Sunday, March 30, 2014

Mister Max: The Book of Lost Things by Cynthia Voigt

Cover image for The book of lost thingsThis is an interesting new series by Newbery author Cynthia Voigt.  13-year-old Max is the son of two actors who own their own acting company.  One day a letter comes in the mail inviting Max's parents to come to India to perform for the Sultan of Cashmere.  Max's parents can't resist the chance to perform for royalty, but on the day they are to leave, Max "accidentally" gets left behind.  He goes to live with his grandmother, but is determined to become independent.  To support himself he picks up odd jobs and soon discovers he is very good at finding lost things and figuring out mysteries.  He uses his parent's costumes to play different roles during his investigations.  He is successful at solving every mystery, except the one about his missing parents.

This book is full of eccentric characters drawn with bold strokes.  Even the minor characters are vivid and interesting.  The story is interesting as well, but a little disjointed and the pacing tends to be slow. There are several mysteries that Max works on and I kept expecting them to all tie together.  Some of them do, but others are just left hanging out there.  The book is obviously the first in a series and it will be interesting to see if Ms Voigt will gather up the loose threads in the next book.  (367 p)

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Blackmoore by Julianne Donaldson

Blackmoore_cover_final_6-25-13Kate has vowed that she will never marry, despite her mother's insistence that she make a good match.  Finally she makes a bargain with her mother, that if Kate can get and refuse three proposals in one summer,  her mother will stop bothering her about courtship.  Kate is to spend the summer at the estate of her two dearest childhood friends, Henry and Victoria. She is not there long before she realizes her friendship with each of them has changed with age, and she begins to understand that keeping her bargain with her mother may cost her more than she can bare.

This is another in Shadow Mountain's "A Proper Romance" series.  These are shamelessly silly historical romances with all the expected stereotypes; the headstrong heroine, the dashing love interest, the complicated family relationships, and the vast and beautiful English estate.  Yes, they have all the bases covered, and I am embarrassed how much I enjoyed reading this book this week. I was under a great deal of stress and needed something mindless to provide an engrossing escape. The nice thing about the series is that the book in it are free from anything explicit--the series is touted as "G rated" on the Deseret Book website--so I  could be engrossed without much guilt.  (320p)

Monday, March 17, 2014

Peter Nimble and his Fantastic Eyes by Jonathan Auxier

Cover image for Peter Nimble and his fantastic eyes : a storyPeter Nimble is found, as an infant, floating in a basket with his eyes pecked out.  He grows up on the streets of a fishing village, and learns to be an excellent thief as a way to survive.  His life takes a dramatic turn when he meets a man selling hats, and steals from him a box will three sets of imitation eyes.  The eyes are magical, and they lead him on a quest to save a vanished kingdom from a ruthless tyrant.

Sound strange?  Yes it is.  This is a very fanciful fantasy full of larger than life characters.  The writing has a wry kind of humor that invites the reader to join into the joke. I liked Peter and his friends, but I was bothered, again, by the level of violence.  So many people/characters get killed.  At least in this book, none of the main characters are ruthless killers, and the degree of detail describing the deaths is much lower than in the previous book, but there is still a disturbingly large body count by the end.  Maybe it doesn't bother other people. Maybe I am just getting old. (381 p)

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Wings of Fire: the Dragonet Prophecy by Tui T. Sutherland

Cover image for The dragonet prophecyThis book starts out like a typical cutesie dragon story.  There are five little dragons representing different elements; a shadow dragon, and water dragon, a sky dragon etc.  They are young, but a prophecy has predicted that they will end a long standing war between their different tribes. For their own safety, they are raised in hiding, but one day they decide to escape and see the world outside.  That is when the story takes a grim turn.  I kind of got the first clue when the first humanoid you meet in the story gets its head bitten off.  From then on the book becomes over-the-top violent.  The dragonets are captured and enlisted in gladiatorial games. One of the dragons shies away from killing his opponent, but another of the cute little dragons snaps her opponent's neck. The startling thing is that some of the dragons, even the young ones, are so callused about killing. Later they come across a battlefield, and the description of the scattered corpses would be rated "R' if they were describing humans instead of dragons.  I really can't recommend this book to anyone within the target age group.  The ladies at the library say it is circulating well.  Sad. (304 p)

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Little Britches by Ralph Moody

Cover image for Little Britches : father and I were ranchersWhen Ralph is 8 years old, his family moves from New Hampshire to Colorado.  The year is 1906 and they move because Ralph's dad has been suffering from lung problems from working in the woolen mills.  When they arrived at their new "ranch" there isn't much there; just a few rundown buildings.  Over the next few years, with a lot of hard work and help from kind neighbors, they make the ranch turn a decent profit. Ralph has the time of his life, learning to ride, shoot and swear with the best of the cowboys.  But on a ranch, one bad year can bring everything to the brink of disaster. When the disaster comes, Ralph knows it is time for him to take his place in the world of men.

This is a great coming of age story.  The best thing about it is that it is a biography, rather than a fictional story.  Ralph's descriptions of his life on the range and the colorful people he meets is just as engaging and endearing as the Little House on the Prairie books.  It is better suited to boys than girls, and it has a fair bit of swearing in a couple of the chapters: but it is authentic swearing, not gratuitous. I read it aloud to my family, and just "modified" some of the language.  Originally written in 1950, it is truly a great children's classic that shows a genuine slice of life from early 20th century western America. (260 p)