Review of Doc Wilde and the Frogs of Doom, by Tim Byrd

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Doc Wilde and the Frogs of Doom

by Tim Byrd

G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2009.  186 pages.

www.penguin.com/youngreaders

Okay, I admit.  When I read the first chapter of this book, it reminded me way too much of the Spy Kids movie that my children watched until it nauseated me.  I wasn’t at all sure I could finish the book.

However, I found that, at least in small portions at a time, I began to be intrigued to learn in what over-the-top way Doc Wilde and his children Brian and Wren would get the better of the sinister amazonian frogs of doom.  The less I took it seriously, the more fun I had reading it.  For me, this did require only a few chapters at a time, but once I got in the habit, I did find myself coming back for more each night.

The book is described as a tribute to the old pulp adventure novels.  That is perhaps my problem — I never was a fan of those books.  But I am looking forward to having this book on the library shelves.  I think it will be a natural choice for young comic book fans ready for a little more text and a lot of rollicking adventure.

The story is indeed over-the-top.  Brian and Wren take after their father — tanned, golden-haired, strong, agile, good-looking, and incredibly smart.  Throw in being magnificently wealthy with all kinds of high-tech gadgets invented by Doc Wilde himself, and you won’t be surprised when they get out of every life-threatening situation thrown at them.  The fun comes in at how they get out of it this time.

I like the villains — sinister mutant frogs of various shapes and sizes, some with razor-sharp teeth.  There’s something simply inherently silly about Frogs of Doom.

Again, I think this might be a great pick for reluctant readers, especially young boys who like adventure.  It’s just silly enough and adventurous enough to provide heroic escape.

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Review of The Conch Bearer audiobook, by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

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The Conch Bearer

by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Read by Alan Cumming

Listening Library, 2003.  4 cassettes, 6 hours, 31 minutes.

I enjoyed listening to a fantasy tale set in India for a change.  The Conch Bearer tells the story of Anand, a boy living with his mother and sister in the slums of Kolkata.  Anand remembers better times and dreams of magic as in the tales he likes to read.

Then Anand meets a mysterious old man with powerful magic, magic that is being sought by an evil sorcerer.  The man enlists Anand’s help to return the magic conch to its rightful home in a secret valley in the Himalayas.  Along the way, Anand gains a companion in Nisha, a feisty street girl.  Together, they find a way to progress, despite daunting obstacles and dangers, even when their mentor can’t be with them.

This was an enjoyable story.  I especially liked the Indian setting and the narrator’s Indian accent.  It gave the story a different slant from other fantasy tales I’ve read.

I did find Anand’s emotional ups and downs annoying after awhile.  He seemed to agonize about every decision, and I got to wishing he’d get on with it!  This may have been exacerbated by the fact that I was listening to an audiobook.  If I had been reading the book, I could have skimmed those parts.

I believe the author has recently come out with the third book about the Brotherhood of the Conch.  I am intrigued enough that I am going to have to read on.

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Review of The Thief audiobook, by Megan Whalen Turner

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The Thief

by Megan Whalen Turner

Performed by Jeff Woodman

Recorded Books, 1997.  7 CDs, 7.25 hours.

Starred Review.
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2010: Wonderful Rereads

(My library had this book on CD, but Amazon only lists the cassette version.  I recommend finding it from your library!)

This is now approximately the fifth time I’ve read The Thief, and I enjoy it more every time.  Listening to it on CD was a good excuse to review it again, since I’ve already reviewed the print version as an Old Favorite.

I remembered why the book was a little hard to read aloud — Gen is a bit whiny and sarcastic at the beginning, and it’s a challenge to keep it up in your voice.  Jeff Woodman rose to the challenge, and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to it.

The Thief is a book where your perspective on everything changes toward the end of the book.  So it’s tremendous fun, on rereading, to see how the author planted all kinds of information all along the way, but you didn’t see any of it, because you were looking from a different viewpoint.

I really would like to see this fabulous book get checked out more often.  All year, I kept suggesting it as a selection for the Homeschoolers’ Book Club.  Well, May is our last meeting, so this time I didn’t suggest!  I simply informed them that we’d be reading The Thief.  The one who has already finished it was enthralled.  I will bring the two sequels, The Queen of Attolia and The King of Attolia to the meeting so they can check them out and read on.  Naturally, I am eagerly waiting to get a copy of The Queen of Attolia in audiobook form.  I definitely have to read the whole series again.

