Book Review for – Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword

Title: Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword
Author: Barry Deutsch
Year Published: 2010
Genre: Graphic Novel
Age Range: for ages 8 and up
Rating: ***

Eleven-year-old Mirka lives in an Orthodox Jewish community called Hereville.  Her kind, but formidable, stepmother Fruma insists that Mirka take knitting more seriously so she one day find a good husband, but what Mirka really wants is to find is a good sword so she can slay dragons.  On the way to school Mirka sees an animal that’s she’s never seen before.  Her step-sister, who has previously lived outside Hereville, tells her it’s a pig.  Mirka follows the pig and is set on an unexpected adventure where the many lessons she learned from Fruma are her ticket to making her own dreams come true.

I’d read a number of good reviews for this graphic novel.  It’s a fun story and the details about the life of the Orthodox Jewish community are respectful, detailed, and interesting.  I thought the conclusion was a bit slight, but this story is so unique and enjoyable, it’s a must-read if you have any interest in the Jewish community. 

Music Reviews From January & February

Music:
I go through music like a hummer goes through gasoline, listening to songs when I wash dishes, cook meals, walk to the grocery, and even when I fall asleep each night.  So I am constantly in need of new music. My goal for 2011 is to try to listen to a new album every week.

While I’m not immune to a catchy pop hit, I decided I wanted to try out more independent and lesser known groups this year too, from all sorts of genres: rock, pop, hip hop, classical, and everything in-between.

I’m still learning how to review music.  Unlike books, I don’t feel like I have a good sense of the vocabulary I need to describe what I like and don’t like about the songs yet. If I’ve learning anything from writing this blog, it’s that the best way to learn something is to just do it, so here goes….

A brief review of the albums I’ve enjoyed so far in 2011:

Play It Again, Jack!, by Jack in the Box (*** 1/2) – Three days after I made my album a week goal, this CD came in the mail from one of my favorite childhood friends.  How cool is that?  It’s like she read my mind. Turns out her 18 or 19-year-old son is in a band that just made an album.  The only time I met her son was when my family visited their home in Nantes, France. Greg was 12 or 13 and the two of them were arguing over how he was ignoring his piano practice to play the video game, Grand Theft Auto.

Greg must have solved the practicing issue because the piano playing on this album is excellent. Play It Again, Jack! is full of catchy pop melodies played on piano in a very listenable jazz-like cabaret style, kind of like a hipper more modern Randy Newman. While all the band members are from Nantes, France, the songs are all in English.  Every song is fun to listen to, though some songs are better than others.  [Parent Note: This is one of those albums that will make all ages happy: kids, teens, adults, and seniors.]

At their MY SPACE page you can hear several songs on the album.  You can also buy their songs or album on iTunes, emusic, and amazonmp3. They are listed on iTunes under the album name: Play It Again, Jack!  The full album sells for $10.99 or you can buy individual songs for 99 cents.

The Cost, by The Frames (*** 1/2) – This album is full of the kind of moody ballads that I enjoy listening to right before I go to sleep.  Lead singer, Glen Hansard, was in the movie The Commitments (in a small part) and also starred in the movie, Once.  The song "Rise" was recently featured in the Castle episode that focused on Kate’s mother’s murder and a number of the songs from The Cost are also included on Hansard’s album soundtrack for Once.  [Parent Note: Fairly tame lyrics you can listen to with kids in the car.]

I Will Be, by Dum Dum Girls (***) – Fun lo-fi indie pop that sounds a lot like good old-fashioned 50’s rock with a bit of a modern twist. [Parent Note: I couldn’t hear the lyrics clearly enough to be sure that I know if the album has any unfriendly stuff for kids or not. ]

Loud, by Rihanna (****) – Rihanna is one of the few commercial pop sensations I enjoy without guilt.  Her most recent album is no exception.  It’s full of catchy pop tunes you’ve probably heard without even picking up her album.  She even has a couple hits this time with an island flavor, a few soulful songs, and a couple of sexy pieces to round out the album.  [Parent Note: There are a couple kid friendly songs in the album but definitely another couple that will get you plenty of questions.  Probably this is one to enjoy when you’re alone.]

Review for Bartimaeus: The Ring of Solomon

Title: Bartimaeus: The Ring of Solomon
Author: Jonathan Stroud
Publisher: Hyperion Books
Rating: **** 1/2
Format: Listened to the audiobook version from Audible.com
For Ages: 10 and up (though an 8 or 9 year old who’s the youngest of a family will probably enjoy the audiobook version too.)

The Ring of Solomon can be read as a stand-alone novel for readers who have never had the pleasure of meeting the sarcastic, cheeky djinni, Bartimaeus of Uruk, or as a satisfying prequel for fans of the Amulet of Samarkand series.  This time around our favorite djinni is in ancient Israel. As in the previous books, in this universe, magicians use their knowledge of magical summoning spells to capture spirits, like djinni, from another world and make them do the magician’s bidding in the human world. King Solomon has his own powerful Marid, the highest level of spirits, trapped inside a magic ring that keeps everyone in line, including Bartimaeus, who finds himself enslaved by the king’s cruelest magician. Like usual, Bartimaeus is handling his predicament in the most amusingly bitter and rebellious way possible.

Solomon has also threatened the Queendom of Sheba with total destruction if Sheba doesn’t give in to a monthly blackmail payment in the next 10 days. Young Asmira, a seventeen-year-old girl in the hereditary guard to the Queen of Sheba is the Queendom’s only hope. She’s traveling to Israel on an important mission to kill King Solomon and take the ring.  If she succeeds, the Queendom will be free.

The Ring of Solomon is a fun adventure full of exciting fights and lots of banter. It’s lighter in tone than the previous darkly political series but still manages to make a lot of subtle points about slavery.  As a result, this story would make an excellent read-aloud for families or classrooms and would be an especially good audiobook for a family car trip, as the tale can be appreciated by both kids and adults alike.

The audiobook version is excellent.  The narrator manages to give each of the large cast of characters their own unique voice and inserts each of Bartimaeus’s famously funny footnotes (asides about any topic that comes into his head) in just the right part of the story each time.

TV Reviews for: Being Erica & Wild China

Being Erika (*** 1/2) – The third season of the Canadian show Being Erica is now available to Americans each week on Soapnet and for free online at Hulu. At its surface Being Erica is a fun chick-flick show. Thirty-something Erica Strong is trying to find the job and man of her dreams with the help of her unique therapist, Dr. Tom, who sends her into her past to redo decisions she regrets.  The writers aren’t satisfied with doing the same plot over and over though so each season adds a deeper layer to Erica’s therapy situation and her own understanding of herself without dropping any of the fun breeziness that makes the show so watchable.

If you’ve never watched Being Erica and want to start from the beginning you can watch all 25 episodes of season one and two for free at Hulu too. Just be warned, once you start watching it will be hard to stop. You can watch the new third season episodes each Wednesday at 10/9c on Soapnet or the next day online at Hulu.

Wild China (*** 1/2) – My dad told me about this excellent BBC nature series available on Netflix Instant viewing.  Each of the six one-hour segments highlights the environment in one region of China.  What makes this nature show unique is that the focus is not just on nature but also on how wildlife and humans interact.