Archive for December, 2014

Review of Mortal Heart, by Robin LaFevers

Monday, December 29th, 2014

mortal_heart_largeMortal Heart

by Robin LaFevers

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston, 2014. 444 pages.
Starred Review

Wow! The third book of the trilogy that began with Grave Mercy is everything I hoped it would be! I had preordered the book before I found out I was going to be a Cybils judge. So the book came in while I was very busy with Cybils reading – and was the first thing I pulled out when we had finished making our list of Finalists.

The trilogy is summed up in three words: Medieval Assassin Nuns.

One thing I love about the three books is that each one is a complete story on its own – the complete story of one of the initiates into the order of St. Mortain – the god of Death. I also love that each girl’s story is totally different from the next. Each book has romance – and I thought I had it all figured out how it would go. Then this volume was completely different.

Because each book tells a complete story, with even a little bit of overlap in the timelines, you could read the books in any order. But I still highly recommend beginning with Grave Mercy. You will want to read all three books, so you might as well start at the beginning. The first book also goes into a little more depth about the political situation facing the Duchess of Britany. (The duchess in the 1490s really was engaged to multiple suitors when her father died.)

It’s all based on actual historical events – even the ancient gods of Brittany, whom the church absorbed as saints. I’m guessing that in real life, the god of Death didn’t have actual physical daughters who had special gifts as assassins, but it definitely makes a good story!

This third volume goes into more detail about some of the paranormal elements, as Annith meets the Hunt, with hellequins sent out from Death himself. Like Ismae and Sybella in the books that went before, she is struggling with her role and whether the Abbess is actually representing Mortain’s guidance, or following her own purposes.

There is an overall plot arc to the series, too, which is resolved in this book. I didn’t know anything about Brittany and its history with France, so the resolution was a surprise to me. I’m guessing things didn’t happen the way they did for the same reason portrayed in this book, but they *could* have, and I love that in a historical novel.

Parents of young teens, just to warn you: All the girls “take lovers.” No details are given, so they are not sexy reads, but that might influence whether or not you think it’s good reading for your own daughters.

They are wonderfully romantic tales, with each book having its own conflict and dangers, and each girl having a different – but beautiful – relationship with the god of Death. And I do like the way no one can push around these trained assassins!

Yes, on finishing this trilogy, I’m all the more impressed with each book individually, and the series as a whole. Each book demonstrates outstanding writing. I have no doubt I will be coming back to these books over the years. In fact, I’ll be looking for an opportunity to reread the whole series soon.

robinlafevers.com
hmhco.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Teens/mortal_heart.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on my own copy, preordered via Amazon.com.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

Review of Clariel, by Garth Nix

Saturday, December 27th, 2014

clariel_largeClariel

by Garth Nix

Harper, 2014. 382 pages.

I’m crazy about Garth Nix’s other books about the Abhorsens of the Old Kingdom, Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorsen, and Across the Wall. So I preordered Clariel. My copy came in the very day I was told I get to be a Cybils first round judge for Elementary and Middle Grade Speculative Fiction. I needed to get reading for the Cybils, but I couldn’t resist reading Clariel first.

According to my review, I read Lirael ten years ago. No wonder I don’t remember the character Clariel turns out to be (which Garth Nix tells us at the end). I did remember some details about the Old Kingdom, such that the Abhorsen can walk into Death and that Charter Magic holds the kingdom together, and Free Magic creatures are dangerous and evil. All that would be quickly learned if you decided to start with Clariel, since it is, after all, a prequel.

However, I’d rather people started with Sabriel. I think it’s a better book and will win more fans than Clariel. Clariel gives us something of a downer of a story, epitomized in the tagline printed on the cover: “A passion thwarted will often go astray. . . .”

Clariel has come with her parents to the capital city of Belisaere, where her mother enjoys honor as the greatest Goldsmith in the kingdom. Clariel hates it, and wants to go back to the Great Forest. But her parents have other ideas. They are related to the King and the Abhorsen, and her parents want her to marry the governor’s son and become the next Queen.

The Charter Mages her parents engage to tutor Clariel promise to help – if first she will do them a small service and help them find a Free Magic creature they believe is lurking in Belisaere, probably connected with the governor.

“But how can I help?” asked Clariel.

“Like many of the Abhorsen line, you have a strong affinity for Free Magic, and great potential to wield it,” said Kargrin. “The rage is one indicator of that, and there are other signs within you. Like seeks like, and once it becomes aware of you this creature will seek you out in order to augment its power. It is the nature of such things that they must test each other, and the lesser fall under the will of the greater.”

