Sunday, October 25, 2015

Chasing Secrets by Gennifer Choldenko

Lizzy attends Miss Barstow's finishing school where she learns etiquette and decorum, but she would rather be out doing house calls with her physician father. It is 1900 and Lizzy lives in San Francisco, a teaming city with a growing China Town. When there are rumors of a plague epidemic, China Town is quarantined, but the way the quarantine is carried out doesn't seem right to Lizzy.  Her suspicions grow when she meets a quarantine refugee, Noah, and discovers that the newspapers are not telling the whole story.  Together Noah, some other new friends, and Lizzy go on a crusade to find out what is really happening. 

I read this because Ms. Choldenko is coming to the library next week along with Chris Grabenstein and Clare Vanderpool.  In know! What a triple header!  Ms. Choldenko is a Newbery honor winner for Al Capone Does My Shirts, and Ms Vanderpool is a Newbery winner for Moon Over Manifest. Grabenstein's  Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library is selling like hotcakes.  I am going to the book talk for my birthday treat activity this week.

Anyway, this is an interesting and well written historical fiction.  Lizzy, with her pluck and persistence, is a complex and endearing strong-girl character.  Lizzy's father, and her friends are all fully formed, and their adventure together is firmly set in actual events that took place during this fascinating time period. Because the book is based on actual events, the plot isn't quite as linear as a made up children's novel plot.  About half way through it sounded like the story was about to end, and I thought, how is she going to fill up the next 150 pages.  But she did, admirably.  I liked this book, but I must say I didn't like it as much as Al Capone. Still, it is well worth the read if you like historical fiction. (278 p.) 

Saturday, October 17, 2015

If You Find This by Matthew Baker

Cover image for If you find thisNicholas has a lot to worry about.  He is worried that his family will have to move because of financial problems.  He is worried about being bullied at school.  He is worried that he will never have a true friend.  His worries only compound when his grandfather, who has spent the last two decades in prison, shows up on his doorstep.  It doesn't help that his grandfather has dementia and sometimes can't remember things. One thing his grandfather does remember is that there are some valuable heirlooms hidden somewhere near the old house where he lived before he went to prison. In a desperate attempt to save his own home, Nicholas teams up with some unlikely allies and tries to unravel the mystery of the missing heirlooms and his grandfather's missing memories.

This book had some really complex relationships. Nicholas is kind of an Asperger type genius. He shares a locker with an openly gay middle schooler who is relentlessly teased about his orientation.  The kid who teases him the most is the below-average-intelligence school bully, Jordan.  Yet somehow, through the course of the story, Baker manages to make them all become friends.  The relationship with the grandfather in the story is equally complex. Nicholas's grandfather admits to being selfish, reckless and doing some terrible things, and yet Nicholas becomes very attached to him.  I enjoyed the book, though a few things about it were a little annoying. The whole, "my brother is a tree" thing, and all the musical references were overdone.  Still, it was different, and the characters were all fully realized and interesting.  I was glad that there was no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.  I think this was Baker's first novel for children.  I hope he will get even better and write some more. (358 p.)

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman

Cover image for The sleeper and the spindleI guess this is Neil Gaiman week.  This is a new illustrated story that originally appeared in a short story collection.  It is a variation on Sleeping Beauty.  In the story a lovely queen is about to get married.  She is apprehensive about her upcoming nuptials, and when she hears of a princess asleep in a castle, she jumps at the opportunity to ditch the wedding and try to save the princess. She makes her way to the enchanted castle and finds the beautiful maiden asleep in the tower, attended by an old hag.  She decides there is nothing to do but wake the princess with a kiss.  When she does she discovers that the sleeping maiden and the old hag are not whom they seem.  This is a new book that has just been released with Riddell's illustrations.  The illustrations are masterfully done and the type setting and page make it a very attractive volume.  I must say that the story is just a little to weird and dark for me.  I decided to read the book because I saw the picture of the two beautiful women kissing each other.  Is this a children's book? I asked myself.  It really isn't. It is a little too dark and looks too much like a picture book for me to feel comfortable leaving it in my section.  I think I will talk to my boss tomorrow about having it moved to the YA section. (68 p)

Interworld by Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves

Cover image for InterWorldHere is a science fiction with an interesting premise.  In this book Joseph Harker is just your average high school kid on a field trip with his class, when he suddenly walks through a mist and ends up in a parallel world.  Soon he discovers that he is a "walker" a being that can move between parallel realities and is admitted to a school for walkers.  The interesting thing is that all the students at the school are versions of himself.  There is a cyborg version, a version with feathers instead of hair, and a wolf boy version.  There is also a female version with wings. All the versions of Joseph are working to keep a balance in the universe between one faction that has advanced technology and another which has magic. On their first training mission, something goes wrong, and Joseph has to try to save his team which has been captured by the magic faction.  This is an older book that came out in 2007 and there seems to be two more in the series, the most recent of which just came out this year.  I liked the book because it was different and unpredictable.  The thing about reading Neil Gaiman is that he is not afraid to kill off main characters, so you never know what will happen.  The other two are written by Reaves alone, so I don't know if they will be as good.  I am willing to give them a try. (239 p)

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands

Cover image for The Blackthorn keyChristopher is apprenticed to a kindly apothecary in London, circa 1600.  When apothecaries start to get murdered, and there is talk of a secret cult of the Archangel, Christopher begins to get worried and warns his master to be careful.  Little does he know that his master is secretly preparing him for the greatest and most dangerous adventure of his life. This book received several good reviews.  There is a lot here to like.  The characters are sympathetic and dimensional.  It is fun to see Christopher use his wits to outsmart men older and more powerful than himself. The setting is carefully drawn and researched.  Sands includes a lot of chemistry in the story and readers with a scientific inclination might have fun looking up all the chemical reactions Christopher uses and figuring out how they work. The one thing that bothered me, though, was the violence.  There is just a little too much description of people getting their heads bashed in or their limbs chopped with an ax. I don't think I was always so put off by violence,  but the older I get the more sensitive I have become.  So if violence in books doesn't really bother you, you will probably like this a well crafted, historical, MacGyver type mystery. The author left the ending open for a sequel.  I am not sure if I will read it or not. (371 p)