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)