The Water Seeker, by Kimberly Willis Holt

Born with a gift that he tries to hide, Amos struggles through life with the knowledge of his water-seeking ability. His Pa was a “dowser” as well, but he thought it was a curse, tying him to his work instead of the mountains where his true calling lay as a trapper. So Amos stuffs his skill way down, trying to forget so he can be like other boys.

Except, how can he? The water both calls to and terrifies him. How can you live a life that you yourself have torn in two?

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This book had a crazy amount of potential. Seriously. But living up to the expectation of the description is easier said than done.

The one thing I could tell about this book: the author was in love with it. She was in love with her characters so much, she couldn’t drop any ideas that came into her head. What I mean to say is this: there was too much that happened in that story. The overall plot could have been summed into maybe half as long as the book actually was. In essence, she didn’t want it to end, and she couldn’t let anything go. If I was the editor, I would have ripped out whole chunks and then flung it back at her.

Typically, the reason a book is long is because one of two things needs to happen: a. lots of plot! Or b., serious character development. In this book, I felt like it was neither; it was just filled with lots of….stuff. You could say it was plot, but instead it was just hopping from one random Western-type story to the next. His childhood takes forever to come to an end by the time they hit the Oregon trail. At that point, he should have developed lots and lots of character, but instead he is a sort of vague and generic boy.

I think the idea of a character needs to be explored by the author. It felt like she thought that character meant all this stuff that was on the outside of the character, instead of digging to the heart of the issue. Amos could have struggled with extreme loneliness, depression, abandonment, trust issues and fear of a whole slough of things. Instead the author decided to give him talents and outward random oddities like birds following him and natural artistic ability. Those things do not set Amos up for a triumphant ending by wrapping up his internal struggle full circle. It sets up the ending to be evident and clear from the beginning, thus being less climactic and meaningful.

I would have preferred to see this book structured out a little more thoughtfully, and given a major edit before publishing.

A side note: kudos to Will Patton the narrator! Switching from a Southern accent to British with ease is no small feat. We really enjoyed his voices and creative voices.

UPDATE: This post was mostly finished before I finished the book, but the ending was so badly wrapped up and killed any tension that might have been building by pulling a “Ten Years Later”….. This was going to get a 3/5, but now it is 2/5. It was so bad we were all laughing as the narrator goes into the credits.

Overall Rating: 2/5

Violence: 3/10

Language: 2/10

Inappropriateness/Romance: 3/10

Audience: ??? The beginning was awfully rough for a children’s book. Maybe 12 and up?

The Many Lives of John Stone, by Linda Buckley-Archer

Stella Park (Spark for short) has found summer work cataloging historical archives in John Stone’s remote and beautiful house in Suffolk, England. She wasn’t quite sure what to expect, and her uncertainty about living at Stowney House only increases upon arriving: what kind of people live in the twenty-first century without using electricity, telephones, or even a washing machine? Additionally, the notebooks she’s organizing span centuries—they begin in the court of Louis XIV in Versailles—but are written in the same hand. Something strange is going on for sure, and Spark’s questions are piling up. Who exactly is John Stone? What connection does he have to these notebooks? And more importantly, why did he hire her in the first place?

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I picked up this book on the “new Teen release” shelf, mostly being intrigued by the cover. Well, and the description, which turned out to be a little misleading. I actually thought the book was going to be super cool and built up this whole plot line before reading it. Now that I know that that is not what the book is about, I can use it myself if I ever wanted to. Yay! Except, I didn’t pick up the book so I could evolve my own plot, I wanted the book to be about what I thought it would be about. And it wasn’t.

It felt like the book lacked substance. Spark was about the most boring person in the world, and had no motives, interest, or any other part in the story except to being an outside person trying to understand the inside lives of a group of people who seem to be stuck in the past.

The premise of this book was good. There was a lot of potential to being a mystery story, except the author blotted out all the mystery by telling you everything at the beginning. Snore. Honestly, I actually didn’t finish the book. I got about halfway through, and then flipped to the end to see what happened in the ending. Why was I not surprised? A plot twist should be, well, a twist, not something you saw coming fifty miles away.

The writing was also severely choppy; it felt like the author’s first novel. In the first paragraph about Spark, she is saying goodbye to her mummy; the second paragraph she is sitting on a train thinking insignificant thoughts; the third paragraph she is in New York City and seeing her brother; the fourth paragraph she loves New York and thinking more insignificant thoughts. A lot of stuff was soooo dry; if I had been the editor I would have thrown it back at the writers face with big “X” marks over chunks of the first few chapters.

My sister and I have this character test. If you took anyone else in the whole world and gave them the same set of choices, would they have done the same exact things? 1. If you answered that there were no questions asked in the whole story, then you have got a lot of plot and ideas but way not enough character development; those types of stories are ones where the character is swept into the action without any choice. 2. If the story presented complex questions but the character has an interesting backstory that conflicts or decides which they answer, then the story has a crazy amount of promise, but at that point authors often lack plot. 3. And then there are stories which often have a little bit of both, but the questions asked are sort of one-track, like yes or no, but even though this sounds a bit shallow it is these stories which often have the best balance of plot and character.

