Friday, January 31, 2014

The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine, 2012


Two girls separated by race form an unbreakable bond during the tumultuous integration of Little Rock schools in 1958
Twelve-year-old Marlee doesn't have many friends until she meets Liz, the new girl at school. Liz is bold and brave, and always knows the right thing to say, especially to Sally, the resident mean girl. Liz even helps Marlee overcome her greatest fear - speaking, which Marlee never does outside her family.
But then Liz is gone, replaced by the rumor that she was a Negro girl passing as white. But Marlee decides that doesn't matter. Liz is her best friend. And to stay friends, Marlee and Liz are willing to take on integration and the dangers their friendship could bring to both their families.


When I'm out somewhere new, I find myself shrinking inward. I have to clear my throat before I talk and when it does come out my voice is somehow softer. When visiting new small groups I'm the one who goes and sits in a corner, unable to join in the merriment until someone pulls me in and makes me forget to be shy. When I'm at home, no one could ever call me shy. But when I'm out, sometimes I am.

Marlee? Marlee is like me, but a hundred times amplified. And then doubled again. She has a list in her head of people she can talk to, and it boils down to her family members (not so much her mother, though) and - well, and nobody. Her best friend is math, math that doesn't change or give wonky answers. She sticks to her math, and to her family, and doesn't pay attention to anything else. Even though she lives in Little Rock, Arkansas (the year after the Little Rock Nine), it really doesn't affect her other than when her sister's high school closes so white kids don't have to go to school with black kids.

So then what happens when a new girl comes to Marlee's junior high? Liz is confident, smart, and pretty. Black hair, brown eyes - and a deep tan, even though Marlee never saw her at the pool. Before Marlee knows it, she realizes that she can talk to Liz without any problems. They work together on their social studies project, and Liz even manages to convince Marlee to speak her part of the history presentation. But then. Then. The day of the presentation, Liz isn't at school. Marlee's teacher pulls her aside and tells her, "Liz was a negro passing as a white. She's not coming back."

And Marlee's world collapses. The one true friend she ever really had, is a negro. Liz is in big trouble with people of both skin colors, and Marlee can never see her again. Or so they say.

Marlee is determined to keep the best friend she's ever had, but there's a whole world of prejudice standing between them. Marlee has to decide what exactly she stands for, and how far she'll go to defend it. And she might just find her voice in the process.
I actually read this book on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. It was a total coincidence, and it wasn't until I was halfway through both the book and the day that I glanced at my calendar and put two and two together. Then I went, "oh, cool!" and took that as an excuse to ignore everything around me and finish the rest of the book.

This really was a great book, and it didn't just focus on the problem of segregation. Marlee also had to deal with the boy at school who looked like an angel (and made her do his math homework), her suffering relationship with the mother she had nothing in common with, and the sister she always relied on growing up and moving away both physically and emotionally. 

Marlee learns that to stand for what you believe in, sometimes you have to defy the rules and take the plunge. And that sometimes, even when you know you're right, the rest of the world might disagree. 
And just because you do something with good intentions, doesn't mean innocent people can't get hurt.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

DragonSpell by Donita K Paul, 2004


One Dragon Egg Holds the Key to the Future.

Once a slave, Kale is given the unexpected opportunity to become a servant to Paladin. Yet this young girl has much to learn about the difference between slavery and service.

A Desperate Search Begins…

A small band of Paladin’s servants rescue Kale from danger but turn her from her destination: The Hall, where she was to be trained. Feeling afraid and unprepared, Kale embarks on a perilous quest to find the meech dragon egg stolen by the foul Wizard Risto. First, she and her comrades must find Wizard Fenworth. But their journey is threatened when a key member of the party is captured, leaving the remaining companions to find Fenworth, attempt an impossible rescue, and recover the egg whose true value they have not begun to suspect… 

This is a great book for any fantasy lover.
I'm going to say that right now. If you are not a Christian, that does not exclude you from these great books, but if you are a Christian, they're that much better.
Kale is the proverbial orphan, down-on-her luck and unconfident in herself. She found a rare dragon egg in her home town, and is now on her way to deliver it to the great scholars of Wulder (a great creator parallel to God) for them to take care of. She is bright, lovable and sweet, and but she also can be clumsy, unconfident to the point of crippling herself, and over-dependant on her feelings rather than the council of older and wiser people. 
She is waylayed on her journey and told she must travel another path, and along the way she discovers secrets about her family and her abilities that she never knew before, learning to know Wulder and Paladin (A Jesus equivalent) in the process. 
This is a very richly imagined world, with dragons as well as Doneels, O'rants, and Emerlindians (all races you will soon learn to know and love). It is wonderfully written and a fantastic start to a series I have read many, many times over the past few years. When it comes to Christian fantasy this is some of the best I've found.
For those of you who like romance, this series does have some. By the end of the series - well, I won't spoil it, but SOMEONE might just be married. For those who don't like romance, this book has none and the books that do have it are not overpowering. A wonderful, well-balanced book for any reader, I completely and whole-heartedly reccomend these books to any who is interested!

