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.)