Monday, October 29, 2012

Starry River of the Sky by Grace Lin

Rendi is hiding in a merchant's cart after running away from home when he is discovered and left behind in the Village of Clear Sky.  Working as a chore boy at the local inn he observes many things:  the inn owner and his neighbor are feuding; the owner's son is missing; a mysterious woman who seems to know more than she says has arrived at the inn; the moon is gone from the sky; and each night Rendi can hear moaning and groaning that no one else seems to notice.  Madame Chang tells everyone stories each night but after a few of them she insists that Rendi tell a story as well.  Slowly, Rendi's own story of life with his overbearing father comes out.  Like her first book, Lin interweaves a narrative and Asian folktales.  The folktales help to move the story forward and everything is tied together in the end.  A magical story.

In a Glass Grimmly by Adam Gidwitz

Gidwitz has written another book incorporating original fairy tales - with all of their gruesome details - into a novel length narrative.  In this book he uses Jack and Jill as the two main characters who wander throughout the rest of the book.  Jill flees home after being the main character in this rewritten version of "The Emporer's New Clothes".  Together the two children seek a seeing glass in order to get their dearest wishes.  Along the way they climb a beanstalk, defeat giants (in a particularly disgusting scene), meet a humongous, fire-breathing salamander, elude lying mermaids, and travel with a frog who has been kissed by a princess.  They also tell the stories of their adventures to children who will eventually become some of the most famous fairy tale recorders of all time.  In my opinion not quite as good as the first book, but still very, very good and lots of fun!  Gidwitz is able to move so smoothly from one story to the next that at the end you're not even aware of how much ground has been covered.

Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz

Lizzie Rose and Parsefall work for the master puppeteer Grisini.  Both are orphans so they have little choice but to do whatever Grisini tells them as well as enduring his ill-treatment.  After presenting at a birthday party the birthday girl, Clara, disappears and Grisini is the lead suspect.  Lizzie Rose and Parsefall find Clara, but they have a hard time accepting it.is really her since she is now one of Grisini's puppets.  When a big fight with Grisini results in him falling down the stairs and presumably dying, the two children decide to flee London for the country after finding an invitation among Grisini's letters.  What they don't know is that they are running from one danger into another when they arrive at the home of a witch looking to give her cursed power to one of the children.  This is a complex book with numerous threads throughout.  Although it is well-reviewed, it didn't grab me at all and the descriptions of Parsefall made it difficult for me to feel much sympathy for him if, indeed, that was the author's intent.

Monday, October 15, 2012

My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher

Jamie has just moved to a new town with his dad and sister Jas and he is hoping for a new start.  Jasmine's twin sister Rose was killed by a terrorist's bomb five years before.  Her death has destroyed the family with his parents disagreeing on how to dispose of her remains, eventually divorcing, and his father spending most of his days drunk and filled with hatred about Muslims.  Jamie barely remembers Rose and doesn't even miss her.  At his new school he is seated next to Sunya who wears a hijab.  Sunya is the only person who talks to Jamie and admires the Spider Man tee shirt he wears every day.  Jamie finds himself becoming friends with Sunya and telling her secrets he has never shared with anyone else.  But he's also torn because he knows his father would not approve of his friendship with Sunya.  This is a complex, deep book.  There is a great deal more going on than I have included in my description - issues with Jamie's mom, bullying at school, Jasmine's rebellion and grief, an attempt to reunite their parents - but all of it is woven together seamlessly.  I knew something big was likely to happen at the end of the book but that didn't stop me from sobbing for about 15 minutes after it did.  But even there, what I had predicted wasn't what actually happened. 

Cordially Univited by Jennifer Roy

Claire has a big secret - her cousin is the commoner engaged to the Prince of England and Claire is going to be a junior bridesmaid in the royal wedding!  Claire is very close to her cousin Belle who has spent every summer in their small American town so Claire wants to make sure everything goes perfectly for Belle.  The first issue she needs to address is making sure the prince is good enough for her cousin.  Once Claire is assured that he truly loves Belle she has several other problems to solve.  In particular, she has to stop mean girl (and fellow bridesmaid) Pandora from breaking up the happy couple so she can marry the prince herself.  But Claire finds herself distracted by cute groomsman Tristan who seems to be interested in her as well.  An extemely light book, but fun.  However, I couldn't buy the premise that the woman marrying the prince would rely so much on her 11 year old cousin. 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Insignia by S.J. Kincaid

