Wednesday, January 16, 2013

No Passengers Beyond this Point by Gennifer Choldenko

This book starts out sounding like any of a number of social issues books.  A divorced mother abruptly informs her three children that they are losing the house to foreclosure.  The the mother has arranged for the kids to live with their uncle while she finishes the school year as a teacher and tries to arrange for a new living situation.  The kids--India, a self absorbed teenage girl, Finn, an anxious preteen boy, and  Mouse, astute little girl with an imaginary friend--each respond to the trauma in a different way.  Once they get on the plane to fly to their uncle's house in Colorado, the whole story kind of goes topsy-turvy.  They end up in a strange, surreal, place called Bird City. At first it seems like the ideal home that they never had, but, of course, they each discover, some sooner than others, that it is not a place they want to stay.  The story gets stranger and stranger as it goes along, and the ending is very trippy.  The whole book reminded me of the crazy dreams/hallucinations, I have when I faint (I am, unfortunately, an occasional fainter.) Needless to say, this book was a disappointment.  I really liked Choldenko's book Al Capone Does My Shirts.  The characters in that book were vivid and believable.  In this book, Choldenko gets so caught up in the crazy story line that the characters turn out flat and unsympathetic.  Also, the plot has too many loose threads.  The reader never finds out what connection most of the trippy part of the story has to the reality part of the story.  Who and what is Sparky?  What is the little wrist screen and what are all the different clocks about?  We never find out.  (244 p)

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The False Prince by Jennifer Nielson

TheFalsePrince_largeSage is living in an orphanage when a nobleman, Conner,  buys his freedom and takes him, and two other orphan boys to his posh estate.  They boys soon discover that the king and crown prince of Carthya are dead, and that Conner plans to train all of the boys to impersonate the younger prince and only remaining heir to the Carthyan thrown who was lost in a ship wreck four years earlier. Then he will help the best contender to seize the thrown and avert civil war. Conner has made it clear that the two boys who are not chosen will be killed to keep the false prince's identity secret.  Sage and the other two boys enter into a deadly competition to win Conner's confidence and approval. As the intense training progresses, Sage begins to realize that Conner's motivations are far from purely patriotic.  Sage must plan carefully to gain the thrown, save the other's lives, and expose Conner for the murderous traitor that he is. This is a pretty decent medieval intrigue novel. Sage is a likable character, reminiscent of Jen from Turner's The Thief with his propensity for sneaking around at night and stealing things from other character's pockets.  The interplay between the three orphan boys is interesting, and Conner is a complex antagonist. The ending will be no surprise for any astute reader, but it is fun and satisfying none the less.  Nielson is another Utah author who is doing quite well nationally, and The False Prince is optioned for a movie.  (342 p)

Ghost Knight by Cornelia Funke

Here is another from Cornelia Funke.  I liked it better than Reckless and it was a better translation.  This book reminds me of Funke's first big hit, The Thief Lord, kids banding together so solve a supernatural mystery, and building strong friendships in the process. Jon's mother has a new boyfriend, a bearded dentist, and Jon hates him.  Jon causes so much trouble, that finally his mom decides to send him to a boarding school so that he and the family can have a respite from the conflict.  Jon is not at the school long before he is visited by a ghost who is bent on reeking vengeance on him because of something his great-great-grandfather did. Jon needs help, and he finds is in the form of a girl named Ella, who is familiar with the ghost society of the town, and her eccentric grandmother, Zelda. Together they enlist the aid of a ghost knight who has sworn to help the helpless in order to pay a moral debt to society.  I am not a great fan of ghost stories, but this one has just the right amount of spookiness and mystery.  The characters of Jon, Zelda, and Ella are all well drawn and there is great chemistry between them.  Funke throws in some nice plot twists, that keeps the story from being too predictable.  This is a good spooky read for kids who like creepy, but not too creepy.  (330 p.)

Friday, January 4, 2013

The Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan

The seven of the Prophecy are finally assembled, but their biggest test is yet to come.  First they must make it to Rome, and once there, they must stop the Giants from destroying the city, and waking Gaia.  I am a big Rick Riordan fan. I have enjoyed the Percy Jackson series quite a bit.  Not only is Riordan one of the best fantasy action writers for children right now, I love how he takes stories from mythology and jazzes them up for a new generation.  This is the latest in the Percy Jackson series, and to be honest, it is very much like his others. Same kind of battles with monsters, same kind of interpersonal relations between demigods. I thought it was interesting to see the tension between Jason and Percy, the two alpha males.  More often than not, they kind of canceled each other out, and it was the girls who ended up making all the important decisions.  It is just fun and light.  I thought, when I started the book, that is was the last in the series, but it isn't.  So we will wait, and read the next one, (last one?) when it comes. (586 p)

And yes, this is a picture of me (far left) with Mr. Riordan.  (ching!)