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Friday 56 (January 24)

So I'm trying something new here, this Friday 56 (more info at http://www.fredasvoice.com/2014/01/the-friday-56_23.html). 

Here are the rules, straight from the source!

*Grab a book, any book.
*Turn to page 56 or 56% in your eReader
 *Find any sentence, (or few, just don't spoil it) that grab you.
*Post it.


I'm going to be doing Ungifted by Gordon Korman (which I reviewed at http://ireadtilldawn.blogspot.com/2014/01/ungifted-by-gordon-korman-2012.html - sorry about the long links, I'm working on getting HTML working properly).


Here are my sentences:

"Hi, Donovan," Heather addressed me. "Haven't seen you for a few days. Were you sick?"
"Donovan's a genius now," Sanderson supplied. "He goes to the gifted Academy."



Do you have a Friday 56? Post it below, or a link if you have a blog! And feel free to browse my big ole' blog (which isn't truly that big, but will be someday).

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Ungifted by Gordon Korman, 2012




The word gifted has never been applied to a kid like Donovan Curtis. It's usually more like Don't try this at home. So when the troublemaker pulls a major prank at his middle school, he thinks he's finally gone too far. But thanks to a mix-up by one of the administrators, instead of getting in trouble, Donovan is sent to the Academy of Scholastic Distinction (ASD), a special program for gifted and talented students.

It wasn't exactly what Donovan had intended, but there couldn't be a more perfect hideout for someone like him. That is, if he can manage to fool people whose IQs are above genius level. And that becomes harder and harder as the students and teachers of ASD grow to realize that Donovan may not be good at math or science (or just about anything). But after an ongoing experiment with a live human (sister), an unforgettably dramatic middle-school dance, and the most astonishing come-from-behind robot victory ever, Donovan shows that his gifts might be exactly what the ASD students never knew they needed.


This book is Gordon Korman at his best. It's also not very old, so that gives me hope for his future books. I hate it when an author kind of slowly slides down in quality until you go from great books to reading mud, you know? But this is definitely not the case with Gordon Korman. He's at the top of his game in Ungifted, and I love it!


Donovan is not gifted. At all. He's average in every sense of the word - but he does get in trouble more than the average person. He has what could almost be some form of ADHD or something, where once he thinks of an idea he just has to try it - no matter the conseqences. So it's business like usual when Donovan grabs a stick and whacks it across the giant behind of a large metal statue of Atlas (the guy, not the map) holding up the world. When things get a little out of hand, however, is when the world literally falls out of Atlas' hands. The world portion of the statue falls off, rolls down the hill, and crashes into a mega-expensive sports building full of screaming sports fans. No one is hurt, but Donovan's in trouble.
But wait. Y'see, the superintendant of the school made a mistake. He wrote Donovan's name on the paper with kids who go to the special school for gifted kids down the road. That's right, Donovan didn't get expelled - he got promoted. He decides to stick it out with the geniuses to save his parents from footing the bill for the gym, and that's when he starts to realize that those geeks and nerds are very cool in their own way - they just need a little push in the right direction from someone who doesn't spend all his time stressing about grades or some new science concept. But this uneasy answer won't last forever, and Donovan knows it's only a matter of time before the super-intendant finds him.

This book is flat out hilarious. That's the first thing I'll say. Donovan is a hoot, and everyone around him, from the serious genius girl who can't think about anything but getting into a good college, to the freakishly smart boy who wishes he were normal and didn't have to go to the smart kid school (and so tries desperately to flunk, a running punch-line throughout the book) - and who discovers the secrets of YouTube and is suddenly addicted.
The book is told alternating views between classmates at the Academy (the gifted school), the teachers, the super-intendant, Donovan himself, and Donovan's also funny (and highly pregnant) sister. It is very cool reading how everyone thinks about Donovan and sees him, which is somehow very different from how he sees himself in certain ways.

There is a reference throughout the book to an ancestor who survived the sinking of the Titanic, which for me (a tried-and-true Titaniac) was kind of a cool little tie-in to actual history. Also, for those who don't know Gordon Korman's works, he also wrote the Titanic trilogy and I find he fits in little references to the Titanic in many of his books. Got half an hour to kill? Ask me a question about the Titanic. Or books that even use the word titanic (i.e. "He took a titanic leap"). I probably know a little too much on the subject than it is really possibly to classify under "passing interest."

