Monday, December 31, 2007

Book Review: Frognapped (Araminta Spookie book 3)

Araminta Spookie, book 3
by Angie Sage

Frognapped is a 2007 Cybils nominee.

Barry Wizzard's frogs are missing, and these are no ordinary frogs: they're acrobatic frogs and they do tricks. Araminta Spookie and her friend Wanda Wizzard, Barry's daughter, are on the case. After searching Spookie House for the frogs with no success, the two girls are convinced that the frogs have been frognapped. With the help of the house ghost, Sir Horace, the two budding detectives launch an investigation that will find them ambushed by a bicycle, face-to-face with a shark, and undercover at an aquarium show.

Frognapped is a really cute and fun book for elementary-age readers. It's book 3 of a series, but it works just fine without having read the first two. Araminta's hijinks are amusing and evoke the imaginative play of elementary kids. The humorous and lightly gothic illustrations by Jimmy Pickering perfectly complement the text.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Fun Cybils Challenge!

While we wait in suspense for the Cybils finalists to be announced starting Tuesday at 6:00 AM (Central time), Anne has posted a great Cybils shortlist trivia challenge over at Book Buds. Correctly answer some trivia questions about the forthcoming shortlists, and you could win a copy of Robert Sabuda's The Chronicles of Narnia Pop-up!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Cybils 2007 Update - 12/29

It's only a couple more days until the official announcement of the Cybils finalists in the categories of Fiction Picture Books, Poetry, Fantasy & Science Fiction, and Middle Grade Fiction. The finalists in these categories will be announced on the Cybils blog on January 1, at five minute increments, starting at 6:00 am Central Time. Then, finalists in Non-fiction Picture Books, Graphic Novels, Young Adult Novels, and MG/YA Non-fiction will be announced almost a week later, on January 7.

The nominating committee panelists have been busy reading and discussing books, trying to accomplish the difficult task of choosing only a handful of finalists from an outstanding field of nominees. As we approach the deadline, some of the panelists have been reading a couple of books a day! I've been concentrating so much on reading that I haven't had time for the last couple of weeks to review the many excellent books I've read. I have a huge stack of books to review, and hope to begin reviewing them next week. Luckily, some of the other Fantasy/Science Fiction panelists have been better about posting reviews:

View the complete, final list of fantasy/science fiction nominations here

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Cybils 2007 F/SF Weekly Update 12/19

I'm sorry that I'm a couple of days late with my weekly update. I've been posting these on Mondays, but I'm spending every spare minute reading, as are the other nominating panelists in every category. I'm working with the most amazing group of people on the SFF nominating panel. They're reading through the books at an amazing rate, and they have the most interesting and insightful comments on the books.

The following books were reviewed since my last update:

View the complete, final list of fantasy/science fiction nominations here

Friday, December 14, 2007

Book Review: Book of a Thousand Days

Book of a Thousand Days
by Shannon Hale

Book of a Thousand Days is a 2007 Cybils finalist.

On Dashti's first day as a Lady's maid, she finds herself bricked into a tower for seven years. Her Lady is sealed into the tower as punishment for refusing to marry her father's choice, and Dashti is sealed in with her to take care of her. At first, life in the tower isn't too bad. The tower is stocked with enough food to last seven years, which is supplemented by fresh milk brought by the guards. Dashti has known real hunger, so the prospect of plenty of food to eat for seven years is a good one. Dashti finds parchment and ink, so that she can write down her thoughts and keep a journal. And even though their only link to the outside world is a small flap for emptying their waste, they soon receive a visitor at the flap: Khan Tegus, a suitor for Lady Saren's hand.

Dashti is loyal and steadfast, and determined to do right by her Lady. But something is wrong with Lady Saren, and all the healing songs that Dashti knows can't seem to heal her. As Lady Saren sinks further into depression, rats invade the tower, food is running out, and something strange is going on in the world outside the tower. Things are getting desperate, but Dashti is just a simple mucker and a Lady's maid. What can she possibly do? In order to take care of her Lady, Dashti will have to make hard choices and find within herself the courage to do things that she never imagined she could do.

