Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Nerdy Dozen by Jeff Miller

Cover image for The nerdy dozenNeil is the typical super gamer; nerdy, wimpy, and socially unskilled, but awesome at any game.  He is battling for the top score on the flight simulator computer game Chameleon when he is kidnapped by the US Air Force.  It turns out that the Chameleon game is based on a real top secret airplane and the Air Force has recruited 12 kids who are the best at the game to go on a secret mission flying the real thing. The twelve include all the stereotypes of nerdy kids.  There is the one who does medieval reenactments and speaks in old English.  There is another who wheres a superhero costume under his clothes, etc.  The twelve team up to keep top secret military technology out of the hands of an evil computer game creator. 

Of course, for those of us who are old enough to remember, this is strongly reminiscent of the 1984 movie, The Last Starfighter.  The difference is that the stakes are a lot lower in this story.  There is no "the fate of millions lies in your hands" idea going on here.  This is fun adventure fluff--a wish fulfillment story for kids who spend all of there time inside playing computer games.  It is the author's first book, and the writing style has some room for improvement.  Several times during the story I lost track of what was happening because the action sequencing isn't really clear.  Also, the author introduced too many characters, so none really had a fully developed personality.  Still, it was a fun story and I can think of several specific boys who come into my library that would really enjoy it. (292 p)

Ms Rapscott's Girls by Elise Primavera

Cover image for Ms. Rapscott's girlsThis was just the kind of frothy fun I needed this week.  Ms Rapscott runs a school for daughters of very busy parents.  The four students arrive at the school in flying boxes, but one box shows up empty. One of the students got lost in rout because her parents were so busy they forgot to stick down the sticky tab once she was inside of the box. Ms Rapscott takes the remaining girls on a number of magical journeys in search of the lost student, and in the process, the girls learn about making their own way in the world. There is a lot of tongue in cheek humor here, but also a healthy dose folksy wisdom.  This would be a fun one to read aloud to a family of young girls, ages, 5-8 or so.  Some of the chapters suggest activities a family could do together to go along with the story, like learning to bake a birthday cake, or write a thank you note. I look forward to further adventures.(262 p.)

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Valley of Kings by Michael Northrop

Cover image for Valley of KingsThis is Book 3 of the TombQuest series.  Alex, Ren and Luke have traveled to Egypt looking for Alex's mom, and the Lost Spells in the Valley of the Kings.  Another Death Walker is causing the famous archaeological sight to burn with extreme heat and light every day.  Alex and Ren, once again, must find out who the death walker is and how to destroy it.

Whereas the last book was all about zombies, this one all about mummies. The action writing is good. There is a little plot development, and a little character development, but mostly it is more of the same.  Kids who liked the first two books, will like this one, too, I guess, but I am losing interest.  Plus there was a plot twist at the end I didn't like.  I don't know if I will read the next one.  (190 p)

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Nest by Kenneth Oppel

(Here is another book that got tons of starred reviews this year.  I think it may have received starred reviews in 5 or 6 different sources.)

Cover image for The nestSteve is worried about his new baby brother.  He was born with congenital defects and is not doing well. Steve is also OCD and deals with a lot of anxiousness.  One night he has a dream that some creatures--he thinks of them as angels--come to him and promise him that they can "fix" his baby brother.  The dream gives him hope.  The dream recurs and after a while, Steve realizes that the creatures are actually the wasps who are building a large nest outside his home.  When the wasps tell him that they are, indeed, planning to replace the baby, instead of repairing him, Steve has to decide whether he wants his own flawed brother, or a perfect child provided by the wasps.

This book was as weird as it sounds.  In some ways it was like the old late night horror films I used to stay up and watch occasionally as a kid, like "The Twilight Zone."  That said, the book brought up a lot of moral and ethical questions, some of which, if genetic engineering technology progresses, we might face as a society in the future.  Would we be willing to trade a potentially disabled child for the chance of having a physically perfect one?  How eager would we be to correct our own physical imperfections, if given the chance, and how would that affect the people we are?  Another intriguing thing about the story is that an adult reader will question, throughout, if what Steve is experiencing is real, or a creation of his over-stressed, immature emotions.  I am not sure if kids will pick up on that element or not.  Kids are used to being thrown into a fantasy world in a book, and are mostly willing to take it at face value. 

I can see why this book got a lot of critical attention.  It is very different from anything else that came out this year.  It will be interesting to see if it will win any awards.  Personally, I thought the writing in Orbiting Jupiter was better. I guess it will depend on the committee. Are they looking for something unique, or just really well done? (244 p)

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Hollow Boy by Jonathan Stroud

Cover image for The hollow boyHere is book three in the Lockwood and Company series I have enjoyed so much.  In this one Lucy is faced with twin horrors: a massive outbreak of ghost activity in Chelsea, and a pretty, new, perky assistant at Lockwood and Company.  The second one is a much greater trial than the first.  Lucy has become even more attracted to Lockwood, and watching him interact with the "perfect" new assistant makes her blood boil.  Letting your emotions get away from you is a dangerous thing if you are a psychic investigator, and Lucy's lack of focus, and her growing talent to be able to talk to ghosts, starts to cause a lot of problems for the team, and ultimately, all of London.

About 50 pages from the end of this book I thought to myself, "Oh, I hope this is not the last one in the series."  This was a lot of fun to read.  Stroud has a great ability to make really interesting and fun characters, and then put them into tense and exciting situations.  Some writers make "character development" what happens between the action scenes, but with Stroud the characters never put off their personalities while they are fighting monsters.  In fact, the personalities and interpersonal conflicts drive the action scenes.  This was such a delightful change from what I have been reading, I truly did not want it to end.  It is a bummer that I will probably have to wait until next fall for the next one to come out. (385 p)

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Orbiting Jupiter by Gary Schmidt

(You can tell it is the end of the year and I am trying to read all the Newbery hopefuls before the ALA Midwinter meeting in January when the Newbery winner is announced.  This is another realistic fiction that is getting a lot of attention from reviewers.)

Jack lives on a farm with his mom and dad.  They are a good, solid, family who take in foster children.  At the beginning of the story they take in a foster child, Joseph, who has been in a correctional facility.  He is 14 years old and has already fathered a child.  Joseph is talented and intelligent, but he is traumatized by a past full of abuse and loss. Becoming part of Jack's family and participating in the routine of farm life starts to heal his soul.  Jack, who is 2 years younger than Joseph, is fiercely loyal to Joseph and together they try to deal with all that has come before, and all that is yet to come in Joseph's life.

This is an amazingly well written book. I loved Schmidt's book, OK for Now, and this one has a similar tone and intensity.  In both books, the main character is already battered and broken at the beginning of the story, and then, through consistent love and support, they start to heal and become stronger. If anything, Schmidt's writing in this one is better than his earlier ones.  It is so spare and understated that nothing gets in the way of story.  If I were to try to copy Schmidt's writing style I would have to take one of my stories, cut out about 2/3rds of it where I try to explain why people did what they did, or what they were thinking, and just write what they did and what actually happened.  It takes a lot of courage to write like that.  You have to trust the reader to understand what you haven't said.

I actually haven't ordered this for the children's department yet.  One of the reasons I read it was to try to decide if I should.  I think it would be appropriate for a 12 or 13 year-old-who has a serious personality. It isn't really appropriate for an 8-or 9-year-old because of mature themes.  As much as I liked it, I think I will leave it in the YA department.  (192 p.)

