Saturday, February 25, 2017

Mission Unstoppable by Dan Gutman

Cover image for Mission unstoppableTwins, Coke and Pepsi McDonald, have been recruited by secret government agency called the Genius Files.  The purpose for the organization is to use the brightest children's flexible minds to solve the country's problems.  But all Coke and Pep seem to do is try to outwit evil henchmen in bowler hats who keep trying to kill them.  Coke and Pep's parents decide to take a trip across the country by RV to learn more about geography on the way to their aunt's wedding.  As Coke and Pepsi cross the country they are given their first mission, and learn lots of interesting but unimportant facts about America.

This book is the first in the Genius Files series but it seems pretty obvious to me that the writer is no genius.  This is one of the dumbest books I have read in a long time.  It is clear that Gutman's main purpose in writing the book was to tell children about unusual places to see in the US.  At the beginning there is an author's note that all the places described in the book are real.  A lot of time is spent with the characters spouting random facts about the National Yo-yo Museum, or the World's Largest Ball of Twine in Kansas.  After all the geography lessons, there is not much room for plot.

On top of that, the children's behavior is not at all realistic.  After the first time the assassins try to kill them, they seem not at all traumatized but walk home worrying that their parents will be mad at them for being late. Then they seem to forget that happened, and calmly go to school the next day.  The attempts on the kid's lives are completely lame and contrived. At one point the assassins throw them in a pit, hoping they will die of thirst, and are confident that their parents, who are in a car less than a mile away waiting for the kids to return, will not come to look for them in time.  Another time they are in a Spam factory and the assassins try to throw them into an open vat if Spam. Of course, all food factories have meat in open vats with walkways over them.  I could go on.  The final scene where they meet the evil mastermind, and he monologues about why he is trying to kill them is the lamest of all. 

The thing is, I read one of Gutman's "My Weird School" books and it was actually very clever.  So I don't know what was up with this one. (293 p)

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Time Museum by Matthew Loux

Here is the first in a new graphic novel series.  Delia, a academic geek, is offered an opportunity to compete for an internship at the Time Museum.  There are five other kids also competing, and they are from different times and places in the world.  After a period of training, the six kids are sent to their first trial, in the time of the dinosaurs.  Not everything goes as planned, and the group has to learn to work together in order to not get eaten.  While in the Cretaceous period, Delia meets a time traveler who is not from the Museum. The same mysterious guy keeps showing up in later trials as well. As the trials continue, the kids have to try to figure out who they can and cannot trust.

This is a fun, action filled, sci-fi that will appeal to kids who like Amulet.  I personally didn't like Loux's the animation style quite as well as Kibuishi's but the story is interesting and exciting, and the characters are endearing. I chose to read this one this week because it is new and I wanted to make sure it was appropriate for the 12-and-under crowd.  It totally is and I think it will be a popular series. (256 p)

Sunday, February 19, 2017

A Boy Called Christmas by Matt Haig

Cover image for A boy called ChristmasNicholas lives with his father, Joel, who is a woodcutter in Finland. They are poor, but Nicolas is relatively happy and enjoys spending time in the forest with his dad.  One day some men come and offer Joel a great deal of money if he will help them bring back proof that elves are real.  Joel agrees to go with them, and arranges for Nicolas' aunt to come and watch over him while Joel is gone.  Nicolas' aunt is cruel and abusive so when Joel doesn't return after several months, Nicolas goes on a grand quest to find him.

This is an origin story about how Nicolas becomes Father Christmas.  It is not all sugar plums and lolly pops.  Nicolas finds out that his father isn't the perfect person he always thought he was. Nicholas has some pretty harrowing experiences, but the tension is lightened by a good dose of humor.  The story is definitely told from a British point of view. Nicolas becomes Father Christmas, not the more American Santa Claus, but even American readers will enjoy the many references to Christmas traditions.(234 p.)