So Kargrin uses Clariel essentially as bait to bring out the Free Magic creature. The consequences are more than he bargains for.

This is the first of the Old Kingdom books Garth Nix has written that I didn’t love. Though his writing still captivates me, the story is too sad for me. There’s some awful violence and some vengeance – and it’s just not as uplifting as the other Old Kingdom books. And indeed, “passion thwarted will often go astray,” but I found it sad to read about.

This book doesn’t tell as many of the details of how the Abhorsens travel in Death and how the bells work and how the Charter works, so it might be confusing to those who haven’t read the earlier books. So even though the action takes place before Sabriel, I’d still recommend beginning with Sabriel. Then if you’re like me, you’ll be so hooked on the Old Kingdom, you’ll read anything written about it, even if it does seem a bit tragic.

I was very happy to read at the end that Garth Nix is now working on a book about Lirael and Nicholas Sayre, and what happens to them after Across the Wall.

garthnix.com
epicreads.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Teens/clariel.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on my own copy, preordered from Amazon.com.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

Review of The Falconer, by Elizabeth May

Saturday, December 27th, 2014

falconer_largeThe Falconer

by Elizabeth May

Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 2014. 382 pages.

All the society ladies gossip about Aileana. She was found crouched over her mother’s body, covered in blood. Aileana knows that a faery killed her mother and ripped out her heart. Now she hungers to kill faeries herself.

But meanwhile, she’s supposed to be a proper young lady, and her father wants her to get serious about attracting a husband. It’s tricky when Aileana senses that a faery is hunting one of the guests at the dance. How can she stay for all the dances when she needs to save someone’s life?

Since her mother’s death, Aileana, unlike most people, can see faeries. Like even fewer people, she can kill them. She’s being trained by one of the more powerful faeries, but she’s not at all sure she can trust him. Then her childhood friend comes back from school, and he can see faeries, too. But more and more fearsome creatures are coming after Aileana, and she learns the seal keeping humanity safe is weakening.

Set in a steampunk Scotland, this story is a page-turner. I’m not crazy about books written in present tense, but this one was worth the read. The other thing I didn’t like, though, was that as the first of a trilogy, this stopped in the middle of the action, and didn’t come to a satisfying conclusion at all. However, I have to admit that it hooked me, and I very much want to know what happens next.

elizabethmaywrites.com
chroniclebooks.com/teen

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Teens/falconer.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on an Advance Reader Copy, sent to me by the publisher.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

End of the Year Review Blitz

Friday, December 26th, 2014

Happy Old Year!

As the year draws to a close, I find myself a little frustrated with my website. I have 45 reviews that I’ve written but not yet posted, and about 15 that I need to write. What’s more, I’ve been behind all year long — with reviews I wrote and meant to post that didn’t get posted for months.

So — I want to start fresh. But rather than give up and just trash those reviews — I’m going to try to do a blitz and post them all, one category at a time.

Mind you, the books I’ve read for the Cybils I will wait to post reviews for until January 1st, when we announce our list of Finalists. This is also when I plan to announce (and choose) the Sonderbooks Stand-outs for 2014.

Of course, I’m also still reading. I have four days off for Christmas! And I’ve finally finished reading for the Cybils — so can indulge in the books I preordered which came in when I didn’t have a chance to read them.

Usually, I like to vary the books I review. For example, I read a bunch of Three Investigators books and P. G. Wodehouse audiobooks. Normally, I like to mix those up and alternate them with other reviews. Now, however, I just want to get them posted! So let’s see if I can get caught up in the next couple weeks.

Ready, Set, Go…!

Review of The Princess in Black, by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

princess_in_black_largeThe Princess in Black

by Shannon Hale & Dean Hale
illustrated by LeUyen Pham

Candlewick Press, 2014. 90 pages.
Starred Review

Here’s a brilliant book for children who love princesses – and superheroes. It’s an easy-reading chapter book with fifteen short chapters and pictures on every spread.

Princess Magnolia is a princess who dresses in pink and does princess-y things. But she has a secret. She’s currently having hot chocolate and scones with Duchess Wigtower, who visited unexpectedly and loves to uncover secrets.

But then her monster alarm goes off! Princess Magnolia excuses herself, hides her pink frilly dress in a broom closet, puts on her mask and cape, slides down a secret chute and high-jumps the castle walls as The Princess in Black!

I love the way her unicorn, Frimplepants, is also in disguise. When it’s time to fight monsters, he’s Blacky, the Princess in Black’s faithful pony.

There’s a hole in the ceiling of Monsterland. When a big blue monster smelled the delicious goats in the pasture outside the hole, he decided to come out. But he reckoned without the Princess in Black!

