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.)