Monday, October 16, 2017

Sylvester by Georgette Heyer

Cover image for SylvesterI got a whole month ahead on my library book blog posts, so it was time for a treat.  This is pretty basic Georgette Heyer.  Sylvester is a rich and eligible bachelor with no interest in romance.  He decides that it is his duty to get married, so he goes in search of a young woman who was promised to him at birth.  He finds Phoebe to be dull in looks and personality. However, as he gets to know her, he finds she has a hidden wit and self sufficiency.  She is an author, as well, and had previously modeled one of her villains on Sylvester himself.  As their relationship gets closer, she lives in constant dread that he will read her book and take both offence and social retribution. 

I enjoyed this one.  It is cleaner than some of Heyer's other books.  There is no implication that Sylvester has had previous conquests.  It is one of the books where they seem to hate each other, then suddenly they are in love and ready to get married.  Still, I thoroughly enjoyed it and am just sad that I am starting to have exhausted all of my Georgette Heyer options. (1957. 348 p,)

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Lemons by Melissa Savage

Cover image for LemonsA girl named Lemonade goes to live with her grandfather after her mother's death, and meets a Big-Foot obsessed boy, Tobin.  Tobin inducts Lem into his Big Foot Detective Agency and as they search for the illusive creature, they work through the bigger issues in their own lives.

This was a pretty typical "orphaned girl in a new home" book with a little cryptozoological twist.  All through the book the reader is never sure if Big Foot is real in this world or if the kids are just chasing wild stories.  Lemonade and Tobin are both quirky and endearing and their slowly developing friendship is fun to watch.  It was a cute book and I will likely recommend it to a few of the humorous realistic (kind of) fiction readers I know who come into the library. (2017, 308 p.)

Laser Moose and Rabbit Boy

Cover image for Laser Moose and Rabbit BoyMoose and Rabbit are just hanging out in the forest when they find an alien space ship.  Moose, who is super paranoid, shoots the space ship with his laser vision.  (Yep, for some reason, the moose has laser vision.)  Rabbit, who is an incurable optimist,  approaches and aliens and discovers they are friendly, so Moose and Rabbit help them repair their ship.  That is the first story in this rather silly and random comic book.  I don't even remember why I checked it out.  It isn't on my "starred" graphic novel list.  Even though it was silly, it could appeal to a 7 or 8 year old reluctant reader.  The stories and the characters are simple and mildly amusing.  The pictures are in color and communicate the stories really well.  So, sure, why not have a moose who can shoot lasers out of his eyes? (2016, 142 p.)

Friday, October 13, 2017

Tumble and Blue by Cassie Beasley

Cover image for Tumble & BlueBlue Montgomery is taken to his grandmother's house in the Okefenokee  swamp and unceremoniously dropped off by his race car driving father. The Montgomerys each have an unbreakable fate, either good or bad, and Blue's is that he always looses.  Once every 100 years an opportunity arises for one of the Montgomerys to change their fate, and Blue is determined he will be the one.  While waiting for the appointed day, Blue meets Tumble, a girl who is obsessed with being a hero.  When Tumble discovers Blue's curse, she is determined to help him break it.  Things are not as straight forward as they seem, and soon both children find themselves in more danger than they could have imagined.

This book is getting starred reviews all over the place.  It is by the author of Circus Mirandus, which got a lot a attention a few years ago.  It is an interesting fantasy with very complex emotional elements.  It explores the nature of good and evil, fate and self determination, and emphases that there are always reasons behind other's behaviors.  Like Circus Mirandus, I wasn't completely pleased with the ending, but I can see the genius (maybe evil genius) behind it. This is a great book for a parent/child book club because it is entertaining but also rather deep.  I don't really see it winning the Newbery, but it could be an honor. (2017, 390 p.)

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Door in the Alley by Adrienne Kress

Cover image for The door in the alleySebastian loves to follow rules and always does his best to please his parents and his teachers.  Then one day he sees a door in an alley and a pig with a little hat that intrigue him.  Meanwhile, an orphaned girl, Evie, is enduring another dinner with two of the most boring people Evie could imagine, when they are attacked by some frightening thugs.  Right before the house she is in explodes, one of Evie's hosts gives her a letter from her grandfather whom Evie thought was dead.  The letter is a cry for help.  Both Evie's letter and the pig with the little hat lead the two children to the Explorer's Society, a mysterious organization that holds the key to finding Evie's grandfather.

This was a fun and lighthearted adventure with kid appeal.  Kress's writing is quirky and has a lot of personality and humor.  Sebastian and Evie are likable characters as are the unique adult members of the society.  Of course, this is the first in a series, and it is entertaining enough I might read the next. (2017, 305 p.)

Monday, October 9, 2017

Ada's Ideas by Fiona Robinson

Cover image for Ada's ideas : the story of Ada Lovelace, the world's first computer programmerThis is a fun little picture book biography I read about Ada Lovelace.  She was the estranged daughter of Lord Byron.  Her mother, Lady Wentworth, left Lord Byron soon after Ada was born, and raised her daughter to be well educated so she wouldn't end up like her flighty father.  Ana was good at math, and as a young person was introduced to Charles Babbage.  There was a great deal of mutual respect between the two, and when Babbage created his mechanical general purpose computer, he asked Ada to create the algorithm for it.  As a result, some consider her to be the first "computer programmer" even though she lived more than a century before modern computers were created.

It is always good to get new biographies of women in the sciences.  One thing I like about Ada is that she made her contribution and raised a family as a proper English lady.  The book has engaging illustrations and would work as a read aloud or as something for a child to read on their own.  It is not really a "report" type biography, but it is a good introduction to an interesting person.  (2016)

Saturday, October 7, 2017

The Sand Warrior by Mark Siegal et alii

Cover image for 5 worlds. Book 1, The sand warriorOona is the least proficient of all the sand dancers.  Her aniforms are always getting away from her.  While chasing one she overhears a council meeting and discovers that her world is in great danger.  The "Chosen One" needs to relight the five beacons before they all parish.  Oona believes her long lost sister is the chosen one,  and with the help of some unlikely friends,  she goes on a desperate quest to find her and bring her back to Crystalia.