I don’t want to say too much about the plot, since I don’t want to give anything away.  Gen has boasted that he can steal anything, and it landed him in the king’s prison.  But now the king’s Magus has gotten him out of prison to take him on a mission to steal a long-lost, ancient treasure.

The book is set in a world very similar to ancient Greece, and along the journey the travelers tell tales of their world’s gods.  Technically, this book should probably be categorized as fantasy, but I put it under “historical,” because it gives such a feel of what it would have been like to live at that time, including political considerations.  No one does any magic, though they do encounter the work of the gods.

I have a hard time convincing people to read this book, because I don’t want to say too much.  So I end up simply raving about how clever the author is and how good the book is and begging you to try it!  I think with every rereading this book goes higher on my mental list of favorites.  Truly a magnificent book.

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

Guessing the Top Ten Picture Books

I’m am having so much fun following the blog of Betsy Bird, Children’s Librarian at New York Public Library.  http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/blog/1790000379.html

She recently did a survey of the librarians and children’s book lovers who follow her blog, asking them to list their ten favorite picture books of all time.  For awhile now, she’s been posting the top 100, where she scored the books with ten points for a first place vote, nine for second place, and so on.

It’s been truly wonderful reading the list, being reminded of so many incredible books.  I am proud that I have read almost all of them, and made sure that I did read any I wasn’t familiar with.  Almost the only book I didn’t really like was Who Needs Donuts? but I brought it home for my teenage son, and, just as I guessed would happen, it is now one of his all-time favorites.  (He has a thing for donuts, hammered into him as a toddler when we let him play “Dilbert’s Desktop Games” with its refrain, “Gotta get more donuts!”  He also loves highly detailed pictures.)

This week, she offered a challenge.  Can you guess which books will make the top ten?

If any of my readers want to play, you will want to read all the books in slots 100 to 11.  Instructions for submitting your choices are at: http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/blog/1790000379/post/170043817.html.  You only have about 24 hours — Sunday night, May 3, at midnight is the deadline.  Today I submitted my guesses and really enjoyed doing it.

However, the fun of reading these posts got me thinking.  Originally, I hadn’t submitted my votes.  I rather scorned the idea of choosing only ten favorites.

But then the fun of the list coming out made me wish I had voted for the ones I love.  At the same time, my co-worker read some of my favorite books and has asked me repeatedly for a list of favorites.

With all this in mind, I have started on several lists.  I like it that Betsy Bird confined the list to Picture Books, but did not include Easy Readers.  Somehow, breaking it into narrower categories makes it easier to recognize wonderful books without excluding others.  So I have started on lists of my favorite Board Books, Picture Books, Easy Readers, Beginning Chapter Books, Middle Grade Books, and Young Adult Books.  Hmm.  I will have to also do a list of favorite Fiction for Adults, but I do not think I will make a list for Nonfiction — too much variety.

One thing I don’t like about the lists idea is when a new book comes along that is worthy of the list, how can you kick off an old favorite?  With that in mind, I think I will give up my idea of having Top Ten lists, and just make them as long as they need to be.  I also want to have some sort of rule to keep from hastily putting a new and wonderful book on the list.  I think I will require myself to have read the book at least two times, at least a year apart.  (One of those times can be the audio version.)

Now, I’m already making lists each year of my favorites in each category — the Sonderbooks Stand-outs.  This would be something different.  I will need to add a whole new area to my website for lists of favorites.  Who knows?  Once I make the general lists, I might make some new lists, such as lists of favorite YA fantasy, lists of Jane Austen related books (I already have that going within each review), lists of math-related fiction, and the like.

What do you think?  Please comment on my blog if you like the idea.

The little catch is that I’m in the middle of a local move, my house is filled with boxes, and I’m already quite behind on writing reviews and posting them on my main site.  I also want to give myself some time to make sure I remember all my favorites before I start posting the lists.

So — that’s what I have in mind, and here’s hoping it won’t be too long before I bring you some lists of favorites.

Review of Verbal Abuse Survivors Speak Out, by Patricia Evans

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Verbal Abuse Survivors Speak Out

On Relationship and Recovery

by Patricia Evans

Bob Adams Publishers, Holbrook, Massachusetts, 1993.  260 pages.