It's been a long time since I stayed up too late finishing a book, but I couldn't put this one down and I finished a little before 1 AM last night. Yes, it's that good. Why have I never read any of Shannon Hale's books before? Her writing is amazing, her use of language beautiful, her metaphors fresh, her characters engaging. I liked the way that the metaphors sometimes refer back to something earlier in the book. For example, when she compares thinking about something to chewing on tough meat, it recalls the earlier passage when they really were chewing on tough meat. In fact, that's true not only of the metaphors; I felt as if every passage in the book was carefully tied to every other passage.

Dashti narrates the book through a series of journal entries, and her voice is distinct and likable. She's just about the most selfless person you can imagine, and yet it's a genuine selflessness, not at all contrived. She's capable of anger and resentment, yet even when she feels those all too human emotions, she chastises herself. She knows her place; she's a commoner and her duty is to serve the gentry. And yet she's not a dishrag; she has an inner strength, and as the book progresses, she learns more and more to stand up for herself.

Lady Saren is everything Dashti isn't: selfish, weak, and fearful. She requires a lot of care. And yet, she, too, develops as the book progresses.

There's a lot of subtext about classes here. When Dashti first comes to the Lord's house to serve Lady Saren, she's a little afraid of meeting the gentry because she thinks the glory of the Ancestors will be so bright inside them that it will burn her eyes. But her encounters with gentry leave her wondering if they really are all that special. Yet, not all the gentry are evil or stereotyped, either.

There's romance, too. Oh, is there romance, with a nod to Cyrano de Bergerac, as Lady Saren orders Dashti to pretend to be her and talk to Khan Tegus through the flap. Dashti can barely admit her growing feelings for Khan Tegus even to herself; not only could they never be together even if he knew it was she and not Lady Saren he was talking to, but her life would be forfeit for impersonating gentry if he ever found out.

Book of a Thousand Days is based on one of Grimm's fairy tales, Maid Maleen, about a Lady and her maid sealed in a tower because the lady refused to marry a rich king. Shannon became interested in the maid and wanted to know more about her, yet she disappeared from the Grimm's story. So Shannon kept mulling it over and eventually wrote what become Book of a Thousand Days. She also imbued it with a lot of the culture of Mongolia, a region which she became interested in. You can find more background about Book of a Thousand Days on Shannon Hale's web site.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Book Review: The Ghost in Allie's Pool

The Ghost in Allie's Pool
by Sari Bodi

The Ghost in Allie's Pool is a 2007 Cybils nominee.

Allie doesn't even know her best friend Marissa anymore. Marissa has started hanging out with the popular girls, and she's become obsessed with being cool. Allie isn't cool enough for her anymore. Marissa and her new friends Crystal and Suzanne ditch Allie when they can, and when they can't, they're just mean to her.

Allie is badly in need of a friend when, in the middle of researching a paper for school about her Pilgrim ancestors, Allie meets the ghost of a Pilgrim named Dorothy May. Dorothy May isn't one of Allie's ancestors, but in a way Allie wouldn't exist if it weren't for Dorothy May: Dorothy May killed herself by jumping off of the Mayflower, and her widowed husband remarried, becoming Allie's ancestor. As Allie navigates the perilous waters of middle school, Dorothy May appears when needed and becomes a friend to Allie, helping her deal with her feelings of betrayal, fear, loneliness, and attraction for one of the boys in her class, and helping her to find the courage to stand up to the bullies. Allie, in turn, helps Dorothy May to work through the issues that she was unable to deal with in life.

The Ghost in Allie's Pool is an engaging story with realistic teen characters that ring true. It has a little bit of something for everyone: a little fantasy, a little middle-school realism, and a little bit of history. I don't have a lot of experience with middle school today, but the characters and situations seem believable. The bullying - including cyber-bullying -is shocking but not over the top, and is handled sensitively. Tweens in middle-school will find this an entertaining and relevant story. An author's note at the end explains what's real in the story of the Mayflower Pilgrims.

As a homeschooling parent, it's hard for me to believe that this kind of bullying can happen in school, yet from stories that I've heard, it does. One thing that The Ghost in Allie's Pool really brought out for me is that victims of bullying may not feel that they can go to an adult for help, and may, in fact, go to great lengths to protect their tormentors. It's up to the adults in their lives then - parents and teachers - to be aware of what's going on and to protect the children. No child should have to suffer this kind of thing.