Saturday, April 25, 2015

Ambassador by William Alexander

Cover image for AmbassadorGabe Fuentes has a special talent as a peacemaker.  He handles his little twin brothers with amazing skill and manages to keep a lid on the silent war between his older sister and their mother. His diplomatic talent comes to the attention of "the Envoy" and he is recruited to be Earth's ambassador to the galaxy.  Soon after his first virtual trip to the embassy he discovers three important facts: there is a genocidal alien race approaching the earth, some  alien force is trying to assassinate him, and his undocumented parents are being deported. That is a lot for any twelve year old to handle, but handle them Gabe does, not with super powers, but with super people skills. This is a face paced and imaginative science fiction well suited to upper grade school age kids.  If the illegal immigration theme is a little heavy handed, Alexander makes up for it with a really likeable main character, an original premise, and a funny alien sidekick. The book had a fairly satisfying resolution, but Alexander clearly has sequels in the works.  Bring them on. (220 p) 

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Interrupted Tale by Maryrose Wood

Cover image for The interrupted taleHere is yet another in the Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series.  This one starts out with Penny's 16 birthday celebration and an invitation. She is invited to return to Swanburne Academy to speak as a distinguished alumna.  When she and the children arrive, all is not well at Penelope's alma mater. Evil forces have turned her beloved school in to a sad, dark place, and she is determined to help Miss Mortimer put things right.  This is more of the same for those who like this series.  There are the children's antics, the chance encounter with the romantic interest, Simon, and more pithy Swanburne sayings. There is a little development in the over reaching plot line, but not a lot.  I will probably keep reading them as they come out, but in all honesty I am getting a little bored because they are starting to be all alike. (385 p)

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Public School Superhero by James Patterson

Cover image for Public School Superhero : a middle school storyKenny is smart and a good student, but he seems to have a "pick on me" sign on his back.  He is a walking target and the brunt of every middle school bully's prank.  Then one day he snaps and gets into a fight with one of the tough kids, Ray-Ray. As a punishment the new principal assigns Kenny to teach Ray-Ray chess. As they meet to practice every day after school, Ray-Ray volunteers to teach Kenny how to be a tough guy, too.  But what will Kenny have to give up to end the constant bullying and become part of the rough crowd? Patterson intermingles the familiar middle school story with comic book type illustrations of Kenny's imaginary alter-ego, the superhero Stainless Steel. Stainless Steel's battle with his evil clone mirrors Kenny's internal battle as he decides between right and wrong.

I listened to this book on recording, and then looked at the illustrations after I had finished.  I can see that kids would like the sarcastic cartoon illustrations, but I actually liked just hearing the story better without them.  I especially didn't like the cartoon of the grandmother, but maybe that is because she was the character with which I, as a past middle age woman, most identified. Overall, this is a good portrayal of how a good kid could get sucked into a bad crowd, but also, how a good kid can resist getting sucked in.  It doesn't have the classic middle school humor of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, but it has a good, and I think, realistic message. 273 p

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper

Cover image for Stella by starlight Stella lives in a small segregated town in North Carolina in 1932.  It has been a long time since the Klan has been active in that area, but one night, not long before the presidential election, Stella sees the white-clad Klan members burning a cross in a nearby white town.  Stella and her neighbors are afraid, but they rally around Stella's father and two other men who decide to register to vote despite Klan threats.  When hatred leads to tragedy, Stella learns that kindness and courage comes in all colors.

I was interested to read this because of my own experience with the Klan when I lived in Florida as a child.  I am not African American so my view of the Klan is going to be different, but Klan don't really like Mormons either. I, too have see the white clad figures circling a burning cross, and I had a junior Klan member among the kids at my bus stop brag that he knew how to build a pipe bomb.

I thought this was a good story. Draper is able to communicate the fear the Klan brought to communities like the one in the book without showing any real violence.  My main problem with the book was the language.  I was never really convinced that Stella was a 1930's black girl from North Carolina. Draper added southern terms and dialect occasionally, but she wasn't very consistent. It almost sounded like an educated white person trying feebly to sound like a black person (which is not true, Draper is black). There is a lovely melody and rhythm in the language of a true southerner that just wasn't there. I guess I am spoiled by Christopher Paul Curtis, who is always spot on with his dialog. 320 p.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Silence in Hanover Close by Anne Perry

Anne Perry is coming to our library this next weekend and I am excited to hear her speak.  I decided since I was going to meet the woman, I ought to read one of her books first, even though they are not my usual genre.  I just picked one randomly.  I didn't realize it was the 9th in the series, but it didn't really seem to matter that much that I read this one first, and I was able to follow the plot line just fine.

