Archive for November, 2010

Review of The Princess Plot, by Kirsten Boie

Sunday, November 28th, 2010

The Princess Plot

by Kirsten Boie

Narrated by Polly Lee

Recorded Books, 2009. Originally published in Germany in 2005. 9 CDs. 10.25 hours.
Starred Review

When I checked out The Princess Plot, I expected more of the fantasy tale I usually enjoy, set in a medieval kingdom. This story, however, is set in modern-day Europe, the story of a normal girl who gets embroiled in international affairs. Listening to it made it hard for me to get out of my car when I arrived at my destination!

The narrator did a great job. Since she has a British accent, I was imagining the book set in England. When I reached the end and learned it had been translated from German, that made a lot more sense — the geography of flying to the invented northern kingdom of Scandia fit better. Also, Jenna’s schedule of being out of school with the afternoon off fits with what I know about German teens.

The story is well-done. The plot is a little far-fetched, but the author has you going with it all the way. Jenna thinks of herself as very plain. She’s been brought up by a single mother who’s super-vigilant about Jenna staying safe and protected. So when her best friend wants her to go to an audition for girls their age to play a princess in a movie, she decides to do it without asking her mother’s permission. It seems strange when the producers pick Jenna instead of her friend and insist that she’d be absolutely perfect for the role. It feels strange, but also very, very good.

Then they take Jenna to the Kingdom of Scandia and tell her that she’s going to audition for the role by doing a favor for the princess of Scandia and being her replacement at the celebration of the princess’s birthday. The princess’s father recently died, and she wants to be out of the public eye. Or so they tell Jenna.

The reader knows that the princess has run away, and the regent and his people haven’t found her yet. The reader also knows that the “movie” people are sending Jenna fake text messages from her mother — so her mother does not actually know what’s going on.

We see the plot unfold, little by little. We’re given hints as to why they wanted Jenna. She’s a perfect double for the princess. We see that some North Scandian terrorists have been active lately, and get the feeling it may be connected with that.

The whole thing adds up to a captivating yarn about an ordinary girl — or at least someone who always thought she was ordinary — suddenly finding herself in a foreign country in the middle of a plot that’s way bigger than she is.

A sequel has recently come out, but my library hasn’t ordered it yet, so I will give in and order a copy for myself. I liked the people in this book, and very much would like to read about what happens next.

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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 the Fairfax County Public Library.

Review of Plain Kate, by Erin Bow

Friday, November 26th, 2010

Plain Kate

by Erin Bow

Arthur A. Levine Books, Scholastic, 2010. 311 pages.
Starred Review

I read this book on a flight from Virginia to California, and I was enchanted. Right from the start, the language drew me in. Here is a passage from the beginning:

“Plain Kate’s father, Piotr, was a wood-carver. He gave Kate a carving knife before most children might be given a spoon. She could whittle before she could walk. When she was still a child, she could carve a rose that strangers would stop to smell, a dragonfly that trout would rise to strike.

“In Kate’s little town of Samilae, people thought that there was magic in a knife. A person who could wield a knife well was, in their eyes, halfway to a witch. So Plain Kate was very small the first time someone spat at her and crooked their fingers.

“Her father sat her down and spoke to her with great seriousness. ‘You are not a witch, Katerina. There is magic in the world, and some of it is wholesome, and some of it is not, but it is a thing that is in the blood, and it is not in yours.

“‘The foolish will always treat you badly, because they think you are not beautiful,’ he said, and she knew this was true. Plain Kate: She was plain as a stick, and thin as a stick, and flat as a stick. She had one eye the color of river mud and one eye the color of the river. Her nose was too long and her bones were too strong. Her father kissed her twice, once above each eyebrow. ‘We cannot help what fools think. But understand, it is your skill with a blade that draws this talk. If you want to give up your carving, you have my blessing.’

“‘I will never give it up,’ she answered.

