Monday, March 30, 2009

Here Lies Arthur by Phillip Reeve

Reeve tells the story of King Arthur when he was just an upstart warlord trying to make a name for himself. Gwyna, a young girl, is the narrator of the story. She travels with Myrrdin (the Merlin character) who spins fantastic stories about his own powers as well as about Arthur's characteristics. Because of the harshness of their traveling life Myrrdin disguises Gwyna as a boy so that she will be accepted. The basis of familiar stories about Arthur are rewritten here - for example, Gwyna poses as the Lady of the Lake. When Gwyna becomes a teen Myrrdin sends her away for a year and then reintroduces her as a maid to Arthur's wife. Although much of the book is about Arthur's battles and conquests, a good deal is also about the roles of boys and girls since Gwyna lives as both. When Arthur learns that his wife has been having an affair with another boy at court the resulting scene is bloody and conclusive with Gwyna having to pick up the role of storyteller.

Scat by Carl Hiaasen

Nick and Marta have the meanest science teacher in school. When Mrs. Starch catches Duane "Smoke" Scrod not paying attention she assigns him a 500 word essay about pimples. While pointing at him with her pencil, Duane bites off the end of it, chews it up and swallows it down. He also tells Mrs. Starch he will get her. The next day Smoke is absent from the class field trip to a swamp. Everyone must evacuate the swamp quickly when a wildfire starts but Mrs. Starch goes back to get an inhaler a student dropped and she never returns from the swamp. Fire investigators discover that the fire was actually arson and soon they are asking questions of every student in school about what happened between Mrs. Starch and Smoke and everyone is wondering how Duane got his nickname in the first place. Nick and Marta get pulled deeper into the mystery when they go to Mrs. Starch's house to investigate and find out that there is a great deal more to this story than anyone knows.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Tears of a Tiger by Sharon Draper

Andy and his best friend Robbie have just won their basketball game. To celebrate they go out partying but Andy, who has been drinking, crashes the car and Robbie dies in the accident. Now Andy must deal with his actions. Although he expects to be hated by everyone at school he finds support from his girlfriend Keisha and a sympathetic teacher as well as his counselor. But despite this help Andy is not coping very well. Rather than a usual narrative the story is revealed in class essays, phone conversations, journal entries, and newspaper articles among other things. And a big twist at the end makes for an emotional climax to a great book.

Cirque du Freak: A Living Nightmare by Darren Shan

Darren loves spiders and feels that he has a special relationship with them. When he and his friend Steve attend a secret freak show late one night Darren is especially fascinated with Madame Octa, a spider who kills a goat with one bite. Madame Octa is controlled by her trainer Mr. Crepsley with a small flute. Darren knows he must have Madame Octa so he steals her from the Cirque du Freak one night. At home he has no trouble controlling her and is showing Steve how he does so when his sister busts into his room breaking his concentration. The spider bites Steve before Darren gets her back under control. Steve doesn't die but is so injured that he falls into a coma which baffles the doctors. Mr. Crepsley comes to Darren and reveals that he is a vampire. In exchange for saving Steve he asks for Darren to become his assistant, an act that will require Darren to fake his own death and leave his family forever.

Luthiel's Song by Robert Fanney

Luthiel is excited about the First Summer's Eve celebration which is also her 15th birthday. Her beloved sister has given her a Wyrd Stone which opens into a strange dream world when Luthiel sings to it. But on this wonderful day a Blade Dancer appears with a terrible message: a werewolf is on his way to bring Luthiel's sister to the Vyrl, a group of creatures who feed on elf blood. Luthiel knows that her only choice is to travel alone to the ones who have sent this werewolf and try to stop the order. But in order to reach their land she has to pass lots of dangers herself including huge spiders with dangerous webs while trying to keep ahead of the werewolf. And even if she makes it there alive then she will have to face the Vryl herself which is likely to bring about her own death. This is a great fantasy with many unique elements to surprise even the most hardcore fantasy fans.

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

Reynie is a gifted student who has always felt he needed a bigger challenge. When he finds an advertisement calling for children looking for "Special Opportunities" he applies. The tests for the school are different from any others he has ever had including finding his way through a dark, maze-like house. When he emerges at the end he finds that only three other children also passed the test - Sticky with a photographic memory, resourceful Kate with a bag of tools, and Constance who seems to be cranky about everything. The four are told that they have actually been chosen to help Mr. Benedict thwart the plans of Mr. Curtain who has been preparing to take over the world by sending subliminal messages through television signals for years. Mr. Curtain runs a school on an island and only children are admitted. Reynie and his friends enter the school and begin their spy mission. But as bad as they expected things to be, they find that life at Mr. Curtain's school is even worse and full of nasty punishments. They have to find the center of operations and a way to stop the plot without being caught.

Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry

Before he was Peter Pan he was just an orphan named Peter in this adventure book. Peter and a group of other boys from the orphanage are being sent off to an island to serve an evil king. On board the ship they are still treated badly being fed all sorts of disgusting things and kept deep below decks. But Peter meets Molly, a young girl also traveling on the ship and becomes aware of a trunk that seems to be receiving a lot of attention. When he sneaks into the room with the trunk he sees a rat flying over it and Molly is forced to reveal that the trunk is full of "star stuff", a magical powder from space and that her family is part of a group sworn to keep it from falling into the hands of those who would use it for evil. Unfortunately, Black Stache, a pirate, is also in search of the trunk and is likely to overtake the ship soon. It is up to Peter to fight this pirate, rescue his captives and save the Star Stuff for use by the good guys.

Chasing Lincoln's Killer by James L. Swanson

I'm not a historian but I feel confident that I do know about the major events in history. And of course I know about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and who committed this crime. But after reading this book I realize that there are a lot of things I didn't know about this event. Swanson IS a historian who became fascinated with Lincoln at an early age because they share the same birthday. He lays out the entire plot by John Wilkes Booth and his co-conspirators including their plans to also assassinate the vice president and the secretary of state - which also nearly happened. Then the book goes on to trace Booth's escape and the massive manhunt to find him. Besides the great writing, the book is filled with pictures of the people involved and documents from that time to give the reader a real sense of what the country was going through and their fears that this was the start of a Confederate attack despite the fact that the war had ended.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Lost Years of Merlin by T.A. Barron

This is the first in a series of books about King Arthur's powerful wizard friends when he was a boy. Emrys, as he is known in this book, has no memory before he washed ashore with a woman who claims to be his mother. They are living in a small village when he discovers that he has the power to light fires. But when defending his mother against a local bully he is blinded by his own fire. Emrys travels away from the village and meets a dwarf and a young girl. He also discovers that he is able to see with his own "second sight". Working with his new friends he tries to save an island from a pact made by an evil king.

Whales on Stilts by M. T. Anderson

An extremely silly book! On Career Day Lily meets her dad's boss who is half human/half whale. Larry matter of factly tells Lily about the plans he has that will allow whales to walk on land and take over the world. In fact, Lily's own dad is part of the crew making stilts for the whales while another group is designing lasers to destroy towns as they infiltrate the Earth. Although he has been told of this plan Lily's father is happily convinced of Larry's goodness and is not worried at all. It is up to Lily and her best friends Katie and Jasper to save the world!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Come Juneteenth by Ann Rinaldi

Everyone knows that at the end of the Civil War in the United States all the slaves were set free. But in Texas slaveholders decided not to tell this news to their slaves and many of them were held by their owners for several years longer. Come Juneteenth is the story of Luli, a young girl in a slaveholding family, and Sis Goose, a light-skinned slave who has been raised as a member of the family. Even though Sis has been raised as a sister to Luli and plans to marry Luli's brother, they don't tell her that she is free. When Sis finds out this secret she feels so betrayed that she begins a series of events that will lead the entire family away from home and into extreme danger.

The Salem Witch Tryouts by Kelly McClymer

Prudence is the captain of her cheerleading squad in California and is looking forward to a great year. But just when things are looking good her parents tell her that they are moving to Salem, Massachusetts to reconnect with their magical heritage. Prudence knows that she comes from a family of witches but living in California as mortals, magic has never been a big part of her life. Now she is living in a town where kids her own age have been practicing their magic all their lives and she suddenly has to take remedial classes since she is so behind. Even the cheerleading squad uses magic to pull off stunts more spectacular than she could ever hope to achieve. Will Prudence ever fit into this new life?

Code Orange by Caroline Cooney

Mitty is a typical student - he does as little as possible as close to the deadline as possible. When he has to research a disease for science class he puts off his work until the Sunday night before it is due. Luckily, his mother has a set of old medical books he can use and when he opens one he finds a section about smallpox. Although smallpox has been virtually wiped out now it used to kill thousands of people and was highly contagious. In the smallpox section Mitty finds an envelope containing old smallpox scabs which he accidentally inhales. As Mitty finds out more about smallpox he begins to fear that he is now infected and will soon infect all of New York City. To make matters worse, he also suspects that he is being stalked by terrorists who hope to use him as a biological weapon.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

My Life in Pink and Green by Lisa Greenwald

Lucy lives with her mom and grandmother and has dreams of making her own make-up and skin care line when she gets older. She has the opportunity to practice her skills with the samples sent to the pharmacy owned by her family. Lucy has grown up in the pharmacy and is stunned when she overhears her mom and grandmother talking about how they might have to sell both the pharmacy and their house to make ends meet. Lucy is determined to save the pharmacy but is not sure how she can help. She gets her first break when the high school homecoming queen comes into the store with a hair emergency and Lucy is able to help her save the day. Word spreads and before long Lucy has a budding salon business. But she's going to need an even bigger idea if she's going to save her family's business.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Monster by Walter Dean Myers

Steve is a teen from Harlem who has dreams of becoming a filmmaker. He is also in jail awaiting his trial on murder charges. A small convenience store in his neighborhood was robbed and during the robbery the owner was shot and killed. Steve is accused of being the lookout for the two boys who were in the store in exchange for a share of the money. Steve tells the story of his trial and the realities of life in prision in his personal journal and in the form of a script for a movie. Facing a possible life sentence Steve is scared about his future but he wonders why everyone seems to think he is a monster.