Review of Princess of Glass, by Jessica Day George

Princess of Glass

by Jessica Day George

Bloomsbury, New York, 2010. 266 pages.
Starred Review

I’m becoming a bigger and bigger fan of Jessica Day George. Princess of Glass is a follow up to her excellent Princess of the Midnight Ball, but it’s also an incredibly creative twist on the story of Cinderella.

I thought that the Cinderella story has been rewritten so well so many different ways, there was not much more that could be done with it. Though I must admit all the versions I’ve read are among my favorite fairy tale retellings: Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine, Bella at Midnight, by Diane Stanley, and Just Ella, by Margaret Peterson Haddix.

Jessica Day George does something quite different with the story and wonderfully creative, using the version where Cinderella attends three balls. What if the godmother were really an evil witch bent on entrapping Cinderella for her own evil purposes? What if the prince and all the people at the ball were affected by an enchantment and falling in love with Cinderella despite their true feelings?

Finally, what if a princess who had experience with evil enchantments and how to protect against them was at the court and was falling in love with the prince herself?

The main character of the book is Poppy, one of the younger of the 12 Dancing Princesses featured in Princess of the Midnight Ball. After so many princes suffered fatal accidents trying to break their family’s enchantment, the king tries to build bridges by sending some daughters to foreign courts.

Poppy is a delightfully independent young lady. When she notices strange things going on around Eleanora, a clumsy servant girl from an impoverished family, she determines to get to the bottom of it. I like the way she’s still knitting charms to help, which she learned from her brother-in-law.

The author includes two knitting patterns at the end, one for the poppy-decorated shawl Poppy wears to a ball. My only complaint is that I wish there were a picture. I’m going to have to make one to see what it looks like!

I found it ingenious how Jessica Day George wove in all the motifs of the Cinderella story (except maybe the stepsisters) in a way so completely different than I’d ever thought of them before. Brilliant!

I can’t help but hope that more stories will be forthcoming about some of the other 12 princesses and their adventures in other foreign lands.

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

Review of Almost Astronauts, by Tanya Lee Stone

Almost Astronauts

13 Women Who Dared to Dream

by Tanya Lee Stone

Candlewick Press, 2009. 134 pages.
2010 Siebert Medal Winner
2010 YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Honor Book
2009 Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Book
NCTE Orbis Pictis Award
Bank Street Flora Stieglitz Straus Award

Almost Astronauts tells the story of the “Mercury 13,” thirteen women who hoped to become astronauts back in 1961. Despite performing with outstanding test results, the women were not allowed to become astronauts because they were not jet test pilots — and they were not jet test pilots because women were not allowed to be jet test pilots.

Author Tanya Lee Stone lays out the story of these women in an organized but dramatic way, with plenty of photographs illustrating the steps of the process. She also includes newspaper and magazine articles, editorial cartoons, and even a letter to Lyndon B. Johnson about the program with “Let’s stop this now!” scrawled across the bottom.

The story is intriguing, and certainly not one I’d ever heard before. These women underwent rigorous testing and had outstanding results. They hoped to become astronauts, but lost out to the “social order” of the time.

However, I do love it that Tanya Stone ends the book with stories of women who did become astronauts. The Mercury 13 laid the foundation, and today girls can freely dream of some day traveling to outer space as the commander of a mission. Here’s how the author introduces that chapter:

“Some may read the story of these thirteen women and think that their adventure did not have a happy ending. But that depends on where you draw the finish line. The women were stopped in 1962. But they confronted NASA, exposed the trap of the jet-pilot rule, and destroyed the idea that women could not handle stress as well as men. And then Sally Ride did fly, and Eileen Collins did command the shuttle. Today, women are flying into space. But women who want their wings still continue to battle prejudice. So women continue to find inspiration in the story of these thirteen pioneers. Here are some examples of challenges women still face and of the new beginnings that are taking place.”

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

Review of Miss Brooks Loves Books! (and I don’t), by Barbara Bottner

Miss Brooks Loves Books! (and I don’t)

by Barbara Bottner
illustrated by Michael Emberley

Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2010. 28 pages.
Starred Review

I’ve been a Barbara Bottner fan ever since our family got the book Bootsie Barker Bites and had the privilege of reading it over and over to our sons. When I saw this brand-new book she’d written, I knew it would be the perfect choice for the five second-grade class library tours we did in May.

Miss Brooks Loves Books (and I don’t) features an exuberant school librarian. In fact the only thing that gives me pause about this book is how Miss Brooks is an uber-librarian who puts me to shame. But she’s a great character, so I can enjoy her without feeling too guilty.