This is a beautifully illustrated graphic novel fantasy.  It got some starred reviews and will be popular with the "Amulet" crowd.  There is nothing terribly original in the plot line, but somehow we never get tired of the stories of the underdog who discovers hidden potential and uses it to save the world.
 (2017, 248 p.)

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Hello Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly

Virgil comes home from the last day of school totally dejected.  All year he has been trying to get up the courage to talk to a girl in his class, but was just too shy to go through with it.  At the same time, Valencia, the girl in his class, is struggling with bad dreams about loneliness.  Meanwhile Kaori, a self proclaimed psychic, can feel a stirring in the universe.  Fate, with the help of a guinea pig named Gulliver and a bully named Chet, aligns to bring the three lonely children together and give them the courage to make a difference in their own lives.
Cover image for Hello, universe

This is a darling book.  If you want a light realistic fiction that will make you feel good, this is the book for you.  Virgil, Valencia and Kaori are just such darling kids and the reader is hoping so much that they end up all getting together.  Even Chet is a little bit adorable. The fact that Valencia is deaf, and Virgil has a learning disability, but still they are really good and likable kids is an added plus.  I enjoyed this as much as anything I have read this year.  That said, I don't think it is a Newbery quality, but still, it was a really fun read. (2017, 313 p.)

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Frogkisser by Garth Nix

Cover image for Frogkisser!Princess Anya prefers to  spend her time in the castle library while her older sister, the crown princess, entertains suitors.  When an evil wizard turns her sister's latest prince into a frog, Anya volunteers to find a way to change him back into a human.  She sets out on a quest to find the ingredients for a magic lip balm that will allow her to kiss the green fellow and turn him back into a human even if she is not in love with him. On the way she is joined by friends and allies, and begins to understand that her real quest is much bigger than a well placed smackaroo.

This started out like any middle grade fantasy, but it just got funner and funnier with each chapter.  The amazing thing is that as it got sillier, it also, in a way, got more serious.  Leave it to Garth Nix to make even a frothy middle grade fantasy have a little philosophical punch to it.  Nix's character development is wonderful, as the reader watches Anya slowly accept her own role as a true leader.  This was a good one that fans of Jessica Day George or Gale Carson Levine would enjoy. (385 p. 2017)

Monday, September 25, 2017

Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk

When Crow was an infant, she washed up on the shore of one of the Elizabethan Islands in Massachusetts in a small boat.  She is adopted by kindly hermit, Osh, and raised by him and a neighbor woman, Maggie.  When Crow is twelve, some things happen that make her wonder about where she was born and why she was abandoned.  Even though her curiosity is painful to Osh, he reluctantly helps her in her search for her origins.  Their investigation leads to a nearby island that used to hold a leper colony.
Cover image for Beyond the bright sea
This is written by the same woman who wrote, Wolf Hollow, which I hated.  This one, however, is not nearly as bitter.  Wolk certainly has a way with words, and this book is worth reading just for the wordcraft.  I imagine this book will be on everyone's "Potential Newbery" lists, but I am not sure what child I would give it to.  I think I will mostly recommend it to adults who like to read well written children's literature.  (283 p. 2017) (for some reason I can't get the picture to move where I want it, sorry)

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Mark of the Thief by Jennifer Nielson

Cover image for Mark of the thiefJennifer Nielsen visited the library last week so I took the opportunity to read one of her books I hadn't read yet.  In this story Nic is a slave in a jewel mine outside of Rome during the reign of Tiberius.  A powerful senator visits the mine a forces Nic to go into a newly discovered cave that is reported to hold Caesar's treasure.  While there Nick retrieves a magic amulet that used to belong to Caesar, and then escapes with the help of a Griffin.  For the rest of the book Nic and the griffin are on the run from greedy senators who want the amulet for its magical powers, while Nic, with the help of a new friend, Aurelia, tries to rescue his beloved sister who has fallen into the clutches of the bad guy.

It was fun to read a story written in an unusual setting.  It is amazing to me that more books are not set in ancient Rome.  Nielsen does a pretty good job describing the gladiatorial games and animal hunt entertainments that were a staple of late Roman decadence.  The story is fast paced and entertaining, and Nic and Aurelia are likable characters.  I did have to smile a bit that Nic's power with the amulet seemed to be conveniently just as big as his circumstances needed at the moment.  Sometimes he has colossal cosmic power and at other times he can't manage the littlest magical task.  Still, it was a fun read and I will probably recommend it to kids who like Percy Jackson or Harry Potter. (2015, 339 p.)

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Unexpected Life of Oliver Cromwell Pitts by Avi

Oliver lives with his older sister Charity and a neglectful father, in 1700's England.  Charity leaves for London to seek a better life and future, leaving Oliver in the dubious care of his father. One day Oliver's father leaves for London without explanation and severe weather destroys Oliver's home.  Oliver is taken to a Dickensian orphanage, from which he escapes, only to fall in with some thieves.  Oliver, Charity and their father are swept away by the force of fate and the corruption of London to progressively more dire situations. 

I read this book because it received several starred reviews.  I must say I wasn't thrilled.  It had the same problem almost all of Avi's books have.  It fumbles on the finish line.  Once again Avi didn't manage to create a satisfying ending. (heavy sigh).  The book does open one's eyes to the depravity of Victorian England.  I think people who liked "A Series of Unfortunate Events" might like it.  To me it is nowhere near the quality of writing of some of the others I have read lately, like Clayton Byrde and Beyond the Bright Sea. (304 p. 2017)

(I just realized I haven't blogged "Beyond the Bright Sea yet. I will get to that soon.)

Saturday, September 9, 2017

The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine

Cover image for The lost kingdom of BamarreTwo daughters of an enslaved Bamarre couple are taken by the wife of Lakti ruler.  The youngest, still a baby, is raised as the woman's daughter while the other acts as her handmaiden.  The youngest, Peregrine, is trained to be a warrior and is her Lakti father's pride and joy.  When she discovers that she was born as a Bamarre, and with promptings by a good fairy, she starts on a quest to free her oppressed people.

This is an interesting mix of the stories of Moses and Rapunzel.  It is classic Levine, with a strong female lead who can kill griffins with the best of them.  There isn't a lot of connection to the earlier book, The Two Princesses of Bamarre, except the setting and the presence of two magical artifacts in both stories.  This is technically a prequel, but you can read the books in any order(2017, 385 p.)

