Archive for November, 2009

Olive Yu: Chapter 17

Yellowstone is the coolest place in the United States. I challenge you to find a cooler place.

Chapter 17. And if you’ve never been to Yellowstone, make plans to go immediately.

Olive Yu: Chapter 16

Ooh, we’re comin’ up on one of my favorite places in America: Yellowstone!!

Chapter 16 for your reading pleasure. 🙂

Olive Yu: Chapter 15

I am going to be a zombie by the end of this weekend, but I am bound and determined to finish on time.

I WILL WIN NANOWRIMO!!

Chapter 15. I’m going to bed.

Regular Read: Eleven by Patricia Reilly Giff

Eleven Eleven by Patricia Reilly Giff

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I’ve been reading a lot of mystery lately.

I’ve probably read more mystery in the last month than I have in the rest of my life combined.

And I think I like it.

But this is my one caveat: if you’re going to promise me a mystery, then you’d darn well better deliver the goods. If you’re going to present a twist, then it had better leave me open-mouthed, doubled over, and gasping.

Eleven by Patricia Reilly Giff left me shaking my head, rolling my eyes, and feeling cheated.

The premise of the book is that a young boy who lives with his grandfather begins to have strange dreams and memories of his past. He remembers the number eleven, which he thinks is because he’s turning eleven years old. But (dun-dun-DUN!): It’s not!

Possibly because of the previous trauma in his life, Sam is having a hard time learning how to read. He’s the only kid in his class that can’t read very well. One day, he’s in the attic and finds Mack’s secret stash of Sam mementos (“What is this fascination with my Forbidden Closet of Mystery?” – points if you can name that quote), amongst which is a newspaper clipping with a picture of Sam with a headline stating that he’s missing – and has a different last name!!

Intrigue!!

Since he can’t read the rest of the article, he makes friends with the new girl at school, Caroline, who helps him to read the clipping and research what really happened to him.

I won’t spoil the rest of the mystery, but I will say this: some mystery.

The ending of the book to me was like going to a mystery dinner theater and having the host declare: “And the murdered is someone in this very room!!”
(The audience gasps.)
“By the way, the victim of the murder isn’t actually dead. This is just pretend, people.”

Read the book. You’ll see what I mean.

Ms. Giff got me all riled up for nothing. She promises this huge payoff by working up all this intrigue and tension, and she simply doesn’t deliver.

And this book doesn’t even count as a Cannonball Read because it’s not long enough.

Phooey. I’ll be sticking with Trenton Lee Stewart and Ellen Raskin, thanks.

View all my reviews >>

Olive Yu: Chapter 14

I can’t believe I have less than a week left to write the rest of this story.

Chapter 14. God help me.

Olive Yu: Chapter 13

I am so sleepy. Writing this novel and prepping for a bridal shower has been absolutely brutal.

With no further ado, Chapter 13.

Cannonball 5: Indian Captive: The Story of Mary Jemison

Indian Captive: The Story of Mary Jemison Indian Captive: The Story of Mary Jemison by Lois Lenski

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Civil rights and equality have made a lot of headway against racism in the last century.

“Well, duh,” some might say.

“But there’s still so far to go!” others might protest.

I personally grew up without any particularly scarring incidents of racism. Sure, I got made fun of for my small eyes and flat face, but so did the white girl with the big nose and, personally, I think she took it a lot harder than I did.

It’s great that the social norm is no longer racism and that we’re seeing more diversity in media, arts, and culture. It no longer amazes me to see unbiased news reports about minorities or television shows featuring more ethnic characters.

What amazes me is when I find fair treatments of minorities from books written over fifty years ago, before the civil rights movement was in full swing.

Lois Lenski wrote and illustrated Indian Captive in 1941. The new cover makes it look all modern (and kinda creepy, actually), but the story is old.

It’s based on the true story of Mary “Molly” Jemison, who was captured and then adopted by Seneca Indians. Her family was killed in that very raid. Instead of fighting against her captors and hating them and escaping at the first opportunity (although she certainly did try), she learned to love them and appreciate their culture. After a while, she adopted the Seneca right back.

The real Mary Jemison lived with the Seneca for the rest of her life. She married twice, to Indian men both times. She finally gave an interview at the age of eighty to describe her capture and eventual assimilation into the Seneca tribe.

The book is a pretty faithful treatment of Seneca life. The Indians that adopted Molly were mostly kind, but there were certainly some exceptions. There were parts of their culture that Molly learned to love, but other parts with which she was unable to reconcile herself.

It’s a children’s book, so don’t expect to see any gory scalpings, and some might argue that the book is biased toward Native American culture. But considering when it was written, I’d say that it’s pretty remarkable that a book this kind to an Indian tribe that kidnapped a young white girl and killed her family was even published.

