Sunday, December 29, 2013

Written in Bone: Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial Maryland by Sally Walker

Cover image for Written in bone : buried lives of Jamestown and Colonial MarylandAfter reading Boneshaker and Lockwood and Company (see below), I was about done with ghost stories for a while. So why did I pick up a nonfiction about dead guys?  Who knows. I am glad I did.  This was a really interesting book about archaeology in the Jamestown and other colonial areas. Ms Walker doesn't shy away from using and technical terms and ideas but she always explains them in a way that is clear but not condescending. I learned so much from reading the book.  I kept telling my friends and family interesting things I had read about funeral shrouds, or earth stains or carbon dating.  This is a great book for nerdy science kids, or reluctant readers who don't want to be bothered with fiction. (144 p)

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud

Cover image for The screaming staircaseIn this alternate reality London, the city is terrorized by aggressive and dangerous ghosts. The only ones that are able to sense the ghosts are children and teens.  Teens that have extraordinary psychic abilities are hired and trained by psychic detection agencies.  People hire these agencies when they have a ghost infestation, and the children use wards and rapiers to illuminate the problem. Most of the agencies are run by adults, but one is run by the teens, themselves.  That is Lockwood and Company, and their newest agent is a girl named Lucy.  Lucy has an exceptional talent for psychic hearing, but when she hears the details of a girl's murder, she is thrown into a situation where the most dangerous things are not necessarily ghosts. This is a great spooky ghost story with interesting characters, and detailed world building.  I loved Stroud's Bartimaeus series, so I was eager to read this one.  This one didn't quite have the charm of the Bartimaeus books, but it was still a great read, and well worth the time. My son and I debated whether this was horror or just dark fantasy.  I put anything with evil ghosts in the horror catagory, but my son said it is only horror if the main characters are helpless victims most of the time, which in this book they are certainly not.  Horror or fantasy, it is a good book for young teens who like to be scared, but not too much. (394 p)

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Science Fair by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson

I finished this a week ago, but I didn't blog it because I thought I had blogged it before.  This is my third time through it.  I read it once, then read it aloud to my family, and now I am reading it again because we are doing it for Mother/Son Book Club next month.  Can you tell I like this book?  This is one of the funniest books out there.  Even the third time though I found myself laughing out loud.
Cover image for Science fair
Toby lives with his Star Wars loving, tofu eating parents.  He attends a very prestigious public school that is terrorized by a group of snobby and bullying rich kids, called the M.E kids.  Each year the school offers a huge cash prize for the winner of the science fair, provided by a wealthy alumnus, and each year one the M.E. kids wins.  Toby and his friends suspect that the M.E. kids are cheating, but as they start to investigate their suspicions they uncover an international plot to take down the American economy.  No description I can type here can suggest how witty and clever this book is.  Barry and Pearson did a great job with the Peter and the Star Catchers series, but I think that here they are at their very best. The final 100 pages are one long, hilarious chase scene involving a bunch of adults dressed in Star Wars costumes, a giant "Wiener Mobile" and an atomic Mentos eruption (not to mention an crazed robotic spider and a floating frog).  If you have a 7-12 year old child in your life, you really should get this book and read it aloud, a chapter a night. It will give you and your young friend something to chuckle about for a long time. (394 p)

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqeline Kelly

Cover image for The evolution of Calpurnia TateCalpurnia lives on a cotton plantation in Texas in 1899.  She is the only girl in a family of boys, and her mother is determined that she should become a proper southern lady.  Calpurnia has other ideas.  She loves nature and she loves science.  She finds a scientific soul mate in her Grandfather, who is an amateur naturalist.  They love to spend time together collecting samples, and noting observations in Calpurnia's notebook. In addition to  balancing the demands of her mother and her time with her grandfather, Calpurnia must manage her brothers, and all the changes going on in their lives.  It is a big job, but Calpurnia Tate is up to the challenge. 

I really enjoyed this book.  The family is realistic without being dysfunctional.  The different characters are well defined and endearing.  There is some mention of Darwin, evolution and the philosophical controversy that Darwin's findings engendered, but it is not the main focus of the book.  I especially liked that, even though Calpurnia's dreams are different than her mother's plans for her, she is never rebellious or defiant.  She just steadily works toward her own goals and gains the respect of those around her. This is a good choice for those who liked Anne of Green Gables or The Penderwicks.  It is also amazing that it is squeaky clean-- no sex, violence or major edgy social issue--and still it won a Newbery Honor.  If nothing else, that fact alone makes this a unique and rare find.(340 p)

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The True Story of Christmas by Anne Fine

Cover image for The true story of ChristmasIf you are looking for a sweet, warm-hearted story of a family finding the true meaning of Christmas, this is not the book for you.  The Montfield family go through the motions.  There are gifts and a dinner, and uncles, aunts, and cousins gathering together.  But there is very little good cheer.  One uncle is fiendishly sarcastic, while the grandma is as crotchety as Mr. Scrooge. The two cousins are a disaster waiting to happen. The poor mother tries to smooth things over, but has to deal with a broken oven, and a helpful relative who tries to fix it.  The main character, Ralph, just sits back and watches the sparks fly until it all comes to a head.  This is a moderately funny book.  Those who have trouble dealing with family gatherings will have much to recognize and chuckle about.  I am afraid, though, I am not quite jaded enough to enjoy it all the way.  I wanted some ounce of warmth or kindness, but the story stays stubbornly cynical to the very end. (133 p)

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde

Cover image for The last dragonslayerJennifer Strange is a 15-year-old apprentice manager at an agency for magicians, but since the manager has magically disappeared, Jennifer is stuck running the agency on her own.  The business in in danger because the supply of "residual magic" has been dwindling and the magicians who can still do anything, are working with drastically reduced power. Then one day the power starts to spike, and there is a prophecy that the last dragon will die at the hands of a dragonslayer in the near future. When Jennifer, and the rest of the world, discover that she is to play a part in the dragon's death, she finds herself caught up in a whirlwind of power and money as different parties maneuver to claim the dragon lands that will become available when the dragon dies.