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Worst Night Ever by Dave Barry

Cover image for The worst night everThis is a sequel book to The Worst Class Trip Ever.  In this one Wyatt and his friend, Matt, have moved on from Junior High to High School.  Wyatt's glory from being a national hero and saving the President of the United States from terrorists has not followed him to his new school.  In fact, early on he falls afoul of the two biggest bullies at school, the Bevin brothers.  To add insult to injury, Wyatt's almost girl friend, Suzanna Delgado, gets swoony whenever the jock Bevins come by. When the Bevin brothers steel Matt's pet ferret and threaten to feed in to their pet snake, Matt and Wyatt break into the Bevin home to save it.  While there they discover a dark and dangerous Bevin family secret,  and suddenly bullying is the least of Wyatt's worries.

I don't know if this book was quite as funny as the first in the series, but it still was a pretty entertaining read.  I love the characterization of Wyatt's mother and father.  I like the sibling relationship between Wyatt and his sister.  Of course, like in The Worst Class Trip Ever, and Science Fair, the book ends with a great extended final action sequence that is both suspenseful and funny. (250 p.)

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Scar Island by Dan Gemeinhart

Cover image for Scar Island
The cover is more light-hearted than the book.
Jonathan has been sent to a reformatory school called Slabhenge on a remote island.  The head master is cruel and abusive of the boys, but Jonathan is so haunted with guilt because of his "crime" he meekly accepts all punishments.  When a freak accident kills all the adults on the island, a social order quickly arises, with a boy, just as cruel as the old head master, at its head.  Jonathan goes along with things at first, but soon finds himself defending other boys and standing up to the leader.  He also begins to realize that their island holds a terrible secret that threatens all their lives. 

When I started this book I thought to myself, I hope this doesn't end out to be another Lord of the Flies.  It did, kind of.  It is a little toned down compared to Lord of the Flies.  The head bully keeps threatening to do terrible things, but something always interrupts the course of events to prevent them from happening.  So the reader gets the idea of intimidation, without having to see the acts of abuse.  This is a good choice for young readers who like a pretty intense psychological drama, with a bunch of mortal peril added in.  It reminded me of The Girl Who Owned a City by Nelson, not in plot but in tone. (249 p)

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Big Nate: Flips Out by Lincoln Pierce

Cover image for Big Nate flips outOk, here is my comic book of the week.  Along with Amulet and Smile, Big Nate in one of the most popular comic book series in the library.  In this one Nate gets on the year book staff and decides to use the school camera to take some candid shots.  He asks his best friend, Francis, who is a teacher's pet, to borrow it for him. Unfortunately Nate loses the camera and that gets Francis in trouble.  Nate decides he lost the camera because he is so messy and decides to get hypnotized to make himself super tidy. At first it is great; Nate's grades go up and all the teachers love the improvement.  But then Nate notices some unexpected and unpleasant side affects of not being a slob.

This book has a pretty similar flavor to the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books.  It also has a very similar format, both text and comic panels.  I am not quite sure why Diary of a Wimpy Kid is in the fiction section in our library and the Big Nate books are in comics. Anyway, it was funny, silly, and a really fast read.  I can see why it is popular, especially with the boys. (216 p.)

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Arf by Spencer Quinn

Cover image for Arf : a Bowser and Birdie novelThis is the second Birdie and Bowser mystery.  The book starts with a break-in at Birdie's house.  Nothing seems to have been stolen, but someone was clearly looking for something.  Later Birdie meets and befriends a strange young woman with green hair, who also seems to be searching for something.  Things get even more confusing when Birdie's mom starts dating a man who offers to help her find a job. Is he somehow connected with the girl and the robbery?  Poor Bowser can't keep up with it all, but he knows that he loves Birdie and that he is in charge of keeping her safe. 

I enjoyed the first Birdie and Bowser mystery and I enjoyed this one, too. The story is told from Bowser's point of view, and he is a charming doggie character.  Quinn makes sure the reader understands much more than the narrator (Bowser) does, so there is the sense of being "in" on some kind of secret.  I was a little disappointed with the ending of the book.  I thought the resolution was a bit too predictable and convenient. Still, I think it is a series young dog lovers and/or mystery lovers will enjoy. (293 p.)

