) but it's really fun to discover some that work just on your own. (Like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Jane Eyre). So, it will be fun to see if Lizzie Bright and David Copperfield work together. Often times its the my mindset as I am reading that makes me see connections between books, whether another person will see the connection or not is entirely up to them!

I told the children I'm going to read this as our night-time family read aloud after we finish our current "fun" book, The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett (A Carnegie Medal Winner). Dancegirl is moping and complaining (because she knows I cry when I read this book . . . and she doesn't like sad books, especially if there is a chance than anyone might die in the book. Not really a spoiler, I promise! There is a hilarious section about the importance of your "last words".)

Value Tracker for Lizzie Bright: Friendship, Loyalty, Greed and Consumerism, Courage, Equality, Tolerance

James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl

Kid appeal: 4 stars
Mom appeal: 4 stars

Lala and I read this in January 2011, but for some reason we were talking about the story today while sweeping up the kitchen.  I think we even convinced Coconut to try it. Lala asked if we could read it again.  For some odd reason, my artist Coconut doesn't like pictures by Quentin Blake, and most of our Roald Dahl books have Quentin Blake illustrations. So I haven't been able to convince her to read much Roald Dahl (even though I know her quirky-- almost snarky-- humor would really enjoy his writing.) This version has Lane Smith illustrations, so I think I can get her to try it. 

I won't summarize the story, as I think most people have read the book, seen the movie trailer, or the movie. I saw the movie before the book and didn't like the movie, so avoided the book. But, Lala requested it (she liked the bugs on the cover) so we tried it and liked it. Roald Dahl is full of kid power and cleverness. His books make you think about what you know in new and different ways.

Quote written in the back of the book:
"This is a funny book. A so-oo funny book. I think it's getting to be my very favorite."
(Lala age 4, on page 49)

Value Tracker: kid power, cleverness (using your mind), imagination, friendship

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

I think this is the SCARIEST book I have ever read. I used to love Stephen King, and this is scarier. By alot. Because it could really happen, and could happen to me or someone I love.

It's the story (fictional, but convincingly and hauntingly real) of a Harvard professor who faces early onset Alzheimer's disease. The author has a PhD in neuroscience from Harvard, and writes with compassion and honesty. The story beautifully portrays the relationship that blossoms with between Alice and her estranged daughter at the same time Alice is losing her memory and way of life. Unforgettable. Convincing enough that I will probably switch to the no aluminum deodorant stones my mother keeps giving me for Christmas in order to have one more defense against this disease! 

Topic Tracker: Compassion, Mother/daughter relationships, self-perception, 

This is a "grown-up" book, but appropriate for any child 14 and up interested in Alzheimers (for whatever reason).

SBD: Read November 2011

Monday, January 2, 2012

Great Chapter Books to Read With a Five Year Old

Here are some FAVORITE books that I have read and enjoyed with Lala (who is currently five years old) in the past year or so:


A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park

Kid Appeal: 5 stars (Lala-age 5 through Dancegirl-age 14)
Mom Appeal: 5 stars

Our night time family read aloud, we finished this in December 2011. (The Boy sleeps in the basement and would rather listen to his own books on CD rather than listen to his mother read aloud at night. He will let me read to him in the mornings, though!)

An excellent book. Winner of the 2002 Newbery Medal.

Quick summary:
Tree-ear is an orphan who has been cared for his nearly lame friend Crane-man for nearly his entire eleven (ish) years of life. In order to pay for something he breaks, he begins working for the grumpy potter Min. Tree-ear hopes to someday learn the art of making pottery. But, even when Min refuses to teach him this trade that is passed from Father to Son, Tree-ear agrees to travel to the capital city in order to share his master's work with the Royal Minister.

My children adore fantasy books. To the exclusion of nearly everything else. So, when I read to them (whether individually or as a family) I try to switch off realistic books with fantasy books while paying attention to the quality of the books we are reading. When I first started reading this the children were a bit skeptical that it would be something "good" (meaning fun or funny). But by the end they loved Tree-ear and were hoping for his happy ending. I didn't remember that the last chapter is a tear jerker, and so bawled my way through our final reading . . . but it was still a great reading experience. Because Coconut loves pottery, she is excited to choose this as her next Book Club Party Celebration.
I appreciated the "extras" at the back of the book that talked of Korean celadon pottery and some of the sources for Ms. Parks ideas.

-- If there was more to having a home than Crane-man and the bridge, Tree-ear had neither knowledge nor need of it.
-- Tree-ear could hardly wait to tell Crane-man. For the first time in his life he would have real work to do.
-- He felt like a beast with two heads, one ashamed, the other resentful.
-- The feast day banquets in the palace of the King could never better the modest meal before him, for he had earned it.
-- "I have no gift for you beyond words," Crane-man said, "I would tell you this. Of all the problems you may meet on your ourney, it will be people who are the greatest danger. But it will also be people to whom you must turn if ever you are in ned of aid. Remember this, my friend, and you will travel well."

Value Tracker: Integrity, Tenacity, Honor, Diligence, Friendship, Kindness, Courage,
Hints: I read the extras at the back of the book so I could give the children some background on Medieval Korea, celdon pottery, etc. We have just studied ancient/medieval Korea in our History co op, so we tied a lot of what we learned into those chapters from The Story of the World Volume 2 by Susan Wise Bauer. We also have a Calliope magazine on ancient Korea that I put out for children to peruse.
Ahh! Happiness . . . 

Listening to the best part of my family's favorite audio book . . .and eating hot, homemade rolls made by Cupcake and Kulta.

"Home in time for strawberries . . . "
I think I have heard this part eight times. It makes me cry every time! 

A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly
Young Adult (12, maybe 14 and up): 4 stars
Mom Appeal: 5 stars

Carnegie Medal Winner, United Kingdom
Los Angeles Times Book Prize Winner
Borders 2004 Original Voices Award Winner
Named a Best Book of 2003 by Publishers Weekly, Booklist, School Library Journal, The Irish Times, The Times (London), The Financial Times and The Albany Times-Union.

I really enjoyed this book. Someone I love dearly gave this book to me for Christmas last year, and I wanted to read it, but I just never seemed to get around to it. (Surprisingly, my reading choices are mostly not my own, I'm reading what my children are reading or what my book club is reading or what C.L.A.U. is reading.) But, over Christmas break we have been doing a lot of laying around and reading, and I picked this up. What a treat!

Set in the Adirondacks in 1906, sixteen year old Mattie Gorkey is the oldest sister of four children. Her older brother left the farm after her mother's tragic death from cancer, and her father struggles to keep himself going, and keep the farm afloat. Mattie struggles with her desire to keep her promise to her dying mother to take care of the family (now her father and two younger sisters) with her desire to escape her weary/unappreciated life and go to college and follow her dreams.  A handsome boy starts "sparking" with her, and influences her plans for the future as well. The story jumps back and forth in time and uses Mattie's word of the day for each of the chapter headings. Each of the words ends up perfectly defining some point of the chapter. A real-life murder mystery also weaves its way into the fabric of the storyline.
Mattie learns about life and about promises . . . and that sometimes what seems like breaking a promise could actually be keeping a promise.

Quick description: Interesting, compelling, well-written, and thought-provoking. 

Value Topics: honesty, morality, personal character, integrity, girl power, relationships

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