This was an interesting premise and setting for a dragon story.  Instead of medieval castles and primeval forests, Jennifer finds herself surrounded by pushy marketing agents, and tacky advertising campaigns.  The author's anti-corporate message is pretty heavy handed, and the whole story gets bogged down with it in the middle.  The story of the dragon and the magic needed to save it is only hinted at through most of the book, and developed, not too clearly, in the last two chapters. The book left a lot of loose ends, but there are two more books, one published and one yet to be published in the series, so maybe they will be addressed later.(287 p)

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

The story is told from the point of view of Ivan, an adult male gorilla that has spent most of his live in a cage in a mall.  He is friends with some other mall animals, including a dog called Bob and an Elephant called Stella.  The mall is struggling financially, so the mall owner, Max, jumps at the opportunity to acquire a baby elephant to add to the show.  Ruby brings new life and enthusiasm to the mall menagerie, and both Stella and Ivan become very attached to her.  When Stella becomes ill and is about to die, she makes Ivan promise he will find a way to get Ruby out of the mall and into a proper zoo.  Ivan likes to draw, so he uses his artistic skills to send a message to the world that Ruby needs a better home.
Cover image for The one and only Ivan
This was the Newbery winner for this year.  I didn't read it for a while after it was released, because I had heard it was kind of sad and I wasn't really ever in a mood to read a sad book.  It was a little sad, but I ended up liking the book.  Ms Applegate does a good job creating a believable voice for Ivan and the other animals.  The book is based on a true story, and she really explores all the complicated emotions animals in that kind of situation might have.  I can see why a committee of adults would choose it for an award.  It would be a great book for a grade school or even junior high reading groups to read and discuss.  There are so many ethical questions it brings up, but also questions about friendship, leaving a familiar place to make a better start, and non-violent protest.  I don't know how many kids would pick it up and read it for fun. The cover is nothings special  and it starts a little slowly.  Once they got into it, they would probably enjoy it. (305p)

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Pendragon Book Two: the Lost City of Faar by D.J. MacHale

Cover image for Pendragon. Lost city of FaarAfter coming to grips with the fact that his a traveler, Bobby Pendragon plunges into his second adventure, literally.  He arrives on the water planet of Cloral, and becomes fast friends with the future traveler from Cloral, Spader.  He and his mentor, Press, wait for St Dayne to play his hand, and when he does, it's terrible.  St. Dayne has manages to poison the food supply, and Press, Bobby and Spader go on a quest to find the one city, Faar, that might save the whole world. St Dayne is looking for the lost city of Faar as well, and it becomes a race to see who will triumph in the end.

This book had much the same flavor as the first book. Bobby and his fellow travelers face what seem to be insurmountable odds, and somehow win in the end.  In this one, though, Bobby starts to move from being an apprentice to being a mentor.  With the help of Lore, he helps Spader begin to see what it means to be a traveler.  I like the book alright, but I am not sure I will read another. They just haven't hooked me.   (224 p)

Marty McGuire by Kate Messner

Cover image for Marty McGuireMarty McGuire would rather be catching frogs with the boys than playing dress-up with the girls.  She is, therefore, not pleased when she gets the part of the princess in the class production of "The Frog Prince".  Luckily one of her frog hunting buddies has the part of the frog, and together they decide to spice up the production with a little some help from nature.  In the process Marty discovers that being a princess and a naturalist don't have to be mutually exclusive.  This is a fun little intermediate reader.  Plenty of tomboys out there will relate with Marty's affinity with muddy sneakers and love of Jane Goodall.(129 p.)

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict by Trenton Lee Stewart

Cover image for The extraordinary education of Nicholas BenedictNicholas Benedict is the adult leader and mentor of The Mysterious Benedict Society in the series of the same name.  This prequel to that series answers the question, "What about Nicholas Benedict; where did he come from and what was it like for him growing up with narcolepsy?" The story starts when Nicholas is a 9 year old orphan with amazing intellect and an interesting disability. He has narcolepsy which makes him go to sleep whenever he has strong emotions.  He also has a photographic memory and an IQ that is off the charts.  His disability and his intelligence make  him a target for bullies and he has spent his whole life in one orphanage after another, just trying to get by.  As the book starts Nicholas is moving to a new orphanage, full of hope that this one will be different and he can make a new start.  On his first day there he does find a new friend, but he also angers the local bullies, the "Spiders".  Nicholas soon discovers that there is a lost treasure to be found at the orphanage.  Along with his one friend, he must outsmart the Spiders while he and John search for clues to the whereabouts of the treasure. I enjoyed the first three books about the Mysterious Benedict Society, but I think I like this one best of all.  In the other books there is a super-villain who is trying to take over the world with a strange and amazing machine.  It is a fun story, but not at all realistic.  In this book there is nothing fantastical, just a really smart boy using his brain to solve problems in his life.  My favorite thing about the story is that Nicholas gradually decides to take charge of his life, stop being a victim and start looking beyond himself to help others. Although this is the 4th book in the series, the storyline is not connected to the other three and it works fine to read it as a stand alone, before the others, or after the other three. (470 p).

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Boneshaker by Kate Milford

Cover image for The BoneshakerThe year is 1913 and Natalie lives in a small town near a crossroads. The crossroads is a place where the boundary between realities is thin, and where Old Tom once challenged the devil to a contest on the guitar, and won.  It is also the place where there used to be a town that was destroyed by a devastating plague. Natalie grew up with the stories of what had happened at the crossroads, but never really believe them until a medicine show rolls into town. Much of the show makes her feel that something is not right, and soon she begins to see things from the past. As she gradually realizes what is happening, and how her family is caught up in it, she also begins to see that she is the only hope her little town has if they want to keep horrible things from their history from repeating.

I started this book clear back at the beginning of October.  It was a great October read--kind of spooky, without being violent or gory.  It is a well crafted story, and the characters are intense and satisfying.  The word craft is pretty good too, with many a well turned phrase.  I am not a big fan of spooky stories, but as scary stories go, this one is a pretty good one. I will give a warning, though.  Some might object to this book because the bad guy is Satan incarnate.  If you are skittish about that kind of thing, this is not a good choice for you. (372 p)

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Mr. and Mrs Bunny: Detectives Extraordinaire, by Polly Horvath

Cover image for Mr. and Mrs. Bunny-- detectives extraordinaire!
Madeline lives on Hornby Island, Canada with her very "New Age" (aka Hippy) parents.  Madeline is not like her parents, and takes responsibility for her own education and well being.  One day her parents are stolen away by a troop of criminal foxes.  As Madeline goes to try to find them, she meets up with Mr. and Mrs. Bunny, who are amateur detectives. Madeline discovers that she can understand Rabbit language, and accepts the Bunny's help to discover and rescue her parents.   This is an extremely silly book.  There is a lot of "tongue in cheek" humor about hippies, society and life in general. There is also a great deal of snappy dialog between the two bunnies. The story is not without a little tenderness. Although Madeline is resourceful and independent, she finds herself enjoying the kind mothering of Mrs Bunny, something she never got from her own mother.  I am not sure who the target audience is for this book.  I might recommend it for a child who is quite young, but a good reader.  That demographic, however, would miss a lot of the jokes.  Maybe a book for an adult to read to an intelligent younger child.  The child would enjoy the silliness, and the adult could chuckle at the jokes. (248 p)

Sunday, October 27, 2013

"Who Could That Be At This Hour?" by Lemony Snicket

Cover image for Who could that be at this hour?
Lemony Snicket (aka Daniel Handler) was an over night sensation with his Series of Unfortunate Events. I have to admit, I couldn't get through the first book in that series, but there was a huge faithful following among children and adults alike at the library.  Now he has started a new series, "All the Wrong Questions" in which a 13-year-old Lemony Snicket is the main character.  The book begins with Lemony escaping his parents right after graduation from a "particular kind" of school to join a mentor as an apprentice detective in a secret spy organization. He and his mentor travel to strange town by a dried-up sea where they are hired to retrieve a stolen statue.  Snicket is much more clever than his mentor, and soon figures out that the statue in question was never stolen, but that evil forces are using him and his mentor as pawns to acquire the statue.  As he tries to discover who is trying to get the statue and why, he meets a strange cast of puzzling characters, many of them young independent teens or children like himself.  The setting and characters of the story are odd, even surreal.  The mood of the writing contributes to the preternatural feel of the book.  I think that kids that liked Series of Unfortunate Events will like this one.  I actually liked it much better than the little bit I read of the earlier series (as evidenced by the fact that I actually finished it and I might even be interested in reading the second book). Though Lemony's attempts at achieving his goal are often frustrated because he keeps asking "All the Wrong Questions"  the mood is not as gloomy as the Series of Unfortunate Events and it has a kind of clever whit to it that was rather fun. (258 p)