I have now read all of Patricia Evans’ books on verbally abusive relationships.  All are very helpful for shedding light on a problem that’s surprisingly hard to recognize when you’re in the middle of it.

In Verbal Abuse Survivors Speak Out, Patricia Evans takes from the thousands of letters she has received from verbal abuse survivors after she wrote the book The Verbally Abusive Relationship.  She writes:

“I receive between one hundred and two hundred letters and notes a month from the survivors of verbally abusive relationships.  I read every single one.  Some survivors had been so devalued and undermined that they have even requested permission to send their thoughts and feelings on the subject.  Some letters are more than twenty pages long.  As I read these letters, I am often overwhelmed by the suffering they express.  Never would I have dreamt that there were so many, in so much pain, so silently enduring.  I am moved by the spirit of their quest for understanding and freedom from abuse and I am grateful and touched that they have taken their time to tell me their stories.  Often they do so, as they say, ‘. . . in case it may help someone else.'”

Anyone who has been or is in a verbally abusive relationship can read this book to know they are not alone.  Patricia Evans also uses the letters of verbal abuse survivors in order to illuminate and understand the problem.

If you are being devalued, undermined, accused, or defined, you are being verbally abused.  If your partner tries to tell you what your motives and thoughts are, you are being verbally abused.  The problem is real, and the problem is widespread.  And Patricia Evans’ books are helpful for survivors to understand how best to deal with the abuse.

Besides talking about the abuse and ways to deal with it, she also covers healing, recovery, and support, including a chapter of affirmations to build back up your spirit.

I like her concluding paragraph:

“We have been on a long journey with the Survivors.  They have spoken their truth with strength and determination, and in so doing they have given us a vision of freedom.  And even now, as this book ends, a new journey begins.  This journey is a movement toward awareness, meaning, and purpose; it is founded upon the infinite value of the human spirit.  To join in this journey, all we must do is speak our truth with courage and strength.  Truth is what dispels the prejudice, shatters the illusions, and breaks the bonds of verbal abuse.”

This echoes the Bible verse, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”  Amen.

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/verbal_abuse_survivors.html

Review of Lucky Breaks, by Susan Patron

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Lucky Breaks

by Susan Patron

ginee seo books, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, New York, 2009.  181 pages.

Starred review.

Sonderbooks Stand-out 2010: #4 Other Children’s Fiction

Lucky, who is about to turn eleven, is someone I can’t help loving.  She’s intrepid, but she doesn’t always use the best judgment.  She’s a good friend with a big heart, but she sometimes does mean things in spite of herself.  Susan Patron writes in a way that makes you feel for Lucky as if you yourself were, once again, almost almost eleven.

Lucky Breaks is a sequel to the Newbery-winning The Higher Power of Lucky.  The themes are bigger in the first book, because Lucky’s dealing with the death of her mother and hoping Brigitte will adopt her.  While the issues in the second book are not as cosmic, they are still important — finding and keeping friends.

This book finds Lucky still helping Brigitte settle into Hard Pan, California, and she meets someone she hopes will become her best friend — a girl to laugh with until they hiccup.

But Paloma’s parents are worried about their daughter spending time in the dangerous desert.  Meanwhile, Lincoln is working on a mysterious knotting project that may take him away from Hard Pan.

Susan Patron’s characters are quirky in so many delightful ways.  Miles’ favorite book has shifted from Go, Dog. Go! to Brain Surgery for Beginners.  Short Sammy is digging a mysterious pit.  And Brigitte is figuring out what makes a person truly American.  You can’t help but feel that they are real people, friends about whom you’re eager to hear the latest news.

As for Lucky — She’s the same exuberant, intrepid, scientifically curious, rarely cautious, delightful young lady we met before, a little further along in her amazing journey of growing up.

Susan Patron promises a third book after this one.  I hope she writes quickly!

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

Review of Winnie-the-Pooh audiobook, read by Peter Dennis

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Winnie-the-Pooh

written by A. A. Milne

performed by Peter Dennis

Book published in 1926.  Blackstone Audiobooks, 2004.  3 hours on 3 cassettes.

Starred review.

Sonderbooks Stand-out 2010: Wonderful Rereads

I’ve already reviewed Winnie-the-Pooh at length and said how special it is to me: http://www.sonderbooks.com/ChildrensFiction/winniethepooh.html .