Miss Brooks goes overboard to get her classes to love books like she does. But the cynical little girl telling the story is not amused. The art for this book is absolutely perfect, with Miss Brooks dressing up as picture book characters and bursting with energy. The little girl, on the other hand, conveys all the body language — eye rolling, turning away, slumping — of someone who is just plain bored. Clearly she finds Miss Brooks tiresome. “Vexing” is the word she uses.

Then comes Book Week. Truly terrifying. All the kids are supposed to dress up for their favorite story and tell the class why they love it.

The girl is still unimpressed by the presentations about trains and fairies and cowboys and dogs. But then her mother finds her a book with warts in it. She reads Shrek! by William Steig.

“Shrek has hairs on his nose. And he snorts. I love that!”

My favorite part is when the girl dons an ogre costume and makes stick-on warts for the whole class.

It goes to show —

“Even ogres (like me) can find something funny and fantastic and appalling in the library.

“And that is the slimy truth.”

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

Review of Mountains Beyond Mountains, by Tracy Kidder

Mountains Beyond Mountains

The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World

by Tracy Kidder
read by Paul Michael

Books on Tape, 2003. Unabridged. 9 compact discs, 10 hours, 51 minutes.

I checked out Mountains Beyond Mountains because of how much I was moved by Tracy Kidder’s Strength in What Remains, the story of Deogratias.

In Deo’s story, he was deeply moved by reading one of Dr. Paul Farmer’s books, and he ended up working for Dr. Farmer’s organization, Partners in Health. Deo ultimately established a clinic in Burundi under that organization’s sponsorship.

So when I learned that Tracy Kidder had written an earlier book about Dr. Paul Farmer, I made sure to get my hands on it.

Dr. Farmer’s story is inspiring. From a kid in a large family who lived on a bus, he became a Harvard specialist in infectious diseases and founded an organization that saves thousands of lives in the poorest parts of the world.

One thing I learned from this audiobook is that millions of people in the world die early because they are poor. Dr. Farmer’s work is about bringing healthcare to the poor. He has pioneered ways of battling diseases like drug-resistant tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS that effectively heal poor people who were not being treated. He has now helped people in poverty all over the globe.

This book goes on rather long. But the story is amazing. Tracy Kidder presents Dr. Paul as someone full of quirks and human weaknesses, definitely not a saint, who is yet a remarkable person who is changing the world. I did enjoy listening to it. I might not have gotten all the way through if I had been reading to it, but listening in the car, I did find myself interested in finding out about the next challenge Dr. Farmer faced and overcame.

He began in Haiti, and has made a huge difference there. The whole time I was listening, I grieved for the people of Haiti, knowing that they would later face an earthquake. I am sure that no one is better equipped to help the people of Haiti to recover than Partners in Health, since they already have helped so many people there.

This book will inspire you with the story of one man making a huge difference. It could have been written as a propaganda tool for Partners in Health, but Tracy Kidder does fill the book with facts that show the effectiveness of their methods. He’s not trying to fudge results. He’s not trying to paint Paul Farmer as a saint. He’s telling about a great work that’s being done. Even if you don’t read the book, I highly recommend taking a look at the Partners in Health website at

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

Review of Calamity Jack, by Shannon and Dean Hale

Calamity Jack

by Shannon and Dean Hale
illustrated by Nathan Hale

Bloomsbury, New York, 2010. 144 pages.

Here’s a companion graphic novel to Rapunzel’s Revenge, which was also written by Shannon Hale and her husband Dean and illustrated by Nathan Hale, who, interestingly enough, is no relation to the other Hales.

In Rapunzel’s Revenge, the creators took the story of Rapunzel as sort of a framework for a melodrama set in some sort of version of the Wild West, only with magic and a witch-like tyrant and strange creatures. In Rapunzel’s adventures, she met up with a con-artist named Jack who carried around a goose that laid golden eggs.

You don’t really need to read Rapunzel’s Revenge first to enjoy Calamity Jack. In it, Jack is bringing Rapunzel to the big city where he grew up. In Rapunzel’s Revenge, they rescued Rapunzel’s mother from a tyrant terrorizing the whole area. In Calamity Jack their plan is to rescue Jack’s mother from a tyrant terrorizing the whole area.

We also learn about Jack’s background. Not surprisingly, it involves a beanstalk and a giant. Though like Rapunzel’s Revenge, the fairy tale framework is simply a jumping-off point.

The story is wild, over-the-top, not exactly believable, and melodramatic — but a whole lot of fun. This is a graphic novel adventure yarn with a touch of romance and lots of teamwork, as Jack acquires a rival who’s also interested in Rapunzel. She’s still wielding her braids as a lasso, but it also takes Jack’s schemes to defeat the giants and save the town.