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Originals: How Non-conformists Move the World by Adam Grant

Cover image for Originals : how nonconformists move the worldAdam Grant is a social scientist who has studied people who are famous for being original innovators and summarizes his finding in this fairly interesting and readable offering.  Grant supports his main observations with both case studies and research results.  I was impressed with how often he referred to different studies.  He seems to have done a fairly extensive survey of the research in this area.  His examples about well known companies and individuals make the book engaging.

I thought he had some fascinating observations, but sometimes I wondered about his I conclusions.  I think he was too quick to apply principles shown in a small study in much larger applications.  For example, they might have a group of people in a study and they told one group to think of one thought for a few minutes before they did a task, and another group thought another thing for 2 minutes before they did a task and then they would conclude, "group one generated 16 percent more original ideas than the other group."  So question one is, "how to you rate how original an idea is?" Question two is, "how could this possibly relate to what happens in a real corporate setting?"

Beside that objection, I found the book quite interesting and stimulating.  Some of the ideas dovetailed nicely with principles from both Smart Trust, and another book I am reading with my husband called, Awakening Joy. I think if I were the kind to read lots of self-help books, I would begin to trust ideas that seem to appear in many sources.  (322 p.)

Thursday, August 31, 2017

York: The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby

Cover image for The shadow cipherTess and Theo Biedermann, and their neighbor, Jamie Cruz, live in one of the historic Morningstarr buildings in an alternate New York City.  The Morninstarrs were a family of brilliant architects and engineers who created smart robots and interactive buildings that permeate the York society.  They also created the Cipher, a puzzle that was supposed to lead to an amazing treasure, but during the 50+ years since their preeminence, no one has been able to solve the puzzle.  When an upstart developer threatens to pull down Tess and Theo's apartment building, the twins team up with Jamie in one last effort to solve the cipher and use the money to save their home.  As they pursue what seems to be a new line of clues, they discover that the world around them is more mysterious and dangerous than they could have imagined.

This book is getting a lot of attention.  It is a fast paced, fresh, steampunk mystery that a lot of readers will enjoy.  I enjoyed it, but there were two ways that I felt it fell short.  The first is that the kids found the answers to the clues way to easily.  The text hinted that there was a reason for that, and if Ruby will explain it in the next book, I will forgive that shortfall.  The second is that after the author initially introduces the three kids, they stop being materially different from each other.  Theo is supposed to be the analytical one, Tess is supposed to be the paranoid one and Jamie is the mechanical one, but after the first three chapters, those distinctions kind of fade into the background, and the kids move as one homogeneous mass from one adventure to another.  It is clear to me that the author thought up the plot first, and then fit the characters into it.  My favorite books are those where the character comes first, and the plot emerges out of the character's...well...character.

That said, I will probably read the next book.  I think the reason this one has received so many starred reviews is that it ends with a really intriguing cliff hanger. Plus, the alternative technology in the world is pretty fun. We will see if the second book lives up to the promise of the first. (476 p.)

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Thornhill by Pam Smy

Cover image for ThornhillThis is the story of two girls, Mary and Ella.  Mary lived in the Thornhill Orphanage in the 1980's.  Ella moves into the house next to Thornhill in the present time.  Ella finds Mary's journal that tells how Mary was brutally bullied by another girl in the orphanage.  As Ella reads, she feels a kinship to Mary because, she too is lonely since her mother's death.  Mary's stories are told as journal entries, but Ella's are told through Hugo Cabret like black and white illustrations.  The book is pretty dark and creepy and I am guessing that is will show up on Banned Books lists in not to long because it suggests (spoiler allert) that the girls both commit suicide in the end.

I brought this book home to read because have to decide whether to keep it in the children's department or not.  It is pretty sad and creepy, but I know some kids that will like it because it is.  I will talk about it to my director to see what she thinks. (544 p.)

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Clayton Byrd Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia

Cover image for Clayton Byrd goes undergroundClayton loves it when he can sneak away with his grandfather, Cool Papa Byrd, and jam with the Blues Men in Washington Park.  Then one day, he grandfather is gone. Clayton wants to hold on to anything that reminds him of his beloved grandfather, but his mother seems determined to get rid of everything her father once owned.  When Clayton's mother takes his last memento of his grandfather, Clayton decides to run away and join the Blues Men on the road. Thus begins his adventure in the rich musical culture of New York's underground.

Here is a book that is likely to be on a lot of potential Newbery lists this fall and a shoe in for the Correttta Scott King award. Williams-Garcia is a wonderful word-crafter, and has created totally authentic and sympathetic characters of Clayton, his grandfather and his mother.  She also captures the heart of blues music and the vibrancy of both past and modern urban culture. The thing is, I don't think it will be an easy sell to kids, especially in my community.  The blues and hip hop culture are pretty foreign to them.  I will see what I can do.(166 p.)

Friday, August 18, 2017

Real Friends by Shannon Hale

Cover image for Real friendsThis is one of the graphic novels that has received starred reviews.  It is a memoir graphic novel, like Telgemeiers "Smile" series, about the struggles Shannon had making friends in grade school.  It is an interesting book to me because it is one of the first books made for a popular audience that portrays a modern Mormon girl. She doesn't say that she is Mormon, only that she goes to church, says family prayers, and believes in Jesus, but anyone raised in the culture will recognize cultural norms. I didn't realize how much it would mean to me to see my own culture in a mainstream children's novel.

That said, it is also a great book about friendship.  Shannon was awkward as a child.  She gets into some toxic relationships at school but eventually manages to make her way through them. She also has difficult conflict with an older sister.  I kept wondering how her sister might feel about the book.  She is portrayed in a pretty negative light, but a note at the end explains how the two sisters were eventually reconciled and have become good friends.  This really is a good choice for readers who liked Smile or Bell's El Deafo. (207p)

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Great Treehouse War by Lisa Graff

Cover image for The great treehouse warWinnie's parents, who are both PhD's, get a divorce and then compete for Winnie's attention and approval.  Each parent tries to outdo the other in celebrating obscure holidays.  Winnie is so busy celebrating national "eraser" day or "hug your cat" day that she can't do her homework, and is at risk of failing 5th grade.  Her parents allow her to spend one night a week in a tree house that stands between their two properties.  Winnie finally decides to hide out in the tree house until her parents agree to come together and listen to her demands for a more reasonable life style.  When her nine friends hear that she is hiding out in the tree house, they decide to join her until their own parents agree to meet their individual demands.