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Smash! Sparkle Slam! Those are some of the ninja moves of the Princess in Black!

The monsters in this book are cuddly and foolish and not too scary, though much bigger than the Princess in Black. But they are no match for her ninja skills.

This book is completely delightful and so rewarding for beginning readers. Neither boys nor girls will be able to resist the adventure, the secrets, and the ninja moves.

squeetus.com
candlewick.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/princess_in_black.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on my own copy, purchased via Amazon.com.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

Review of Creature Features, by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page

Monday, December 8th, 2014

creature_features_largeCreature Features

25 Animals Explain Why They Look the Way They Do

by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston, 2014. 32 pages.

Steve Jenkins’ books are unfailingly fascinating. His cut-paper art is amazingly detailed and realistic.

This book is a simple introduction to the fascinating world of animals for younger readers. The pictures present 25 animals with something strange about the way their face looks. These animals explain why these looks help them survive, using simple language.

Here are a couple of examples:

Dear Egyptian vulture: Why no feathers on your face?

Are you sure you want to know? Really? Okay, I’ll tell you. I stick my face into the bodies of the dead animals I eat, and feathers would get pretty messy . . .

Dear star-nosed mole: What is that weird thing growing on your face?

Actually, that’s my nose. I live underground, and I use the tentacles on my snout to feel my way in the dark and find tasty worms and grubs to eat.

This book is a wonderful way to excite children’s curiosity about the natural world. It’s not often that a nonfiction book would work well for both preschool storytime and keeping the attention of school-age kids, but this one falls firmly in that category.

stevejenkinsbooks.com
hmhco.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Nonfiction/creature_features.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Sonderling Sunday – Pu der Bär

Monday, December 8th, 2014

It’s time for Sonderling Sunday! That time of the week when I play with language by looking at the German translation of Children’s Books.

Pu_der_Bar

Tonight, on a whim, I think I’ll go back to Pu der Bär, otherwise known as Winnie-the-Pooh, by A. A. Milne.

It’s been more than a month since I posted Sonderling Sunday, but today I finished a fabulous book for the Cybils, so I can take an hour and indulge in Sonderling Sunday. Once again, I think I’ll dedicate this week’s post to my niece Kristen, who will be studying in Germany next year. Let’s see if I can find some handy-dandy German phrases for her to learn from Winnie-the-Pooh!

Today we’ll be looking at the second chapter, “In Which Pooh Goes Visiting and Gets Into a Tight Place” = In welchem Pu einen Besuch macht und an eine enge Stelle gerät

Now for some handy phrases:

“Pooh for short” = einfach Pu (“simply Pooh”)

I’d like Kristen to need this phrase, whether she actually does or not:
“… was walking through the forest one day, humming proudly to himself.”
= … ging eines Tages durch den Wald und summte stolz vor sich hin.

“a little hum” = ein kleines Gesumm

“Stoutness Exercises” = Kraftübungen (“Strength exercises” — not the same thing at all!)

“as he stretched up as high as he could go” = und er reckte sich, so hoch er konnte

“as he tried to reach his toes” = als er versuchte seine Zehen zu erreichen

“by heart” = auswendig
(This is interesting. It seems to be “out” + “nimble, mobile.” So it gives the idea of readily available. No heart mentioned at all.)

“right through” = vollständig

“properly” = fehlerfrei (“failure-free”)

“sandy bank” = sandigen Abhang

This one’s a bit longer in German (Surprise, surprise!):
“If I know anything about anything” = Wenn ich überhaupt irgendwas über irgendwas weiß

“Rabbit means Company” = Kaninchen bedeutet Gesellschaft

“Company means Food and Listening-to-Me-Humming and such like”
= Gesellschaft bedeutet Essen und Mirbeim-Summen-Zuhören und Ähnliches in der Art

“scuffling noise” = ein Trippeln (“a scurrying”)

“Bother!” = So ein Mist!

This has to be included for the nice long word:
“Well, could you very kindly tell me where Rabbit is?”
= Könnten Sie mir dann liebenswürdigerweise sagen, wo Kaninchen ist?

“very much surprised” = überaus erstaunt

“So Pooh pushed and pushed and pushed his way through the hole”
= Also gab sich Pu einen Schubs und noch einen Schubs und noch einen Schubs in das Loch hinein
(“So Pooh gave himself a shove and another shove and another shove through the hole.”)

“You were quite right” = Du hattest völlig Recht

“looking at him all over” = sah ihn von oben bis unten an

Words to live by:
“One can’t have anybody coming into one’s house.”
= Man kann nicht jeden in sein Haus lassen.