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck

Cover image for A long way from Chicago : a novel in storiesJoey and his sister Mary Alice are sent to their grandma Dowdel's house every August for a week.  The book starts in 1929 when Joey is 9 and Mary Alice is 7, and then each chapter after that is a story about a different summer. The stories are a mixture humor and heart. The first time I read chapter one, I laughed so hard I almost fell off my chair. At first the children are afraid of their gun-slinging, rough-around-the-edges, larger-than-life grandmother.  But as they get older, they begin to understand and enjoy their Grandma Dowdel's unique personality. I have read the book a couple of times.  This time I reread it because it is our Mother/Son book club book for November.  I hope, and think, both boys and parents will enjoy reading this one together. (148 p)

Monday, October 21, 2013

Runaway King by Jennifer Nielsen

Cover image for The runaway kingJaron has become king, but in name only.  He doesn't have the support of his advisers, his royal bride to be or his people. Because of his father's weak rule, Jaron's country is on the brink of war with neighboring country in confederate with the pirates. The ruling council wants Jaron to go into hiding so that they can place a regent on the thrown.  Jaron agrees to go, but not into hiding. Instead he assumes his Sage identity and goes to confront the pirates himself. This is the second in the Ascendency Series that began with The False Prince. As in that one, Jaron uses charm, skill and dumb luck to make it out of the most desperate situations, but not without plenty of bruises to show for his efforts. It is a good sequel with a lot of the action and suspense of the first. It successfully progresses Jaron's personality and his  relationships with both the women and men in his life.  It ended pretty well, and I don't know where Ms. Nielsen will go from here in the last book in the series, but I am eager to find out. (331 p)

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Fever Crumb: Scrivener's Moon by Philip Reeve.

Cover image for Scrivener's moon This is the third in the series begun with Fever Crumb.  The whole series are prequels to the Sci Fi classic, Mortal Engines.  In this adventure, Fever returns to London, only to be quickly bored by the social events and engagements arranged by her Scriven mother, Wavey Godshawk.  When her mother hears of a pyramid in the North Countries that might contain the answer to Scriven history and technology, Fever jumps at the chance to accompany her on an expedition to investigate.  On the way, the group is captured by forces that intend to attack the new mobile London being built by Fever's Dad.  Fever escapes her attackers and joins some Northern nomads to continue her quest for the pyramid.  Like the other Fever Crumb books, this one has a thickly layered and complicated plot line.  I there are a lot of characters, too, mostly fairly well developed so they each have personalities and back stories. It was an exciting end to the trilogy, and I think it would have been even more interesting if I had read the Mortal Engines first, so I could understand what was being foreshadowed.  Still I had a hard time getting through it.  Half way through, Fever falls in love with a northern girl and spends a lot of time struggling with her same gender attraction.  The book suggests that the attraction is partially due to Godshawk's memories that Fever carries in her head. Still, I really didn't want to read about how much Fever wanted to kiss Cluny, and admired how the sun caught her hair etc.  If it had been a heterosexual romance, I probably would have enjoyed the book much more.  I guess I am old fashion, but reading about a same gender romance still makes me feel uncomfortable.  (341 p)

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Moongobble and Me: The Evil Elves by Bruce Coville

Cover image for The evil elvesEdward is friends with an aspiring magician named Moongobble.  In order to obtain full status as a magician, Moongobble must complete three great tasks. This is the third book in the series, and recounts Moongobble's third task.  In this adventure, Edward and Moongobble are sent to retrieve a dark magic stone that has made an entire village of elves evil.  Their challenge is to retrieve it without coming under its wicked power.  It takes Moongobble's best magic, Edward's pure heart, and plenty of help from their old friends, Urk the toad, Fireball the little dragon and the Old Knight.

Bruce Coville has written so many charming magical adventures for children.  This one is an intermediate reader, written for kids in 2-3 grade.  The vocabulary and sentence structure are simple, but Coville still tells an engaging story with interesting characters. It is lighthearted, fun, and a little bit silly--well suited for the target age group. (71 p)

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander

Cover image for The book of threeTaran is unsatisfied with his quiet life at Caer Dallben.  He helps Coll tend the garden, make horse shoes, and care for Hen Wen, a very special pig.  But Taran dreams of bigger things, swords, battles and becoming a hero. When Hen Wen is spooked by something coming toward Caer Dallben, and runs off into the forest,  Taran runs after her, and begins his first adventure.  He meets a knight, Gwydion, but he is not at all what Taran had expected. Gwydion is seeking Hen Wen as well, so the two become traveling partners.  The search for the pig takes him to places and into danger that Taran couldn't have imagined.  Along the way Taran discovers what it really means to be a hero.

How many times have I read this book?  At least 4.  I am reading it again because it is our Mother/Son Bookclub pick for October.  It is such a classic high fantasy for grade school age kids.  As I read it again, I was amazed how devoid of violence it is.  There are a couple of short skirmishes, but is it nothing like the fantasy books that are being published today with chapter after chapter of tense fighting.  When you have less violence, you have more time for character development.  The characters and language in this book are a delight.  Alexander has an amazing way of creating different voices for each person in the story.  As I finished the book, I was ready to pick up the next one, and read through the whole series again.  (190 p)

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Ungifted by Gordon Korman

Cover image for UngiftedDonovan is a classic ADHD junior high boy with a particular problem with impulsivity.  His adventure starts when he happens to whack a statue of Atlas with a stick, and part of the statue rolls down the hill and does damage to the school gym.  He is taken to the School Superintendent, who accidentally mixes his school record in a stack of papers recommending people for the talented and gifted program.  So Donovan ends up at the Academy for Scholastic Distinction.  At the Academy is quickly becomes obvious that Donovan is not at the same academic level as the other students, but the administrators are so confident in their admissions procedures, it takes them a long time to admit that they made a mistake.  In the mean time Donovan endears himself with the other students, who are at first baffled by a student that is so un-driven and yet fairly socially adept (which the gifted kids are generally not).  The chapters of the story are written from the point of view of different characters.  At the beginning of the chapter it has the character's name and IQ.  There are a lot of social stereotypes here.  The smarter the kids are, the more nerdy they are.  There is the pompous adminstrator, and the uber supportive T& G teacher. Although maybe not exactly true to life, the story is very funny, and all the characters are interesting and endearing. We will be reading this book for our Mother/Son book club next spring.  It should be a fun one to discuss. (280 p)

Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

Cover image for Tuesdays with Morrie an old man, a young man, and life's greatest lessonI was about to get in the car to drive to Arizona for my son's wedding, when I thought, "I need something to read on this trip."  So I grabbed Tuesdays with Morrie off of my book shelf (I had picked it up at a yard sale) and I read it in the hotel.  It was an interesting choice to read during that emotionally charged time in my life.  It brought a bit of peace, and gave me a chance to reflect on some of the bigger questions.