This is a pretty silly story.  It is the same flavor as the Wayside School stories, or the Treehouse books by Andy Griffiths. It is a satire meant to highlight in a humorous way common family and social issues. It is not my favorite kind of writing and I almost didn't make it through it.  I am glad I stuck with it.  In the end Winnie uses her powers of observation to figure out what her friends really need, instead of what they say they want.  That is such an important concept, the idea that what someone really needs is not necessarily what they think they need, it kind of redeemed the book for me.(272 p.)

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Harry Miller's Run by Salvatore Rubbino

Cover image for Harry Miller's runLiam wants to go to the park with his friend, Jacksie, and practice for a upcoming foot race.  Instead, his mother urges Liam to come with her to help an elderly neighbor, Harry Miller, who is moving from his house to a care facility. When Harry hears that Liam is preparing for a race, he remembers a time when he was a boy, when he and his friends ran 13 miles from Newcastle to South Shields, just for fun, one perfect sunny day.

This book got several starred reviews.  It is quite short, but full or nostalgia and heart. The way that Harry tells his story would make any adult long for earlier, simpler days when kids could spend the whole day running around on their own.  I originally put this in intermediate fiction because of its length and because it is illustrated throughout.  I think I will move it into regular children's fiction because Harry speaks with an accent and uses a lot of slang from northern British Isles.  A early reader would only get frustrated trying to read this story.  So the problem remains, who will read this story?  It is best suited for an adult to read to a child and then discuss it with them.  Unless librarians actively promote this one it will sit on the shelf, an undiscovered gem. (64 p)

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Flunked by Jen Calonita

Cover image for FlunkedGilly is a thief and a pickpocket, but she only steals to help feed her family.  One day she gets caught taking a hair clip from a royal and is sentenced to go to Fairytale Reform School, who's head mistress is the Cinderella's wicked step-mother.  In fact all of the teachers are "reformed" fairy tale villains; Red Riding Hood's wolf, the sea witch, the wicked queen in Snow White, etc.  Gilly, and her new friends, Jax and Kayla, want to figure out if their teachers really are reformed or if there is a sinister plot brewing within the walls of the school.

This is a light middle grade fantasy that will appeal to kids who liked Colfer's The Land of Stories series.  Gilly is the typical spunky girl character who is likable, brave and impetuous. The book has a pretty predictable plot, but I must admit I didn't know if Flora, the head mistress, was a good guy or a bad guy until the end.  This was released back in 2015 and there are sequels that I may read if I get the chance. (244 p.)

Monday, August 7, 2017

Making Scents by Arthur Yorinks

Cover image for Making scentsHere is another graphic novel that got starred reviews. Mickey's parents have a business as blood hound handlers, and Mickey is raised to treat the dogs as his brothers.  He struggles at first to keep up, and because his sense of smell isn't as good as his dog brothers, but eventually he learns to track smells pretty well. When his parents die suddenly he is sent to live with an aunt and uncle who do not like dogs.  His uncle especially does not like or trust children, and Mickey's oddities make it even harder for them to get along.

This looks like a silly graphic novel from the outside, but actually deals with serious issues of loss and mourning, and questions of learning to accept people as they are.  Mickey's relationship with his parents, aunt and uncle are complicated and, in a way, authentic.  It is Mickey's willingness to keep on trying when relationships are hard that makes him an endearing character and this a worthwhile graphic novel. (99 p.)

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Little Mermaid (graphic novel by Metaphrog)

Cover image for The little mermaidI am trying to catch up my list of graphic novels that received starred reviews. This one is a beautifully illustrated version of the traditional Little Mermaid story done in a graphic novel format. Although the text is fairly minimal, the illustrations do a great job of portraying the complicated emotions of the Mermaid as she watches the love she had hoped and sacrificed for go to another.  This is not the Disney form of the story.  In the end she loses everything, though the author suggests that her fate as sea foam does have a positive spiritual potential. Still, with all of the "follow your dreams" stories for children, it is good to have one that reminds readers that sacrificing everything for "true love" doesn't always have the "happily ever after" ending one imagines. This a pretty good introduction to the old precautionary tale for a new generation. (Added plus, all the mermaids wear a shirts instead of a shell bikini tops throughout.) (66 p.)

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Pretty by Justin Sayre

Cover image for PrettySome of the girls at school think that Sophie has everything.  She is pretty, popular, and has a innate sense of style.  What they don't know is that she spends every evening wondering, in fear, what her drunken mother might do next.  After an especially bad episode, Sophie's mother goes on a business trip and Sophie's aunt comes to look after her.  For the first time in years she is not worrying about her mother.  She thinks her life will be perfect but it isn't.  She is trying to juggle having her first boyfriend, a wavering relationship with her best friend (who is also a boy) and dealing with another friend's jealousy.  Most of all she is dreading what will happen when her mother returns.

I read this book because one of the other librarians read it and wondered if it belonged in the YA section instead of the children's section.  It is a bit gritty.  Sayre's description of Sophie's difficult relationship with her alcoholic mother is painfully realistic. Also, Sophie, although only 13, gets caught up in some kissing sessions with her first boyfriend, whom she isn't really sure that she even "like" likes that much.  Still, I think I will leave it in the children's section.  I have personally known kids as young as Sophie who become the "responsible" ones who take care of troubled parents.  One of them might be glad to read a story like this one, that is full of hope that there are people out there who might be willing and able to help them.  This is a companion novel to Sayre's novel "Husky" which I haven't read yet.  This one was good enough that I want to go back and read that. (222 p.)