Is it the most compelling book ever? Probably not; it was a little plainly written, even for 1940s children’s lit. But it was interesting and educational and a darned entertaining read.

Mary Jemison would approve.

View all my reviews >>

Olive Yu: Chapter 12

It’s a pretty Grand Canyon. If you’ve never been, you should totally go.

Chapter 12, for your perusal.

Cannonball 4: The Maze of Bones (The 39 Clues #1) by Rick Riordan

The Maze of Bones (The 39 Clues, #1) The Maze of Bones by Rick Riordan

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
So, it’s already been established why I like reading children’s books.

One of my favorite book buddies is my eleven-year-old friend JN, who introduced me to Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Trenton Lee Stewart’s The Mysterious Benedict Society.

I enjoy borrowing books from JN because it’s fun to see his eyes light up when we talk about books together. And it certainly doesn’t hurt my street cred amongst the younger generation.

When his little brother, nine-year-old BN, wanted to lend me a book, I nearly died at how adorable it was. “Miss Jeena, you have to read The 39 Clues! It’s so good!” All italics and enthusiasm, God bless ‘im. So of course I agreed to read the first installment of the series, The Maze of Bones, so that I could see the same light in his eyes that I saw in his brother’s when we discussed our favorite parts of the books.

Alas, young BN, how will I face you on Sunday? I must give you back your book and tell you honestly that I thought it was… *gulp*… just okay.

The Thirty-Nine Clues is a mystery series by Rick Riordan. Quite frankly, it’s a sloppy re-tread of The Westing Game (still the best children’s mystery EVER!! If you haven’t read it, get your hands on a copy! Post-haste!) with a dash of The Mysterious Benedict Society and none of the style of any of its predecessors. There are clues, there is intrigue, there is sabotage, good guys and bad guys – all of the ingredients for a successful children’s mystery serious.

So what’s missing? Two words: character development.

Dan and Amy Cahill are orphans. They, along with a bunch of relatives (all of whom happen to be evil), have forfeited their $1 million (each!) inheritances in order to participate in their recently deceased grandmother’s inheritance competition. Nobody knows what the prize is, but Grace Cahill promises fame and intrigue for the winners! No money, though! But fame! And intrigue!

Since we no longer live in the days of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (another book superior to this one. *sigh*), Dan and Amy can’t very well go gallivanting off to trot the globe unaccompanied. Enter Nellie, their equally two-dimensional au pair. Nellie is half French and half Spanish. She’s trilingual and listens to loud rock music and probably cuts herself when she thinks the kids aren’t looking. She worries herself to a frazzle when they ditch her, and they ditch her quite often.

As for Dan and Amy themselves, they’re supposed to be fourteen and eleven, but they act more like they’re nine and six. Heck, Olive has more self-control than they do, and she’s supposed to be twelve.

(Sidenote: I must confess that, after reading this book, I began to wonder if Olive, Henry, and Sting argued too much. But the truth is that we did argue about stuff like this. It’s very gritty and real for elementary school kids.)

They’re constantly bickering about the stupidest stuff – and at the most ridiculous times. If you’re being chased by murderous relatives, the last thing you’re going to do is say, “Hey, I want to stop and make a charcoal rubbing of a tombstone!” It makes me think that Riordan is allowing his characters to act stupid just to move the plot along, which smacks to me of lazy writing.

And all of the villains are flat, two-dimensional evil. Why would these two supposedly smart kids fall for the obvious traps that these villains set for them? Lazy writing strikes again.

There are a few redeeming qualities to The 39 Clues. The first is that it’s fairly educational – compared to, like, Goosebumps and whatever other crap kids are reading these days (HEY! Get off my lawn!!). You learn a lot about Benjamin Franklin from this book – that is, if you never had to do a report on him in fifth grade (truth: I learned a lot more from the report. But what you learn about him in The Thirty-Nine Clues is better than nothing).

The second is that there’s an online community (www.the39clues.com) for readers of the series. Each book comes with a few collector cards in it, and you can enter the secret codes on the cards at the website and actually win prizes and money by playing! Say what you will about Rick Riordan’s writing, but this is a cool idea. If his writing wasn’t so awful, I might actually visit the website.

All in all, there’s worse crap out there that a kid could be reading. At least this series encourages a bit of critical thinking.

Sorry, BN. Wish I could say I liked it more. But crazy, old Auntie Jeena will take “well-written” over “adventure-filled” any day.

View all my reviews >>

Olive Yu: Chapter 11

Just to be perfectly clear, nothing like this has ever happened to my father.

Something similar happened to me, once, though. And my sister, too.

Chapter 11. It’s all yours. 🙂

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