It is a story of a man, Ted, who had a beloved teacher in college.  As the story begins, Ted has been in a successful career for several years and has lost track of his old teacher.  When his company goes on strike, he happens to visit the teacher again and discovers that he is dying from Lou Gehrig's disease. Ted starts visiting Morrie every Tuesday, and they discuss the meaning of life and what is important.  As time progresses, Morrie's condition gets worse and both men learn to deal with and accept the decline of life, while coming to value their own friendship even more. The discussions are thought provoking and Morrie's philosophy focuses on strengthening relationships.  It is a short book, and I would recommend it to anyone wanting a contemplative look at life. It is written for adults, but there is nothing in it that would be inappropriate for teens.  I don't think it is for children. (192 p)

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Back of the North Wind: an audio drama based on the story by George MacDonald

Cover image for At the back of the North WindLittle Diamond lives with his father, who is a carriage driver, and his mother in early Victorian England.  One night Diamond hears a voice at a knothole in the wall of his attic bedroom.  It is the voice of the North Wind, who befriends Diamond and takes him on magical journeys. During one journey he meets a poor flower girl and on another, a goodhearted rich man.  His interactions with the North Wind, who is portrayed as a kindly woman, make him wise and compassionate.  He comes to understand that when people die, they go to the back of the North Wind to a kind of paradise.  This knowledge helps him face his own failing health and impending death without sorrow.

This is a radio play produced for Focus on the Family.  It is performed with full cast, sound effects and an original music sound track.  It is an odd story.  Often the North Wind is portrayed as a menacing character, and even in this story she has to go out at one point and sink a ship.  Half way through the story I still couldn't tell if she was like the White Witch in Narnia, pretending to be kind, all the while ensnaring the boy in her trap.  But no, she really is kind and helps him and others repeatedly throughout the story. MacDonald was a Calvinist minister and the story is dripping with Christian imagery.  I am not sure if I enjoyed it. It felt one party moralistic, one part sentimental, and one part creepy.(2 CD's)


The Boxcar Children: the Beginning by Patricia MacLachlan

Cover image for The Boxcar children beginning : the Aldens of Fair Meadow FarmIt would be hard to find a person my age who hadn't read at least some of The Boxcar Children when they were little.  I loved the first Boxcar Children books when I was a child.  I wanted to go out and live in a boxcar myself, and search through the dump for dishes, and work on a farm to get food.  I was, therefore, very interested when I saw this book on the shelf.  I marveled at the audacity that someone thought they could write a prequel to such an icon of children's literature. Then I saw the author, and thought: Ok, so this might work. MacLachlan is a wonderful author who wrote, Sarah Plain and Tall, one of my favorite Newbery books.

In this story Henry, Jesse, Violet and Benny live with their parents on Fair Meadow farm.  It is the beginning of the Depression, but the family makes do and has enough to spare to be generous to others in need.  During a snow storm, a family shows up at the farm.  They are refugees of the economy, and have lost their home.  They are on their way to a relative's to stay but their car has broken down. They have two children similar in age to the Alden children.  The children all become quick friends as they stay for some time at Fair Meadow, waiting for a car part to arrive. During spring break, the 6 children decide to put on a circus for the neighborhood.  Each of the kids comes up with a part to play.  It is a fun story to read, full of the innocence and ingenuity that makes the original Boxcar Children books such a delight.  MacLachlan does an amazing job of not capturing, not only the characters, but even the writing style of the original books.  Of course the book ends when the Alden children's parents are suddenly killed, and the children decide to run away rather than face becoming wards of the state. So how do you deal with death in a lighthearted book like this?  MacLachlan barely does.  The parents die, the children are sad, and decide to leave, but MacLachlan doesn't really explore the depth of emotions that would accompany such an event.  It reminded me of the scene from the old Disney movie, Bambi.  When the mother dies, the father dear says something like, "Your mother can't be with you any more" Bambi looks sad and turns to follow his father, and that is it.   I think MacLachlan wrote it this way to make the book, like the other in the series, appropriate for very small children who are not ready to understand trauma.  It was an interesting choice, but I think in this case it was the right one. The book isn't about death.  It is about getting to know and understand the way the Alden children came to be the Boxcar Children. (119 p)

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Throne of Fire by Rick Riordan

Cover image for The throne of fireThis is the second in the series that started with The Red Pyramid.  Carter and Sadie Kane are siblings who discovered, in their first adventure, that Egyptian gods are real, and that their family has a long history of being Egyptian magicians.  When this story starts Carter and Sadie are living in a safe house in Brooklyn and training new recruits in the Egyptian magic. They are also trying to figure out a way to bring the god, Ra back to life so that he can battle the giant snake, Apophis, god of chaos.  They team up the a dwarf god, Bes, who can scare away even gods because he is so ugly.  The trio race against the clock to find the three pieces of the scroll of Ra, and then raise him from his millennia-long sleep before Chaos destroys the world. The story is punctuated with Riodan's fun fantasy action scenes and spiced up with a few romantic crushes on the part of both siblings. I think I liked this book better than the first.  I am not as familiar with Egyptian mythology as I am with some others, so as I read the first book I was still getting used to how the gods worked and interacted with each other.  By the time I read the second book, it was all making more sense to me and I was able to sit back and enjoy the story and characters more. (452 p)

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Pendragon: the Merchant of Death by D. J. MacHale

Cover image for The merchant of death14 year old Bobby Pendragon has just enjoyed his first kiss from a girl he had liked since grade school when he is whisked away by his uncle to another world.  This world, named Denduron, is more primitive than Earth, and is on the brink of civil war.  Bobby's uncle, Press, is a "traveler,"--a kind of inter-dimensional do-gooder--and he wants Bobby to be one, too.  Bobby is not at all sure that he wants to be a "traveler" especially when Press gets captured and Bobby is left to fend for himself with a sulky warrior girl as his only aid.  While Bobby is on his adventure, he is able to send back journals to his best friend on Earth via a portal. As tensions rise, Bobby has to decide if he wants to use that same portal to escape his dangerous mission and return home or if he has the courage to save his uncle, and by doing so save all of Denduron.

This book, written in 2002, is the first of ten books in the Pendragon series.  I think the length of the series is one of the reasons I hadn't jumped into it earlier.  It is quite something for me to commit myself to 10 books, each around 400 pages.  I am trying to decide if I will read any more of them.  I liked this book alright, but half way through I was about to give up on it. The story seemed to be dragging, and I didn't really connect with the main character. He is such a whiner in the first half. It also bugged me a little that Pendragon was thrown into this dangerous, volatile situation without any preparation or training. Then he makes mistakes, that aren't his fault because he didn't know any better, and the mistakes almost destroy the world. The ending helped me like the book a little better.  Maybe I will read the second book, and maybe I wont. (374 p)

Friday, August 23, 2013

Zac Power: Poison Island

Zac is your ordinary 12-year-old who has to do his homework and take out the garbage.  He is also a super cool spy kid who uses high tech gadgets and drives top secret high speed vehicles on his missions to save the world.  In each these short intermediate readers (grades 2/3), Zac has 24 hours to stop the bad guy and then get home to do his chores.