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graff

Cover image for Lost in the sunHere is another Newbery buzz book.  It got a starred review in every major review source I checked.  Trent Zimmerman is 11 years old and is in very difficult place emotionally.  He is traumatized by his parent's divorce, but also by an accident that occurred in the recent past in which his friend died. His trauma makes him full of fear, which easily turns into an explosive rage when he is put into an uncomfortable situation.  Luckily, he meets a girl, Fallon, whose buoyant personality and sunny outlook lets him temporarily escape from his fear and hate filled environment.  Fallon is not without trauma in her own past, and when she witnesses one of Trent's violent explosions it triggers her own unpleasant memories and threatens their friendship.  Trent knows he has to find a way to win back her trust, and that search leads him to a better emotional place of his own.

Ok, so it sounds heavy, doesn't it.  It is.  But it is also a really authentic depiction of a boy's struggle with some serious emotional issues.  This is the kind of book teachers could give to a traumatized kid to help them through a difficult time. Or it is a book parents and teachers could read to help them understand the behavior of traumatized kids.  I am not sure what child I would give it to for casual reading.  I guess, if there was a kid who really liked social issue books, this would be a good choice.  I have met kids like that, mostly 12 or 13 year old girls. But I am not likely to be sharing the book with your average pre-teen boy very much. (298 p.)

(I have read several of these social issue, contemporary fiction in a row, and I am pretty ready for some fantasy.  I was therefore excited when I saw that my hold on The Hollow Boy Jonathan Stroud had come in.)

Listen Slowly by Thanhha Lai

Cover image for Listen, slowlyHere is a book that is getting a lot of starred reviews this year.  Mai is a Vietnamese American pre-teen who has been raised in California.  One summer she is sent with her Grandmother to Vietnam. Her grandmother has hired a detective to try to find out more about her husband who was lost during the Vietnam War.  Mai is not at all thrilled to be away from her friends, the beach, and a certain boy for the summer, so she is determined that they will find the answers her grandmother is looking for and return to California within a few days.  Of course, it doesn't work out like that, and the longer they stay the more she comes to accept and even enjoy her cultural heritage.

The amazing thing about this book is that it immerses the reader in modern Vietnamese culture.  I get the feeling that if someone read this book and then spent the summer in a small Vietnamese town, much of what they experienced there would be just like the book.  The other nice thing about the book is the relationship between Mai and her grandmother.  They don't even really speak the same language, since the Grandmother never learned much English, and Mai never learned much Vietnamese, but still they are very close.  The drawback to the book is that it is a little slow.  A lot of kids now want a fast paced and exciting plot, but that is just not this book.  There are some funny scenes and some touching scenes but not a lot of excitement. I listened to this book on CD and the reader was clearly bilingual and knew how to properly pronounce all the Vietnamese words.  I don't know how some of the scenes, where they were talking about the tonality of the  Vietnamese language, would work just in print.  I recommend, if you are going to get this book, that you get it on CD. (260 p)

Friday, November 27, 2015

Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Cover image for Fish in a treeEveryone thinks Ally is just dumb, even Ally. The other kids seem to be able to read so easily, but it has never been easy for Ally. She lives in constant terror that someone will ask her to read or write in class, so she keeps a store of tricks she can use to get out of reading, most of which land her in the principal's office.  All of that changes when her teacher goes on maternity leave, and a new teacher takes her place. Mr. Daniels quickly figures out that Ally is not dumb at all. He tries to figure out why she has been labeled a "problem" student, but he has to proceed carefully. She has been traumatized by so many other teachers that she is easily spooked.  It takes the concerted effort of Mr. Daniels, and Ally's two new misfit friends, Albert and Keisha, to convince Ally just how smart, and strong, she really is. 

This is a wonderful, feel-good, story.  It is not a new story, nor is it told in a new way, but it is just so sweet all the way through. I feel like I could give this book to any little 8 year old girl without reservations and she would totally love it. It is interesting that I read this just after reading George.  Both books are really the same story; two kids who have a burden of keeping their true selves secret from a judgmental world.  It shows my own bias that I was uncomfortable with one book and totally enjoyed the other.  I guess that is one thing that books do, they show us ourselves. (276 p.)

Sunday, November 22, 2015

George by Alex Gino

Cover image for GeorgeGeorge looks like a 10 year old boy, but inside he knows that he is really a girl. In his own private mind he calls himself Melissa, and dreams of the day he can dress in girl clothes and maybe even try makeup.  He hides his true identity from the world, but it is easy for the kids in his class to see that he is different and to tease him and even bully him about it.  His one salvation is his best friend, Kelly, who has always accepted George just the way he was.  When George's class does a play of Charlotte's Web, George really wants to play the part of Charlotte, but when he tries out for the part his teacher thinks it is a joke.  He can't play Charlotte, because he is a boy, right?  When George finally has the courage to tell Kelly he is really a girl, Kelly arranges to find a way for George to get his chance to play Charlotte and show the world, and his mother who he/she really is.

This is really the first book aimed at pre-teens that portrays a transgender person.  It has received starred reviews all over the place, and it does portray a very sympathetic character.  Gino, who lists his/her gender as "undefined" writes from experience and has a unique insight on what it feels like to always have to pretend you are something that you feel you are not.  I read the book because I wanted to be ready when we get complaints about it at the library.  I think there are many in our community that would be really upset if their nine year old picked up the book and started reading about a transgender child without the parent's knowledge.  I am in a position that I could recommend that the book be moved out of the regular J Fiction area into the nonfiction area about gender issues to avoid future controversy.  But I don't think I will.  Even if someone doesn't believe transgender is a real thing,--that a girl's spirit could be put in a boy's body--some people obviously do, and it doesn't hurt to gain some insight into how they feel.  (195 p)

The Copper Gauntlet by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

This second adventure of Callum Hunt begins with the young mage spending an uneasy summer with his father and his chaos-ridden wolf, Havoc. Callum's father does not approve of his decision to stay at the Magisterium, but Callum fears his father has further reason to distrust and even hate him. When he discovers that his father is planning on doing something terrible to Havoc, Callum runs away from home and joins his friends at the Magisterium.  Later, when his father is accused of stealing a powerful magical tool, Callum must decide where his loyalties lie.  Will he stay at school and let his father be hunted down, or try to stop his father from doing something they will both regret?

We have more here for kids who want a book just like Harry Potter: The same devoted friends, the same nasty rival, who maybe isn't quite as nasty as we thought, the same kind of plot twists. Black throws in some zombies, which seem to be the "sine qua non" of children's fantasy right now. It was fun to read and I will probably read the next one that comes out.  (264 pages)

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Most Wonderful Thing in the World by Vivian French

Cover image for Most Wonderful Thing in the WorldA king and queen have sheltered their daughter her whole life, but finally decide it is time for her to marry.  They consult a wise man as to how to choose a groom and he advises them to chose the man who can show them they most wonderful thing in the world. They send out a proclamation and while suitors come to try their luck, the king and queen send the daughter out to tour the city.  As she explores her kingdom with a handsome young tour guide, the guide comes to realize what the most wonderful thing in the world really is.
   I haven't reviewed a picture book on this blog for a while, though I read them all the time.  I read so many it would take too much time to review them all.  I really liked this one, though.  French's text is sweet and lyrical, and Barrett's watercolor illustrations are charming. Ms Barrett has set the story in the early 1900's Italy, and the illustrations have a gentle Art Nouveau style, with decorative boarders and long flowing lines.  This is the kind of picture book I would have liked as a little girl.  

Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Dragonfly Effect by Gordon Korman

Here is the gripping finish to Korman's exciting "Hypnotists" trilogy.  Jax and his family have been put under the protection of the US military, and Dr. Mako has been put in jail. Jax along with other mind benders from Sentia and the Sandman's Guild are now part of the government's Hypnotic Warfare Research Department (HoWaRD).  As Colonel Brassmeyer puts the hypnotists through one experiment after another, Jax has a hard time seeing how working for the army is much better than what he was doing with in Sentia.  He finds out when Mako escapes from prison, captures one of HoWaRD's young hypnotic prodigies, and uses him in a new diabolical plot. Now it is up to Jax to defy his family, his friends, and the entire US army to save the world.

This was a pretty good finish to the series with all the psychological intrigue and excitement of the first two, but the adult in me kept kind of rolling my eyes.  I never have had much dealings with the military, but I am pretty sure nobody in the military would get away with treating people like they did in this book. (spoiler alert, don't read on if you plan to read the book and don't want to hear about the end.) At one point the military sets up a fake city full of "volunteers" and then lets them all go through an "experiment" which amounts to a natural disaster.  People get hurt, and almost killed, but the Colonel doesn't stop the "experiment" because he wants to see how it plays out.  Now if that happened in real life, it would be all over the news and the "volunteers" would be suing the heck out of the government.  Then at the end, the government just ends the HoWaRD project and lets the mind benders all go home.  Would that really happen if they had just seen how their abilities could be used as weapons of mass destruction?  So there were some flights of fancy that departed from the real world, but this is science fiction, right? It isn't really supposed to be realistic.  I think a lot of kids would like it. Give it to kids who like Alex Rider or Harry Potter.  (243 p.)

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

Cover image for The MoonstoneDuring the time of the English occupation of India, a ruthless Englishman steals a large diamond from a religious cult statue.  A group of three men from the cult vow to retrieve the stone, or die trying.  The thief manages to keep the diamond out of their hands for many years, but wills it to the daughter of his estranged sister, in payback for her unkind treatment of him. Unaware of its sordid past, the innocent girl, Rachel Veringer, receives the diamond as a gift on her 18th birthday. The night of the birthday party the stone is stolen from Rachel's bedroom. A famous detective is hired to solve the case and everyone at the house that night are suspect, including a maid with a shady past, various other servants, Miss Veringer's two suitors, and even Miss Veringer herself. The story is told through narratives written by the different characters.  There are clues and searches, mysterious foreigners, unrequited love, and many other elements that have become staples of modern mystery novels.

This is very old mystery novel, first written in 1868.  Some people consider it the first mystery novel written in the English language.  As I read it I imagined it as an old black and white movie.  It is full of 19th century stereotypes, but it was a delight to read.  I especially liked the personality of the old butler, Betteredge, who writes the first narrative and thinks that the answer to all life's questions can be found in the pages of Robinson Caruso.  The second narrator, Drusilla Clack is an over zealous Christian and keeps wanting to give everyone religious tracts, calling them to repentance. It almost made me laugh out loud.  It is a longish book, and I must admit it took me a while to get through it, since I mostly read while exercising, but it was well worth the effort. It is a good one for those who like period romance, but are ready for a little different plot. (566 p)

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Francine Poulet Meets the Ghost Racooon by Kate DiCamillo

Francine Poulet is the best animal control officer in the town, maybe in the whole state.  She has 37 animal control awards, and has had her picture in the newspaper.  One night she is called out to capture a "ghost raccoon," a racoon with shimmery gray fur that screams. When it seems to scream Francine's name, Francine is so frightened she loses her nerve.  Can she still be the town's best animal control officer if she is frightened by one screaming raccoon?  It is a long road back, but with the help of her friends on Deckawood Lane she regains the confidence she needs to be who she really is.  This is the second spin-off chapter book from the successful Mercy Watson series. It is increasingly unusual to find a children's book that has an adult as a main character (except, of course, for superhero books). This was not always so.  Mr. Popper's Penguins, and Esio Trot are examples from yester-year.  Now days writers seem to think that books for children should be about children.  (that was mostly just an interesting historical note.) Di Camillo makes Francine have a simple enough problem, and personality,  that the target audience (2nd and 3rd graders) with relate with her predicament.  I don't know if this book will get all the attention that LeRoy Nicker Saddles Up did, but it was a fun read. 91p.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

Cover image for Goodbye strangerBridge, Em and Tab have been best friends for as long as they can remember, but when they hit 7th grade, their friendship is challenged.  Em gets a boyfriend and Tab discovers social activism.  Bridge makes a new friend in Sherm, but doesn't quite know if their friendship is more than that.  Everything blows up when Em feels pressure to text a risky picture of herself to her new older boyfriend. Both Bridge and Tab know this is a bad idea, but Em wants her relationship with this guy to progress and so she sends the picture.  Of course, it gets sent around to all his friends, and ultimately posted on facebook.

The story about "Sexting" is not the only theme in the book, but I think it was such a good treatment of the topic.  Stead does a great job showing how it starts, how Em trusts her boyfriend, and wants to share something "special" with him. In the story, it isn't even the boyfriend who shares the pictures.  Someone else gets his phone while he is at basketball practice and, in just a second, the pictures is sent to all his "friends." Of course, Em gets suspended and everyone treats her like a slut, and very little happens to the boy because they can't prove who sent it. Parents will see this as a great cautionary tale, but Stead writes it so well it doesn't sound preachy and I think the kind of kids who like "school stories" will like it.  One chilling thing about the story is that the girls are only 13/14.  One of the tensions in the story is that Em has physically matured faster than the other two.  As soon as she has a figure, she is pressured to exploit herself.  It is a sad, but true, commentary on modern society. (289 p)

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Chasing Secrets by Gennifer Choldenko

Lizzy attends Miss Barstow's finishing school where she learns etiquette and decorum, but she would rather be out doing house calls with her physician father. It is 1900 and Lizzy lives in San Francisco, a teaming city with a growing China Town. When there are rumors of a plague epidemic, China Town is quarantined, but the way the quarantine is carried out doesn't seem right to Lizzy.  Her suspicions grow when she meets a quarantine refugee, Noah, and discovers that the newspapers are not telling the whole story.  Together Noah, some other new friends, and Lizzy go on a crusade to find out what is really happening. 

I read this because Ms. Choldenko is coming to the library next week along with Chris Grabenstein and Clare Vanderpool.  In know! What a triple header!  Ms. Choldenko is a Newbery honor winner for Al Capone Does My Shirts, and Ms Vanderpool is a Newbery winner for Moon Over Manifest. Grabenstein's  Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library is selling like hotcakes.  I am going to the book talk for my birthday treat activity this week.

Anyway, this is an interesting and well written historical fiction.  Lizzy, with her pluck and persistence, is a complex and endearing strong-girl character.  Lizzy's father, and her friends are all fully formed, and their adventure together is firmly set in actual events that took place during this fascinating time period. Because the book is based on actual events, the plot isn't quite as linear as a made up children's novel plot.  About half way through it sounded like the story was about to end, and I thought, how is she going to fill up the next 150 pages.  But she did, admirably.  I liked this book, but I must say I didn't like it as much as Al Capone. Still, it is well worth the read if you like historical fiction. (278 p.) 

Saturday, October 17, 2015

If You Find This by Matthew Baker

Cover image for If you find thisNicholas has a lot to worry about.  He is worried that his family will have to move because of financial problems.  He is worried about being bullied at school.  He is worried that he will never have a true friend.  His worries only compound when his grandfather, who has spent the last two decades in prison, shows up on his doorstep.  It doesn't help that his grandfather has dementia and sometimes can't remember things. One thing his grandfather does remember is that there are some valuable heirlooms hidden somewhere near the old house where he lived before he went to prison. In a desperate attempt to save his own home, Nicholas teams up with some unlikely allies and tries to unravel the mystery of the missing heirlooms and his grandfather's missing memories.