Katie (Donovan's sister)'s husband is stationed over-seas in the military, and rather than being anything bad her pregnancy is more of a running gag and something that comes in very handy when the Academy students realize they haven't taken "sex ed" yet - what's better education in that area than studying an actual child in vitro? Nothing inappropriate, and it's actually extremely sweet. 

This book is awesome, and I have given it as a gift to a friend who loves Wendy Mass books (who said she loves it). It is a great, great book and even if it might be a little tilted when it comes to what smart kids are like, so what? I'm a smart kid (though no Noah), and I don't mind. You come into the story knowing it's not really the way life is, and it's the story (not the "message") that is the reason you should read it.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Teaser Tuesdays (January 21st)

So, in the interest of getting out in the world (or at least the world wide web) and throwing myself into the book community, I am participating in the weekly meme, Teaser Tuesdays hosted by Should be Reading (the link is http://shouldbereading.wordpress.com/2014/01/21/teaser-tuesdays-jan-21, my HTML isn't working right at the moment).

Here's how it goes, straight from the source:

• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!


So, here I go. My first Teaser Tuesday book is Jennifer A. Nielsen's The False Prince. My quotes:

"You'll be dead."
"Yes, but you'll be in trouble."

Strictly speaking I'm not reading False Prince at the moment, but I just reviewed it the other day (http://ireadtilldawn.blogspot.com/2014/01/the-false-prince-by-jennifer-nielsen.html), and I'm not technically in the middle of anything else at the moment (I know, that shocked me, too!). So I figured it was my best bet.

Happy Tuesday and happy week, and feel free to explore my site and/or comment!

The Enchanted Wood by Edith Blyton, 1939



Joe, Beth and Franny move to the country and find an Enchanted Wood right on their doorstep. In the magic Faraway Tree live the magical characters that soon become their new friends – Moon-Face, Silky the fairy, and Saucepan Man. Together they visit the strange lands (the Roundabout Land, the Land of Ice and Snow, Toyland and the Land of Take What You Want) atop the tree and have the most exciting adventures – and narrow escapes.


The Enchanted Wood was absolutely one of my favorite books when I was younger. I haven't read it in a while, but I just noticed it on my shelf and thought I'd go for it and review them. Who wouldn't want to find a magic tree that has a magic land at the top which switches periodically? I could practically quote large sections of this book from memory, and I have to say that to this day, if I could pick anywhere to have a birthday party, I would pick Birthday Land. No question.

When I was at the prime age for reading the Faraway Tree series we couldn't get any of the sequals (turns out that outside of Switzerland - where my parents bought our copy of Enchanted Wood - they're pretty hard to get!), and I didn't get them until one memorable Christmas a few years later when I received not only the two other Faraway Tree books, but the Magical Rocking Chair (or whatever it's called), too! I remember enjoying seeing the kids again, but it was the first book that won my heart. Faraway Tree is full of fairies, mean old ladies, giants, and more. But the children are at the heart of the story, those delightful little kids who found the tree on a picnic and had lots of adventures while their parents smiled and waved them off from behind (yes, it's that kind of book). But they also did their chores, even getting held back from going to the tree because they have to work in the garden, etc. At one point they go to a great big market with almost everything, and besides a few more quirky purchases they obtain a new garden spade and a goat for their mother. They aren't the generic Mary Sue, but they are sweet, dutiful children who made me secretly yearn to live in a little cottage near a big forest.

And Moon Face. Who can forget Moon Face? Or Sylvia? I loved the characters so much when I was younger, and I'm just now thinking about them for the first time in years. These books probably fed my love of reading more than almost any other book (besides Narnia, my first love). Give them to your daughters, your sons, your nieces and nephews. As soon as they can read, offer this book to them. Please.

And read it yourself while you're at it!