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Faro's Daughter by Georgette Heyer

Cover image for Faro's daughter
Max Ravenscar is worried because his young cousin has fallen in love with an older woman who works at an elegant gaming house.  The woman, Deborah Grantham, is from a semi-aristocratic family that has fallen on hard times and established the gaming house to avoid utter financial ruin.   Max makes the mistake of offering Miss Grantham a great deal of money in exchange for a promise that she will refuse the nephew's suit.  Miss Grantham is highly offended and seeks a way to get back at Ravenscar for his insolence.  Thus begins a kind of Beatrice and Benedict relationship that ultimately leads to the two falling in love.

Sometimes I am just tired of reading children's books, and feel like I need to treat myself to an adult book.  That was the case this week. This is such a fun read; total literary candy.  If any of you out there want a lighthearted, period romance that is relatively clean (there is some name-calling that refers to terms like "strumpet" but that is about all) and thoroughly entertaining, I don't know anyone better than Georgette Heyer. (282 p.)

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Freedom Over Me by Ashley Bryan

Cover image for Freedom over me : eleven slaves, their lives and dreams brought to lifeHere is one of this year's Newbery Honor books.  Bryan was inspired to write the book when she found a list of items to be auctioned at an 1828 estate sale that included eleven slaves.  Bryan writes two poems for each slave, one that shows how the slave appears on the outside, and one about the slave's inner hopes and dreams.  The 20 poems are well done, and show the slaves as people, and not just victims. The poems are illustrated with bright watercolor and ink drawings, superimposed on reproductions of historical documents related to the slave trade. I don't know if I would have chosen this for a Newbery honor, but I am totally okay with the idea that the award will motivate more people to read this handsome and thoughtful book. (32 p.)

Sunday, February 5, 2017

The Warden's Daughter by Jerry Spinelli

Cover image for The warden's daughterCammie is a 12 year old who lives with her father who is the warden of the local prison.  They actually live in the prison building and Cammie is able to interact with the inmates on a limited basis.  Cammie's mother died saving Cammie from a pedestrian/car accident when Cammie was a toddler, and Cammie desperately misses having a mother.  She decides that one of the inmates who works as a housemaid for the Warden should be her surrogate mother, and tries all the tricks she can think of to try to illicit motherly behavior from the woman.  Her efforts lead to frustration, and ultimately to an emotional crisis, the resolution of which allows Cammie to move forward with her life.

This is the first book of 2017 that is getting a lot of critical buzz.  It is written from the point of view of the main character, now a grandmother, remembering her life during that critical summer before her 13th birthday.  It is an interesting perspective, because the reader knows that somehow she makes it through the crisis, but doesn't know how.  It also allows the reader to understand why Cammie is so out of control, when the 12-year-old Cammie doesn't understand herself.  Spinelli is a brilliant writer, and the book is masterfully done.  The ending is absolutely glorious.  The only thing I am not sure about is whether it will appeal to children.  It almost feels more like an adult book.  Still, I am guessing this will be on all the Newbery lists come fall. (343 p.)

Friday, February 3, 2017

Smile by Raina Telgemeier

Cover image for SmileRaina is at an age when her parents believe she should get braces.  Right before she is to have them put on she trips and knocks out her two front teeth.  What follows is years of painful orthodontia and school awkwardness because of her messed up smile.  Here is another book that is one of the most popular graphic novels in our library. It was published in 2010, we own 10 copies, and still they are almost never on the shelf.  I can see the kid appeal.  Telgemeier is a great illustrator, with clear strong character portrayal and development.  It is a cute, autobiographical school story about growing up and dealing with all the social angst of a early teenager.  In some ways it is like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, but more realistic and less snarky. It is less didactic than El Deafo, but there is a message: you will get through all this. (2013 p.)