Thursday, January 29, 2009

book review: likely to die by linda fairstein (reread)


Likely to Die is the second Alexandra Cooper book. The story picks up six months after the first book, Final Jeopardy. All of the familiar cast of characters return. The main case in this novel is the murder of a prominent neurosurgeon, Gemma Dogen at a major New York City hospital. As always, Alexandra is busy with many cases at the same time; it's the reality of an ADA. It's wonderful and refreshing to see these characters grow across each book. I first read Likely to Die six years ago, and although I remembered some things about this case, I was once again surprised by the mystery. It's turning out to be a blessing I read these novels in a only a few days. Over the years, I forget what happens, and I can relive these adventures over and over again.

As always, I recommend starting with the first book in the series, Final Jeopardy, and reading them in order. I'm still eagerly awaiting Tuesday for the release of Lethal Legacy!

Rating: 3 stars (out of four) - loved it

Challenges: 100+ Reading Challenge, Support Your Local Library

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

snow, snow, snow

This is an actual email I received from school today:


Dear Students, Faculty and Staff-

The University at ***** is canceling all classes as of 10:30 a.m. for Wednesday, January 28, 2009, due to inclement weather.

The snow emergency phone system, 555-SNOW, is currently out-of-service.


Tomorrow, this email will make me laugh. Today, I called the snow hotline every five minutes, as each professor instructs you to do on bad weather days.

Monday, January 26, 2009

picture book review: the wall by peter sis


The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain is a dense and fascinating graphic memoir. Peter Sis recounts his childhood in Prague, Czechoslovakia in the 1960's through elaborate illustrations and carefully chosen words. There are two two-page spreads that include excerpts from his boyhood diary. Although it is a memoir, Sis tells a more universal story of life in Prague and the Eastern bloc during this time as well. It's a fascinating and riveting look into the historical period. This book is dense with historical information, and Sis deftly uses pictures to tell the story of his boyhood. The illustrations in this book use color in a highly emotive way to enhance the story. Because the book is so honest, the depictions of this complex time may not be understandable to very young children.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 4) - life-changingly good

Challenges: 100+ Reading Challenge, Support Your Local Library

picture book review: the pout-pout fish by deborah diesen


The Pout-Pout Fish takes place in an underwater world of diverse, bright colorful fish and sea creatures. The pout-pout fish is convinced his face forms a permanent pout, and there is nothing he can do to change it. His underwater friends take turns trying to change his mind and get him to turn the frown upside down. None of the pout-pout fish's friends have any luck cheering him up, but when a new, beautiful silver fish comes to visit, she plants a kiss on the pout-pout fish's lips, and he suddenly realizes he's a kiss-kiss fish with cheer to spread. The illustrations in this book are colorful and interesting. This story of friendship and G-rated love is ideal for story time because there is so much repetition of the poetic lines.

Rating: 2 stars (out of 4) - liked it

Challenges: 100+ Reading Challenge, Support Your Local Library

picture book review: click clack moo by doreen cronin

Click, Clack, Moo tells the story of negotiations between farm animals and Farmer Brown. First, the cows demand electric blankets to keep them warm at night. When Farmer Brown refuses, the cows go on strike and stop producing milk. The hens are cold at night too, and they also demand electric blankets. When Farmer Brown refuses, they too go on strike and stop producing eggs. Finally, the cows and hens work together and agree to trade their typewriter for electric blankets. This adorable tale of farm life imagines a world where animals talk an d type. It's adorable and funny.

Rating: 3 stars (out of 4) - loved it

Challenges: 100+ Reading Challenge, Support Your Local Library

picture book review: knuffle bunny too by mo willems


Knuffle Bunny Too is a sequel to 2004's delightful Knuffle Bunny. Trixie is now in pre-kindergarten, and she talks a lot. For show and tell, Trixie brings her beloved Knuffle Bunny to school, but she soon discovers Sonja also brought a knuffle bunny. Again, Mo Willems infuses the book with funny moments, but the story is still simple and touching. This books is more advanced than Knuffle Bunny, but the pictures are still incredibly captivating. I would gladly hang the two-page spread of Washington Square Park on my living room wall; it truly is a work of art.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 4) - life-changingly good (or the book everyone I know who has children will be receiving for the next holiday)

Reading Challenges: 100+ Reading Challenge, Support Your Local Library

picture book review: knuffle bunny by mo willems


Knuffle Bunny is the story of Trixie, a child too young to talk yet. Trixie and her father go to the laundromat in their Brooklyn neighborhood one day, and Trixie accidentally washes her treasured stuffed animal, Knuffle Bunny. The story is simple, but it's both funny and sweet. As good as the story is, the illustrations are better. Mo Willems draws the colorful characters atop black and white photographs of Brooklyn. The pictures are utterly captivating and Willems infuses Trixie's gibberish with unique phrases children will delight in repeating.

Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 4) - really loved it
Challenges: 100+ Reading Challenge, Support Local Library

picture book review: serefina under the circumstances by phyllis theroux

Serefina is a precocious and verbose young girl who has never kept a secret in her entire life. Still, her grandmother trusts Serefina with a big secret: she's throwing Serefina's little brother a surprise birthday party. Serefina's vibrant imagination envisions the secret growing bigger and bigger as she has a harder time keeping the secret. This books uses an immense amount of metaphor that almost places it into magical realism. Marjorie Priceman's illustrations often interpret these metaphors literally, which creates a beautifully expressive backdrop for this story.

Rating: 2.5 stars (out of 4) - really liked it
Challenges: 100+ Reading Challenge, Support Your Local Library

children's book review: the wednesday wars by gary schmidt

The Wednesday Wars is set in Long Island in 1967. Holling Hoodhood narrates the tales of his seventh grade years, with each chapter covering a different month of school. The crux of the story includes the Wednesday afternoons he spends alone with his homeroom teacher, Mrs. Baker. Holling is convinced Mrs. Baker hates him. Holling is the only Presbyterian boy in his class; the rest of the class is split evenly between Catholics and Jews. All of the other students leave school early on Wednesdays to attend church. Mrs. Baker must find activities to occupy Holling's time. The first few weeks, Holling does cleaning projects, but soon Mrs. Baker has the idea for them to start reading Shakespeare together.

This book manages to include an incredible amount of Shakespeare, and Schmidt does an excellent job of making Shakespeare relevant, even to the readers who have not yet read his plays. Holling's relationship with his parents and sister is tumultuous at times, but there is a sense of timelessness to their problems modern readers will surely relate to. Schmidt also deftly uses the 1967 setting to share the political and sports history of the time. The book is immensely relatable, yet it includes vast amounts of historical and literary knowledge as well.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5) - loved it
Challenges: 100+ Reading Challenge, Support Your Local Library, Young Adult

Friday, January 23, 2009

picture book review: flotsam by david wiesner


Flotsam tells the story of a young boy’s day at the ocean. The story is told entirely through pictures. Despite the lack of words, the story is as vast as its depictions of the ocean. Flotsam means something that floats, according to the book jacket. While this young boy enjoys a day at the beach, the reader sees he has brought microscope and a magnifying glass with him. He is curious about the world, and he studies the details of several animals. The real adventure begins when the boy discovers a camera. Until this point, the story could easily be classified as contemporary realism, but the images on the film depict such things as sea creatures sitting on living room furniture. Still, the boy is transported through this fanciful realm of the underwater. Through his powers of observation and with his scientific tools, he is able to learn about the unknown lives of sea creatures. He also discovers photographs of past finders of the camera. The pictures tell this story, but each page has some many delightful details. This book would be wonderful for story time or one-on-one reading. Even those unable to read would be well engaged describing the scene. In a storytelling situation, I would ask each child to take turns describing a page, so we are all storytellers. Older readers might also delight in this book, despite its lack of words, because the pictures have so much detail. Certainly, different readers will pick up on different details on each page. I’m certainly not surprised Wiesner won the Caldecott Award for this book. It’s also a lovely early read for future graphic novel fans.

Rating: 2 stars (liked it)

Reading Challenge: 100+ Reading Challenge
Support Your Local Library

picture book review: first the egg by laura vaccaro seeger


First the Egg exemplifies the reasons the ALA awards Caldecott honors on picture books for the pictures: pictures may tell stories more powerfully than words alone. The story is simple and succinct, but the pictures tell the story. This picture book is nonfiction, and it is informative, but its information more powerfully told through the pictures. The backdrop of the pages are paintings. Through the colors of these paintings and the cutouts of the pages, Seeger makes the connection between eggs and chickens, tadpoles and frogs, seem even more literal. The first page, for example shows a cutout of an egg. When the reader turns the page, it becomes clear the egg was part of the chicken, and the cutout now uses the yellow from the underneath page to form the body of the baby chicken. This theme of continuity and connectedness continues throughout the short book. The pictures in this story are sure to delight and amaze young readers, but the pictures and visual displays are cool enough to fascinate older readers who might want to understand how Seeger achieved the cutout effects. For older students, I would follow a reading of this book with a craft challenge for them to make their own cutout story.


Ratings: 3 stars (out of 4)


Challenges: 100+ Reading Challenge
Support Your Local Library

picture book review: different like coco by elizabeth matthews

(Note: I'm taking Children's Literature this semester, so I'll be including the reviews I do for class here as well.)

Different Like Coco is a delightful biography of Coco Chanel, the famous fashion designer. The book traces Chanel's life from birth, through the death of her mother when Coco was twelve. Coco had to move to an orphanage, where she learned to sew. Women were only allowed a few jobs in the early 1900s, and luckily for Chanel, tailoring was one of them. She soon began making her own clothes. While this books tells the inspiring tale of Coco Chanel, who surpassed many obstacles because of her gender and financial status, the overarching theme of the book is that Coco Chanel was always different, and people always liked her. In addition to being a good biography, the book also covers history, including World War I, nicely. Although it deals with some difficult topics quite honestly, Matthews manages to maintain a hopeful theme. There is enough history included to attract older readers as well.