P.S. Sorry about the low quality cover pic, it was the only one I could find of the copy I own. The other covers are a little too tacky-looking for my taste.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Double Identity by Margaret Peterson Haddix, 2007

155370"So my only protection is a kindergarten teacher and a ninety-eight-pound female minister....And they don't even believe I'm in danger."
As Bethany approaches her thirteenth birthday, her parents act more oddly than usual. Her mother cries constantly, and her father barely lets Bethany out of his sight. Then one morning he hustles the entire family into the car, drives across several state lines -- and leaves Bethany with an aunt she never knew existed. Bethany has no idea what's going on. She's worried her mom and dad are running from some kind of trouble, but she can't find out because they won't tell her where they are going. Bethany's only clue is a few words she overheard her father tell her aunt: "She doesn't know anything about Elizabeth." But Aunt Myrlie won't tell Bethany who Elizabeth is, and she won't explain why people in her small town react to Bethany as if they've seen a ghost. The mystery intensifies when Bethany gets a package from her father containing four different birth certificates from four different states, with four different last names -- and thousands of dollars in cash. And when a strange man shows up asking questions, Bethany realizes she's not the only one who's desperate to unravel the secrets of her past.


I have read every single book by Margaret Peterson Haddix, and this book is still one of my absolute favorites, a reading stand-by that never gets old.

Bethany's parents put her in the car, drive for days, and won't answer any of her questions about what's going on. Her mother has been crying for no apparant reason for the past few months. She's frightened, and doesn't know what's going on with the parents who usually take such good care of their one and only darling. Then they drop her off at a house with a woman claiming to be her Aunt Myrlie, without saying when they'll be back. She must learn what is going on with her parents, and why everyone who sees her acts like she's supposed to be dead (note: not a living-dead book! Thought I should say that . . . ), and who is this Elizabeth she heard her father mention to Myrlie (i.e. "she doesn't know anything about Elizabeth")? Also, who is the man who seems to almost be stalking her, and what does he want with her parents? Bethany struggles to find answers, but the more she gets the more she doesn't know if she really wants to know the answer to her questions.

I've read this book at least five times, and I know the big ending. I still love to read it anyway. The characters are lovingly crafted and engaging, big questions are raised, and I just love the big advice theme in the novel - Don't ask why did something happen, just ask what you're going to do next. I totally recommend this to any and all who are considering it, I think it might technically be called a thriller ('m not clear on that, thought), but it is very appropriate, the violence is practically nonexistent, and the main struggle is a phycological one. A wonderful book all around, and maybe you'll even consider picking up one of her other books!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen, 2012


Choose to lie...or choose to die.
In a discontent kingdom, civil war is brewing. To unify the divided people, Conner, a nobleman of the court, devises a cunning plan to find an impersonator of the king's long-lost son and install him as a puppet prince. Four orphans are recruited to compete for the role, including a defiant boy named Sage. Sage knows that Conner's motives are more than questionable, yet his life balances on a sword's point -- he must be chosen to play the prince or he will certainly be killed. But Sage's rivals have their own agendas as well.
As Sage moves from a rundown orphanage to Conner's sumptuous palace, layer upon layer of treachery and deceit unfold, until finally, a truth is revealed that, in the end, may very well prove more dangerous than all of the lies taken together
.


So the author has a giveaway going right now on her website, which is what finally got me to actually post a review. I kept thinking I wanted to get one up for The False Prince, but I'm a rather lazy person. If anyone's interested, Ms. Nielsen's giving away signed copies of False Prince, its sequal The Runaway King, AND an ARC of The Shadow Throne, the third and final book in the trilogy which comes out next month. That is at http://www.jennielsen.com/archives/1100.

Now, the review itself. I've actually written two reviews before for False Prince, one on Goodreads and one on a message board I frequent. The Goodreads one is incredibly short and mainly consists of "Eeeh! I love it! I just reread it AGAIN!!" The message board one is really long and sounds incredibly unenthusiastic, which was my attempt at being evenhanded about a book I well and truly adore. So here's a third go at it, and maybe it will land somewhere in the middle.

"If I had to do it all over again, I would not have chosen this life. Then again, I'm not sure I ever had a choice." Thus goes the first line of the entire book, a line that goes deeper than the just started reader could ever guess.

But wait. First, just have a look at the cover picture. Isn't it gorgeous? Even if the book was just horrible, wouldn't you still just love to gaze at that book? I know I would, and I do with my copy all the time. And then you get Runaway King, which is a beautiful emerald green, and - sorry, off topic. Back to Sage.

Oh, wait, I haven't even introduced Sage yet. Well, Sage is the machinery that makes the whole story (actually, the whole series) tick. He's the delightfully unreliable narrator, the eyes through which we get a clear picture of everything - except for the most important thing of all.

And so what is the story? Street rat Sage is plucked off the streets, forced to the estate of rich nobleman Conner along with two (well, three, but only two of them are important) other orphans. There, Conner forces them into a deadly competition. They must learn in just two weeks everything they need to impersonate a prince who's been dead for years, because the royal family is dead and Conner's ready to put forward a replacement ruler.