This book had some really complex relationships. Nicholas is kind of an Asperger type genius. He shares a locker with an openly gay middle schooler who is relentlessly teased about his orientation.  The kid who teases him the most is the below-average-intelligence school bully, Jordan.  Yet somehow, through the course of the story, Baker manages to make them all become friends.  The relationship with the grandfather in the story is equally complex. Nicholas's grandfather admits to being selfish, reckless and doing some terrible things, and yet Nicholas becomes very attached to him.  I enjoyed the book, though a few things about it were a little annoying. The whole, "my brother is a tree" thing, and all the musical references were overdone.  Still, it was different, and the characters were all fully realized and interesting.  I was glad that there was no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.  I think this was Baker's first novel for children.  I hope he will get even better and write some more. (358 p.)

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman

Cover image for The sleeper and the spindleI guess this is Neil Gaiman week.  This is a new illustrated story that originally appeared in a short story collection.  It is a variation on Sleeping Beauty.  In the story a lovely queen is about to get married.  She is apprehensive about her upcoming nuptials, and when she hears of a princess asleep in a castle, she jumps at the opportunity to ditch the wedding and try to save the princess. She makes her way to the enchanted castle and finds the beautiful maiden asleep in the tower, attended by an old hag.  She decides there is nothing to do but wake the princess with a kiss.  When she does she discovers that the sleeping maiden and the old hag are not whom they seem.  This is a new book that has just been released with Riddell's illustrations.  The illustrations are masterfully done and the type setting and page make it a very attractive volume.  I must say that the story is just a little to weird and dark for me.  I decided to read the book because I saw the picture of the two beautiful women kissing each other.  Is this a children's book? I asked myself.  It really isn't. It is a little too dark and looks too much like a picture book for me to feel comfortable leaving it in my section.  I think I will talk to my boss tomorrow about having it moved to the YA section. (68 p)

Interworld by Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves

Cover image for InterWorldHere is a science fiction with an interesting premise.  In this book Joseph Harker is just your average high school kid on a field trip with his class, when he suddenly walks through a mist and ends up in a parallel world.  Soon he discovers that he is a "walker" a being that can move between parallel realities and is admitted to a school for walkers.  The interesting thing is that all the students at the school are versions of himself.  There is a cyborg version, a version with feathers instead of hair, and a wolf boy version.  There is also a female version with wings. All the versions of Joseph are working to keep a balance in the universe between one faction that has advanced technology and another which has magic. On their first training mission, something goes wrong, and Joseph has to try to save his team which has been captured by the magic faction.  This is an older book that came out in 2007 and there seems to be two more in the series, the most recent of which just came out this year.  I liked the book because it was different and unpredictable.  The thing about reading Neil Gaiman is that he is not afraid to kill off main characters, so you never know what will happen.  The other two are written by Reaves alone, so I don't know if they will be as good.  I am willing to give them a try. (239 p)

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands

Cover image for The Blackthorn keyChristopher is apprenticed to a kindly apothecary in London, circa 1600.  When apothecaries start to get murdered, and there is talk of a secret cult of the Archangel, Christopher begins to get worried and warns his master to be careful.  Little does he know that his master is secretly preparing him for the greatest and most dangerous adventure of his life. This book received several good reviews.  There is a lot here to like.  The characters are sympathetic and dimensional.  It is fun to see Christopher use his wits to outsmart men older and more powerful than himself. The setting is carefully drawn and researched.  Sands includes a lot of chemistry in the story and readers with a scientific inclination might have fun looking up all the chemical reactions Christopher uses and figuring out how they work. The one thing that bothered me, though, was the violence.  There is just a little too much description of people getting their heads bashed in or their limbs chopped with an ax. I don't think I was always so put off by violence,  but the older I get the more sensitive I have become.  So if violence in books doesn't really bother you, you will probably like this a well crafted, historical, MacGyver type mystery. The author left the ending open for a sequel.  I am not sure if I will read it or not. (371 p)

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Echo by Pam Munos Ryan

Cover image for Echo : a novelA boy makes a mystical journey into a forest where he meets three enchanted women and receives an enchanted harmonica.  Later the harmonica falls into the hands three very musically sensitive children. The first is a boy with a birth-marked face who works at a harmonica factory in Germany at the beginning of the rise of Hitler.  The second is a boy in an orphanage who is trying to save his little brother from getting sent to a work house.  The third is a Hispanic girl in California who must endure racial prejudice while her brother fights in WWII.  The harmonica gives each child comfort and courage to face heartbreak and challenges. 

This book has received a lot of attention this year.  It got stars in many of the major review sources and I would not be surprised if it is a serious Newbery contender.  Of course, Ms Ryan has won many awards before, including a Pura Belpre award for Esperanza Rising. The writing is masterful in this book, and achingly poignant.  My issue with the book was that is was too big of a dose of poignancy.  Each of the stories ends with a heart wrenching cliff hanger, (which are, admittedly, all tied up in a glorious ending)  but by the end of the second story line, I was frankly tired of having my heart strings played on.  I felt a little emotionally manipulated and I almost gave up on it.  I stuck it out, though, and it did have a very satisfying ending. 

I listened to the book on recording.  That had its benefits and draw backs.  The recorded version contains snatches of all the musical pieces mentioned in the book.  That was nice because a reader doesn't have to remember what Beethoven's Ode to Joy sounds like to enjoy the book. The drawback is that all the inserted music clips really slow down the narrative. I think that I might have actually enjoyed the book more if I had read it instead of listening to it, because I am the kind of person who actually does know what Beethoven's Ode to Joy sounds like.

Anyway, give it a whirl.  If it wins the Newbery my ARC version signed by the author at last year's ALSC meeting might be worth something.:)  (585 p)

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate by Jaqueline Kelly

Calpurnia Tate is back in her second adventure as a early 20th century girl with a scientific mind. A hurricane has devastated distant Galveston and has brought two refugee's to Calpurnia's town, an older female cousin, and a veterinarian. Calpurnia's relationships with both new residents are complicated, and made even more so as Calpurnia gets sucked into the clandestine care of her favorite brother's unusual, and forbidden, pets. As Calpurnia begins to develop a grudging respect for her prickly cousin's independence and initiative, and the veterinarian develops a grudging respect for her, Calpurnia starts to see a possible path toward her own aspirations.

This book is getting a lot of attention in the review sources.  That is probably because the first in the series (The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate) was a Newbery Honor book. If you liked the first book, (which I did) you will like the second.  It is more of the same, with funny situations with animals mixed with incidents of people treating Calpurnia unfairly because she is a girl. In my opinion it is a little too much like the first book, with not a lot of new plot or character development.  But the writing is good, the main characters are interesting, and some of the situations are rather funny. There is clearly another book in the series to come, and I will be happy to read it. (312 p)

Monday, September 21, 2015

Mr. Harrison's Confessions by Elizabeth Gaskell

Mr. Harrison is the young doctor in the BBC miniseries, Cranford.  This is the short story/novel on which his part of the mini-series was based.  In the book he is not living in Cranford, but in an analogous small town.  This story only tells about his problems with all the ladies in town thinking that he is in love with him, and how he finally wins the hand of the sweet Sophy.  He never actually meets the Jenkyns sisters, or Mary Smith. The writers of the mini-series cleverly merge this story with the ones in the book, Cranford, and with stories in Gaskell's other book, My Lady Ludlow.  It was fun to read the book, and enjoy Ms Gaskell's charming writing and skillful characterization. (54 p.)