2 stars (out of 4) - liked it

Challenges: 100+ Reading Challenge
Support Your Local Library

book review: final jeopardy by linda fairstein (reread)

I'm ridiculously excited for Linda Fairstein's new book, Lethal Legacy, to come out February 10. I've had it on request at the library since it was cataloged in July. I first discovered Fairstein in January of 2003, when The Bone Vault. I read so many great reviews of it, I was eager to start the series from the beginning. I was spoiled then, to have so many of her mysteries to devour in such a short time. After reading her second novel, I even wrote Ms. Fairstein a letter, something I rarely do, and a few weeks later I got back a handwritten note from her and a copy of her third book, Cold Hit. This thoughtful interaction only increased my esteem of Linda Fairstein. Clearly, I'm a fan, but Lethal Legacy is set at the New York Public Library! For me, it's kismet.

My impatience for February 10 led me to start rereading all of the Alexandra Cooper novels. I won't finish them all before Lethal Legacy, but it's so much fun to reread favorite books. Final Jeopardy is a delight. It's a good mystery; it's so good I didn't even remember the twist until I was in the revealing scene. Many writers create good mysteries, but Linda Fairstein manages to combine a good mystery with an education about New York City, history, literature and the arts. I always learn things in her books, and the treasure trove of knowledge led me to reread her novels more than the mysteries themselves. Final Jeopardy is intense, thrilling and smart. Alexandra Cooper remains one of my favorite fictional characters. I appreciate Fairstein's insight into the actual caseload of an ADA; it's not Law & Order, where the lawyers try one case at a time. Cooper's days and nights are filled with many intriguing cases. Still, at the end of the day, Alexandra Cooper is someone I want to meet for dinner and a bottle of wine. I care about what books she's read. Perhaps what surprised me most in this rereading of an old favorite was how familiar Alexandra was from the beginning. Now, eleven books in, she's been a companion through the years, but she was relatable instantly.

Everytime I finsh a Linda Fairstein novel, I encourage others to start from the beginning of the series. It's refreshing to reaffirm my own advice. I'm still counting the days until February 10, and I imagine I'll read Likely to Die this weekend in preparation.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Challenges: 100+ Reading Challenge

Monday, January 5, 2009

book review: much ado about jessie kaplan

I'm a huge fan of Paula Marantz Cohen. I stumbled upon her first novel, Jane Austen in Boca, while browsing in the library, and I've been a fan ever since. For some reason, I missed the publication of her second novel, Much Ado About Jessie Kaplan, even though I read her most recent one, Jane Austen in Scarsdale: Or Love, Death, and the SATs.

Although it's hard to name a favorite, Much Ado About Jessie Kaplan is certainly in contention. It's the story of Carla, a stay-at-home busy planning her daughter's bat mitzvah, volunteering all over town, helping her husband with his struggling medical practice, and figuring out how to calm down her misbehaving ten-year-old son. To make matters more interesting, her mother, Jessie Kaplan, who lives with Carla and her family, suddenly remembers she was the Dark Lady, Shakespeare's mysterious girlfriend in a past life.

The plot is somewhat preposterous at first glance, but Paula Marantz Cohen's deft storytelling and rich character's made me root for the unbelievable. I laughed out loud more times than I can count, and yet, I was touched by each and every character, as they were all refreshingly realistic, yet rich and loveable. I found myself wishing I could go to Stephanie's bat mitzvah and chat with the family. Perhaps most amazingly, I learned an absurd amount about Shakespeare, Venice and Jews in the 1500s. Paula Marantz Cohen is the best kind of academic; she seamlessly blends history and literature with a modern, amusing, and touching story.

4 stars (out of 4)

Challenges: Read Your Name (M in nomadreader), Support Your Public Library, 100+ Reading Challenge

Sunday, January 4, 2009

book review: keep your mouth shut and wear beige by kathleen gilles seidel


I adored Kathleen Gilles Seidel's A Most Uncommon Degree of Popularity so much I read it in one sitting and promptly bought a copy for my mother to read too. I was rather excited to see she had a new book out, although I'm still not sure why I didn't hear about it when it was published last spring. Keep Your Mouth Shut and Wear Beige is a delightful novel told from the perspective of Darcy, a recently divorced ICU nurse and mother of two, a senior in college and a senior in high school. The book takes its title from the advice given to the mother of the groom: keep your mouth shut and wear beige.

Although the story is told from the perspective of Darcy, Kathleen Gilles Seidel does a masterful job of understanding the perspective and motivations for actions of each of the characters. This feat is not easy; the book is less than three hundred pages and there are a considerable number of major characters. Keep Your Mouth Shut and Wear Beige is funny, smart and touching; the characters are endearing. I'm desperately hoping for a sequel, or at least another novel from Kathleen Gilles Seidel soon. I'm about to delve into the more romantic novels of her past as a current substitute.

Rating: 3 stars (out of 4) - loved it!

Challenges: What's in a Name (body part), Support Your Local Library, 100+ Reading Challenge

Thursday, January 1, 2009

reading challenge: historical fiction

I'm signing up for the 2009 Historical Fiction Challenge. To complete, I'll read three historical fiction books in three months from January 1, 2009 - March 31, 2009. Historical fiction will be counted as anything set or written prior to World War II.

I already have three historical fiction novels on my list for the next few months, so it will be easy to add this challenge.