I was at the library doing a tedious chore, so I picked up a Zac Power recorded book.  I like to listen to intermediate books in this kind of situation because I can get through a whole book right there in the library.  These stories are so much fun that I ended up listening to another Zac Power the next day, and another the next (it was a long tedious task). They are just like the pretend stories a 68 year old might make up with his action figures.  Zac is so cool, and the ways he finds out of tight situations are not exactly probable, but are fun and creative. For example, in the first book Zac is being chased by piranhas, but he saves himself by feeding them some old chewed-up gum he finds in his pocket.  His villains are comic book stereotypical.  No violence, and no one gets killed. The reader for this series has a lively Austrailian ascent.  I could see little boys just loving this series.
I listened to Poison Island, Deep Waters, and Mind Game. (about 90 p each)
Cover image for Poison islandCover image for Deep watersCover image for Mind games

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Better to Wish by Ann Martin

Cover image for Better to wishIn 1930 Abby's life seems pretty perfect. She lives with her sister and mother near the beach in main. They are not rich, but they are happy in their little cottage.  Then things begin to change. Abby's father gets a great contract for his carpentry business, and it begins to do well.  He moves the family into a big fancy house in town, and they welcome a new baby boy to the family.  Little Fred has developmental problems, and Abby's mother gradually sinks into debilitating depression. As Abby's mother withers and her father becomes more harsh and demanding, Abby steps up and becomes a mother figure to the younger children. The older she gets the more she wonders how long she can be there for her siblings, and endure living under her father's thumb.

Those who were little girls in the 80's and 90's probably read, or heard about the "Babysitter's Club" series. There was a time when we couldn't keep it on the shelf at the library.  While that series was lighthearted and simplistic, this new series by Martin is more melancholy.  It has its light moments, but the overall mood is somber and philosophical. I enjoyed the book because the story rang true to me.  It feels like a story a grandmother would tell of life, seen through the filter of age and wisdom. The thing is, I am not sure the children would appreciate the story. They would be looking at it from the wrong direction: forward instead of back.  No one wants to imagine a future life with so much loss and heartache.(226 p)

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Best of Times by Anita Stanfield

The Best of Times (The Dickens Inn, #1)

Chas is a young and beautiful Mormon widow who lives with her grandmother in a Victorian style bed and breakfast.  One stormy night a handsome middle aged man arrives at the inn.  He says he is looking for peace and quiet, but what he seems most interested in is spending time with Chas.  As they become acquainted, Chas learns that Jackson is on administrative leave from the FBI because he was involved in an incident that lead to another agent's death.  As Chas helps Jackson come to terms with what is going on in his life, and Jackson helps Chas work through unhappy things in her past, they fall deeply in love.

OK, this is not my normal genre, but I am still trying to expand my horizons in reading material.  Anita Stansfield is the most prolific of all LDS romance novelists. Though I haven't read any LDS romance fiction since I read the "Charlie" novels back when I was a teenager, Ms Stanfield's novels are so popular I decided I should read one just to be a well informed member of my social subgroup.  As I started to read the book, there were two things I liked right off.  One is that the main character, though influenced by her attraction, was not dominated by it.  She thought through the situation and made a conscious decision whether she wanted to open her heart to new man in her life.  The other, was that I knew, because of the genre, that there would be no steamy love scenes I would have to skip over.  It was a little awkward reading about Chas (a female) praying over problems, and seeking inspiration for everything, but then I reasoned, that is what I would have done in the same situation.  I must admit that I was quite enjoying the book at the beginning.  It helped me get through much house work with a smile.  But as I read (or listened, since it was a recorded book) on, and Chas and Jackson faced one external challenge after another with love and support for each other, it just got to be too much.  It was like eating an extra bowl of vanilla ice cream--too sweet and too much of the same thing. Still, I am not going to say I would never read a Anita Stansfield book again, but I would have to be in a particular mood to do so. (286 p)

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead

Cover image for Liar & spyI once went to a storytelling conference, and the speaker, (whose name I can't now recall) said that in a really great story, there is an introduction, that sets the scene, and then an initial conflict. Then you add a secondary conflict and start to build intensity.  The intensity grows until, right before the climax, you all of a sudden add a surprise conflict.  All of a sudden the story isn't about what you thought it was about.  All the conflicts come to a climax and resolve, and there is a denouement. That exactly describes the plot of this book.  Georges' initial conflict is that his dad is unemployed and as a result they are moving from a house to an apartment and his mother is working overtime.  Then he meets this kid from his new apartment who claims that he needs to spy on one of the residents.  The story at this point is about how far Georges is willing to go to keep his new friend.  Then, near the end, Stead takes a sudden turn in the plot.  I must admit I didn't see it coming, even though Ms Stead left plenty of clues.  I was too caught up in the initial plot to pay much attention to them.  Ms Stead handled it all pretty well.  The kids' personalities are sympathetic and believable.  The situation is complicated and interesting.  It shows that Ms Stead wasn't just a one-book-wonder with her Newbery winner, When You Reach Me.  She knows how to craft a plot.  (180 p)

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Mercy Watson by Kate DiCamillo

Cover Art for Mercy Watson to the rescue
Cover Art for Mercy Watson goes for a ride Mercy is the darling pig of Mr. and Mrs Watson.  They live next door to Eugenia and Baby Lincoln.  Eugenia does not think pigs should be pets, but Baby (who is not really a baby, just younger than her sister) secretly loves Mercy as much as the Watsons do.  In the first of these two adventures Mercy decides she wants to sleep in Mr. and Mrs Watson's bed.  Her added weight is too much for the old floor and the bed starts to fall down through a widening hole. Mercy is able to escape, and, in her search for a treat from Baby, causes a sequence of events that bring the fire department to rescue the Watsons in the nick of time. In the second adventure Mercy and Mr Watson go on their weekly ride in Mr. Watson's convertible.  Baby Lincoln stows away in the back seat, in search of an adventure.  She gets it when Mercy decides she wants to drive. Baby Lincoln's fast thinking brings them all home safely just in time to share Mrs. Watson's wonderful buttered toast.  These are very simple transition readers.  They are written like short chapter books, but the language is on an easy reader level.  The clearly defined characters, and the gentle conflict between Mercy and Eugenia makes for delightfully funny stories. These would be a great choice for a first grader who likes Clifford but is ready for the next step. (68 p and 72 p.)