“a mouthful of something” = einem Mundvoll irgendwas

‘a little something” = eine Kleinigkeit

“Honey or condensed milk with your bread?” = Honig oder Kondensmilch zum Brot?

“not to seem greedy” = um nicht gierig zu wirken

“humming to himself in a rather sticky voice” = mit ziemlich klebriger Stimme vor sich hin summend

“So he started to climb out of the hole.” = Und er begann aus dem Loch zu klettern.

“front paws” = Vorderpfoten

“back paws” = Hinterpfoten

“I can’t do either!” = Es gelingt er beides nicht!

“front door” = Vordertür

“Hallo, are you stuck?” = Hallo, sitzt du fest?

“carelessly” = sorglos

“one of us was eating too much” = einer von uns beiden zu viel isst

“Silly old Bear” = Dummer alte Bär

“sniffing slightly” = schniefte leicht

“Rabbit scratched his whiskers thoughtfully” = Kaninchen kratzte sich nachdenklich am Schnurrbart

“having got so far, it seems a pity to waste it.”
= nachdem du nun schon mal so weit vorgedrungen bist, Verschwendung wäre, nicht in derselben Richtung weiterzuarbeiten.
(“after you have already penetrated so far, it would be a waste not to work further in the same direction.”)

Good words to know:
“‘We’ll read to you,’ said Rabbit cheerfully.”
= »Wir werden dir vorlesen«, sagte Kaninchen vergnügt.

It’s hard to imagine needing to use this phrase, but best to be prepared:
“do you mind if I use your back legs as a towel-horse?”
= Würde es dir etwas ausmachen, wenn ich deine Hinterbeine als Handtuchhalter verwende?

“doing nothing” = untätig

“it would be very convenient just to hang the towels on them.”
= es wäre sehr praktisch, wenn ich meine Handtücher dort zum Trocknen aufhängen könnte.
(“It would be very convenient, if I my hand towels there to dry could hang.” — Now it’s wet towels!)

“gloomily” = düster

And practical to know:
“What about meals?”
= Wie ist es mit den Mahlzeiten?

“getting thin quickly” = schnelleren Dünnerwerdens

“Bear began to sigh” = Bär wollte gerade seufzen

“tightly stuck” = eingeklemmt

And my favorite sentence from this chapter:
“Then would you read a Sustaining Book, such as would help and comfort a Wedged Bear in Great Tightness?”
= Würdest du dann bitte ein gehaltvolles Buch vorlesen, eins, das einem eingeklemmten Bären in starker Bedrängnis Hilfe und Trost spendet?

“slenderer” = schlanker

“all Rabbit’s friends and relations” = sämtliche Bekannten-und-Verwandten von Kaninchen

And not to give anything away, but here’s the last paragraph of the Zweite Kapitel:

“So, with a nod of thanks to his friends, he went on with his walk through the forest, humming proudly to himself. But, Christopher Robin looked after him lovingly, and said to himself, ‘Silly old Bear!'”

= Also schenkte er seinen Freunden ein Nicken des Dankes und setzte seinen Weg fort, wobei er stolz vor sich hin summte.

Aber Christopher Robin sah ihm liebevoll nach und sagte »Dummer alter Bär!« vor sich hin.

That’s quite enough for this week! Here’s wishing that you may read ein gehaltvolles Buch this week!

Review of Ken Libbrecht’s Field Guide to Snowflakes

Saturday, December 6th, 2014

snowflakes_largeKen Libbrecht’s Field Guide to
Snowflakes

by Ken Libbrecht

Voyageur Press, 2006. 112 pages.
Starred Review

I finished reading this book exactly when the last snowfall of the winter happened in early 2014. So I wrote the review, and now I’m posting it in time for next winter’s snow. In fact, this would be a wonderfully appropriate Christmas gift for snow lovers everywhere.

We’ve all heard that no two snowflakes are exactly alike, and Ken Libbrecht asserts that, at least for all but the tiniest snowflakes, that is probably so. However, there are distinct types of snowflakes, which depend on the conditions under which they are formed.

This field guide first explains the general mechanics of snowflake formation. Then it gives detailed explanations of 35 different types of snowflake forms. There are beautiful example photos of each type, along with an explanation of how they are formed and under which conditions you’re likely to find them.

I thought this book was completely fascinating and beautiful, and it gave me a whole other reason to love snow. Best of all, at the back of the book, he explains how you can become a snowflake watcher – or photographer – too.

He has a wonderful website that will give you the idea of what’s in this book, snowcrystals.com. I think I am going to have to buy my own copy so I can keep it handy and take it out in the snow next winter.

snowcrystals.com
voyageurpress.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Noniction/snowflakes.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.