The Many Lives of John Stone perfectly describes the first example: Spark isn’t really asked any questions at all and is sort of just there as a narrator, BUT in order for this story to have worked, it would have needed a huge amount of both mystery and action. There wasn’t enough of either for the story to be a favorite.

The Hunger Games gives one good example of the 2nd type of story; while I don’t particularly find Katniss to be a complex character (most life and death questions are simple in this case), she does make one choice at the end of the first book that is a little more complex. During most of the story, she is given yes or no questions, such as, “would you give up your life to save your sister”; while this may seem like a hard question to ask, it still is a yes or no answer. However, at the end of the Hunger Games, when Katniss and Peeta are the last two contenders and are told they must kill each other, Katniss makes a more complex choice. The basic question to most people would be, “do I kill Peeta or not?” But Katniss chooses to look at the basic question in a deeper way and finds a solution that requires backstory and a small amount of emotional understanding for the reader.

Harry Potter, in general, is a mixture of the first and third example. Most of the time, he isn’t give any questions but is thrown into a situation without a choice, or is given simple, easy questions. Example: He lives with his hated Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia, who mistreat him horribly. When a giant of a man shows up on your doorstep telling you you are a wizard and asks if you want to learn more about magic at a magical school, what would you say? This is one of those wishy-washy questions; anyone in his position probably would have said yes considering his terrible relatives, but a lot would have said yes even without them. However, because there is a huge amount of plot and mystery the readers can more easily forgive Harry’s depth of character and still love the book to pieces.

All that being said (and sorry for the sidetrack, but I find it really interesting), there were a couple really bright spots in the book. The other characters were brilliant and awesome, just not the main character. It felt like a lot of the plot was driven by the other characters reaction to the main character instead of other way around. You might like this book if you enjoy the idea of time travel or immortality type stories.

Overall Rating: 2.5/5

Violence: 3/10

Language: 3/10

Inappropriateness/Romance: 3/10

Audience: Ages 12 and up

Ulysses Moore: Door to Time, by Pierdomineco Baccalario

In a house on the coast of England, there is a door. It hides unimaginable mysteries, unavoidable danger, and unbelievable surprises. When eleven-year-old twins Jason and Julia move into the old mansion with their family, the door is a secret – locked and hidden behind an old wardrobe.

But Jason, Julia, and their friend Rick are about to discover what lies behind it…

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This book was originally written in Italian, then was translated to an audio. I’m not sure whether you can find it in book form or not in English.

On a roadtrip to Seattle, Washington we checked out three audios. Two, come to find out, were about halfway through a series we had never heard of. So we were stuck with this one the whole way there and back.

I was not thrilled. It was like a cross between Indiana Jones and National Treasure, but the peril was lurking at quite a distance. There were supposed to be a lot of tense moments, but there wasn’t enough tension in the situation because multiple times nothing happened. Multiple close calls don’t make for a very interesting story, because then you figure out that the author has no intention of anything happening. Not very life-threatening if you know there life isn’t threatened.

They also happened to be child-geniuses. 11 and 12 year olds aren’t supposed to know about ancient extinct languages, have the strength to row a huge ship that has run aground and make wise life decisions in a dark tunnel with parents conveniently out of the way. You may get tired of hearing , “Hey guys!” I suppose the title should have given me a hint about what would happen in the end, but I must admit I found the end a little annoying.

If you really liked 39 Clues but without the gruesome bits, or the Magic Tree House series, then this might be the book for you!

Overall Rating: 3/5

Violence: 2/10

Language: 1/10

Inappropriateness/Romance: 0/10

Audience: Ages 6 and up

The Wanderer, by Sharon Creech

“The sea, the sea, the sea. It rolled and rolled and called to me. Come in, it said, Come in.” Sophie hears the sea calling to her, promising adventure as she sets sail for England with her three uncles and two cousins. All boys.

Cody, the second cousin, is just as enthusiastic for adventure as she is. His one chance to prove he is capable and helpful to his father, who never takes him seriously.

As the crew battles the ocean to reach their grandfather, Sophie manages to offer what none of the men expected. As they sail towards England, each person learns something about each other, the world, and themselves.

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Sorry to disappoint you, but this is not really an adventure story. Less adventure, more feeling. And no, it isn’t historical fiction. I can’t exactly remember why exactly they decided to sail, other than why not?

This book….it has always left a deep impression on me. It is written with a lot of emotion poured into it, and is a good balance between dialogue and lyrical-ness. The conversation was so deep and moving it always manages to make me cry. Yes, I have read it quite a few times. It’s the kind of book in which I always keep a bookmark at my favorite parts.

A great read for both boys and girls. Probably not a good read-aloud, as it is written in diary form.

Definitely my favorite Sharon Creech book, except for maybe the Castle Corona, which was just a little wittier.

Overall Rating: 5/5

Violence: 1/10

Language: 0/10 (maybe?)

