Monthly Archives: December 2010

Countdown by Deborah Wiles

I have always enjoyed reading books about American History, yet very few history books make it into my “to-read” pile. I was excited when I won a copy of Countdown on goodreads as it allowed me to read a bit more about the history of the United States.

From goodreads.com

Book Cover of Countdown by Deborah Wiles It’s 1962, and it seems everyone is living in fear. Twelve-year-old Franny Chapman lives with her family in Washington, DC, during the days surrounding the Cuban Missile Crisis. Amidst the pervasive threat of nuclear war, Franny must face the tension between herself and her younger brother, figure out where she fits in with her family, and look beyond outward appearances. For Franny, as for all Americans, it’s going to be a formative year.

Before starting this book, I knew very little about the Cuban Missile Crisis. Throughout the story I found myself getting more familiar with the topic. The author conveyed the historical information in a way that made it feel like a conversation instead of a lecture. She did this by delivering the facts through the main character; a eleven year old. The details about this past event were seamlessly woven into the story between talks of the daily woes of a seventh grader. This style allowed the author to successfully convey the information she needed about the Missile Crisis and the main characters life in an interesting way.

The young age of the narrator did concern me at first. The intended audience for this book–ages nine to twelve–is much younger than the YA books I usually read. I wondered if I would be able to relate to a character whose daily concerns involved things such as who to play with in the playground. In the end, these types of issues took up little of the story. Instead much of the plot focused on larger issues. I found I could relate to issues such as dealing with family dynamics. The author’s ability to put me in the character’s shoes quickly eased any concerns I had about the age difference between the protagonist and myself.

I was interested to find out that this book is the first in a trilogy. I am very curious to see what topics the remaining two books cover. I am hoping that the author chooses to focus on two historical events for the subjects of the remaining books. Her ability to make history entertaining has me excited for these releases.

Review: This book is one I would love to see any middle school aged student reading. It is a great book that many will find entertaining. The authors ability to keep the story interesting while still informing made for an enjoyable story. I can’t wait to see what topics Wiles tackles next!

Zombies vs. Unicorns by Holly Black, Justine Larbalestier

I loved Geektastic; a YA anthology containing stories from some of my favorite authors. I was excited to check out Zombies vs. Unicorns as it contained short stories by many of the same authors. I hoped that I would enjoy this book as much as Geektastic.

From goodreads.com

Zombies vs. Unicorns book coverIt’s a question as old as time itself: which is better, the zombie or the unicorn? In this anthology, edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier (unicorn and zombie, respectively), strong arguments are made for both sides in the form of short stories. Half of the stories portray the strengths—for good and evil—of unicorns and half show the good (and really, really bad-ass) side of zombies. Contributors include many bestselling teen authors, including Cassandra Clare, Libba Bray, Maureen Johnson, Meg Cabot, Scott Westerfeld, and Margo Lanagan. This anthology will have everyone asking: Team Zombie or Team Unicorn?

I have found reading anthologies to bring mixed results. I generally like the stories by authors I know and struggle through the rest. Sometimes I’ll luck out and find a marvelous story by an author I’d not previously read. This often leads to the discovery of some great new books. When this does not happen, I just end up feeling like I bought a book to only enjoy 25% of it.

Short stories–unlike their longer counterparts–are often unable to focus on anything other than the main plot. Anthologies usually focus on one main plot. If it is a theme I am only slightly interested in, it can lead to the book feeling unnecessarily long. When this happens I find myself having to take a break in between stories in order to finish the book. This is another negative I sometimes find when reading anthologies.

This book suffers a bit from both of these negatives. The main issue I had was that I will never be “Team Zombie.” I realized right after I ordered this book that I dislike most things zombie. Why then did I decide to read a book where I hated the topic of 50% of the book? I hoped that some of my favorite YA authors would be able to change my mind. Some authors were able to write stories about zombies that I enjoyed. For the most part, though, I struggled to get through these pages. Eventually I also started to tire of the “Team Unicorn” stories. The theme of this book was not enough to hold my interest. I found myself taking long breaks between the stories. It took me so long to finish this book that my husband actually made a comment about it.

That being said, there were a few great stories in this book. I found the short story by Maureen Johnson to be fantastic. I thought it might even be her best work that I have read to date. I think the darker topic really allowed her to branch out in terms of story-telling. The result was something much more interesting than her usual “girl meets boy” story. I also enjoyed the tales by two of my favorite authors; Meg Cabot and Scott Westerfeld. A story by an author I had not previously read–Libba Bray–inspired me to add some of her books to my “to-read” shelf.

Review: I hesitate to give this book a rating. I did not find much of the book enjoyable due to the fact it was about a topic I don’t really like. This is not the book’s fault. It clearly states it is about zombies, and yet I still decided to read it. I do feel many of my fellow YA fans would read this book and rate it much higher than I have as they would like the topic subject matter. I do recommend this book as there are some great submissions from some of my favorite YA authors. I would suggest this book as a “borrow” instead of a buy.

Harry Potter Film Wizardry by Brian Sibley

Next up for review is a book I think my Harry Potter friends would enjoy!

From goodreads.com

Harry Potter Film Wizardry Book Cover by Brian SibleyImmerse yourself in the world of the spectacular Harry Potter film series, and learn why Yule Ball ice sculptures never melt, where Galleons, Sickles, and Knuts are really “minted,” how to get a Hippogriff to work with actors, the inspiration behind Hogwarts castle, and why Dementors move the way they do. Written and designed in collation with the cast and crew that brought J. K. Rowling’s celebrated novels to the silver screen, Harry Potter: Film Wizardry delivers an enchanting interactive experience, transporting readers to the wizarding world by sharing film-making secrets, unpublished photography and artwork, and exclusive stories from the stars. Full of removable facsimile reproductions of props and paper ephemera from the movies, this collectible volume offers a privileged look at the Harry Potter films and the talented group of Muggles that has made true movie magic.

I am a HUGE Harry Potter fan. I have read each book numerous times. I own all of the movies, and have watched them several times each. I check my favorite Harry Potter news site–The Leaky Cauldron–daily for all the latest stories on the fandom. This led me to believe that I knew a good deal about the behind-the-scenes going on in the movies. Harry Potter Film Wizardry quickly made me realize I was wrong.

A page from Harry Potter Film Wizardry

The first thing I noticed when opening the book was the amazing graphics. Flipping through the pages leads to many beautiful eye-catching pictures, text, and maps. Upon opening the book, I immediately flipped through it and soaked in all the images. This allowed me to check out the book’s layout. Each section represents a different Harry Potter movie. In each chapter you will find “A Production Designer’s Notebook and Producer’s Diary,” with sections that describe various characters, locations, or creatures from that movie.

A page from Harry Potter Film Wizardry

A page from Harry Potter Film Wizardry

A great example of the layout can be see when looking at the chapter which discuses Goblet of Fire. This section contains information on the Quidditch World Cup (QWC), Miranda Richardson’s portrayal of Rita Skeeter, and the Dark Mark. The pages containing information about the QWC contain an extra pull-out section; something that can be found throughout the book. In this case the bonus material is a program from the Quibbler. Other extras include a Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes product catalog and Marauder’s Map.
 

Review: I found this book to be a readable version of the DVD extras. The format allowed me to take in the images and text at a leisurely pace. The text held details that even I–a rabid Harry Potter fan–didn’t know. I thought this book was very informative and entertaining. I recommend it as a must-read for fans of the Harry Potter books and movies.