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Unstopable Octobia May by Sharon Flake

Cover image for Unstoppable Octobia MayOctobia May lives in a big city (I think it was Philadelphia) in the 1950's.  She had heart problems as a child, and actually "died" for a short time.  Since then she has felt a connection to death, and likes hanging out at a nearby grave yard, and spying on a guest in her Auntie's boarding house whom she suspects is a vampire.  One day she and her friend, Jonah see the "vampire" strangle a woman.  When they try to tell adults about what they saw, no one will believe them.  So the two children take it upon themselves to find out who the "vampire" really is, and what his connection is with the banker, Mr. Harrison. 

This is only a B level mystery.  It is an interesting look at a bunch of social issues from the 50's from McCarthyism and racism to the Korean war and woman's rights, but the mystery plot, itself, is rather weak.  The kids see terrible things, but when they try to tell someone about them, they explain it so badly, that no one believes them.  Later on they see more terrible things, and rather than tell someone, they decide they won't because no-one will believe them.  It seemed like the author was just making everyone not believe them just so she could keep going on the plot, when, in reality, the accusations were serious enough, and detailed and plausible enough, that the adults should have at least wanted to check into them.  Later, when there is the final show down between the kids and the bad guys, the bad guys suddenly get all sentimental, and decide to turn themselves in for no good reason.  These guys are supposted to have already killed several people in cold blood, but then they suddenly decide, "we are not going to kill these kids today.  Instead, let's wait patiently until the police come and get us."It was one of the weaker books I have read in a log time.  Too bad. (288 p.)

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein

Cover image for Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's libraryKyle has never really been very interested in books and libraries. He mostly like games, especially games created by the company owned by Mr. Lemoncello. When Mr. Lemoncello opens a library in Kyle's hometown, and announces that twelve 6th graders will get the opportunity to have a sleepover in the library before it opens, Kyle is suddenly interested in libraries. After a night of being entertained and amazed by the library's beauty and high tech automation and computer resources, the 12 kids are informed that they have the option to stay another day and play a game called, "Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library." If they succeed they will win incredible prizes, fame and glory. Some of the kids opt out and are allowed to go home, but some of them stay and work through clues to try to solve the puzzle.

I kept on expecting the story to get scary and nightmarish like Willy Wonka, but it didn't. It is just about a bunch of kids, having fun trying to solve riddles and puzzles. It is also about group dynamics, as the kids naturally form into two teams, one lead by Kyle and one lead by an ambitious rich kid. The clues in the puzzles all refer either to classic games or to classic literature, and are fairly clever.  It was a fun read and I kept thinking about how I could do a great library program based on the book. They are actually doing the book for our Mother/Son book group this month, but I am not in charge of that group anymore. Our library has a book club set if any of you want a fun kid's book club title.  (291 p)

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Amulet Keepers by Michael Northrop

This is the second in the successful TombQuest series. (oops, I guess I forgot to blog about #1 when I read it earlier this summer) After his encounter with the Egyptian un-dead in book #1, Alex is on his way to London to meet with Dr, Aditi at the British Museum and hopefully find Alex's mother. London has been terrorized by another Death Walker, and Alex senses that the only way to find his mother is to send this Death Walker back to the beyond. To do that he must discover who the Death Walker was in life, and which of the spells in the Book of the Dead will be able to defeat it. With the help of his best friend, Ren, and his athletic cousin, Luke, Alex faces his most thrilling, and dangerous, adventure yet.

Everyone in the library world knows that zombies and the un-dead have been a strong trend in teen fiction for the past few years.  This series gives the younger readers their own dose of mummies and death walkers.  The book is moderately scary and a little gross (e.g. rain turning to blood) but I don't think it likely to give most most kids bad dreams. During the first part of 6th grade kids in Utah have to do Egypt reports. This book doesn't have as much info about Egyptian mythology as Rick Riordan's The Kane Chronicles but it might still be a fun read along while the kids are working on that time period in school. I am pretty excited that Mr. Northrop will be visiting the Provo Library on October 5, 2015 to talk about the TombQuest series. I wonder if they would let me wear my Egyptian costume. (or I should say, one of my Egyptian costumes, because I have more than one:-) (190 p.)

Ok, here is my blog from the library web page about book one.

The Luck Uglies by Paul Durham

 Rye and her mother Abigail live outside the protection of the city walls, and near the dark and dangerous forest. Abigail promises Rye will always be safe from the fearsome Bog Noblins, and the dangerous Luck Uglies as long as she wears her necklace and lives by the five house rules. Rye tries to be obedient most of the time, but when she "accidentally" takes a forbidden book, it triggers a sequence of thrilling and terrifying events that cause Rye to question all that she ever thought about her mother, the house rules, and who she really is. This is a pretty good new "strong girl" fantasy with a spunky main character and decent world building.  Durham has a a good sense of pacing and just the right balance between plot and action. There is nothing terribly original here, but it was a fun read and I will probably read the sequel, which is already out. (387 p.)

Sunday, August 30, 2015

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

Cover image for North and southIf you are like me you have watched the movie of North and South starring Richard Armitage more than once.  I decided it would be fun to read the book and see how it compares to the movie.  It actually is pretty much like the movie.  All the same things happen in all the same order. Most of the dialog in the movie is taken right from the book. The only thing that is different is the final scene, and in that case I think I like the movie version better. 

That said, I enjoyed reading it quite a bit.  I am afraid it made me stay up late almost every night for a week. It was originally written as a serial in a journal edited by Charles Dickens.  It was first published as a novel in 1855.  Now, or course, it is a historical fiction, but when it was written it was contemporary fiction.  The settings, language and social interactions are therefore very authentic and fun to read. So if you like the "real deal" period romances, this is a great choice. (450 p.)

The Terrible Two by Mac Barnett

Cover image for The terrible twoMiles Murphy was the school prankster in his old town.  Now he is in a new town and an new school and is eager to establish his reputation. On the first day of school he is surprised to find a car parked at he top of the stairs leading to the front door to the school--and not just any car, the principal's car.  So Yawnee Valley already has a prankster, and a good one.  Miles is eager to find out who it is but the only kid he has met is his dorky "New Student Buddy," Niles, who is the world's worst principal's pet.  Miles has to dodge Niles as he prepares his most spectacular prank yet. When his grand prank is hijacked by the Yawnee Valley prankster, Miles and his rival start a planking war that escalated to hilarious proportions.

Mac Barnett is an amazing author with a clever, quirky, sense of humor.  He is the author of some really successful picture books, including a Caldecott honor book, Extra Yarn.  He also has some successful novels, including a series I liked, The Brixton Brothers.  So I was eager to read this one. It was funny and the final prank is brilliant. All the tidbits about cows were funny as well, but, in all honesty,  I liked The Worst Class Trip Ever better. I think it is because I am not someone that appreciates practical jokes. (Plus, I wasn't thrilled about the cover.) Maybe if I had read this one first, instead of right after the other one, I would have enjoyed it more. Both are great books for the kid who likes goofy humor or for a family to listen to together in a car on a long road trip. (214 p)

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Worst Class Trip Ever by Dave Barry

Cover image for The worst class trip everWyatt's 8th grade class is going on a major field trip to Washington DC to see historical sites. While he is on the airplane with this class, his best friend, Matt, notices that the two men with foreign accents sitting behind them are very possessive of their carry-on bags, and are looking at aerial photographs of the White House.  Matt, who is not too bright, jumps to the conclusion that they are terrorists and convinces Wyatt to try to get their bags away from them to prove it. The only thing they accomplish, is that they capture the attention of air marshal. What Wyatt doesn't know is that during the scuffle, Matt takes something from one of the bags. Thus begins the amazingly wild ride that involves being chased by the two men all over Washington, kidnapping, super top secret military equipment, the cutest girl in the 8th grade, and obscure ancient hunting implements.