“And he laughed and called her his Brave Star, and taught her to carve even better.”

Unfortunately, Kate’s father dies when she is still too young to become an apprentice. The guild sends a new carver to run his shop, and Kate ends up sleeping in the bottom drawer of her father’s stall, doing carving for people who are willing to defy the guild for someone who is an expert. Also in her father’s stall, she finds three kittens, and one stays with her, so she has a companion.

But then Kate meets a witch who wants her shadow. He cannot steal it — witchcraft works on the principle of willing exchanges. But he has ways to make sure Kate will want to bargain with him. The people are already suspicious of her, so when he calls fish to her, they are suspicious. He does more magic, until the townsfolk are so convinced she is cursing the town, she knows she has to leave.

The witch takes Kate’s shadow and gives her the true wish of her heart. Losing a shadow, though, is a slow process. Kate joins the Roamers, for awhile, and makes a friend. But will the Roamers keep her after they see she has no shadow? And what about the sleeping sickness that is turning up wherever she goes?

And what did the witch want with her shadow?

I loved this story. It’s a fantasy not quite like any other. There’s a talking cat, and I love the things he says — always perfectly cat-like. Here’s a scene with the cat, Taggle:

“‘Are we finished fleeing?’ the cat asked, the last word swallowed by a huge yawn. He stretched forward, lengthening his back and spreading his toes, then sprang onto the wall beside her. His nose worked. ‘Horses,’ he said. ‘Dogs. Hrrmmmmm. Humans. Chickens. And — ah, another cat! I must go and establish my dominance.’ He leapt off the wall.

“Plain Kate lunged after him. ‘Taggle! Wait!’ She snatched him out of the air by the scruff of his neck.

“‘Yerrrrowww!’ he shouted, hanging from her hand. ‘The insult! The indignity!’

“Kate fell to her knees and bundled the spitting cat against her chest. ‘Taggle!’ she hissed. ‘Stop!’

“‘I shall claw you in a moment, no matter how much I like you. Let me go!’ He writhed against her chest.

“‘Tag, you can’t talk.’

“‘I can talk,’ came the muffled, outraged voice. ‘I can also claw and bite and scra –‘

“‘No,’ she interrupted. ‘You can’t, you mustn’t talk. Listen to me. They’ll kill you if they hear you talk.'”

Kate is up against something very sinister, and she feels responsible, since her shadow is involved. But how can one girl, who doesn’t have magic, stop magic powerful enough to destroy a city? And will she find a place where she belongs?

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The author said she wrote the first chapter on a plane. Watching the plane’s shadow separate and disappear gave her the idea of losing a shadow.

I’m going to call this Children’s Fiction, rather than Teen Fiction, but I think either group would like this book. The themes are serious, with people dying and Plain Kate living on her own. But she is still a child, too young to be an apprentice, on her own in the big world, with only a cat for a friend.

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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 uncorrected proof I got at the ALA Annual Conference.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books for Beginning Readers

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

Happy Top Ten Tuesday! Today I’m going to list ten books I recommend for children just learning to read on their own. I had to stretch a little with this list, since I didn’t want to include two books by the same author, and the truth is that with my sons, I went heavy on books by the same authors. Lots of books by the authors mentioned here, not just one. So I’d love to hear from you in the comments. Which books have I forgotten?

The titles I’ve reviewed will link to the review, and the others will link to Amazon. Next week, I doubt I will get a list posted, because my divorce case is scheduled to go to court Monday and Tuesday. But the week after that, I’ll post my top ten list of beginning chapter books. Be thinking of your favorites!

Sondy’s Selections, Books for Beginning Readers

Are You Ready to Play Outside? by Mo Willems
Gerald the elephant and his friend Piggie are all ready to play outside when it begins to pour down rain. How can anyone be happy playing when it’s raining?

George and Martha, by James Marshall
There never were such good friends as the hippos George and Martha. The stories in this book are short and easy to read, but all pack a punch.

