Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Planet Middle School by Nikki Grimes

Cover image for Planet Middle School
This is a typical "dealing with the changes that comes with hitting puberty" book.  Joylin is a lady jock, and her favorite thing to to with her best friend, Jake, is to shoot hoops.  Then suddenly her attention keeps getting captured by a cute boy.  She makes her first attempts at makeup and wearing a skirt.  Her period starts and Jake gets a crush on her other best friend (who is a female). She gets through it all with only a few painfully awkward moments.  The interesting thing about this is the writing style.  The chapters are all very short and the language is minimalistic and snappy.  It was clearly written for a different group than the wordy fantasy novels.  I actually think it is a book that a reluctant reader lady jock would be willing to pick up and read.  I think Ms Grimes hit her target audience right on. 154 p.

Can you tell that I am trying to read a larger variety than usual?  It is because I am at the reference desk a lot now and I find I am only good a recommending some kinds of books.  So I am trying to improve my potential for service by trying new kinds of books.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Imagine a Dragon by Laurence Pringle

Cover image for Imagine a dragonThis is a short but interesting nonfiction picture book about how different cultures view dragons.  Western dragons are ferocious and destructive, while dragons imagined in the Asian areas are often wise and mysterious.  Pringle recounts some of the most famous dragon stories like St George and the Dragon.  The author makes conjectures about how the idea of dragons might have been started.  The book is illustrated with bright artwork of different dragons.  This is a good one to check out, and sit on the coffee table.  By the end of the week everyone in the house will have read it.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Punished! by David Lubar

Cover image for PunishedThis is a silly little book that is a lot of fun to read.  Logan and his friend, Benedict, are in the library, and forgetting their library manners, Logan runs (literally) into an old reference librarian.  The old man gives Logan a curse that makes him say puns all the time.  The "pun-ishment" gets him into trouble at home and school, so the librarian gives him a way to break the curse by finding seven oxymorons, seven anagrams, and seven palindromes. When Logan, with the help of Benendict,  is finally successful the curse is lifted.  There isn't really any character development and the plot is pretty predictable, but I couldn't help but be impressed with the volume of puns Lubar comes up with. Whenever Logan says more than three words in a row, Lubar has to slip in pun. The other kinds of words Logan has to find are pretty clever, too. If nothing else, by the time the reader is done, they know the definition of oxymoron, anagram, and palindrome. (96 p) 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Warrior Heir by Cinda Williams Chima

Cover image for The warrior heirJack is an average teenager until one day he forgets to take the medicine prescribed since he was a baby. Then suddenly he discovers he has unusual power and physical ability. He soon learns that he is a wizard and his medicine has suppressed his powers so other evil wizards could not detect him.  He is pressured into becoming a warrior and undergoes warrior training.  In the end he has to face another young warrior and together they change the wizarding world forever.

I chose this book because Ms Chima had visited our library to do a book launch, and I always felt bad that I had not read any of her books. It is a decent YA fantasy, with good character development and fast plot pacing.  The story was a little predictable, but most fantasy is.  It is appropriate for early teens, and the only thing that makes it not appropriate for younger readers is a few scenes of violence. I don't know if I will read the others in the series. Because this was the author's first series the publisher made sure she had a satisfying ending in case they decided not to publish the others in the trilogy. Only established authors get to have cliffhangers. (426 p)

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Bright Shadow by Avi

Here is another book by Avi.  In this fantasy, Morwenna is a servant in the castle of an evil king.  When Morwenna is given 5 wishes by a dying wizard, she flees the castle and goes into the country with her best friend Swen. By an unforeseen series of events, Swen comes to believe that he has the wishes and is the new wizard. Working from the background, Morwenna has to decide how best to use her wishes to help Swen rally the people to overthrow the evil king.  I didn't like this one as well as the City of Orphans.  There was not as much depth to the characters, and neither Swen or Morwenna was particularly endearing. Avi hammered a little bit too hard at the moral/ethical dilemma surrounding the wishes.  Veteran fantasy readers have strong opinions about what they would do with wishes, but a less experienced fantasy consumer might appreciate Avi's frank approach to the topic. (167 p)

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

City of Orphans by Avi

Cover image for City of orphansMaks is a young immigrant boy living in New York at the end of the 19th century.  To help support his family, he sells newspapers every afternoon.  One day a group of thugs tries to steal his money from his papers, but he is saved by a homeless girl with a big stick. The two children become friends, and together they help stop the gang who is harassing the newsies, and solve a mystery concerning Maks' sister.

Avi is a dependable writer.  He has written so many books, and they are all pretty good. He did a fair amount of historical research for this one.  He describes the conditions in immigrant New York in vivid detail, contrasting it with the opulence of the newly opened Waldorf hotel. He writes the story first person, and employs period appropriate slang and dialect.  That could be annoying to some, but it is a another part of the historical setting and worked OK for me. The mystery part of the story is not very complicated, but adds a good impetus to keep the plot moving forward.  Over all this is a pretty good choice for kids, boy or girls, who either like historical fiction or have to read a historical fiction book for an assignment. (350 p)

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel

Cover image for The Boundless
William Everett's father works on the Canadian Transcontinental Rail Road and William happens to be in the right place at the right time so he is able to be the one to nail in the last spike.  Three years later William's father has risen to the position of head engineer on a new super train, the Boundless, and William gets to be on the maiden voyage.  William gets tangled up with a group of thieves that are trying to rob the train and finds himself at the very end of the 7 mile long, 6000 car train in the caboose car.  The rest of the book, he is making his way toward the the front of the train, trying to evade the cutthroat thieves that are trying to stop him and get the key to the treasure car that he happens to have in his pocket. Along the way William seeks help from a group of circus performers, including a lovely and talented young tight rope walker, and the mysterious circus owner Mr. Dorian.

Everything in this book is larger than life.  The train is longer, taller, and more amazing than any train in real life. The circus performers are more skilled and magical than any could be.  Creatures from Canadian folklore are real in this book, including the Sasquatch, the bog hag and others. Even the Canadian landscape, though based in real places and geological formations, is super sized and fantastical.  There is a theme running through the book of what is real, and what is not.  Several times the main character discovers that things he thought were folk tales are real, so that by the end he, and the reader, are not sure what to believe or not believe. The plot is tightly crafted, and the characters are interesting and complex.  It is action packed and unpredictable.  There was quite a bit of fighting but very little death, "on screen".  People get thrown off the train, and the reader doesn't know if they died or not, for example.  I was a little disappointed at the end, therefore, when someone gets their head pulled off by a Sasquatch.  I didn't think that was necessary. Overall, I really enjoyed the book and recommend it to those who like action/adventure. (332 p)