Dave Barry is a master of humor. This is the funniest book I have read since I read his book, Science Fair a couple of years ago.  He has this clever way of starting out with events that are probable, then moving slowly to the improbable, to the nearly impossible, and ending up at the utterly ridiculous.  But he does it so smoothly that your are carried along and laugh out loud at each new outrageous turn. I was listening to the recording in the car on my way to and from work, and I had to be careful not to get distracted from my driving because I was laughing too hard.  As with the Science Fair, the final sequence which brought everything to a climax is brilliant.  So, so, so, good.  Plus the reader on the recorded book is great.  So check this one out, for sure, on your next road trip to listen to with your family. (214 p)

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Cover image for Brown girl dreamingThis is a memoir, in free verse, of the early childhood of the author.  She was born in Ohio, but her parents split up when she was very young and she went to live with her grandparents in South Carolina.  There she was able to see and experience the currents of the Civil Rights Movement first hand.  Then, when she was school age, she moved to New York and learned to be a city girl. It was especially interesting to me because she was born about the same time as I was, so some of the cultural icons she mentions were familiar to me as a girl, Crissy Dolls, The Jackson Five, roller skates.  But at the same time her life was totally different from mine.  I have never been part of a racial minority.  I never felt like people were telling me what I could or could not do or be because of my race. Also, I never had to deal with poverty or divorce.  It is good to get a peek into someone else's life once in a while, to remind ourselves that not all people and not all life experiences are the same. Another interesting theme of the book was that her sister was the bookish "good student", and her brother was a wiz at science, so she felt like the academically untalented one. Yet she was the one who has become famous by winning the Coretta Scott King award, three Newbery honors and many other children's literature awards. This is a good book, but I don't know how many children would love it.  It is more likely to appeal to adults, like me, who can remember growing up in the 60's and early 70's.(336 p.)

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd

Cover image for A snicker of magicFelicity Pickle's mother has a wandering heart.  Felicity has never lived in the same place more than a few months and longs for a place to call home.  When the Pickles arrive at an aunt's house in Midnight Gulch, Felicity finds a best friend and a real home.  Legend says that Midnight Gulch used to be filled with magic, and Felicity soon discovers that a snicker of that magic still exists. Will it be enough to cure Felicity's mother's yearning to leave?

Lloyd's story is fresh and interesting and her characters are endearing. Felicity's character sees words floating out of and around people and things.  It is an interesting idea and device that helps move the plot along.  I listened to the book (as I usually do) and imagined the words creatively typeset on the page.  I was a little disappointing when I saw the print version, and the words didn't float across the page as I had imagined.  I think the publishers missed an opportunity there.  The only thing about the story that made me pause, is that the character of Jonah is too nice.  No 11-year-old boy would really be that nurturing and open with his emotions. The character of Jonah is disabled, and I wonder if disabled people get tired of disabled people in books always being super nice, or super brave, or super capable.  Still, if you want a upbeat, well written, feel good book to read to your family, here is a great choice. (311 p)

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Incredible Hulk by Alexander Irvine

Cover image for The Incredible HulkI thought I better read another one of these just to make sure they are age appropriate.  I haven't watched any of the recent movies of The Hulk, so I was able to assess this retelling by its own merits.  It was just fine.  As in the Captain America one, mentioned the violence, but without any blood or intense feeling.  I thought it was interesting that the author made sure that the reader knew that no one actually got killed. They all escape right before the helicopter blows up or the building fell down. It had a little more mention of kissing than the Captain America one, but it was without excessive description and I thought it was fine for this age range.  After I read the book I looked through some trailers to see which movie it was based on.  When I saw the trailer from the 2008 movie, all the lines from the trailer were exact duplicates of lines in the book. I really think these books could help some readers transition from  comic books to novels. They are short and fast paced and have a good cover, but look and feel like a regular novel.  I will go ahead and order the rest of the series for my department. (175 p)

Side note: You don't think they named him David Banner as in Star Spangled Banner, and her Betty Ross, as in Betsy Ross by accident, do you?  I had to be on purpose, right?

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Jack by Liesl Shurtliff

Cover image for Jack : the true story of Jack & the beanstalkThis is the sequel to Rump that I read last month.  It is a retelling of the story of Jack and the Beanstalk, but is also includes winks at a bunch of other famous fairy tales.  Jack is a "naughty" son of a farmer.  He doesn't like to work and he loves to play practical jokes on people.  He also loves his father's stories about his great-great-grandfather, who was Jack the Giant Slayer. Jack only half believes the stories but secretly hopes that one day he will grow up and have the kind of adventures his ancestor had.  His wish comes true, but sooner than he anticipated.  One day two giants come down out of the sky and steel all the food on Jack's  farm, plus their calf and with it, Jack's father.  Jack vows to find a way up to the Giant kingdom to save his "papa".  He discovers a peddler selling giant "magic" beans.  Of course, they grow into giant beanstalks, and Jack climbs up them and enters the giant world.  So far it sounds like a typical "Jack and the Beanstalk," right? But once he gets into the giant world, that is when things go a little crazy, If you plan to read the book, don't read any further (spoiler alert) It turns out that the world he arrives in is the castle in Rump.  It is a few months after Rump has left.  King Barf is still obsessed with gold, but now has a hen that lays golden eggs. Jack is adopted by kindly Martha, and discovers that there are many people his size living in the castle. For the rest of the book Jack searches the giant world for his father with the help of his new friend, Tom Thumb, and his sister, whom Martha calls Thumblina,

I liked this book well enough.  I thought it was clever that Shurtliff wove in parts of so many other stories, including the Elves and the Shoemaker, the Little Old Woman who Lived in a Shoe, and of course, Tom Thumb and Thumbelina.  I also thought it was ingenious to make the normal humans in the first book, the giants in the second.  However, I didn't like this book as well as the first book because of pacing.  It really slowed down in the middle. Jack went here looking for his papa, and then there, looking for his papa.  He said, "I have to find my papa" about a thousand times without really forwarding the plot.  I think it was an editing issue.  Authors who are successful with their first book think they don't need an editor for their second. Still, over all it was a fun story and likeable characters.  (269 p)

Friday, August 7, 2015

Cotillion by Georgette Heyer

Cover image for CotillionOk, I was going on a weekend vacation with my husband that I new would involve some down time, so I indulged in another Georgette Heyer. It is very much like the others I have read, but it was still a lot of fun.

An orphan girl, Kitty, is adopted by an old miser and raised cloistered on his country estate.  When she comes of age, the old man decides that he will fix all his inheritance on her, if she will marry one of his grand-nephews.  There are four eligible candidates, a kindly simpleton, a rector, a playboy and dandy.  Kitty has had a crush on the playboy, Jack, for many years, but he refuses, out of pride, to offer for her at the appointed time.  Kitty refuses the offers of the simpleton, and the rector, but convinces the dandy, Freddy, (who is initially not interested because he is wealthy enough not to be tempted by her fortune), to pretend to be engaged to her. Her hope is to make Jack jealous, and to have an excuse to go and spend a month in London, ostensibly to meet Freddy's family.  As naive, but kindly, Kitty tastes the delights of London society, she begins to see what Jack really is. 