Although part of the specialness is that I fell in love with my husband while reading Winnie-the-Pooh together, I find that the book is still just as special even though my husband has now left me.  Winnie-the-Pooh has been part of my life much longer than he has.

I have checked out several cassettes from the library that I want to listen to before we end up getting rid of all our cassettes, and Winnie-the-Pooh is one.  (Though the same version is now available on CD.)  It was the perfect book to listen to while my son and I were making lots of trips back and forth while toting our possessions for a move across town.

Few things are as much fun as reading Winnie-the-Pooh aloud, especially with a group of enthusiastic readers.  However, when you are driving, you can’t read yourself, and this performance by Peter Dennis is the next best thing.  He is so exceptionally good at doing the voices of the characters, it’s a bit intimidating.  (Though I will not let that stop me.)

I was appalled to learn that my teenage son doesn’t remember most of the stories.  Surely I had read them to him enough times?  He learned to write his name P-O-O-H, for goodness’ sake! 

Anyway, we thoroughly enjoyed listening to and laughing over them in the middle of the serious business of moving.  We will definitely have to do some Pooh readalouds together just as soon as we find the box where my copy is hiding.

You can’t ask for a better family listening experience than this version of Winnie-the-Pooh.  And I don’t care if your family is all adults or includes toddlers.  Those who are only familiar with the Disney versions may not realize the wonderful subtle humor and charm of the original books.  It’s hard to imagine anyone of any age not enjoying these stories.

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

Review of Bull Run, by Paul Fleischman

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Bull Run

by Paul Fleischman

Various narrators

Recorded Books, 1995.  2 cassettes.  2 hours.

While I was toting carloads of my possessions to a new home just a few miles from Bull Run and Manassas Battlefield National Park, this book seemed an appropriate one to listen to.  Indeed, it was exceedingly strange to realize that these events happened only a few miles from where I was driving.

Paul Fleischman tells the story of the first battle of the Civil War by using monologues from all sorts of people somehow involved — some from the South, some from the North, men and women, white and black, young and old.  The Recorded Books version uses sixteen different narrators for the different characters who give their stories.

This book expressed so many aspects of the start of the war that I never thought about before.  All the points of view are so different.  Since it’s about war, naturally the story is not pleasant, but it is truly fascinating.

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Review of If Wishes Were Horses, by Anne McCaffrey

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If Wishes Were Horses

by Anne McCaffrey

A ROC Book (Penguin), 1998.  85 pages.

This novella by Anne McCaffrey was a charming interlude to read in between longer books. 

Tirza’s mother, Lady Talarrie Eircelly is known far and wide for her wisdom and healing.  However, as Tirza and her twin Tracell near their sixteenth birthday, war strikes the land.  Their father must muster his people to join the fight, and the family is left to deal with the hardships facing the village, which they do with creativity and spirit. 

However, despite all her mother’s great wisdom, Tirza seriously doubts that Mother will be able to come up with the traditional gift for her brother — a horse of his own.  Every decent horse has gone to the battlefields.  Can they even celebrate their sixteenth birthdays during wartime? 

Here’s a heartwarming and charming story with just a touch of magic.

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Fiction/if_wishes_were_horses.html

Review of Orangutan Tongs, by Jon Agee

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Orangutan Tongs

Poems to Tangle Your Tongue

by Jon Agee

Disney/Hyperion Books, 2009.  48 pages.

Starred review.
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2010: #2 Picture Books

This book is entirely too much fun.  I brought it home and read it to my teenage son, and, as I suspected, he couldn’t resist trying it himself.  For Dr. Seuss’s birthday, we recently had a tweetle beetle binge from Fox in Socks, so it was fun to read to each other and laugh from a new book where I didn’t have the advantage of about forty years of practice.

Orangutan Tongs (Can you resist saying that title aloud?) is a book of tongue twister poems, with illustrations.  They are all quite silly and good for fun and laughter.

My son claimed that he had not been practicing, but I found it highly suspicious that when I came home from work the next day, he was suddenly able to recite the Peggy Babcock poem:

Peggy Babcock at work.  Peggy Babcock at play.

Peggy Babcock tomorrow.  Peggy Babcock today.

Peggy Babcock, repeated, is tricky to say:

Peggy Babcock, Peggy Babcock, Peggy Babcock, ole!

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