Little Bear, by Elsa Homelund Minarik, illustrated by Maurice Sendak
Little Bear’s adventures with Mother, Father, his friends, and his grandparents all reflect a child’s life.

Bink and Gollie, by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee, illustrated by Tony Fucile
This delightful new book tells about a pair of friends who are very different, but know how to compromise.

Bread and Jam for Frances, by Russell Hoban, illustrated by Lillian Hoban
Frances doesn’t want to eat a squishy soft-boiled egg. She wants only bread and jam. When Mother decides to indulge Frances’ whims, she begins to see the appeal of variety.

Days with Frog and Toad, by Arnold Lobel
This classic set of stories about two good friends shows Frog and Toad flying a kite, telling ghost stories, cleaning house, and even being alone. These simple stories will bring a smile.

Danny and the Dinosaur, by Syd Hoff
This book takes an imaginative look at what might happen if a dinosaur came to play. (He wouldn’t be very good at hide-and-seek.)

The Cat in the Hat, by Dr. Seuss
When the Cat in the Hat comes to play, nothing is ever boring, not even reading a book with a limited, easy-to-read vocabulary.

Are You My Mother?, by P. D. Eastman
The classic tale of a baby bird looking for his mother, but finding a Snort.

Nate the Great, by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat, illustrated by Marc Simont
This is the first of a series of easy-to-read mysteries featuring Nate, the pancake-loving boy detective.

Review of The Numbers Behind Numb3rs

Saturday, November 13th, 2010

The Numbers Behind Numb3rs

Solving Crime with Mathematics

by Kevin Devlin and Gary Lorden

Plume (Penguin), 2007. 243 pages.
Starred Review

Okay, I admit that I’m a math geek. All I have to do to prove it is tell you about my prime factorization sweater.

So, it’s a no-brainer that I love the TV show Numb3rs. This book is written by Keith Devlin, “NPR’s ‘Math Guy,'” a consulting professor at Stanford, and Gary Lorden, “the Math Consultant on Numb3rs,” a math professor at Caltech (the school after which the fictional Calsci is modelled). They take the episodes of the first season of Numb3rs, explain the math concepts behind them, and talk about actual criminal cases where these concepts were used.

I think they do a great job of making the concepts understandable without getting bogged down with equations. I shouldn’t be surprised, since on the show Charlie always uses metaphors to explain what they can do with numbers.

A few of the things they talk about — with examples from actual cases — are DNA profiling, finding meaningful patterns in masses of information, using Bayesian Inference to detect the future, and making and breaking codes.

I don’t think I need to say much more about it. If you find this stuff fascinating, you know who you are! All I have to do is tell you this cool book exists.

If, on the other hand, this sounds mind-numbing and not the least bit cool to you, then no amount of my talking is likely to convince you, and I admit that you probably will not like the book.

But if you want to be dazzled by the power of numbers and get a handle on some of the powerful concepts that can be used to fight crime, you will thoroughly enjoy this book, as I did.

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at:

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 the Fairfax County Public Library.


Saturday, November 13th, 2010

I already explained why I couldn’t really participate in NaNoWriMo this year. My son pointed out an acronym invented by John Green that does tell what I’m trying to do: NaFADOYBIMSCOM, which stands for National Finish A Draft Of Your Book, I Mean, Seriously, Come On Month.

To help feel like I’m accomplishing something, I am keeping track of the words I write on my book and on my blogs. My stats as of yesterday, the 12th day of NaFADOYBIMSCOM, are 15,293 words. I have gotten through the revision part of working on my book and am now trying to rewrite the ending. So far, I’m having a lot of trouble deciding about how some details should go. I took out the happy ending, and basically want the main characters to escape together but for the bad guy to seem to win — but the two find each other and you know they’re going to win out in the end. But I’m trying to decide how to make that work. Maybe I should go back to my happy ending, but let the bad guy escape, so you know he’s going to cause trouble in the future…. Anyway, I’m working on it and do hope to at least finish a draft this month.