I kept expecting there to be an actual cotillion dance in the book, because of the title, but there was none. The title is symbolic, because a cotillion is a country dance, like a square dance, with four couples.  The plot includes four couples, and the partners move around from one to another like they would in square dance, but come out all well and happy in the end.  The final sequence is especially hilarious as the ultimate winner of Kitty's hand scrambles to prove his worth.  Caveat: this book has more clear mention of Jack's naughty behavior as regards to women than any of the other Heyer books, but they are brief and there is no description of actual encounters. (355 p)

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Crucible of Doubt by Terryl and Fionna Givens

Cover image for The crucible of doubt : reflections on the quest for faithThis is a religious treatise written by an LDS couple who are both professors at a university in Virginia.  It addresses the question of what a member can do when they have serious doubts about church doctrine.  The Gibbons use quotes from church leaders, as well as other prominent historical philosophers, to reassure the reader that doubts are OK, no church leader is infallible,  that it is better to belong to the church with doubts than to leave the church, and that there is hope for finally having all doubts resolved in the end.  It is very well written, and their assertions are for the most part reasonable and insightful.  The Gibbons both have a humanities background and it shows in their writing.  While acknowledging the importance of science in a cursory way, the couple hardly ever quote from a scientist or list one when mentioning the world's most influential thinkers.  As long as the reader is aware of this bias, and also remembers that the writers are merely expressing their own opinions, and don't claim to be establishing official church doctrine  (even though it is published by the Deseret Book), it is well worth reading.(168 p)

Monday, August 3, 2015

The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing by Sheila Turnage

Cover image for The ghosts of Tupelo LandingHere is the second installment of the adventures of Mo and Dale who solved a murder in Three Times Lucky.  Full of themselves after their first success, Mo and Dale of the newly formed Desperado Detective Agency are eager for another mystery to solve.  One presents itself, when Lana, Mo's foster mother, impulsively buys an old deserted inn near her diner.  As it turns out the hotel is haunted and the ghost seems to having a special interest in the two tweens, and their new friend, Harm Crenshaw. As the three kids try to learn who the ghost is and how they can help her, they dig up a more than just the past. 

The first book in the series was a realistic fiction, so I was a little surprised when this one moved into the realm of the supernatural.  I kept expecting it to be a like an old Scooby Do show where the ghost was really a hoax to try to prevent the restoration of the inn.  But no, it is a real ghost.  Turnage makes the switch into fantasy smoothly enough, and those who liked the spunky heroine, the colorful characters and snappy dialog of the first book will find more of the same here. (352 p)

How to Catch a Bogle by Catherine Jinks

Cover image for How to catch a bogle Birdie McAdams is a bogler's apprentice.  Bogle is the general name for any number of creepy monsters who live in dark holes and come out to eat children.  Birdie works for Alfred by standing in front of a bogle's hole and singing.  When the singing leads the boggle out into the open, Alfred, kills it with his magic spear.  Birdie is proud of her work and glad not to be in a work house, or working for the local crime lord.  She, therefore, does not like it when a wealthy woman comes into her life and starts ruining everything. Will Miss Aimes and their experience with the crazy doctor convince Alfred that bogling is no job for a little girl?

This is not a really new book.  I read it because I remembered that one of my co-workers really liked it when it came out.  After reading it I could see why it appealed to my friend.  Birdie McAdams has a lot of courage and pluck.  The alternative Victorian London setting is rich and interesting, and the relationship between Birdie and Alfred is very sweet. This is a good "boogie man" story with just the right level of spine tingles. (313p)

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Rump by Liesl Shurtliff

Cover image for Rump : the true story of RumpelstiltskinThe character of Rumpelstiltskin has captured the imagination of many writers.  Was he a good guy, or one of the worst of all fairytale villains?  In this story he is merely a boy who doesn't know his real full name.  As a result he is runty, and often shunned by the others in his village.  One day he learns that he has a special talent for spinning.  In fact, he can spin straw into gold. Instead of saving him and his grandmother from poverty, his talent plunges them into deeper problems.  As he goes forth to unravel the mystery of the origin of his talent, he learns the rest of his name, has great adventures, and grows in more ways than one.  This is a very thoughtful and clever retelling that reminds me a little of the early stories of Gail Carson Levine.  Shurtliff includes all the elements of the original story, but adds back story and detail so that everything that was a little weird in the original comes to make sense. Rump and his friend, Red, (Red Riding hood?) are likeable characters, and the Miller makes a very satisfying villain. I am eager to read Ms Shurtliff's other fairytale retelling. 264 p.

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Tapper Twins Go to War with Each Other by Geoff Rodkey

Cover image for The Tapper twins go to war (with each other) It all starts with Claudia thinks her twin Reese took her toaster pastry.  She gets back at him by insulting him at school.  He gets back at her by calling her a name.  The war escalates and leads to internet bullying and computer game griefing.  The story is told in notebook form, and includes transcripts of parent texts and interviews with friends and teachers.  The general tone of the story is humorous, but there are serious (and a little bit preachy) overtones. That said, the voices of the two tweens and the junior high atmosphere are spot on, and the book is illustrated with cartoons like so many school stories are now days, so I think kids will be willing to overlook the moralizing.  I could see a mother/child book club or a school reading circle  reading the book and then using it to discuss sibling rivalry or cyber bullying. (219 p.)

Sunday, July 19, 2015

House of Robots by James Patterson

Cover image for House of robotsHere is another "highly illustrated" novel by James Patterson.  Sammy has a crazy home life.  His father is a comic book author and his mother is a robotics expert.  Sammy tolerates the teasing he gets about his unusual parents, until one day when his mom wants to send one of her robots to school with him as his "robot brother." At first Sammy is mortified, and wants nothing to do with this science experiment, especially when "E" has a very public melt-down.  After the first disastrous day his mom does some adjustments on "E" and Sammy starts to get used to having his "bro-bot" around. "E" is smart, strong and funny.  Most of the other kids like "E" as well, but not everyone is glad to have him at school. Sammy's story is illustrated throughout with line drawings reminiscent of  Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  Patterson includes plenty of silliness, especially at Sammy's house which is filled with a whole cast of whacky robots.  There is a touch of tenderness, too, in Sammy's relationship with his home-bound sister. Patterson proves, once again, that he (or his team of ghost writers) knows how to write what school-age kids like to read. (316 p)

The Unmapped Sea by Maryrose Wood

Cover image for The unmapped seaThis is book 5 of the Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series. A grumpy old doctor recommends that Lady Constance take a sea side vacation at Brighton in the winter to improve her health during her pregnancy.  Lord Ashton invites Penelope and the children to come along, and they accept the invitation with the hope they can make headway on discovering the source of the Ashton Curse by talking to Simon's Uncle Pudge who lives in Brighton.  Once at Brighton the Ashtons meet a Russian family, the Babuskinovs, whose children are even more wild than the Incorrigibles. Much swashbuckling fun and hi-jinx ensue. Soon Miss Lumley has the Babushinov's happily helping in her imaginative escapades, but is she doing her job too well for her own good?  I have really enjoyed all the books of the series, but book 4, I thought, was a little less interesting than the rest, in that it didn't advance the story line very much.  That is not the case with this book.  There are a lot of revelations and plot twists in this installment. Bring on book 6! (404 p)

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Captain America, the first Avenger by Alexander Irvine

Cover image for Captain America : the first AvengerThis is one of a new series that are novelizations of the popular Avenger movies. It is straight text, not a comic book. I read this so that I could assess if it were appropriate for my section, i.e. for children ages 12 and under. I have not seen many of the recent Marvel movies, but I have seen the Captain America one.  This book is basically a straight forward retelling of what happened in the movie.  The author doesn't add much or leave much out.  The difference in the book from the movie is in the violence.  Irvine mentions the violence, but adds almost no detail.  He says things like, "using his shield he took out the four Hydra soldiers that were blocking the door."  Once or twice he mentions what kind of punch someone threw. That's it. As a result, this is a pretty tame retelling.  If there were some family that didn't feel good about letting their 10-year-old watch the Captain America movie, the child could read the book and still be conversant about the story with their friends.  (152 p.)