Charlotte and Thomas Pitt live in late 19th century London.  Thomas is a private investigator, and Charlotte is from an aristocratic family and has married beneath her station out of love.  In this story Thomas is investigating a murder that occurred in a top aristocratic family three years earlier.  As he digs deeper he begins to believe there was more motivation to the murder than was previously thought. Key witnesses start showing up dead, and before he knows it he has been framed for one of those deaths.  Now it is up to Charlotte and her wealthy widowed sister, Emily, to infiltrate upper society and discover what secret was so important it was worth killing for. I enjoyed the book quite a bit. Perry has a good ear for Edwardian language and social structure.  There is a lot here that devotees of Jane Austin would enjoy.  I must admit the solution to the crime was a total surprise.  I would call this a "cozy mystery" where all the violence and most of the danger occur off screen. Of course, this is not appropriate for children and has some mature themes.  (341 p)

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne Valente

Cover image for The girl who circumnavigated Fairyland in a ship of her own makingAn 11 year old girl, September, is invited by a wind and a green leopard to leave her deary home and visit Fairyland. While in fairyland she meets friends, like a trio of fortune telling witches, and a lady made all out of soap, a dragon that is half library, and a sea sprite.  She also meets villains, the worst of which is the ruler of fairyland, the Marquess.  Can September find her way through fairyland, save her friends, and return home unscathed? 

This is a very trippy book!  It sounds like it was, like Alice in Wonderland, written with the help of illicit stimulants. Not only are the characters and places September encounters amazingly fanciful, but the language is mind bogglingly random, and very self-consciously philosophical.  Here is an excerpt:  "She once saw an orange parrot in the pet store and had never wanted anything so much in her life. She would have named it Halloween and fed it butterscotch. Her mother said butterscotch would make a bird sick and, besides, the dog would certainly eat it up. September never spoke to the dog again — on principle.” I almost didn't keep going with it.  But I did, and many of the lines have a wry kind of wisdom to them.  Valente's is a harsh, unforgiving view of the world, but not unhopeful.  I don't know.  It was exhausting to read, and way too heady for most kids.  It is the kind of thing an English major in college might enjoy, and quote a lot. I don't think I will try the sequel. 

Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Song of the Quarkbeast by Jasper Fforde

Cover image for The song of the QuarkbeastThis is the second adventure of Jennifer Strange who is a teenager who runs an agency for magicians in an alternate England.  In the first book, waning magical power is regenerated when Jennifer faces the last dragon.  Now the greedy King Snodd wants to control the burgeoning magical power for his own benefit.  He proposes a winner-take-all contest between Kazam and their rival agency, controlled by the evil wizard, Blix. Then the king proceeds to put all of Kazam's wizards in jail.  It is up Jennifer to make sure Kazam does not lose the contest, i.e. the right for wizards to practice magic freely, no matter what.

For those who liked The Last Dragonslayer, (and many did, including me)  this is more of the same.  Jennifer is still industrious, clever and long suffering.  The different wizards have quirky personalities and abilities and they all get into funny situations.  The portrayal of the "Un-united Kingdom's" politics and bureaucracy is amusingly satirical. My only beef with this book was the reader on the recording. (I listened to it on CD).  The reader exaggerated some of the different character's voices so much I couldn't always understand what she was saying.  Still, I enjoyed the book and will probably get the next one in the series at some point in the future. (289 p)

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Quantum League: Spell Robbers by Matthew Kirby

Cover image for Spell robbersBen's mother has started yet another graduate degree at another university.  Ben wonders how long she will stick to this one.  Ben's mother, worried about leaving Ben alone in the afternoons, enrolls him in a "science camp." It turns out that this particular science camp teaches kids to alter their environment using their minds to control quantum entanglement.  Ben seems to be a prodigy, and soon surpasses his new friends when the lab is attacked and their teacher is taken as a hostage.  Ben, and his friend, Peter, are recruited by an organization that trains young adepts to defend the world from evil quantum villains.  Ben is horrified to discover that when he joins this organization, his family's and friend's memory of him is completely erased and the Quantum League becomes his "family."  Ben is not at all happy with this arrangement, but agrees to help the League in exchange for a promise that when he is done with the mission they will restore his mother's memory of him.

When I finished this book I realized that it basically has the same premise and plot at the Dark Inheritance, and The Iron Trial.  In each case a boy discovers he has special powers, he is recruited into a mysterious society against his will, but gradually comes to accept his destiny.  It is funny that they are all so much alike, but I enjoyed them all.  This one is a little hokey because they keep trying to make their powers sound like they are scientific phenomenon, when they really are just magic. Still, Kirby writes some interesting characters and the action is fast paced and exciting.  (263 p)