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Witch's Guide to Cooking With Children by Keith McGowan

Cover Art for The witch's guide to cooking with children  You have to love the title, and the story is about what is sounds like it is about.  Sol and Connie move into a new house and meet their new neighbor.  Ms Holaderry seems like a kindly old lady, but Sol is puzzled by the fact that her dog seems to be chewing on a human femur bone.  Sol is smart, and Connie is clever, so together they figure out that Ms Holaderry is a witch,  but not just any witch.  She is the witch form "Hanzel and Gretel" fame, who loves to capture and eat children. Now in the 21st century she has modernized.  She agents and convenient drop off locations where parents can leave unwanted and disobedient offspring.  What Connie and Sol do not know is that someone has nominated them to be her next dinner.  This is a wickedly clever modern retelling of the old, and rather dark, fairy tale. It is a great book for kids who liked "A Series of Unfortunate Events" but is not nearly a dark and scary as Coraline. There is plenty of tongue in cheek here, and the reader is never really in doubt that the children will triumph in the end. (180 p.)

Shadowmancer by G.P Taylor

Cover Art for Shadowmancer Thomas is a boy from a medieval coastal village that is dominated by a tyrannical clergyman named Obadiah Demmurral.  When Thomas meets a man from Africa who has come to the village to retrieve a religious artifact stolen from his people by Demmurral, Thomas, and his friend Kate, unwittingly get involved with a plot by Demmural to overthrow the powers of heaven and set himself up as the new god of this world. There are so many necromancy books out there, from all different cultural backgrounds. This one is interesting because it is written from a biblical/Christian background, and G.P Taylor quotes bible passages throughout.  The story is fast paced and intense.  The Christian message is a little heavy handed, but doesn't get in the way, too much, of the action of the plot. Taylor is as interesting a character as any in his book.  In his younger years he was involved with the music industry, got involved with the occult, but then converted to Christianity.  He spent some time as a Vicar, but resigned his position to write full time. This book is firmly a YA book, and not really for kids less than about 14-15, not because of sex, or even really violence, but because of dark and complicated philosophical themes. (275 p.)

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Dodger by Terry Pratchet

Cover Art for Dodger In this book, set in an alternative Victorian London, Dodger is a 17 year-old-street kid who saves a young lady who is being attacked during a rain storm. For the rest of the book Dodger is trying to discover who the girl is and who was trying to kill her.  In the process Dodger meets, and impresses, some famous historical figures from Victorian London, including Charles Dickens, two-time prime minister Benjamin Disraeli, and humanitarian Henry Mayhew.  Pratchet is such a clever and witty writer, and the book is an intelligent look at the of the underbelly of Victorian England through the eyes of a very likable and engaging main character. Those who love Pratchet's Discworld series will find this book a little more mellow than some of those when it comes to Pratchet's signature social satire.  But taken on its own, this is a great story full of wit and wisdom for teens and adults alike. (360 p)

Friday, July 19, 2013

Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to Extra Credit by Tommy Greenwald

Cover Art for Charlie Joe Jackson's guide to extra credit In this second adventure of Charlie Joe, the 6th grader finds himself in trouble with his parents. If he doesn't get his grades up they will send him to a reading summer camp. Charlie Joe decides that the only way to get his grades high enough is to do extra credit.  Of course, when you are asking for extra credit, you have to do whatever the teacher assigns, and his teachers put him in some pretty hilarious situations.  In the end his amazing people skills pull him through. This book is mostly about preteen relationships.  Charlie Joe has to work on his relationships with his teachers, but there is also a lot of relationship drama with his friend group, with pre-adolescent crushes and jealousy.  I really liked the first book in the series Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to Not Reading. I liked this one as well, except for one thing that kind of ruined it for me. Twice in the book, Charlie Joe hits another kid in the groin with first a ball and then an apple.  Of course, the victim doubles over in pain and everyone else laughs.  But in real life, no kid should hit another kid in the groin, and it is not funny.  If someone is trying to hurt you, or kidnap you, sure, go for the groin, but it is no way to deal with someone just because they are being a jerk. In the book, Charlie Joe does suffer consequences because of his action, but not like what would really happen if someone did that in my son's school.  It wouldn't be a reprimand and grade issue, oh no.  The police would be called in and there would be suspension and maybe a trip to juvi court.  So, if you give this book to anyone you care about, make sure they understand how things really work in that respect. (265 p)

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Edenbrooke by Julie Donaldson

Cover Art for Edenbrooke : a proper romance  Marianne Daventry is a younger twin who has always lived in her sister Cecily's shadow. When her mother dies, she is sent to live with her grandmother at Bath, while her socialite sister has her first season in London.  Marianne dislikes the hustle and bustle of Bath and is therefore grateful when her mother's friend invites both Marianne and Cecily to their large estate for a visit.  As soon as she arrives, Marianne strikes up a friendship with her hostess' son,  Philip, without realizing it is the same man Cecily has vowed to capture and marry.  Marianne gives up hope of winning a competition for Philip's attention with her sister, but, after some encouragement from unexpected sources, decides that Philip is worth the fight. Here is another book recommended to me by the helpful librarian in the grown-up section of the library.  It is written by a Utah author and published by a Utah publisher, Shadow Mountain, as part of their "Proper Romances" series.  It is a period romance, after the manner of Jane Austin, complete with ballroom scenes, inheritance, sibling rivalry and a dashing hero. If "The Help" is a four course meal, this book is a cupcake with sprinkles.  There wasn't a lot of substance there, but it sure was fun to eat. I have to admit, I did get a little exasperated when after the 4th or 5th time that Philip declares his undying love to Marianne, she still doubts if he is serious and really likes her, or is just flirting. Still there is much here to like and I would be totally open to reading another in the series. (264 p)

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Cover Art for The help    This is a story about a small town in Mississippi during the early 1960's.  There are a group white women who had been friends in high school and college, who now form the upper crust of a small town society.  One of the women, Eugenia, is not married, but has dreams of becoming a writer. Because of a challenge from a New York publisher and because of fond memories of her family's maid, she decides to interview the black maids of her friends to find out what it is like to work for white women in Mississippi.  As she gradually progresses in her project she comes to realize what a dangerous undertaking it is for those she interviews, and even herself.  She also comes to love and admire the women she interviews and they come to love and admire her.  The chapters are written from the point of view of three people, Eugenia, and two of the maids, Aibileen, and Minny. The writing is wonderful and the characters, fascinating.  They are types that that you instantly recognize and think, "I know someone who is just like that,"  but they are not stereotypes. There are a couple of scenes that are difficult, but not because they are smutty, but because she so poignantly portrays real life.  

     I usually read children's books because I am a children's librarian, but our library is having an adult summer reading program, and I signed up for it.  I figured I would take it as an opportunity to expand my horizons and try some grown-up literature.  I started out with Water for Elephants, but quit it about a quarter in because it had offensive elements.  One of the adult librarians suggested The Help. I knew it had been made into a movie, so I decided to give it a try. I am glad I did.  (451 p.)