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

48-Hour Book Challenge Final Summary

Here I am enjoying the 48-Hour Book Challenge last night:

What a lovely weekend! Though it goes to show that even with a whole weekend set aside for it, I barely make a dent in my piles of books to read and books to review. This weekend, I also made some progress blogging about the upheaval in my life this month. It’s book related, since the main event was losing my job as a librarian, right? Anyway, I also did some blogging on Sonderjourneys, Sonderblessings, and Sonderquotes. Besides posting reviews on this blog, I also posted the reviews on, my main website where I have links to related books and have all my reviews organized by type of review.

My 48 hours are up. Here are my stats:

Reading: 11 hours, 35 minutes
Listening to an audiobook: 3 hours, 50 minutes
Blogging: 9 hours, 20 minutes
Networking: 1 hour, 55 minutes (I did not count the 3 hours I spent at the DC Kidlit Book Club, though!)

Total: 26 hours, 40 minutes

The key this year was reading The Sky Is Everywhere through the night until I finished it. If I had been as caught up in The Red Pyramid, maybe I could have done it both nights.

I was disappointed that I only finished 3 books. But I did get lots of reading time in, so I can’t really complain. And I always read nonfiction books a chapter at a time, rotating my many piles of books. So any reading time makes progress!

I did review all the books I finished, plus one book from the backlog. I would probably have to spend more time on reviewing to take care of that backlog altogether. But it was nice to finish the weekend without being further behind on books to review.

Here are the books I finished. I was already on page 234 of The Red Pyramid, but the rest I began this weekend:

The Red Pyramid, by Rick Riordan
The Birthday Ball, by Lois Lowry
The Sky Is Everywhere, by Jandy Nelson

The other book I reviewed was a fantastic tribute to librarians:
This Book Is Overdue! How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All, by Marilyn Johnson

The audiobook I’m listening to and totally enjoying is The Princess Plot, by Kirsten Boie

However, even though the total finished is low, here are some other interesting stats:

Pages read: 995
Words written on blogs: 6,356

I read lots and lots of partial books. First, during my daily devotional time, I read a page out of several devotional books:

The Bible
Journey to the Heart, by Melody Beattie
The Book of Common Prayer
Praying God’s Words Day by Day, by Beth Moore
Grace Notes, by Philip Yancey
Meditations to Heal Your Life, by Louise Hay
More Language of Letting Go, by Melody Beattie

The other nonfiction from which I read chapters are:
God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World — and Why Their Differences Matter, by Stephen Prothero
Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children’s Book, by Anita Silvey
A Thousand Names for Joy, by Byron Katie
Getting Organized in the Google Era, by Douglas C. Merrill
For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage, by Tara Parker-Pope
Won’t Let You Go Until You Bless Me, by Andree Seu
Feel: The Power of Listening to Your Heart, by Matthew Elliott
Embracing the Wide Sky, by Daniel Tammett
Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream, by Tanya Lee Stone

I kept expecting to find one to grab me enough to finish it to the end, but I was impatient and wanted to get to the fiction. Most of these I will finish before too much longer.

It was a wonderful weekend! I want to do this every weekend! Especially with so much turmoil and uncertainty related to my job, it was extra nice to have time to forget about it all and read, and also to reflect on it all and blog and remember to count my blessings.

Thank you, Mother Reader for sponsoring this challenge! What a treat!

Review of The Sky Is Everywhere, by Jandy Nelson

The Sky Is Everywhere

by Jandy Nelson

Dial Books, 2010. 275 pages.

The beginning of The Sky Is Everywhere gives you all the major issues the book will hold and pulls you right in:

“Gram is worried about me. It’s not just because my sister Bailey died four weeks ago, or because my mother hasn’t contacted me in sixteen years, or even because suddenly all I think about is sex. She is worried about me because one of her houseplants has spots.

“Gram has believed for most of my seventeen years that this particular houseplant, which is of the nondescript variety, reflects my emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being. I’ve grown to believe it too.”

Lennie’s sister Bailey died suddenly, without warning, from a fatal arrhythmia while in rehearsal for a local production of Romeo & Juliet. Lennie says, “It’s as if someone vacuumed up the horizon while we were looking the other way.”

The Sky Is Everywhere is a love story. But the story plays out with the background of Lennie’s grief at the loss of her sister.

Bailey was Lennie’s best friend, and Lennie felt like the stable pony to Bailey’s thoroughbred. Now she’s coming out from her sister’s shadow, but she certainly didn’t want it to be like this.

