Friday, October 26, 2012

Six Days by Phillip Webb

In a post apocalyptic England, British Scavs (short for scavengers) search through the ruins of London under the watchful eye of the Vlad (Russian) army.  They have been looking for "The Artifact" for a hundred years, though no one is sure what the artifact is.  Cass's little brother, Wilbur (both Scavs) thinks he has some clues to where the artifact might be.  While following one of them, he meets an odd boy, Peyto, in the tower of Big Ben.  Cass and Wilbur help the stranger get past the Vlad guards and out of the city, where they meet up with Peyto's friend, Erin.  Cass discovers that her two new friends are from a space ship and they, too, are looking for the artifact which was lost from the ship centuries before.  The four friends discover they only have 6 days to find the artifact, save the ship, and the world from utter destruction. 

There were some things from this story that were pretty far out there. It seemed pretty improbable to me that a whole Russian army would be dispatched for 100 years to look for an object that no one had ever seen and no one knew exactly what it did.  That is a lot of resources to throw at a rumor. Then, when the kids find the artifact, it is in the British Museum.  As the children walk through the deserted building, all of the displays and artifacts are sitting, intact, under a layer of dust. So we are to believe that London had been desolate for 100 years, but no one had ransacked the museum?  Also, the museum is full of hundreds of cats.  So what had the cats been eating for the last 100 years?

Despite the logical issues, I liked the book.  The characters were interesting and strong.  I enjoyed the voice of Cass, who speaks with a strong Cockney dialect and had a really spunky personality. Webb also tackled some interesting ethical issues in the final confrontation.  The reader should beware that their is a pretty high body count in this book, so it is not for the squeamish of heart. Over all it was a pretty good sci-fi for early teens. (336 p)

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Hidden Gallery

And so continues the fun started with The Mysterious Howling.  In this episode the Ashton family moves to London temporarily while the Ashton manor undergoes repairs (necessitated by the events at the Christmas Party the previous book).  In London Miss Lumley is eager to visit all the educations sites with the children. On their first day there they meet two important characters, a gypsy that fortells ominous dangers for the children, and a young handsome playwrite who soon becomes devoted to the children and their pretty governess. This book has more of the kind of witty fun found in the first.  The reader learns a little more about why Lord Ashton is interested in the children, and we get a few hints about Miss Lumley's own past.   Actually, this book doesn't progress the overall story very much, but it was fun and I am eager to read the third.  (313 p)

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood

Penelope Lumley is a Victorian orphan (or so we presume) ho grew up in a school for poor bright girls.  Upon graduation from the school, she takes a position as a governess at grandiose mansion in the English countryside.  She soon discovers that her three charges are children who had recently been discovered in the woods on the estate.  The children have been raised by wolves and when she first meets them they have decidedly doggy behaviors,  have never worn clothing, and speak with barks and growls.  Undaunted, the plucky Miss Lumley takes them under her wing and starts to teach them the art of being human. There are some very funny scenes where Miss Lumley is faced with the dubious tasks to teaching the two boys how to put on trousers, trying to get all three children to stop chasing squirrels, and how to teach them to say "socially useful phrases" at the appropriate times.  The mistress of the mansion does not like the children and does not understand why her husband of six months wants to keep them. Miss Lumley wonders this as well, and begins to believe there are sinister motives afoot. This was a delightful read.  I chuckled all the way through.  The juxtaposition of the prim and proper Miss Lumley with the wild but endearing children is handled so well and the all the side characters are funny and interesting.  The only drawback to the book is that it closes with many unanswered questions.  Never fear, there is a sequel and I will read it as soon as I get a chance. (267 p)

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Museum of Thieves by Lian Tanner

