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)