Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Ha can here the bombs exploding from her home in Vietnam.  As the fighting heats up, Ha's family gets the opportunity to leave on a refugee ship.  This honest narrative follows Ha's journey from the refugee ship to a refugee camp in Florida, to a home in Georgia.  She tells of her struggles to learn English and the teasing from the other children at her school.  The story is written in fluid free verse.  I listened to the recorded version of the book, and the reader did a good job making the story sound natural, not like a group of poems.  A note at the end explains that many of the experiences recounted in the book are autobiographical.  Ms. Lai, herself came to America as a refugee in the 1970's.  This book is very well written, and because it is written in verse, it is a fast read.  I am not surprised that it won a bunch of awards in 2012, including a Newbery Honor and a National Book Award. This would be a great book for a mother/daughter book club, or a school reading circle. (262 p)

Monday, May 26, 2014

13 Gifts by Wendy Mass

Cover image for 13 giftsTara hasn't really every had any good friends because her family has moved frequently.  In an attempt to fit in with the popular girls, she pulls a prank at school and is expelled.  Her parents decide that she should spend the summer with her cousins in the small town where her parents grew up while they go and do research abroad.  As soon as Tara arrives in Willow Falls, she is quickly accepted in a group a good kids, and for the first time starts to learn what is means to have friends. But things are not what they seem in the small, close-knit town.  Tara falls afoul of the local mysterious eccentric.  The woman gives Tara a list of things she must find, but as she and her new friends throw themselves into the task, Tara begins to discover things about her past, and her parents, that she never expected.

I must admit that I almost gave up on this one half way through this book.  There were so many odd and random things.  It just seemed strange that two characters, who were best friends, could only communicate by writing on chalk boards, and another was randomly the girl friend of a movie star.  Then, when I went to write this review, I looked at the catalog entry for the book to find out how many pages it had, and realized this is the third in a series. The first is about the two kids who didn't talk to each other, and the second is about the girl who falls for the movie star.  At least this is the first book about Tara, so it kind of stands alone.  There were things I liked about the book.  I liked that the kids were all really nice to each other.  There were no mean girls or bullies.  That was refreshing. Now I get to decide if I am going to go back and read the first two.   (341 p)

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Spirit Animals: Hunted by Maggie Stiefvater

In this second adventure in the "Spirit Animal" series, the four children and their spirit animals go in search of a second talisman.  This one belongs to a wild boar but finding the boar is the least of the children's problems.  Political tensions are heating up in Erdas, and some towns have gone over to the side of those who want to rebel against the green cloaks.  Sometimes the children are welcomed as heroes, and other times they are detained as captives.  The pressures from without only exacerbate their own personal struggles with their past and future.

The Spirit Animals series is written by a group of authors. I was afraid that the characterizations in this second book would be different than the first because it was written by a younger woman instead of a middle aged man.  But Stiefvater does a good job of continuing the voice of each of the children established in the first book.  It will be interesting to read Garth Nix's continuation of the story. (185 p)
Selfie of me at the Spirit Animal
 author event at my library.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer

Cover image for The grand SophyI mentioned to someone that I had enjoyed Edenbrooke and they recommended this book  and author. This, like Edenbrooke, is a squeaky clean period romance. The quiet home of Lady Ombersley is turned upside down when her niece comes to stay.  Sophy has been raised abroad by her widower father, and lacks some of the social restraint of her reserved aristocratic cousins. Soon Sophy (who is also amazingly rich) is arranging huge balls, buying fast carriages, and threatening to upset both her male and female cousins' wedding plans.  But it is all in good fun and Sophy has everyone's best interests at heart.

This was quick and delightful read.  Sophy is a charming character, and the other characters are varied and well drawn. There are several very funny scenes where Sophy gets away with all manner of improprieties just by force of charisma. Heyer's language and use of 19th century British slang is fun and feels more authentic than in the other series. I will certainly be open to reading more books by this author. (372 p)

The Secrets of Alchemist Dar by Michael Stadther

I received this as an audio book donation to the library.  I started to listen to it and realized it is the second in a series. I decided to listen to it anyway.  The first of the series, The Treasure Trove was a bit of a sensation.  The author put clues in the book that lead readers to real tokens that could be turned in for jewels representing characters from the book.  This was a big enough hit that the jewels were displayed at the Carnegie Museum in 2004.  The second book didn't do as well.  In this book there were clues to real gold rings hidden around the country.  When the book flopped the publisher went ahead and sold the rings to try to recoup his losses.

You might guess with all the gimmick, that the book itself might not have that much literary value.  You would be right.  The story was OK, but a bit sticky sweet.  There is a man who is married to a half-ling wife.  Her life is threatened by an evil sorcerer who wants to kill all good fairies and steel the magic charms that give them eternal life.  Of course the young man is able, with the help of his fairy and forest friends, to thwart the wicked plot.  None of the characters have any real dimension.  They are all just cute cut-outs of characters, dancing through the plot like stick puppets.  A very small child might like the book,  but it didn't have enough to it that I was willing to keep it for the library, especially since we didn't already have the first in the series. (144 p)

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Spirit Animals: Wild Born by Brandon Mull

Cover image for Wild born Four children, each 11 years old, are bonded with four of the great spirit beasts.  Each child is from a different part of the world, and from varying social status and culture.  Despite their differences they must learn to work together, and with each of their spirit animals, if they want to save their world from The Devourer.

This week at our library we had a visit from the authors of the Spirit Animal series.  Brandon Mull, Garth Nix, Sean Williams and Maggie Steifvater were promoting the third book in the series.  I decided I wanted to read at least a little of the series before the event.  I hadn't read them before because I haven't been a huge fan of Brandon Mull.  I tried to read The Candy Shop War and couldn't get through it.  This one, however, I enjoyed and I am half way through the second. Ok, so there is nothing really new here, but the characters are interesting, and their individual struggles to learn to work together makes for a fun and compelling story.  This is a good one for kids who liked Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, and are ready for something a little different.  (202 p)