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Joplin Wishing by Diane Stanley

Cover image for Joplin, wishingJoplin's grandfather, a famous author, has died, and her mother isn't taking it very well.  When they visit her grandfather's home, Joplin is allowed to choose one item as a keepsake. Joplin finds a tin with the pieces of an old Dutch china platter in it.  It is so beautifully painted that a friend of the family agrees to arrange to have it restored.  One day as Joplin is gazing at the picture of the girl on the platter, she wishes for a friend.  That starts a series of events that lead Joplin to friendship, family, time travel and magic.

I am a fan of Diane Stanley.  She started out as a writer of informational books about historical figures.  Then she branched out and wrote some nice historical fantasies.  I think this is the first time she has written a contemporary fantasy, but of course it does have some historical elements. The book got starred reviews and I enjoyed it.  One or two of the characters seemed a bit too perfect to me--too good to be true-- but it made for a nice, light, fast read with an interesting plot.  It was just what I needed after "The Boy on the Wooden Box" and "Pretty."  (oops, I think I haven't blogged Pretty yet.  I will do that one next.)  The book reminded me of  "When Your Reach Me" by Rebecca Stead but with not quite as realistically drawn characters. (255 p.)

Sunday, July 30, 2017

A Faraway Island by Annika Thor

Cover image for A faraway islandStephie and Nellie are Jewish girls from Vienna who are transported from Austria to Sweden when Hitler invades.  They are assigned to stay with two sisters on an island.  Nellie stays with the younger, kindly sister who has several children of her own.  Stephanie goes to live with the older sister who is cold and stern.  As the two girls struggle to learn the new language and fit into a new culture,  Nellie thrives, but Stephie has a harder time.

I read this book because I appreciated the Boy on the Wooden Box so much, I wasn't ready to leave the time period yet.  I thought this would be a good choice because it is a Bacheldor award winner.  I was wrong.  After reading the harrowing and terrible trials that Leon went through, the girls in this book just come off as whiny.  "Oh, boo, hoo, I don't have any friends," while staying in a comfortable house with plenty to eat and the chance to go to school.  Meanwhile the kid in the other book is being beaten, starving, and seeing people get shot right before his eyes. Of course, this is an unfair comparison.  They are just two books about two different things, and The Faraway Island is just fine for what it is, but I don't recommend you read them back to back as I did. (247p)

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leyson

Cover image for The boy on the wooden box : how the impossible became possible...on Schindler's listThis is a moving story of how the author survived Hitler's invasion of Poland. Leyson was 11 when the war started and 15 when the Jews of Krackow were placed in a Jewish ghetto.  He survived brutality and starvation because of the kindness and courage of the owner of the factory where his father worked, Oskar Schindler.  This memoir is a tribute to Schindler and to the unconquerable human spirit.

The catalog entry states that this is the only memoir written by one of the Jews saved on Schindler's list.  Leyson was also the youngest person on the list. It is an amazing story and all the more powerful because it is autobiographical instead of fictional.  My daughter once went through a period when she loved reading Holocaust stories.  If you know of a mature child, teen, or adult, who is interested in that kind of thing, this is an excellent choice.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Grandfather and the Moon by Stephanie LaPointe

Cover image for Grandfather and the moon"Memere's" grandfather is devastated when his beloved wife dies.  He sinks into silent depression.  Memere tries to get him interested in life again by entering a contest to travel to the moon. She wins the contest, but wonders whether even this will break through her grandfather's wall of grief.

This is an interesting "graphic novel."  It isn't a comic book style graphic novel with boxes and word bubbles.  It is just an illustrated story that is longer than a picture book.  It doesn't have much text, only a sentence or two on most pages but with a couple of pages with several paragraphs.  I believe it was originally published in Canada.  I am guessing from the author's name that she is a French Canadian.  The book certainly has a French feel to it.  The text is lyrical, even poetic, and the mood is surreal. I could see a teacher reading this book in class and then leading a discussion about the meaning and symbolism in the story.  I am guessing this book is not going to circulate a lot.  It is a bit too "out there" for most young American readers. It might be a good one to give to a kid who has to read a book with 100 pages, who is a struggling reader. (100 p.)

Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Ranger's Apprentice, The Lost Stories by John Flanagan

Cover image for The lost storiesOk, so I went and read another Ranger's Apprentice book.  This one is a collection of short stories.  Some of them fall chronologically between book 10 and 12 (the publisher calls this book 11).  Other stories look back to the past and fill in some gaps left in earlier stories.  The one I was most interested in was the story of when Crowley and Halt met.  I was hoping it would explain what happened in Ibernia that made Halt leave, but it didn't.  It just picks up when Halt was already in Araluen and meets Crowley in a bar. I guess you get the earlier story in "The Royal Ranger."  Still, I enjoyed the book. I think Flanagan may have written it thinking it would be the end of the series.  A lot of loose ends were tied up, people get married and live happily ever after, etc. I think I will treat it that way.  I think I am officially done with the series, at least for now. (422 p.)

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Star vs. the Forces of Evil: Deep Trouble

Cover image for Star vs the forces of evil. Deep troubleStar Butterfly's friend Pony Head has been accused of stealing a tiara, and Star is determined to prove she is innocent.  Along the way, Star and Marco travel to various realms, meet an array of monsters, and seem to forget their original purpose. In the end they return a makeup compact to Pony Head which is really a telephone, but Pony Head doesn't care because she got a new one.

Here is an example of the kind of book that gives comic books a bad name.  Not only is this just stupid, it didn't even make sense.  I couldn't really tell what what happening, and it didn't really care to know. The pictures were colorful, and maybe if I was familiar with the TV show on which the comic is based it would make more sense to me.  Still, I can't really recommend the book I read. (92 p)

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Cavern of Secrets by Linda Sue Park

Image result for cavern of secrets parkThis the second in the series that began with The Forest of Wonders.  This one starts with Raffa, Kuma and Garith with their animal friends in the wilderness hiding from the Chancellor.  They each decide it is time to return to their families, but when they do they are met with unpleasant surprises.  Soon Raffa is using his apothecary skills to try to prevent another attack on the peasants by the evil Chancellor.

This book is pretty similar to the first in the series.  There are some good interpersonal relationships, and some interesting chemistry. It ends on a pretty bad cliff hanger, so don't even try it until you are willing to commit to the next book as well. This is a decent middle-grade fantasy series, but no star.   (309 p.)

