Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Black Stars by Dan Krokos

Cover image for The black stars
In his first adventure (ThePlanet Thieves, 2013) Mason Stark and his cadet crew of the spaceship, Egypt, saved earth from a terrible war with the Tremists. Now the Earth Space Command wants Mason to attend the Tremist Rhadgast school as a gesture of peace, but also to act as a spy to check out rumors that someone at the school is developing a weapon to use against Earth. At the school Mason and fellow human cadet, Tom, must overcome prejudice and earn the Tremist's trust.  A threat from the human's and Tremist's common enemy, the Fangborn, unite the teens just in time for them to face their greatest challenge yet. I liked this sequel as much as the original.  Krokos keeps up a fast pace throughout.  Mason is a likable hero, if a little too good to be true. The other characters are well developed and the interpersonal relationships are interesting and complicated. The little hint of romance between Mason and princess Marin is a nice touch.  I am certainly looking forward to book 3. (304 p.)

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Madman of Piney Woods by Christopher Paul Curtis

Cover image for The madman of Piney WoodsBenji is an African Candian boy from Buxton, and Alvin is an Irish Canadian boy from Chatham.  Benji wants to be a reporter, so his parents arrange for him to work as an apprentice at a newspaper being started in Chatham. Alvin wants to be a scientist so his father arranges for him to go to science class in Buxton.  Going back and forth between the two town, Alvin and Benji meet and strike up a friendship.  Their friendship is solidified when they both meet the mysterious and legendary Madman of Piney Wood.

This is a sequel/companion novel to Elijah of Buxton.  It occurs 40 years after the first book and some of the adults in this book were the children in the first.  Curtis addresses some hard hitting issues in this book.  Alvin's Irish grandmother is hateful and abusive.  I admired the fact that Curtis doesn't have the grandmother have some amazing transformation at the end to turn her into a nicer person.  She stays pretty awful, but Alvin learns to recognize why she acts like she does, and pity her, instead of hating her. At one point Benji hears the Madman recount his experiences in the American Civil War and begins to understand why he behaves the way he does.  In both cases the boys have loving parents that help them learn to deal with the difficult things in their lives.  It is a good book. It didn't quite have the charm of the first book, and parents should be warned that the short scene where the Madman tells of his war experiences is pretty graphic.  Not a good choice for a child easily upset by the injustices of the world. (363 p)

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Unfinished Angel by Sharon Creech

Cover image for The unfinished angelIn a little town in the Swiss Alps lives an angel.  It (the book specifically says the angel is without gender)  has lived in the top floor of a tower in an old chalet for hundreds of years.  It helps people in the little town when it can, but mostly enjoys swooping around the nearby mountains and forests.  One day an American family moves into the chalet, and much to the angel's surprise, the little girl from the family, Zola, can see it.  Zola immediately demands that the angel do something about this or that injustice or conflict.  The angel doesn't like being bossed around, but soon discovers needs in the little town it had not been aware of.  Zola and the angel ultimately help some homeless children find a permanent home in the town.  This was an odd little book.  I like some of Sharon Creech's stuff, and not others. I loved Grandma Torrelli Makes Soup, and I liked her Newbery winner, Walk two Moons. This one isn't  as good as either of those, but it was good enough to keep me going as I did some cleaning around the house.  The plot line is a little confusing.  At first Zola tells the angle she is an orphan, but she seems to be living with her dad, and at the end of the book, her mother and little brother show up.  The little angel in the story is vaguely trying to do good, but feels that it is lacking instruction and direction about how to be a good angel. It never really does get help or direction, but in the end the reader senses the angel had become more confident in its responsibilities.  This is a gentle story, with no real conflict or struggle.  It would work for a younger child who is an advanced reader, but not emotionally ready to read something more intense.  (164 p.)

The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan

Cover image for The blood of OlympusThis is the last in the "Heroes of Olympus" series.  The 7 demigods have split up in their final desperate attempt to stop Gaea from rising.  Reyna, Nico and Coach Hedge are trying to transport the Athena Parthenos to Camp Half Blood, while the rest, Percy, Annabeth, Leo, Piper, Jason and Hazel, travel on the Argos in search for the Physician's Cure that will raise a person from the dead.  The prophecy of 7 says that one on the quest will die, and they hope the Cure will counteract that part and save their friend.  Of course, as they quest they fight monsters, and explore their relationships with each other and with their parents.  It is more of the same for Riordan fans.  I liked the ending and I think most readers will be satisfied.  I wasn't really pleased with the way he handled Nico.  In the previous book it was revealed that Nico is gay and has a crush on Percy.  Ever since that revelation the Nico character has gotten younger.  He starts out at this tough, world wise, edgy character, and by the end of this book he seems like a moody little kid.  I think Riordan wasn't completely comfortable writing him and maybe hasn't spent a lot of time with gay teens.  Beside that one little thing I enjoyed the book.  He left the ending open for more in this world, but not with the main cast of characters.  I have also heard he is working on a series based on Norse Mythology. (516 p.)

Friday, February 6, 2015

The Iron Trial by Holly Black

Cover image for The iron trialCollum's father does not want his son to go to the Magisterium, a school for young magicians.  Collum tries to fail the admission trials, but he is chosen by one of the masters and soon discovers the magic school is not as bad as his father made it sound.  He makes friends with the other apprentices and gradually starts to learn to control the magic powers he was born with.  Just when things are going well he discovers something about his own history that changes everything and throws him and his friends into in a life and death struggle against the forces of Chaos. 

At first this book seems like just another Harry Potter clone.  There is the trials, which are like the sorting in Harry Potter.  There are the two new friends, one a brainy girl and one a very friendly boy from humble circumstances. The underground school is a bit like the Hogwarts Castle, with winding passages and magical items in each room. I was thinking, "really, can't you be a little original?"  But part of the way through the plot makes an unexpected turn that was surprising enough that I actually said out loud, "What?  What did that say? No, that can't be right." After that I was hooked.  Now I am eager for the second one to come out in September 2015.(295 p)

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Wednesdays in the Tower by Jessica Day George

Cover image for Wednesdays in the towerThe king and queen have returned to Castle Glower, so all is well, right? Not exactly.  The castle is behaving strangely and Celie and her wizard brother are trying to discover why.  Then one day a mysterious egg shows up in a tower.  Celie cares for the egg and hatches a griffin.  The Castle seems determined to keep the existence of the griffin a secret, so Celie is left to care for it and train it alone. What does it all mean?  As Celie and her siblings search for answers they discover that the castle is in danger from unimaginable forces. This is a cute second installment of George's Castle Glower series.  We learn a little more about the King and Queen, and Celie's older brother who were absent during most of the first book.  Mostly we learn a lot more about the origins of the castle.  I must warn that it ends in a terrible cliffhanger.(229 p)

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Tuesdays in the Castle by Jessica Day George

Cover image for Tuesdays at the castleCelie is the youngest daughter of King and Queen Glower.  She and her family live in a most unusual castle.  It has a life of its own and changes from time to time, adding a room here, removing a hall there.  The royal family and staff are used to these changes, and even see them as the castle's way of taking care of the kingdom.  When the King and Queen are ambushed and thought dead, the castle goes into action to help Celie and her siblings retain power, and have hope that their parents are not really dead.  This is a cute fantasy full of imagination and clever twists on familiar themes.  The royal children are resourceful, but George manages to keep them child-like, instead of making them into little adults.  The story is engaging and exciting, but not violent and there are no objectionable elements.  It could be enjoyed by as old as middle school age children, but if there were a good reader who was in 1st or 2nd grade, they could enjoy it too. (p. 228)