Friday, June 28, 2013

Dave at Night by Gail Carson Levine

Cover Art for Dave at night Gail Carson Levine is best known for her princess tales.  Her first was Ella Enchanted, but she has written a dozen more, all of which I enjoyed.  But one of my favorite of her books is not a princess tale.  It isn't even an fantasy.  David at Night is a historical fiction about a Jewish boy who is orphaned at age 11 during the depression.  His step mother and relatives are unable to take him so he is sent to the Hebrew Home for Boys in Harlem.  He isn't at the home long before he learns how to sneak out and explore the streets at night.  He happens upon a kindly older Jewish gentleman who introduces Dave to the wonders of Jazz, and the Harlem Renaissance.  I think that Ms Levine does a wonderful job capturing David's voice.  He is spunky, but a believable 11.  I also like the fact that the African American people in the story are the rich and influential ones and that his relationship with a black girl is completely untainted by racism.  It is easy to get tired of reading about oppressed peoples. The book was inspired by the experience of Ms. Levine's own father who was put in an orphanage as a child, and was unwilling to talk about it throughout the rest of his life. After his death, Ms Levine researched the orphanage where her father had lived, and also the time period and culture of the area. I first read Dave at Night years ago when it was first published about 10 years ago, but I was happy to go revisit it again.  It was interesting to compare it to The Little Rock Lions, and also The Help which I am still reading (281 p)

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Steel Trapp: The Challenge by Ridley Pearson

Cover Art for Steel Trapp : the challenge Steven (nick named Steel) Trapp is on his way to the national science challenge hoping to win a medal for his amazing sniffing robot. Steel has photographic memory and that is why he remembers a woman who had left her carry-on on the train.  When he tries to return the bag to her, and she denies that it is hers, he unwittingly gets involved with a terrorist plot.  He, and another National Science Challenge contestant, a girl named Kaileigh he meets on the train, put their amazing brains, and science challenge inventions, to the task of unraveling the mystery.  This is a light, fun and fast paced action adventure that will appeal to nerdy kids of either gender.  My only problem with it is that the kids, who are supposed to be 14, act more like they are 11 or 12. They have no romantic interest in each other, and don't mention the awkwardness that would have occurred if 14-year-olds of different genders would have been thrown together as they were. I would bet the editors made Pearson change their age.  The rule of thumb in the editing world is that the main characters are supposed to be 2 years older than the target audience, and this book is definitely targeting pre-teens rather than teens. (324 p)

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine

Cover Art for The lions of Little Rock Marlee is so quiet, she only talks to a few people in her family, and one friend.  Then a new girl comes to her class, and asks Marlee to be her partner on a history project.  Liz is self confident and smart, and soon she begins to work with Marlee to help her overcome her shyness.  Then one day Liz doesn't come  to class, and Marlee discovers that Liz is really an African American, posing as a white girl so she could go to a better school.  Although Central High School had technically been integrated with the "Little Rock 9" had attended the year before, the grade schools were not integrated, and it was illegal, even dangerous, for Liz to attend school there.  As Liz and Marlee try to secretly continue their friendship, racial tensions rise, as one high school after another shut down to prevent integration. Marlee has to decide if she is brave enough to speak up and make a change in her own community.

There are a lot of novels out there that present the integration struggles in the 50's.  This one is interesting because it deals with the aftermath of the first attempts to integrate, and shows that things did not change overnight. I was interested to see what kind of ending Levine would have for the story, and was gratified to find that she chose the realistic conclusion, rather than the idealistic one.  The story is carefully researched and I think Levine does a good job of showing the emotions, attitudes and motivations behind the historical events.  (298 p)

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Tall Story by Candy Gourlay

Cover Art for Tall story Andi has only seen her half brother, Bernardo, once, when she was 4 and he was 6, because he lives in the Philippines and her parents have struggled to get his immigration papers.  Her parents are therefore excited when his papers go through and they are able to send for him to come and live with them in London.  When Bernardo comes off the plane Andi is astonished to find out that he is 8 feet tall.  The story is told from both Andi and Bernardo's point of view in alternating chapters.  Bernardo suffers from gigantism, but he was never treated because in his village there was a legend of a giant named Bernardo who saved the village from earthquakes.  When Bernardo (the boy) begins to get tall, those in the village believe he is the reincarnation of the legendary Bernardo. He has longed to join his mother all his life, but when his papers go through the villagers beg him not to go for fear that his departure will bring on an earthquake.  Although the book touches on a lot of serious issues surrounding gigantism, friendship, and family, Gourlay doesn't gets too heavy.  It is certainly a book for children and the reader is never really in doubt of a happy ending.  (295 p)

Friday, May 24, 2013

Hawksmaid by Kathryn Lasky

I am on vacation this week, and believe it or not, I, the librarian, forgot to check out a book to read on my trip.  So at the last minute I grabbed one off of my shelf at home.  It is an ARC (advanced reader copy) that I received years ago, but never read.  I hadn't read it because I am not a huge fan of Kathryn Lasky.  She is a writer that children love, but adults, not so much.  Her books lack...I don't know...sophistication, if that makes sense. That said, I enjoyed this book.  It is a "popcorn-and-peanuts" kind of read, and a good kind of "not so deep" story for a week on vacation.
Cover Art for Hawksmaid : the untold story of Robin Hood and Maid Marian
     Matty is the daughter of a wealthy baron.  Her mother is trying to make her into a lady, but she prefers spending time with her father and his beautiful hawks.  Then one day Prince John's men attack her home, steeling all their fortune and killing Matty's mother.  Now motherless and penniless  Matty spends more and more time with the hawks, and with the rag tag team of urchin boys from the village.  The book covers a span of several years, and the reader is able to see Matty, and her best friend, Robert, grow into the famous Maid Marian and Robin Hood.  As Matty grows, her connection to her birds becomes deeper and then uncanny.  In the end Matty and the birds must work as one to save the kingdom and free the captive King Richard. 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Words in the Dust by Trent Reedy

Cover Art for Words in the dust Zulaikha is a 13 year old girl living in a remote village in Afghanistan. She was born with a cleft lip and has endured stares and taunting from those outside her family all her life.  Her kind and beautiful older sister is her primary emotional support, and Zulaikha is both happy, and sad when she hears that her father has arranged a marriage for Zeyneb. When the Americans come into her village, they offer to perform an operation to repair Zulaikha's cleft lip for free, but she must travel to Kandahar to the American base hospital to have the procedure.  While Zulaikha prepares for her life changing operation, Zeyneb prepares for her impending marriage, and both girls courageously face their uncertain future.

I was more caught up in this book than I have been in any book for a long time.  This is Mr. Reedy's first novel, but the writing is amazing.  I don't know how an American man could create such a believable Afghan girl character.  There in is my struggle with the book. The character of Zulaikha is based on a girl Mr. Reedy met while serving in the military providing humanitarian aide in Afghanistan in the early 2000's.  He lived in the country for a year, and worked closely with the native people there.  Still, all during the story I wondered how authentic the characters were.  Is the way Zulaikha and Zeyneb think really how Afghan women would have thought, or does he, unintentionally, place western ideals in the characters minds?  He doesn't overtly do so. The character's view of Americans is in no way idealized and his Afghan characters don't obviously fall into cultural stereotypes.  There is a long author's note at the end in which Reedy confesses to exactly the same reservations as I felt, but he defends his decision to write the book on the idea that someone ought to write Afghan girls' stories because they cannot write them themselves.  It is estimated that between 80-90 percent of Afghan women and girls are illiterate.