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Smart Trust by Stephen M.R.Covey and Greg Link

Cover image for Smart trust : creating prosperity, energy and joy in a low-trust worldMy director gave a copy of this book to each member of the Executive Management Team and asked us to read it.  Our city has followed the Speed of Trust program for several years, and this book is a follow-up of that program.  It talks about several elements of "Smart Trust" and gives lots (and lots and lots) of examples of each one.  The principles are good.  They have even helped me in my personal relationships.  The book is a bit hard to get through.  There is just one example after another of "look how wonderful this company is" and "look at the wonderful things that company did."  It is clearly meant to be motivational rather than just informational. I kind of wish they had looked at it more evenly, and shown some counter examples, like, "if you trust the wrong person you can get totally messed up." Still, it was an okay book and I am glad I read it. (296 p.)

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Speed of Life by Carol Weston

Cover image for Speed of lifeBoth Sofia and her father are just going through the motions, dealing with their own grief after Sofia's mother dies. Sofia starts to write to a advise columnist, Dear Kate, as a way to deal with the crushing and confusing emotions in her new "motherless" life.  Then she notices that her father has become less depressed, and figures out that he is seeing someone.  Sofia feels betrayed at first, but soon learns to care for her father's new girlfriend, Kate, the same one Sofia had been writing.  Kate's own teenage daughter is another matter.  Can she and Sofia ever learn to be friends?

This book received a lot of starred reviews, and for good reason.  It looks at life squarely, but not without hope.  Sofia, and those around her all have difficult things they are working through, but there is always the promise that things will get better.  I liked the book, but I am moving it to the Young Adult section.  It really is a YA book, not a kid's book.  It deals with a lot of mature themes, and has quite a bit of mature language in it.  (239 p.)

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Crooked Sixpence by Jennifer Bell

Cover image for The crooked sixpenceWhile Ivy and Seb are staying with their grandmother while their parents travel for work, they are suddenly thrown into the world of the "uncommoners", people who can feel the magic in random everyday objects.  They attend an "uncommon" market day and soon come to find out that their family has a sordid past and that the actions of their ancestors have put them at risk in this new world.  Ivy and Seb work with a few new friends to learn the truth about their family's past as they try to defeat the dark forces within the Uncommon government.

I ended up listening to this in two pieces.  I listened to the first half about 2 months ago, and then ran out of time.  Then I had to put the book on hold, etc, and finally got to listen to the second half.  That might be the reason I found the story a bit confusing. There were a lot of characters and a lot of locations. The whole book the main characters were rushing about getting themselves in different predicament, and then escaping from them. The hole book was long on action and adventure, but short on actual plot and character development.  It was an Ok middle grade fiction, but certainly not something I am rushing to recommend to everyone I meet.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora by Pablo Cartaya

Cover image for The epic fail of Arturo ZamoraHere is another book that totally transports the reader into a new culture.  Arturo and his large extended family live in a small town in Florida.  When their family run restaurant is threatened by a developer who wants to put up high rise apartments, Arturo, his family, and his new found friend, Carmen, find strength from the words of Arturo's grandparents, and the Cuban Poet, Jose Marti, to face the threat to their family business.

This is a heart warming story. Arturo's family feels authentic, and Arturo's relationship with his grandmother is touching.  Readers who come from a large close family will have much to chuckle over in the story, while those who don't can get a glimpse into the sweet and challenging life of those who do.  My only concern with the book is that I thought Cartaya demonized the developer too much. I am sure many developers actually have very ethical motivations. Wanting to build an upscale apartment complex does not make one evil.  That said, this is a great addition to literature portraying the Latino experience and I expect to see it on some of the award lists next winter.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Tournament at Gorlan by John Flanagan

Image result for the tournament at gorlanThis is the first in a series that is a prequel to The Ranger's Apprentice series.  In this one Halt and Crowley are young men fighting against the evil Morgarath who is plotting to overthrow good King Oswald. Morgarath has dismissed all the rangers who are loyal to Oswald and has replaced them with his own men.  Halt and Crowley unite the dismissed rangers and make plans to confront Morgarath at the annual Tournament at Gorlan.

If readers like the original Ranger's Apprentice, they will like this series.  It is really just more of the same.  Crowley replaces Will in the snappy patter with Halt, but otherwise, it is the same formula: clever tactics and combat skills, close masculine relationships, castles, horses, and knights etc.  I am not sure why I like these books so much.  Even as I was listening to this one I was tempted to go back and listen to the original series again.  I think it is the strong characters I like, and also the swagger.  There is a lot of swagger but Flanagan adds a good dose of humor, too.  I had hoped this book would explain how Halt left Ibernia and was trained as a ranger, but the forward explains that that story can be found in The Lost Stories (Which is #11 in the Ranger's Apprentice series.  I think I stopped at #10). So now I have that book on hold. (384 p.)

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Mark of the Plague by Kevin Sands

Cover image for Mark of the plagueThis is a second in a series that began with The Blackthorn Key.  In this one Christopher is living in his old master's workshop while plague rages through London.  Christopher wants to help, but since he has no master, and is still an apprentice, he is not allowed to sell medicines. He and his friend, Tom, barely get by. One day Christopher hears about a strange "prophet" who is going around town foretelling who will get the plague next.  Christopher soon begins to wonder what and who the "Prophet" really is and what connection he might have to Christopher's old master.  His snooping brings him, Tom, and their new friend, Sally, into terrible danger.

I liked the first Blackthorn Key book and I may like this one even better.  It has the puzzles and well crafted mystery of the first book, without as much violence. Christopher, Tom and Sally are all great characters with wonderful chemistry. The details about the plague are interesting, and,as with the first book, the historical and scientific facts seems to be well researched. (529 p.)

Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich

Cover image for The birchbark houseOmakayas is a Objiwa girl who lives on an island in the Great Lakes in the 1840's.  This book follows the course of her life for one year.  Her father is a fir trapper and is gone most of the time.  All of the members of the family have their own responsibilities to do. Omakayas isn't as good at beading as her older sister, or as cute as her younger brothers, but she has a special connection with animals, especially a mother bear that lives near by and two bear cubs. Watching her granddaughter's affinity with nature, Omakayas' grandmother wonders if Omakayas has what it takes to become a healer like herself. 

