Friday, November 25, 2011

The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke

I chose not to classify this book as a fantasy, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Prosper and Bo are orphan brothers, and they run away to Venice, Italy, to escape their aunt. They find refuge in an abandoned movie theater with Scipio, The Thief Lord. The aunt hires a detective to locate the brothers, and Scipio decides to steal a strange, wooden wing for a mysterious client. It turns out that Scipio isn't exactly who he claims to be, and the wing is more than it seems to be. The plot takes many twists and turns along the way.

It was interesting how the plot took off when the detective took on the case of finding the brothers. Scipio's secret threatened to tear the gang apart, but they receive unexpected help from the victim of one of their robberies. Midway through the book, the tale of a magical merry-go-round pops up that adds a fantasy element to the story. Ninety-five percent of the plot is realistic fiction, so I chose to classify the book in that genre.

Lexile level from 640

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Diamonds in the Shadow by Caroline Cooney

This book surprised me, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Jared's family is hosting a refugee family of four people from Africa, but he gets the feeling that they're not who they seem to be. The parents don't seem to pay much attention to their son and daughter, and Jared doesn't see a family resemblance. The daughter does not speak and does not seem to hear others. The son is very protective of his grandparents' cremated ashes that he's keeping in cardboard boxes. Jared later discovers black diamonds are hidden in the boxes, but he can't figure out what is going on. Jared's family is unaware that there was a fifth refugee on board the plane from Africa, and this murderer will do anything to get his hands on the diamonds.

I was expecting a plot in which an African family needed to learn to adapt to the American culture, and that is how the book begins. However, I quickly became aware that the plot was more of a mystery, and I enjoyed trying to figure out the secrets of the refugees. The suspense builds to an exciting climax when the fifth refugee discovers the location of the family.

Lexile level from 750

Friday, November 4, 2011

Words in the Dust by Trent Reedy

The setting of this book is in Afghanistan, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Zulaikha was born with a cleft lip which causes her great embarrassment. Great hope arises when some American doctors offer to fix her lip, and she prays that the surgery will make her pretty and normal. She meets Meena, her deceased mother's teacher, and Meena would like to teach Zulaikha to read and write. Zulaikha fears that her father and stepmother will object if they discover what she is doing. In addition, her father arranges a marriage for her sister and best friend, Zeynab. Zeynab will become the third wife of her husband, and she hopes to have many children and make her husband proud. This announcement makes Zulaikha very happy. During this time, the Americans have moved into the region to fight the Taliban forces. The Americans bring a mixture of hope and hate to the citizens of Afghanistan. In the end, the characters learn that beauty isn't everything and that wishes don't always come true.

The exposition and early part of the plot didn't really grab me. However, the personal conflicts became more interesting with Zulaikha's planned surgery and hopes to read, her sister's marriage, the birth of her stepmother's new baby, and the presence of the American army. The author did a great job of telling the story from Zulaikha's point of view and describing her thoughts and feelings. I had some problems with names; I couldn't keep track of which names were siblings, friends, and extended family (step family, aunts, etc.). It wasn't a big problem. This book offered a view into the beliefs of another culture and their mixed feelings about our culture.

Lexile level from 670