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.