I’m staying busy, giving my attorney different papers to get ready for divorce court in a week. But I got some great news to cheer me up: I’m going to be reinstated as a librarian!

Basically, one of the county’s librarians retired, and I am on the top of the re-employment list. So I don’t have to interview. They will just transfer me to a different department, but keep my pay exactly the same — just like they did when I had to leave the library.

I am very, very happy about this. Although my temp job was fairly interesting and had great hours and wonderful co-workers, it was mainly about keeping bureaucracy running smoothly. And while that’s all very well and good, and somebody needs to do it, I would rather it was not me.

I do think it’s ridiculous that a Management Analyst I is the same pay grade as a Librarian I. In fact, since the job just got re-classed, now it’s one pay grade higher. This is ridiculous. As Youth Services Manager, I supervised two people, planned the library programs, managed the youth services collection, and provided reference services. All those things are far more responsibility than I had as a Management Analyst. What’s more, being a Librarian requires a Master’s degree, but being a Management Analyst does not.

However, we love the Librarian job so much, we’ll do it and be happy to do it, even though the pay is not what it should be. Same with the awful hours. (I’ll be working at least two nights a week until 9:00.)

The position I’m stepping into is not a Youth Services Manager, but just an Information Services Librarian. I also think it’s a mistake that Youth Services Manager for a Community Library is not a higher pay grade, but actually it will be nice to have a little bit less responsibility for awhile. I won’t have to do children’s programs, but I will get to serve customers of all ages at the Information desk.

Today I volunteered at my old library for a couple hours, and I was reminded again how much I love it. Library customers are mostly very very nice (and I didn’t get even one of the other kind today). I got to help some kids find books to read, showed a mom how our data bases worked so she could help her son do a science project on chewing gum, helped a man figure out how to translate from English to Farsi on the internet, and several other interesting things.

I have come to believe in Libraries. They do people good. With teaching, you are helping people who don’t necessarily want to be taught (at least the general ed classes). But at the library, you get to help people teach themselves, and they want the information. I am very proud to be a librarian.

So that started with NaFADOYBIMSCOM, and worked around to Libraries. It’s a big month for me — The divorce finally going to court. The 5-year anniversary of my husband telling me he wanted a divorce. Getting to spend Thanksgiving with my extended family for the first time in 20 years. Going back to the Library. And — maybe — finally finishing my book!


Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

You’ve probably figured out there’s no Top Ten Tuesday post today. The fact is, it looks like my divorce case is going to have to go to court, and the court date is now less than two weeks away.

So — pretty much every night, I’m needing to get together some paperwork and documents and facts for my lawyer.

I’m still reading, and just finished Robin McKinley’s new book, Pegasus, which is fabulous. So I hope to get some reviews posted before long. Don’t forget about me! And here’s hoping that next week, I’ll have a Top Ten Tuesday post for you. (But definitely not the week after that.)

The fact is, no matter how much you’ve accepted that a divorce needs to happen, it’s still a hard thing to go through, and it does involve an awful lot of paperwork — and time.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books for Ages 4-5

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

Happy Top Ten Tuesday! Today I’m going to list ten books I love for approximately ages 4-5. (I’m putting overlap in the ages for these lists to be able to include more!)

Last week I learned that I was not the first one to think of the Top Ten Tuesday meme, so after my list of Sondy’s Selections for ages 4-5, I’ll include a list for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday at The Broke and the Bookish — books that make me cry.

The titles I’ve reviewed will link to the review, and the others will link to Amazon. Next week’s list will be books for beginning readers. Be thinking of your favorites!

Sondy’s Selections, Ages 4-5

Timothy and the Strong Pajamas, by Viviane Schwarz
Timothy Smallbeast’s favorite pajamas wear out, but his mother mends them into Super Strong Pajamas. After a day helping others with his Super Strength, his new friends come to his aid when he needs them.

