Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Review: The Great Unexpected

The Great Unexpected
The Great Unexpected by Sharon Creech

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Some of Sharon Creech's books are among my favorites, especially Walk Two Moons, but this one won't be.

The thing that most puzzles me about why this book didn't grab me is that one of the difficulties I had with the book was that I couldn't keep Lizzie and Naomi straight in my mind. This should NOT have been a problem, since Lizzie was the talker and Naomi was the dreamer. I think part of the problem is that Lizzie, the talker, wasn't the narrator of the book. So you end up with Naomi, the dreamer, doing most of the talking.

The other problem is that I just didn't care enough about some of the peripheral characters. Nula and Joe you got to know a bit, but some of the others seemed to be there just to justify and then later tie up the loose ends of a rather complex interweaving of plot elements. And, even after all of that, those plot elements still had to be tied up yet again in the last couple of chapters of the book.

Finally, there is the implausibility of the resolution. I won't say too much of it, but it just didn't seem real to me. And even the resolution leaves lots of questions dangling - and these are not the cliffhangers of some novels, urging you to buy the next book in the series, but they are, rather, little niggling things that early on in the novel seemed to point toward some question that needed answering, but then the answer, if it does appear, seems incomplete and unsatisfactory.

I did read the whole book, but I don't think it will be one I tout to kids as a "must read".

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Sunday, November 25, 2012

Review: The Pajama Diaries: Deja To-Do!

The Pajama Diaries: Deja To-Do!
The Pajama Diaries: Deja To-Do! by Terri Libenson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another one of my interests is comic strips, especially ones that deal with lives of families with children. This is one such comic strip that I generally read. The thing I appreciate most about this particular strip is that the parents are not just foils for kids jokes. In fact, the mother is the main focus of the strip, which gives it a perspective that I enjoy (since I am a mother). The art work is good and the jokes are much more self-effacing than mean spirited.

One of the reasons I like buying comic strip books is that I can read more of the strips in one sitting and get a stronger feel for the story line. This was not as big of a factor in reading this book though. In fact, in this case, each strip often gives me enough to think about that reading just a few is satisfactory.

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Review: Internat auf Probe

Internat auf Probe
Internat auf Probe by Dagmar HoƟfeld

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

One of my major interests is education and I have long been intrigued by books about boarding schools. One of the reasons I enjoy them is that sometimes you get glimpses of what the schooling is like, but you also usually get an in-depth view of the children in various aspects of their lives. I know there is significant literary analysis of the fact that children in literature are frequently left to their own devices, without adults to limit them or protect them. Boarding schools seem to be a mid-point between being orphaned or abandoned and therefore alone in the world and living at home with parents. The teachers at the schools are free to take on all sorts of personalities and varied relationships with the students, and there are still people around to help with problems, to provide companionship, and to be obstacles to overcome.

This book is a fairly standard boarding school book. The MC likes it at first, then has problems with kids and/or schooling and doesn't like it, then finally ends up loving it (or, in some other books, simply coming to terms with it). It is written for slightly younger children than many of the boarding school books and seems a bit cautious about going into problems too deeply. It is an "everyday life" sort of book, in that the problems are ones that could and do occur in real life. My children loved this kind of book when they were middle-grade age - it seems to talk about things that could happen to them.

As an adult, I found the book a bit too predictable and too simple. But the German vocabulary and speaking speed was enough to challenge me and to keep my interest up.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Review: French Kids Eat Everything: How Our Family Moved to France, Cured Picky Eating, Banned Snacking, and Discovered 10 Simple Rules for Raising Happy, Healthy Eaters

French Kids Eat Everything: How Our Family Moved to France, Cured Picky Eating, Banned Snacking, and Discovered 10 Simple Rules for Raising Happy, Healthy Eaters
French Kids Eat Everything: How Our Family Moved to France, Cured Picky Eating, Banned Snacking, and Discovered 10 Simple Rules for Raising Happy, Healthy Eaters by Karen Le Billon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Although I do not have young children any more, I enjoyed reading this book. As a substitute teacher, I go to many different schools and I have previously taught regularly in quite a few more and I am not happy with the eating habits I see kids developing. It started with water. There was a big push to have kids drink more water and since the water from drinking fountains was often not very good, kids started bringing their own water bottles. Then kids would substitute juice for plain water, which soon was switched out for energy drinks. The morning milk and cookies snack, became the morning juice and crackers snack. Then came the decision that kids should determine when they were hungry and thirsty, so they should be allowed to eat whenever they felt they needed to. In some schools, VERY MANY of them, actually, this has become "kids can eat all day, whenever they want". This has led to an INCREDIBLE amount of food being thrown out - from their school lunches or from their packed lunches, usually food that is higher in nutrition than sweet drinks and chips of various sorts. Even at the high school and middle school level, in MANY schools, kids are eating virtually all day. I had one very chubby girl tell me that she "needed" to eat all day, or else she would suffer from faintness. She could have been telling the truth, I have no way of knowing, but it certainly wasn't doing her any good to be eating cookies all day.

So, it was very interesting to me to read about a different culture where this was not accepted. The only problem with this book for me personally is that I really do not like to cook. It made me wish very much that I did.

I must also admit to skimming a lot of the latter part of the book. Still, if either of my daughters ever decide to have children, I may seriously consider buying this for them. And should I ever have a say in the matter, I would also seriously advocate for changing the eating habits of children in American schools.

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Review: The Far West

The Far West
The Far West by Patricia C. Wrede

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Again, this is a rather strange concept for a book. It is akin to steam punk, but the emphasis is on an alternate history of the US frontier, based on magic and the continued existence of animals known to have gone extinct in North America. As a story, this is a meandering tale that never really develops tension or progress (though there is action with animals and with magic), but, for some strange reason, it pulled me in anyway. I have had a hard time wanting to finish quite a few books lately (personal distractions), but this one, I managed to make time for. I like the semi-scientific approach to magic and magical animals. I like Eff, Lan, and Michael.

My chief annoyance with the book is a good one: I want more. More of the characters, more of the setting, more of the concepts about magic.

And I do have one question/comment: is this the last of a trilogy? I will be disappointed if it is, for two reasons: 1) I enjoyed reading it and 2) I don't want Eff's story to end with marriage. Life does go on after a young girl gets married. Wrede showed this in the Enchanted Forest Chronicles and I would be interested to see it here, too.

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