Inappropriateness/Romance: 1/10

Audience: Ages 10 and up

Homeless Bird, by Gloria Whelan

Koly, like most other 13-year-old girls from India, is getting married. She has never met her husband, but she will leave her home and family forever to begin a new life with him and his family.

Yet Koly finds that the world she thought she lived in harsh and cruel. It lies, cheats, and steals her very life from her, piece by piece, leaving her without a clue as to what to do next. Her life has always been commanded by tradition, and it is out of desperation that she leaves it behind.

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This book was fairly good. The plot had some twists I didn’t see coming. The best way to describe this book was blunt. The way their religion states what they do, no questions asked. The way Koly’s future simply is, not what it will become.

Koly is a great character. By the time the book is finished, you do feel close to her. That was probably the best part in the story, was Koly herself and the way she just plowed through life until the blade broke.

The author was very careful when writing the whole young-marriage thing. I wouldn’t have picked this book out myself because of that, but it was done in a way that doesn’t creep you out or is inappropriate.

What confused me the most was I thought this was a historical fiction novel. But it wasn’t; being third-world it felt historical. Then every once in a while it would throw in things that eventually brought you closer and closer to present day, until I had to let go of the idea that it was historical fiction and moved on.

There is one part towards the end of the book in which Koly is tricked into drinking an amount of alchohol, yet aside from that the book is fairly clean.

Overall Rating: 3.5/5

Violence: 2/10

Language: 0/10

Inappropriateness/Romance: 3/10 (aside from being married at 13, there was only a very little romance)

Walk Two Moons, by Sharon Creech

When Salamanca convinces her grandparents to take her with them to Lewiston, Idaho, she never expected to pour out her heart about the real reason she has for going there. And she also didn’t expect to retell her friend Phoebe’s story and discover the similarities with Phoebe’s story and her own.

‘Don’t judge a man until you’ve walked two moons in his mocassins’, the mysterious message on Phoebe’s porch said. That was almost directly before Phoebe’s mother disappeared, and just before the lunatic appeared. Not to mention the strange Mrs. Cadaver, with wild red hair and a voice like dead leaves on the pavement, who Phoebe suspects is an axe-murderer and kidnapped her mother against her will.

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I have said it before, and I’ll say it again: Sharon Creech’s writing is eccentric, and this book is perhaps the oddest out of all the other’s I have reviewed. You must begin the story with an open mind; the first time we listened to it on audio, and we just couldn’t get over some of the strange symbolisms.

For example: in the story, Sal loves trees because her mother loves trees. Why this is is never mentioned, but their behavior towards trees is a little weird. Again, you have to look past the actual behavior to see Sal’s reasoning.

I would not recommend the audio. The story is sweeter when you have time to think about it.

Was I the only one laughing at my own description?  There was something endearingly Ramona-esque about Phoebe’s imagination. If I made it sound creepy, it was all in her head. And maybe yours, too.

One thing I never care for about Creech is all of her main characters from book to book are basically the same person, with a different set of circumstances. None of them are particularly original, but all the cute side stories along the way are what build up overall plot and character growth.

Ok, last thought: I also don’t like how Creech’s stories are always about girls, and how there is always a boy that they have a crush on. In this book, whenever Sal is around this boy the only thought she has is about kissing him. He doesn’t really help her grow in anyway. There is nothing I hate more than a useless romance.

Overall Rating: 4/5

Violence: 1/10 (other than Phoebe’s musings as to all the various murderers in the world)

Language: 2/10 (is old person swearing considered swearing? Gol’ dang, and the like)

Inappropriateness/Romance: 2/10 (above notes, and the over-enthusiastic English teacher makes the briefest reference to sex)

Audience: Ages 11 and up (why 11? I don’t know)

Book of a Thousand Days, by Shannon Hale

Dashti, a lowly mucker maid, finds herself the lifetime companion of the Lady Saren when she is locked up in a tower for seven years with her mistress. A tower with no windows, doors, or any way to let light in. The darkness takes its toll on them as they wait out the long sentence. Dashti is constantly wondering if, had her mistress Lady Saren decided to marry the Lord Khasar, where would they be? Is the darkness worth it?

Of course, there is more to it than that. Dashti is left to her own devices when she finds that her mistress does not even want to leave. Being bound by an oath to serve and obey her lady, Dashti strives to carry out Saren’s orders while fighting with her conscience and her heart.

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I picked up this book at the library, intrigued by the title. I thought it was…interesting. I can’t decide whether to label it historical fiction or romance. It was sort of a little of both, but not enough on either side to categorize it. The reason it isn’t historical fiction is Hale tried to set it in Mongolia, but in fictional places and no dates are mentioned. That was probably one of the weirder aspects of the story I wasn’t expecting was the ‘Asiatic flare’.

There is one note I would like to make on why I rated the romance section the way I did….there were two seperate parts in which a person was naked. It was more symbollic of submission than anything but *ahem*….it was still there. Nothing descriptive.

Overall Rating: 3.5/5

Violence: 3/10

Language: 0/10

Romance: 4/10

Audience: Ages 12 and up