The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig, by Eugene Trivizias, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury
Three sweet little wolves are up against a pig who “isn’t called big and bad for nothing.” When blowing down their houses doesn’t work, the pig starts in with a sledgehammer. This hilarious twist on the traditional tale will have everyone laughing.

A Visitor for Bear, by Bonny Becker, illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton
Bear does NOT allow visitors. But a persistent mouse quickly has readers wondering where he will pop up next. Despite Bear’s best efforts, the mouse shows Bear that some things are better with friends.

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, by William Steig
In this Caldecott Medal-winning book, Sylvester the donkey finds a magic pebble and rashly wishes to be a rock when attacked by a lion. But how can a rock reach the pebble to wish himself back?

Officer Buckle and Gloria, by Peggy Rathman
Officer Buckle is sure that his safety demonstrations are a hit with kids. He doesn’t realize that his dog Gloria is acting out all the accidents behind his back.

Millie Waits for the Mail, by Alexander Steffensmeier
Everyone who sees this book will enjoy the silly situations as Millie the cow waits for the mail – so she can scare the mail carrier out of his wits.

Clever Cat, by Peter Collington
A cat learns that being too clever can backfire. Maybe not a great message, but very funny.

The Dot, by Peter H. Reynolds
Here’s a beautiful little book about making your mark and not judging yourself by other people’s standards. Kids who read this will never dare to say they’re “not good at art.”

The Tale of Peter Rabbit, by Beatrix Potter
The classic tale of a naughty rabbit outwitting Mr. MacGregor is still as pleasing as ever.

Horton Hatches the Egg, by Dr. Seuss
A faithful elephant tends a nest because he meant what he said, and he said what he meant.

And now, a special bonus list in honor of the Top Ten Tuesday at The Broke and the Bookish:

This week their list topic is Books That Make You Cry.

Now, when I was a teen, a book had to make me cry to be counted one of my favorites. But it was hard to remember which ones those were. I think I cried a lot more easily then!

Anyway, here’s the list I came up with of my favorite books that made me cry:

1. Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott
2. Emily’s Quest, by L. M. Montgomery
3. Black Beauty, by Anna Sewell
4. Light From Heaven, by Christmas Carol Kauffman
5. Heidi, by Johanna Spyri
6. Mister God, This Is Anna, by Finn
7. Little Britches, by Ralph Moody
8. A Severe Mercy, by Sheldon Vanauken
9. Jacob Have I Loved, by Katherine Paterson
10. Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, by Gary Schmidt

Now, please add to the fun and share your favorites (in either category) in the comments!

NaNoWriMo 2010

Monday, November 1st, 2010

Today begins NaNoWriMo 2010 — National Novel Writing Month.

I’m actually not going to participate this year, but I did think it would be a good month to set a goal for my writing. I will record how many words I write on my novel and my blogs, but I didn’t want to focus on a new novel this year. The fact is, I am getting very very close to having my work-in-progress ready to send out to agents and/or editors. Now, the rewriting process is not one that causes a high word count, so I will probably not come close to 50,000 words.

However, here is my goal for the month of November:

Finish revising and rewriting my middle grade fantasy novel, The Mystical Mantle and have it ready to send out.

It would also be nice to get more than 36,000 words written this month on my book and my blogs and set a new monthly record. However, it might be difficult to do that, since my divorce case is this month, and if our lawyers can’t reach an agreement, I’ll need to spend most of my free time for a couple weeks compiling the papers for the court case. I’m also hoping to maybe visit my family in California over Thanksgiving.

So — it’s not a good month for getting a lot of writing done, but on the other hand, nothing would boost my spirits more than finally finishing my book. (And I think it’s already much better than anything I’ve sent out before — maybe it’s finally my turn to get published…)

Even if I don’t meet my goal of finishing, I hope to be mighty close, and that will make me happy.

Write on!