And the only one who seems to truly understand how much she misses Bailey is Toby, Bailey’s boyfriend. But then with all that understanding, a physical attraction springs up between them that Lennie can’t seem to resist, but that makes her feel terrible.

A new trumpet player named Joe has come to town while Lennie was home, grieving. His playing is amazing. Or, as Lennie’s friend says, unfreakingbelievable. He seems interested in Lennie, and she can’t figure out why. And how can she stand to be happy, when Bailey isn’t here?

Meanwhile, Lennie is writing poetry, poetry on found objects (like a take-out cup) and burying them or casting them to the wind. They’re mostly about memories with Bailey.

For teens who like romance, this one’s a tear-jerker. I’m afraid it kept reminding me of New Moon, simply because Lennie’s favorite book is Wuthering Heights, and she’s read it 23 times. Again we have true-love-as-destiny.

There’s a bit more talk about sex than I find romantic, but otherwise the love story is beautiful, almost too beautiful. However, Lennie’s grief over Bailey is handled so delicately and feels so true, it keeps the book from going over the edge into sentimentality.

Lennie’s Gram and Uncle Big are so quirky and interesting, they come to life for the reader. Lennie’s dealing with grief, identity, passion, true love, and so many other things. This book is a well-crafted story that deals with such strong emotions it almost crosses the line into manipulative. But not quite.

I was reading this at night during Mother Reader‘s 48-Hour Book Challenge. I decided there was no better time to let a book keep me reading until the early hours of the morning, so I actually kept going until 5:00 AM. Crying when I’m that tired is all the more draining, but I did enjoy the book. And I like the way that, even though the book deals with grief, the overwhelming emotion you’re left with at the end is joy.

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

Review of The Birthday Ball, by Lois Lowry

The Birthday Ball

by Lois Lowry
illustrations by Jules Feiffer

Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2010. 186 pages.

Princess Patricia Priscilla is bored. When she gets to talking with the seventeenth chambermaid and hears how much the girl loved school, she gets an idea. She’ll wear the chambermaid’s clothes and go to the village school.

The village school has a new schoolmaster, who is trying to learn to look stern, as a schoolmaster should. He is kind to his new pupil and tells her she would make a good teacher, after she takes in hand a little orphan girl.

But Patricia Priscilla can only enjoy this illicit pleasure for one week. For at the end of the week is her sixteenth birthday and the Birthday Ball, at which time she will have to choose a noble suitor.

The suitors who plan to attend are all over-the-top awful. Duke Desmond of Dyspepsia has the face of a warthog and huge, crooked, brown-spotted teeth. He is so ugly that looking glasses, mirrors, and any shiny object that might cast a reflection have been abolished from his domain. He travels with a band of splashers, so that no lake or body of water will be still enough when he passes by to reflect his face.

Prince Percival of Pustula, on the other hand, travels with a team of mirror-carriers, so that he can look at himself instead of at the scenery. He dresses entirely in black and keeps his hair and mustache dyed jet black and well oiled. A servant walks behind him with a brush, ready to brush off his abundant dandruff.

But Lois Lowry’s inventive genius truly stands out in the third and fourth suitors — Counts Colin and Cuthbert the Conjoint. I have to admit this is the first fairy-tale type story I’ve ever read with conjoined twins. They are joined at the middle, but unfortunately, they don’t get along at all. They constantly fight, at least when they aren’t exchanging belches or rude bathroom jokes.

Jules Feiffer’s illustrations perfectly match the book. The people in the book are caricatures, so his caricatures make just the right illustrations. The plot is quite simple, but the fun is in the silly ways all the elements come together to bring us to the outcome we’re looking for of the princess getting to choose the most worthy man at the ball.

The story is light and fluffy and fun. This would be a good choice for girls who like princess stories (or maybe the Rainbow Magic Fairies) and are ready to read a longer book with many chapters, but also large print and plenty of illustrations. It also would make a nice read-aloud with plenty of places for laughter. There are nice silly touches, like the princess speaking to her cat Delicious with words that rhyme with his name, and the queen being quite deaf and always misunderstanding what people say to her.

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

Review of This Book Is Overdue! by Marilyn Johnson

This Book Is Overdue!

How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All

by Marilyn Johnson

Harper, 2010. 272 pages.
Starred Review

Two and a half weeks ago, I got laid off from the job I love so much as Youth Services Manager at a busy public library. Since last Fall, we knew serious budget cuts were being threatened. In the campaign to convince the community and particularly the Board of Supervisors that public libraries are essential services, not luxuries, I became more and more proud to be a librarian.