I have been meaning to read this series for a long time. All of the installments have received starred reviews in the major journals.  The stars are well deserved and I am going to be recommending this to lots of people in the future.  It is like "Little House in the Big Woods" from a Native American point of view--interesting and tender, and full of family values.  I just noticed that it first came out in 1999, so it is older than I thought, but the most recent installment of the series (#5) just came out last year.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Seeking Refuge by Irene Watts and Kathryn Shoemaker

Cover image for Seeking refuge : a graphic novelHere is a very different graphic novel from the ones I have reviewed this month.  This is a story about a Jewish German girl who is evacuated from Germany right before the instigation of concentration camps.  She is sent to England, but has no family there to take her, so she is passed from home to home.  In some she is treated as a servant, in others she is expected to take the place of a diseased daughter.  None of the hosts respect her religious background or understand her longing to be reunited with her mother again.

This is a touching and sober historical fiction story.  The pictures are done in black and white pencil sketches and monochrome coloring reinforces the serious mood of the story.  This could be a good companion graphic novel to Lois Lowry's Number the Stars.  In some ways it is more culturally balanced because it shows that the British, although they helped the refugees, were not 100% hospitable.  It would be interesting for a group to read both and then compare and contrast them. (134 p.)

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Star Scouts by Mike Lawrence

Cover image for Star scoutsAvani has moved to a new town and is having a hard time fitting in with her new Flower Scouts group.  All they want to talk about is boys and makeup, and make fun of Avani because she used to compete in rodeos.  Then one night, Avani is mistakenly transported to another planet where she meet Mabel, a friendly alien, and the Star Scouts.  Although they look very different from Avani, she soon fits right in.  Her main problem now is how to convince her father to let her go across the universe to Camp Andromeda.

This is a delightful science fiction twist on the old "new girl at a new school" theme. Lawrence's story and illustrations are full of action and humor. Avani gets to do so many fun things, readers will be wishing they could be Star Scouts as well. Parents should be forewarned that Lawrence doesn't have any reservations about potty humor.  One of the classes at the camp is "Alien Scatology" and one of the campers makes a robot named "Goose" that pinches people's butts.  Of course, that just adds to the book's appeal to the target audience.  (185 p.)

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Bronze and Sunflower by Wenxuan Cao

Cover image for Bronze and Sunflower
(Unfortunate Cover)
In rural China during the Cultural Revolution, Sunflower meets a mute country boy named Bronze while her father works at a cadre school (a place where city folks were sent to learn the virtues of hard labor). When her father dies, Sunflower is adopted by Bronze's family. Although they are very poor, the family loves Sunflower and make great sacrifices so that she can go to school and have a good life. She, in turn, comes to love her new family, and especially her new brother, with all her heart.

This is a book that has received a lot of starred reviews this year. It is a good book for the kind of reader who wants to totally immerse themselves in another time and culture for a while. No one who didn't live in a small Chinese town could have written the story with so much detail and intimacy. Cao is Chinese, and this book is a translation from Chinese.  There is a real Asian flavor, a sense of the importance of community working together and of individuals sacrificing for the good of the whole that you don't find in Western writing. I am glad I read it. That said, I found it a little slow. The story covers 5 years in Sunflower's life, and it seemed that long by the time I finished it. The other issue is the ending. What is up with the ending???  (You will have to read it to find out what I mean by that.)   Still, I can see why it got good reviews, and it is a solid addition to multicultural literature for children. (386 p.)

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Mighty Zodiac #1: Starfall

Cover image for The Mighty Zodiac. StarfallOne of the Guardian Dragons has died and left part of the world unprotected.  It is up to the zodiac animals to find the magic stars that will turn their master, Master Long, into the new guardian dragon, but first they must defeat the evil shadow rabbits.

This was a fun adaptation of Chinese folk tales.  The animal characters remind me a little of the animals in Disney's Robin Hood.  The illustrations are all in full color, and tell the story with energy. This book is pretty devoid of subtlety.  As I read it the voice in my head kept slipping into the announcer voice from the old live-action Batman TV show.  It has been amazing to me as I have read more graphic novels, what a range there is in style and "voice" in the illustrations.  This one is not sophisticated, but I think 8 year old boys (or superhero fan girls) would love it and then play Mighty Zodiac pretend games during recess for a long time afterward. (148 p.)

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Adventurer's Guide to Successfull Escapes by Wade Albert White

Cover image for The adventurer's guide to successful escapesAnne is an orphan waiting for her 13th birthday so she can leave the orphanage forever.  She hopes that she and her friend, Penelope, will be accepted into a questing school, but there is little chance of that--or at least that is what they think.   The day before Anne's birthday she and Penelope are  recruited by a school and given their first quest. They receive one more addition to her team, a boy names Hiro, and together they face seeming insurmountable odds to pursue their goal.

A lot of books I choose to read because they received starred reviews.  This one did not.  It is a B-level fantasy at best, but it was entertaining.  The author added some steam punk elements that were fun and there is good chemistry between the three children.  The main shortcoming is that the quest that was supposed to be impossibly difficult was really not very difficult at all.  If that was a high level quest, a low level quest probably requires the student to successfully make it to the bathroom and back.  Still, it is a fun story and I would recommend it to younger children who are good readers, who want a longer book but can't handle emotional intensity yet.  (374 p.)

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Trouble with Chickens by Doreen Cronin

Cover image for The trouble with chickens : a J.J. Tully mysteryChildren's book lovers will probably recognize the name of Doreen Cronin as the author of several very successful picture books, including Click Clack Moo and Diary of a Spider.  This is (I believe) her first attempt at writing longer fiction. 

J.J. used to be a rescue dog, but now lives as an "outdoors" dog on a farm.  He tries to keep his rescue skills alive by protecting the other farm animals.  When a  mother hen comes to him and explains that one of her babies has gone missing, J.J. is on the case. 

This was cute.  J.J. talks like an old fashion gum shoe detective.  There are some funny moments when the rival house dog tries to look cool, but is foiled by the cone around his neck.  The baby chicks turn out to be more intelligent than they seem at first.  It was not an awesome novel, but a decently amusing one for a 6 or 7 year old. (114 p.)