There's just one eensy, weensy teeny little problem. Sage is stubborn. Like a mule. And he has this thing where he goes out of his way to disobey. Not to mention the fact that he always winds up covered in mud. So how can he make it out of this alive, if he refuses to cooperate? For there can only be one prince, and all three boys know only too well what will happen to those who don't get chosen.

So, the characters. I adore Sage, my friend adores Sage, all the random people on Twitter adore Sage - I haven't met a person yet, no matter how they feel about the rest of the book, who could resist going "Sage is so clever and witty and stubborn! I LOVE him!!" (No joke, that's what they say. I may be paraphrasing a bit, though.) Sage is absolutely one of my favorite characters, possibly all time. He's like Gen from the Queen's Thief series, but less dark and brooding all the time. Which frankly, I like better.

And the other characters? Because, of course, more than one character makes or breaks a book. The other orphans, Roden and Tobias, both have very unique personalities. The kind where you think you've got them sized up the first time you meet them, and then later you realize that there's way more going on in their head, and not all of it nice/mean. Conner, well, he truly put my teeth on edge. You could see he was human, through his flaws, his temper, his fear. But he was also a bully, a man who would do anything he had to in order to get what he wanted. Anything at all. And the depth of that willingness struck deep, because you knew he had all three of the orphans in his absolute control.

And I could go on through every single person who appeared in the book (because from the amount of times I've read it, yes, I've just about got them all memorized), but this review is getting a tad long and I read somewhere you don't want to bore your readers with extraneous length. I'll just say that everyone had a purpose, and frankly I probably shouldn't talk about them anymore because it would be really hard without spoilers (Imogen comes to mind - keep an eye out for her!)

So in summary? One time I saw someone compare it to a mix of The Hunger Games and Harry Potter. Um, I don't see the connection. There's no magic, no boarding school, no evil government - and I could go on. But what this IS is a great read, with enough violence that I wouldn't give it to anyone under ten (though I know many people who would), and the suspense to keep anyone reading. Bottom line? I love this book to bits, I've read it more times than I can ever count. Read it, cherish it, and pass it on to anyone you know.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Riding the Flume by Patricia Curtis Pfitsch, 2002

Don't tell anyone -- the only safety is in secrecy. During the summer of 1894 the giant sequoia trees -- the oldest living things on earth -- are being felled for lumber in northern California. When fifteen-year-old Francie finds a note hidden in the stump of an old sequoia, she immediately recognizes her sister's handwriting. But Carrie died in an accident six years ago. Could Carrie's secret still be important?

Francie's search for the truth turns dangerous, and she needs to get to St. Joseph fast. She's faced with the choice of either giving up, or riding the flume, a rickety track that carries lumber from the mills in the mountains to the lumberyard in St. Joseph. Should Francie risk her life for the secret her sister fought to keep?



This is a beautiful book that I first read 6/7 years ago, and I have loved it ever since.

Francie lives in a logging town situated by a large forest of sequoia trees which are rapidly being cut down for lumber. Her father runs a hotel that prospers due to the logging, and is all for it. Francie is not as enthusiastic as her father, but there is nothing she can do. She is busy helping at the hotel and counting the tree rings on a dead sequoia for a man who is writing a newspaper article to try to make people see how bad it is to cut down the trees. But Francie also has a ghost to live with - a memory of her older sister Carrie, the headstrong, adventurous girl who died years before in a land slide up on the mountain. As the years have passed Francie has grown to resemble Carrie a great deal, much to the sorrow of her parents. In little things like wearing her hair differently she tries to mask the resemblance, but she knows that every time they look at her, they see her more vibrant, more alive sister - the one she thinks more deserved to live.
This is a touching, sad story about a girl finding her own place in a world that will always remember her vibrant sister, and about learning to step up to the plate and speak your mind about things. Because when Francie and her cousin (Carrie's best friend) find a note Carrie wrote before her death, they uncover a secret - a beautiful tree, a king of the forest, that Carrie claims belonged to her. And the loggers will do anything to bring it down.

Although the actual flume riding is a very small portion of the book, I can't think of any title that would fit this book better. Parents, this book has nothing bad in it whatsoever, except for dealing with Francie and her family's very real pain, and the horror they feel from Carrie's accident. It is not gruesome, it is not vulgar, there is absolutely no romance, and it even mixes in some very real history that makes you want to google the real sequoias! I read it at seven, and absolutely adored it. Of course, don't take this to mean older people won't like it! I started reading very young, and as I get older I discover more layers to the books I read when I was younger, things I skipped as a little girl. This is a wonderful book that will make you cry, and will leave you with a great feeling of finality and triumph.