I am very conflicted about this book,  but I really enjoyed it as well, so you will have to read it yourself and decide what you think.  Be warned there is a one passage that contains rather graphic violence, and a few surrounding Zeyneb's wedding, that are a little mature in content, so I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone under 13.  (226 p.)

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Starry River of the Sky by Grace Lin

Cover Art for Starry River of the Sky Rendi has run away from home and stowed away in the cart of a wine seller.  He is discovered when he cart owner stops to sell wine to an innkeeper in the Village of Clear Sky.  The kindly innkeeper takes the boy on to help him and his young daughter run the inn in the absence of the keeper's son, who has gone missing.  The son is not the only thing missing.  The moon seems to be missing from sky above Village of Clear Sky, as is the rain.  At night Rendi can hear the sky weeping but no one else seems to hear it until one day a beautiful older woman arrives to stay in the inn.  She tells wonderful stories of the beings that live in the moon, the lake and the mountain.  As time passes Rendi comes to suspect that the woman is more than she seems, and her stories are not just idle fairy tales.

Grace Lin is a master storyteller.  She weaves all the elements of her story into an amazing lace-work of connections and meaning.  At the same time she creates interesting and complex characters who have fully realized personalities.  This book takes place in the same world as her Newbery Honor book, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, but you do not need to read one before you read the other.  Both books are loosely based on Asian mythology and are a great introduction to that topic. (288  p)

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Eleven by Patricia Reilly Giff

Cover Art for Eleven Patricia Reilly Giff is one of those dependable authors.  She has a Newbery winner and two Newbery Honor books but has written dozens of other books for children that always find a following. The children in her books feel authentic, doing and accomplishing things that are age appropriate. This book is less intense and less depressing than her award winner, Pictures of Hollis Wood, but has a similar premise: a child that has a learning disability, who also has an extraordinary talent that makes up for it. We hope that whenever there is a child with a disability, there is some insightful and caring adult to help them recognize the amazing ability they have that will help them get through life.

Sam finds a newspaper clipping in the attic that has a picture of him as a baby which sparks his curiosity.  The only problem is, he is severely dyslectic and cannot read, so he much enlist the aid of the new girl in class to help him decipher it. Caroline is quirky and a loner, but she can't resist the mystery behind Sam's early childhood.  Why does the newspaper clipping say that he had a different last name and was lost on the river? Is Sam's grandfather really his grandfather?  As Sam and Caroline unravel the mystery together, they build a friendship that they both hope will last beyond Caroline's eminent move.

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Infinity Ring: A Mutiny in Time by James Dashner

Cover Art for A mutiny in time James Dashner is a pretty hot children's author right now.  His series, Fable Haven, 13th Reality and The Maze Runner have all been big successes. I am embarrassed to admit I haven't read any of them.  So this is my first introduction to Dashner and it was a pretty decent book.  In it, two children, Dak and Sera, are both geniuses who live in an alternate near future reality.  Their world is beset by natural disasters and social unrest. Dak's parents are scientists and one day he and Sera sneak into their lab where they find the nearly completed "Infinity Ring".  Being a genius, Sera quickly finds a way to complete the device which allows its user to travel in time.  Very soon they are whisked away to a secret organization of Historians, who inform them that they must travel back in time and fix a few historical errors, to save the present world from imminent destruction. Time travel is a tricky business to write, and Dashner doesn't quite get all the wrinkles ironed out of it.  For example, when the enemy attacks the secret base, they jump back in time and escape to the time of ancient Egypt.  Why didn't they just jump back 2 days, and warn the people at the compound of their impending danger so they could prevent it?  Most authors would explain that this was a problem, because if they met themselves on different time streams, it would cause of fissure in time space, or something, but Dashner doesn't even address the issue.  Later they are on a the Santa Maria, about to be executed by mutineers, but it doesn't seem to occur to them that they are not in real danger, because they could just escape using the device at any time.I didn't fact check to see if the portrayal of the historical time Dashner depicts is correct, and the book didn't have an addendum that explains which facts are true and which are fictional.  It is a book that most kids would enjoy, but an intelligent 6th grader will see through the plot holes. (190 p.)

Saturday, May 4, 2013

A Fine White Dust by Cynthia Rylant

Cover Art for A fine white dustCynthia Rylant is an amazing writer, and this book has an interesting and unique premise.  Thirteen-year-old Pete is committed Christian and avid church goer and feels sad that his parents and his atheist best friend don't share his religious zeal.  Then a young revivalist preacher comes to town and Pete is swept up in religious evangelical fervor.  When the preacher invites Pete to run away from home and join him on the preaching circuit, Pete feels that he has received his calling from God. The short book focuses on Pete's internal struggle, as he considers and then anticipates leaving his home and family for God. Rylant does an amazing job of creating a believable young protagonist, showing sympathetically his deep religious feelings, but also his youth and naivety.  This is an older book, first published in the 1980's, but I am glad I stumbled across it.  (106 p)

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Emperor of Nihon-Ja (Ranger's Apprentice book 10) by John Flanagan

Cover Art for The emperor of Nihon-Ja I am almost embarrassed to admit that I have read 10 books in this series.  (Actually, I think I missed book 9).  Anyway, after spending so much time with the same characters they almost seem like friends.  This book was like all the others.  Will and his friend and mentor, Halt, go on a perilous journey to a strange land, this time to help their friend, Horace who is helping the Nihon-Ja emperor put down a revolution.  The book says it is the "Final Battle"  and Flanagan includes all our favorite characters from previous books for a kind of "curtain call."  It was a fun book, and I enjoyed the incorporation of some Japanese language and culture elements.  It was, I think, a little more blood thirsty than the earlier books.  I remember in the first few books, Will and Halt would always try to disable opponents without killing them.  There were no such qualms in this book.  The body count was pretty high, and the main characters didn't seem at all bothered about it. Still, it has the action, adventure, and clever battle tactics that readers have come to expect from the series, plus some satisfying advancements in some of the romantic interests begun in earlier episodes. If  the series really does end here, I am totally OK with it, but if there is another book, I will probably read it. (438 p.)

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Spindlers by Lauren Oliver

Cover Art for The spindlers This was a better than average little fantasy.  Liza wakes up one morning to find that her little brother, Patrick, is not right. She suspects that the Spindlers, spider-like creatures from the land below, have stolen his soul. Courageously she arms herself with a broom, goes through the hole behind the water heater and enters the mysterious world below. She meets a rat, named Mirabella, and together they have all kinds of Alice in Wonderland like adventures.  Oliver has created an interesting fantasy world with gentle nudges at philosophy and meaning at every turn.   She is pretty good at characterization, and I enjoyed how she depicted the body language of the characters.  An inexperienced author with fall back on cliche references to body language, "she bit her lip" or "He clenched his fists" but this author found subtler ways of expressing the character's emotions through their gestures.  The ending of the book was satisfying, but she left the door open for a sequel, and if it comes out I would certainly be willing to give it a look. (246 p)