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Phantom 'Tollbooth by Norton Juster

Cover image for The phantom tollboothThe other day I was feeling guilty because I had never read the children's fantasy classic, The Phantom Tollbooth.  When I saw it was available on OverDrive I jumped at the opportunity to assuage my guilt.

Milo is bored of everything.  Then one day a large toy arrives at his house with his name on it.  It is a tollbooth, like those you see at the entrance to a toll road.  It comes with an instruction book and some coins to pay the toll. Once Milo pays the toll, he is whisked away in his little toy electric car into a world of fantasy. 

This book has a similar flavor to Alice in Wonderland.  There is not really a strong plot, and Milo is not a well developed character, but the people and creatures he meets are interesting enough to carry the book.  They are all personifications of plays on words (e.g. the "watchdog" on the cover) and there are many puns and much snappy patter.  I know people for whom this was their favorite book as a child, though contemporary children might not know some of the old fashion terms used in the puns (it was written in the '60's). None the less, I found it amusing and am glad I read it.  (279 p.)

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Nightlights by Lorena Alvarez

Cover image for NightlightsI haven't been keeping up with my comic book.  This is one that receive starred reviews.

Sandy likes to draw, and her drawing helps her escape into the world of imagination. One day she meets a girl, Morfie, who admires her artwork. That night, Morfie haunts Sandy's dreams as a hungry specter who wants to eat Sandy's imagination. Lines between reality and fancy are blurred until they become dangerously thin.

This is a beautifully illustrated graphic novel all done in eye-popping color. It is also slightly creepy which, I think, will increase it's appeal to the target audience.  It ends on a cliffhanger, so I expect we will be seeing a sequel soon. (54 p.)

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks

Cover image for Save me a seatIn India, Ravi was the top student and the best a cricket.  Now on the first day in his new school in the United States, he finds that he is no longer a star. At his old school he would have never associated with a kid like Joe, who is big and awkward, and has a learning disability.  Now the two boys find themselves thrown together in the same remedial class, united because they are both victims of the same bully and in need of a friend.

I really enjoyed this book.  It was sweet and both of the main characters were very sympathetic.  The chapters in the book alternate between Ravi's and Joe's point of view and are written by Varadarajan and Weeks respectively.  I liked that in the end the authors included both a glossary for kids unfamiliar with Indian terms, and one for kids unfamiliar with American terms.  This is a heartwarming read for those who like the books of R. J. Palacio and Lisa Graff. (216 p.)

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl by Shannon Hale

Doreen was born with a squirrel tale and the ability to talk with squirrels.  Her parents always urged her to keep her tale hidden so that other kids don't feel bad that they don't have one, but when Doreen moves to a new state and starts at a new middle school, she finds it hard to make friends, and to keep her amazing Squirrel Girl abilities a secret.

Cover image for The unbeatable Squirrel Girl : squirrel meets worldI was pleased to see that Shannon Hale was contracted to write this one: First, because I thought she would keep it clean, and second I hoped it would actually have good writing and character development. My first hope was certainly realized.  This is a book I would feel totally OK giving to an 8 year old girl.  The second was mostly realized.  The book is written well enough that the target audience will love it.  Not only does Doreen have a squirrel's tale and strength, she also has a squirrel's chipper, slightly hyper personality.  Her parents are super sweet, too. That said, I didn't think Hale really ever connected personally with her character.  Doreen remained a cartoon character to me.  I didn't ever think she was a real person with real feelings. Maybe that is what Hale was going for, but I would have enjoyed a little more depth. Still, as I said, I am not sorry I read it, and I am pretty sure kids are going to love it. (324 p.)

(There was one incredibly funny part that makes reading the book totally worth it.  At one point Doreen exchanges texts with Tony Stark (Ironman) and they are so funny.  I won't say more, but, yep, I laughed pretty hard.)

Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Dark Prophecy by Rick Riordan

Cover image for The dark prophecyIn this second of the Trials of Apollo series, Apollo is traveling with Leo Valdez and Calipso to try to find Meg and the second oracle.  They follow clues to the American Midwest.  There they find a safe haven for Demigods and mythical creatures, but they also find the second evil emperor of the Triumvirate.  Everything leads up to an epic battle.

I must admit, I am finally getting tired of these.  They really are very much alike.  In this one the thing that bugged me is that Apollo spent so much time telling about his various past love affairs that went wrong.  I didn't want to hear about how he treated this or that human/god with cavalier sexual disrespect. Of course, there was the normal fast-paced action and snappy patter, but I think I am done.  Bye, bye, Apollo. (though I might read the next Magnum Chase .) (414 p.)

Friday, June 2, 2017

Beauty and the Beast: Lost in a Book by Jennifer Donnelly

This is a story published by Disney that is a companion story to Beauty and the Beast. The story takes place between the time the Belle first arrives at the castle and the time that Belle and the Beast dance and the Beast lets Belle go.

Image result for Beauty and the Beast lost in a bookThe story starts with a scene where two sisters, Love and Death are playing chess and discussing Belle and the Beast.  They argue about whether Love or Death will win out in this instance and end up making a wager.  For the rest of the story Death is actively trying to thwart Belle's growing attachment to the Beast by creating an alternate reality, called Nevermore, that Belle can access through a magic book in the Beast's library.  In Nevermore Belle can have all her heart's desires. She knows it isn't real, but the Countess (Death) promises that is could someday become real. Belle is torn between the friends and the glamorous life she finds in Nevermore and her growing friendships with Mrs. Potts, Chip, Lumiere, and Cogsworth in the real world.

If you are thinking that this is a cute book you could read aloud to your five-year-old Disney-princess-loving daughter, think again.  This has some seriously intense and creepy scenes.  The final scene when Belle  figures out what Nevermore and the Countess are, nearly rivals Gaiman's Coraline in creepiness.  That said, I liked this book. The pacing dragged a little in the middle, but I thought overall it was well crafted.  Donnelly shows Belle and the Beast laying the foundations of a real relationship and it makes Belle's declaration of love for the Beast that occurs at the end of the movie much more believable. I will give this book to kids ages 10+ who really like the new Beauty and the Beast movie. (341 p.)