This book got a lot of attention when it came out two years ago.  I think it was released when the last Harry Potter movie was the big event of the year, and this is definitely a book that would be comfortable on a "If you liked Harry Potter" list.  Goldie is a girl who lives in a society that is super protective of their children.  They are so protective that children are required to be tethered to their parents with a chain until they are 13 years old.  Goldie loves her parents, but longs to be free of the tether.  On her Separation Day there is a bombing and the separation ceremony is canceled.  Goldie escapes her bonds anyway and runs away to hide  in the city.  She finds her way to a "Museum" that, she soon discovers, holds magical forces from the past. When political strife threatens the Museum, she works desperately with her new found friends to keep the ancient evils from breaking loose and flooding into the city.  It is a solidly written fantasy with good pacing and interesting characters.  I find the whole premise of the over protective society to be an interesting one.  It made me ask myself if modern society is over protective or under protective.  In some ways I think it is both.  Children are often not allowed to go out and play unsupervised like I did as a child. It is considered too dangerous.  On the other hand, children are exposed to unprecedented levels of violence and other mature material on TV and on the internet.   I think, perhaps, we are too physically protective, and not spiritually protective enough.  Anyway, it was a fun read and I will probably read the next one in the trilogy. (312 p.)

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Bliss by Kathryn Littlewood

At the library where I work, I teach an after school program for kids age 8-12.  The third week of each month we do an activity based on a book.  I do the activity with my friend and co-worker, Sheila Nielson, and she suggested this book for the month of October.  The Bliss family have been bakers for generations.  They have a special cook book that contains recipes with magical powers.  When the Bliss parents are called to a nearby city to help put down a flu epidemic with their croissants, the children are left to run the Bliss bakery on their own.  The day after their parents leave, their "Aunt Lily" shows up on the doorstep and volunteers to help them while their parents are gone.  Rose, the second child and oldest daughter, is suspicious of Tia Lily, but is also eager to try some of the magical recipes her parents use. The recipes don't go well, and one humorous calamity after another befalls Calamity Falls (the town here they live) because of recipes gone wrong.  The author does a good job with pacing and plot line.  At first the mishaps are relatively small and contained, but then they get bigger and more ridiculous until the final climax is utterly silly and involves everyone in town. I think a 8-10 year old would think it was hilarious.  What the author doesn't do as well is characterization.  The point of view character, Rose, is supposed to be going through internal turmoil because he wants to be beautiful and powerful like her aunt, Lily, but she senses that what Aunt Lily is wanting to do with the magical recipes is unethical and unwise. Yet I am never convinced that Rose is a real person.  She swings too easily and too dramatically from one state of mind to another.  It isn't believable in the end when she is considering leaving her family and becoming a TV star with her aunt. She was clearly a character made to fit the plot, instead of having the plot arise out of the character.  Despite that observation, I am not sorry we chose the book for a program theme.  There is so much we can do with the magical recipe idea in terms of games and activities. It should be a fun event. (374 p)

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Scumble by Ingrid Law

This is the second in the series that started with the Newbery Honor book, Savvy.  I liked Savvy and even read it aloud to my family.  This book was different, but I liked it as well.  Ledger Kale is a cousin to the savvy characters in the first book.  The story starts on his 13th birthday when he receives his special ability, his savvy, which seems to be the power to destroy things made out of metal.  At first his savvy is uncontrollable and he causes a lot of damage, so his parents leave him at his uncle's farm to give him time to learn to control, or scumble, his talent. While there he meets the daughter of the local financial czar and together they get into a great deal of trouble.  During the summer Ledge learns to control not only his savvy, but also his fear and anger, and saves the family farm in the process. At first Ledger's "voice" was a little distracting.  The author has him use a lot of quaint similes and metaphors  and they sounded a little too contrived to me.  As the story went on I got used to them, and I ended up liking the main character pretty much.  His frustration as he tries to learn to control himself is something I think all kids and even adults go through at some time in their lives, but of course, on a less spectacular level.  Law surrounds Ledge with enough interesting characters, and puts him through enough funny high jinx that a reader might not even realize they have learned a lesson about self control.(400 p.)