We were not successful, and I’m very sad to leave the job I love, and very sad for the community. The people who will be particularly hurt by the budget cuts are students who don’t have internet access, people out of work looking for jobs, people who need to learn English, homeless people who want somewhere to stay and learn during the day, young moms who want to get their children comfortable around books, and so many others.

This book is indeed overdue! I wished so much that I could afford to send a copy to each member of the county Board of Supervisors! Marilyn Johnson looks at many different aspects of librarianship and explains why we need librarians more than ever in the information age, as well as in a recession. This book also made me proud to be a librarian.

Here are some quotations I enjoyed:

“Good librarians are natural intelligence operatives. They possess all of the skills and characteristics required for that work: curiosity, wide-ranging knowledge, good memories, organizational and analytical aptitude, and discretion.”

“The profession that had once been the quiet gatekeeper to discreet palaces of knowledge is now wrestling a raucous, multiheaded, madly multiplying beast of exploding information and information delivery systems. Who can we trust? In a world where information itself is a free-for-all, with traditional news sources going bankrupt and publishers in trouble, we need librarians more than ever.”

“Librarians’ values are as sound as Girl Scouts’: truth, free speech, and universal literacy. And, like Scouts, they possess a quality that I think makes librarians invaluable and indispensable: they want to help. They want to help us. They want to be of service. And they’re not trying to sell us anything. But as one librarian put it, ‘The wolf is always at the door.’ In tight economic times, with libraries sliding farther and farther down the list of priorities, we risk the loss of their ideals, intelligence, and knowledge, not to mention their commitment to access for all — librarians consider free access to information the foundation of democracy, and they’re right. Librarians are essential players in the information revolution because they level that field. They enable those without money or education to read and learn the same things as the billionaire and the Ph.D. In prosperous libraries, they loan out laptops; in strapped ones, they dole out half hours of computer time. They are little ‘d’ democrats of the computer age who keep the rest of us wired.

“In tough times, a librarian is a terrible thing to waste.”

This book explores many different aspects of librarianship. They weren’t surprising to me, having plunged into this world twelve years ago and found it home. But some of the chapters will be surprising to the general public. Marilyn Johnson’s giving away some of our secrets — like the Book Cart Drill Team Championships at ALA National Conference. She talks about librarians taking a stand for freedom of speech, librarians blogging, librarians interested in archiving all sorts of obscure topics.

I like the way she finishes the book:

“It didn’t matter who I was, or what I did, or where I paid taxes, or how long I stayed. I’m sure it didn’t matter if the book had RFID tags or a checkout card with a ladder of scrawled names, though tags were neat. I knew the librarians would help me figure out anything I needed to know later — This town is hurting economically, right? How many parking spaces in your lot? What do you call sign-making skills (wayfinding)? And which of your librarians likes figs?

“I was under the librarians’ protection. Civil servants and servants of civility, they had my back. They would be whatever they needed to be that day: information professionals, teachers, police, community organizers, computer technicians, historians, confidantes, clerks, social workers, storytellers, or, in this case, guardians of my peace.

“They were the authors of this opportunity — diversion from the economy and distraction from snow, protectors of the bubble of concentration I’d found in the maddening world. And I knew they wouldn’t disturb me until closing time.”

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

48-Hour Book Challenge 24-Hour Update

I’m just about halfway through my 48 hours of reading and blogging. Why do I feel I’ve gotten so little done? I suppose it’s because 48 hours sounds like soooooo much longer than it ends up actually being.

I’ve finished only two books, but the first was the very long (516 pages) The Red Pyramid, by Rick Riordan. The second was shorter, Lois Lowry’s The Birthday Ball. I’ve only gotten the first of those reviewed, but I have done a total of 8 posts, counting posts on Sonderjourneys, Sonderquotes, and Sonderblessings.

Here’s how my time has broken down:
Reading: 6 hours and 45 minutes
Blogging: 4 hours and 20 minutes
Listening to an audiobook: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Networking: 50 minutes

For a grand total of 13 hours and 35 minutes! Woo-hoo!

I wish I thought I could get this much time in during the second half.

I should point out that in my reading, I like to read nonfiction a little bit at a time. I have a stack of devotional books out of which I read a page a day. Then my other nonfiction, I read a chapter at a time. So in that 6 hours and 45 minutes, I may have finished only two books, but I have read parts of 15 books.

I am going to do some networking now — visit the blogs of others who are doing the 48-Hour Book Challenge. But then I really want to get some more reviews written. I don’t want to end the weekend more behind on reviews than I was when I started, after all!