Monday, July 6, 2015

Lawless by Jeffrey Salane

Cover image for LawlessM Freeman has been home schooled her whole life, until she is suddenly whisked away to a special school for the children of criminal masterminds.  Once there she realizes that her tutors and parents have been teaching her skill that help her excel in her new and challenging environment.  The problem with a school that trains people to be criminals is that there is no way to know whom to trust.  Do her new friends really want to help her succeed, or do they have ulterior motives of their own.

So here is another, "kid goes away to an unusual school and discovers she has special abilities" book.  I think this is the 4th or 5th one with that basic outline I have read this year.  The premise and characters in this one are interesting because of the moral ambivalence inherent in a life of crime.  The writing is good, and there are some exciting action sequences and clever heists that take place.  Everything was going along pretty well, and I was enjoying the book right up until the very end.  Without giving too much away, let me just say the final "bang"' so to speak was so outside the realm of reality that I was left scratching my head.  Really?  Didn't the author, or the editor for that matter, ever take a science class?  I think the book could have had a good ending with very little re-writing.  Oh well. The highly improbable science might not bother a young reader, I guess, but it pretty much ruined the story for me.  (277 p)

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Land of Stories: the Wishing Spell By Chris Colfer

Cover image for The wishing spellTwelve year old twins, Alex and Connor, are mourning the death of their father, and adjusting to having their mom work all the time. One memento of their father is a book of fairy tales, but one day the book starts to act strangely.  It glows and makes noises, until one day it sucks the children into the land of fairytales.  There they meet all their fairy tale favorites who are currently living their lives a decade or so after their famous stories.  Alex and Conner find a journal that tells them about a wishing spell that might be able to take them back to their own world, so they go on a quest to find the ingredients they need for the spell.  They are not the only ones hoping to have an impossible wish granted and the others looking for the ingredients are not nice people.

This is a cute fractured fairytale story for those who like E.D. Baker's Frog Princess stories and Michael Buckley's Sister's Grimm series.  It is appropriate for a younger, but very confident reader because almost everyone they meet is actually pretty nice to them, and even the bad guys are not evil to the core.

It is interesting because as I read the book I kept thinking, "this is pretty good, but the writer sounds inexperienced."  One of the reasons I thought that was because, even though Alex (a girl) and Connor (a boy) have different interests, there wasn't much difference in their personalities.  Especially, when the action heats up near the end of the book the author treats them as a single person, and they sayand do several things in unison. I guess what I am trying to express is that the story doesn't arise from the characters.  The author came up with the story first, and then moves the two characters through it like a kid might move his Lego guys through a pretend adventure.  When I looked up the author, I found out he was only 22 when the book was published. That means he was probably only 20 or younger when he wrote it. It will be interesting to read the second book in the series and see how the writing matures.  (438 p.)

Monday, June 29, 2015

Frederica by Georgette Heyer

Cover image for Frederica Frederica, at 24, is the oldest of four orphaned siblings.  They have only partly aristocratic heritage, and are of modest means.  Frederica is determined that her beautiful younger sister, Charis, should have her first "season" in London and find a suitable match to secure their futures.  She approaches a distant bachelor cousin to ask him if he will sponsor Charis' "coming out."  Lord Averstoke agrees only because he knows it will infuriate his sisters who have been begging him to do the same for their less handsome daughters.  Little does Averstoke know how much Frederica and her precocious younger brothers will add energy and interest to his otherwise boring life.

Ok, so I succumbed to another Georgette Heyer.  I think this one may be my favorite. The pacing is faster than the first two I read, and there are some genuinely hilarious scenes. I love the relationship between Alverstoke and the little brothers and the way he gradually comes to adore Frederica, without her even realizing it.  I wish someone would make it into a BBC movie. This was a delight and appropriate for teens or adults. 437 p.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Pet and the Pendulum by Gordon McAlpine

Cover image for The pet and the pendulumIn this final adventure of the identical twin, great-great-grand nephews of Edgar Allan Poe, Edgar and Allan are up against their greatest challenge yet.  Their arch enemy, Professor Perry, has returned disguised as the ghost of Edgar Allan Poe.  He tricks the twins into believing that Poe was murdered and that they must expose his murderer in order to release his spirit to the great beyond. Meanwhile, the space ship that acts as their parent's tomb is hurtling toward Baltimore and the twins may be the only ones that have any chance of stopping it.  Can the twins foil Professor Perry's plan and stop the space ship disaster before it is too late? As always, the twins get help from some historic literary giants from the great beyond and from their preternaturally loyal and intelligent cat. This is the funny and exciting end to a cleverly written series.(208 p)

Monday, June 8, 2015

Once Upon a Midnight Eerie by Gordon McAlpine

Cover image for Once upon a midnight eerieThis is the second adventure of Edgar and Allan Poe, identical twins who are psychically linked. In this one they are in New Orleans staring in a movie about their great-great-great-uncle, Edgar Allen Poe.  While on a tour of a historic grave yard they meet some ghosts and who were killed by the famous pirate Captain Lafitte in the 1800's.  The Poe twins, along with their new friends, Em and Milly Dickinson, vow to avenge the ghosts by proving that Lafitte committed the murders.  Meanwhile, the mother and sister of the evil Professor Perry, the villain from the first book, are after them.  Those who liked the first book in the series will enjoy this second one.  It is full of the same kind of witty humor, hi-jinx and literary puns.  The Dickinson twins are a nice addition and I hope to see them in future episodes.  (170 p.)

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

False Colours by Georgette Heyer

Cover image for False coloursThis is another cute Georgette Heyer period romance.  Chrisopher and Evelyn (a male, despite the female sound of the name) are identical twins.  Evelyn is the first born and is destined to inherit the family fortune and the title, Lord Fancot.  Christopher (Kit) has gone into the diplomatic service and is on the way to making a successful career for himself. When their widowed mother gets into considerable debt problems, Evelyn agrees to a marriage of convenience that will allow him to clear her debts.  On the day that Evelyn is scheduled to meet his intended's most influential relatives, Evelyn is nowhere to be found.  Lady Fancot convinces Kit, who just that day returned after 3 years abroad, to go in Evelyn's place, pretending to be Evelyn, so that the relatives will not be offended and the planned marriage will not be canceled. It is easy to see where this is going, right?  The woman whom Evelyn was engaged to marry, Cressida, doesn't recognize the switch at first, but finds she likes "Evelyn" better on the second and subsequent meetings, than she did when they first met. Evelyn still is no where to be found, and Kit is forced to continue his charade while slowly falling for his brother's fiancee. The plot is predictable, but the book is full of quirky and endearing characters and interesting relationships.  This book is not quite as squeaky clean as The Reluctant Widow.  Almost all the main characters at some time in the book mention extra-marital relationships they have had, and there is the double standard that men can engage in these kind of things without much scandal, but if a woman does, she is ruined for life. As long as you are willing to forgive this cultural flaw, the book is a fun read, and I must admit I have checked out another by the same author.  (341 p)

(I have been reading these because I jog on a little trampoline as part of my daily exercise.  I used to watch video while I am jogging, but have discovered, if I make the text on my Kindle rather large, I can read instead. This is a good thing because I don't really want to watch PG-13 videos, and I have seen all my PG videos many many times.  I decided my jogging reading can be just for fun, and doesn't have to be children's literature for my job).