Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Serpent's Shadow by Rick Riordan

Cover image for The serpent's shadowThis is the third and and final episode in Riordan's "other" series, The Kane Chronicles.  In the previous book Sadie and Carter had brought Ra back from oblivion, hoping he could defeat Apophis and save the world. But when he had returned, he was incarnated as an old, senile man.  The fate of the world still rests in the hands of the two teen siblings.  They need to rally the magicians, and learn how to defeat Apophis on their own.  They go through a myriad of adventures, meeting old friends and finding new enemies along the way. There is a lot in this book about resolving issues with their crush interests, and the whole adventure ties up in the end in a nice neat package.  (spoiler alert) Kids who have enjoyed the series will love the ending. I must have developed a taste for YA fantasy, because I thought it concluded a little too neatly.  If it had been a true YA novel someone important would have died (and stayed dead) in the final battle, but no one does. Still, I enjoyed the series and the book.  I have heard Riordan is working on a series featuring Norse mythology.  That should be interesting. (406 p)

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis

Cover image for Elijah of BuxtonElijah is the first free born black child in the Canadian settlement of Buxton.  He has a loving mother and father, a mischievous best friend, Cooter, and stern school teacher. He plays practical jokes, gets in scrapes, and has a pretty good life. He works in the evening helping a man, Mr. Leroy, who is saving money to buy his wife and children out of slavery in the American south. When Mr. Leroy finally acquires enough money it is cheated away from him by a man Elijah had trusted.  Mr. Leroy recruits Elijah to help him get it back because Elijah and read.  As they cross the border into America, Elijah sees for the first time the horrors of slavery.

Ok, so this doesn't sound like a very cheery book, but I actually liked it very much.  The first part is a like a Canadian "Tom Sawyer" kind of story. Elijah and his best friend have some pretty funny escapades together. The reader gets a good view of what life might have been like for escaped slaves living in Canada before the Civil War.  It doesn't get really serious until the very end, but Curtis manages to write it so that it is touching instead of horrific. I read this because the sequel The Madman of Piney Woods is getting great reviews this year. I can hardly wait to read it. (341 p)

Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Mouse with the Question Mark Tail by Richard Peck

Cover image for The mouse with the question mark tail : a novelA small mouse lives under the stables of Buckingham Palace.  He doesn't know who his parents are, or even what his name is.  The other mice call him Mouse Minor but he wants to find out who he really is. It is the time of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee and the small mouse decides he wants to ask Queen Victoria herself who he is. Little does he know, as he sets out on his path of discovery, that it will change his life forever.

I am a huge Richard Peck fan.  I liked his last mouse book, Secrets at Sea.  But I must say this one was a disappointment.  The story was cute, and the characters were interesting and endearing, but the writing was not up to Peck's usual level.  I can't account for it.  There were a lot of problems you would expect from an amateur.  A lot of the sentences were the same length and structure.  That made it choppy and stilted. There were a couple of folk sayings that were used over and over.  I think Peck was trying to be cute, but it turned out as just annoying. The pacing was monotone. The mouse did this, and then this, and then this. There wasn't really any emotional build up until the very end.  Even then I didn't feel like the mouse cared much about what was happening to him. I listened to it on recording (as I do most of my books) and maybe a different reader would have done a better job.  I don't think it was the reader, though.  I wonder if this is a book Peck wrote a long time ago, maybe even as a young man, that he decided to publish. That would explain the immature style. If so, he should have given it a more thorough rewrite. (223 p)

Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff

Cover image for Absolutely almostAlbie is a good kid with a good heart, but he is not the sharpest tack in the drawer.  He goes to a special math class, he struggles with spelling and he is below grade level in reading. His parents try to be supportive, but Albie can sense that his lack of academic achievement bothers them. He tries really hard to please them,  but his best isn't as good as his parents want. The kids at school tease him and call him "dummy".  The only one who makes him feel smart is his nanny, Calista. Her friendship is one of the most important influences in his life, but will she always be able to be there for him?  This is another novel that is getting a lot of national attention. I actually liked it better than Rain Reign.  It it had a better balance of sad and happy.  Albie's parents don't always understand him, but they do love him and are trying to be good parents.  Many books are about kids that are super smart, or super challenged.  I loved that fact that Albie was just a really nice, normal, slightly below average intelligence kid.  I am rooting for this one, rather than Rain Reign for the Newbery.  I hope it gets at least an honor. (288 p)