Tom is an amazing gamer and has been using his skills to con people out of enough money to be able to rent hotel rooms for himself and his dad, an alcoholic gambler.  Tom wants to have a better life so he is definitely interested when he is offered a chance to train at the Pentagonal Spire, a military academy.  If he does well Tom will be one of the elite combatants fighting World War III with drones in space.  After arriving at the Spire Tom finds that the catch to the offer is that he will have to have a computer embedded in his brain that will help him to fight even faster than before but will also make him susceptible to viruses.  Tom settles into his life of training at the Spire but soon learns that not everything is as it seems: a Russian recruit has his computer scrambled whenever anything top secret is mentioned in case he is a spy; the public face of the combatants is not the one actually fighting his battles; Tom's stepfather is the head of one of the companies sponsoring combatants and he wants to program Tom to be the model recruit; and the programming teacher knows that someone has been hacking his systems and he is hiding an important secret from his own past.  The premise of this book is great and all the characters are likeable but it is much too long.  I was very interested with Tom's stepfather started enacting his plan but then it didn't seem to really go anywhere.  Of course I wanted Tom to get revenge on him but I think it would've been more interesting if the plan had made Tom into more of a threat before it was found out.  Great potential but not as much fun in actuality. 

The Lost Code by Kevin Emerson

Owen has won a space at an exclusive summer camp located in the Eden dome, a place where people have been able to live a luxurious life since global warming made life outside of the domes nearly impossible.  Owen has lived his life in one of the few communities outside a dome and is surprised at the food and amenities available at camp.  But during his initial swimming test Owen drowns.  He can feel himself dying and is surprised when he wakes up with beautiful counselor Lily giving him mouth-to-mouth and whispering that he shouldn't tell anyone anything about what happened to him.  Owen's only injuries seem to be gashes on his neck that itch constantly except for when he is in water.  Drawn to the lake one night he finds Lily and some other counselors swimming and learns that he has developed gills, just like all of them.  At first Owen is happy to be part of the exclusive group but he soon learns that the camp director is searching for something and believes the gill people are the key to what he hopes to find.  Owen also hears and sees a mysterious siren that none of his new friends see.  It's soon clear that Owen is even more special than the others and that he must save himself, his friends and what's left of humanity, especially now that the domes are months away from destruction.  Another dystopia but with a somewhat different universe.  A bit slow getting to the point throughout and obvious to me that Owen was engaging in some wishful thinking about one particular aspect of Lily

The Wednesdays by Julie Bourbeau

Max lives in a small village that is normal on every day of the week except Wednesdays.  On Wednesdays the townspeople lock themselves into their houses and keep their curtains closed.  Even locked away, Wednesdays are filled with mishaps and accidents.  One Wednesday Max decides to leave his house and find the wednesdays who cause so many problems.  He runs into Ninety-eight, a seemingly friendly wednesday who doesn't have any answers about what the other wednesdays do.  After spending one Wednesday outside suddenly people around Max are beset with accidents.  And when Max meets wednesday Two, Max is told that he is "Next" - the next boy to be turned into a wednesday.  Max and his friends only have a few weeks to discover how to save Max and find out where the wednesdays go when it is "not Wednesday".  This is a somewhat odd book.  I'm not sure I loved it overall but I was interested throughout to see what was going to happen.  The ending is a bit ominous, as well, and I do like a little twist to keep you guessing.

Friday, October 12, 2012

One White Dolphin by Gil Lewis

Katy loves the ocean and her family's sailboat but she hates Jake and his father who are trying to ruin the reef near their town.  Jake won't stop teasing Katy about her mother who has gone missing and her father who is out of work.  When Felix arrives at school his friendship with Katy causes Jake to pick on her even more since Felix is disabled, even though Felix is one of the fastest sailors anyone has ever seen.  While visiting the beach one day Katy finds a beached white baby dolphin.  She manages to keep it alive until help comes and then convinces the rescue team to move the baby to a small lagoon to recover.  But the dolphin's mother has to stick around to take care of the baby once it is released and the dredging being done by Jake's father is scaring off all sorts of wildlife.  There's a lot going on in this book and I expected it to move me more. 

For What It's Worth by Janet Tashjian

Quinn is a walking music encyclopedia who treasures his record collection more than anything.  He writes a music column for his school newspaper and spends his time discussing the latest songs with his best friend.  Quinn is excited when he gets his first girlfriend, Caroline.  Both of their lives get more complicated when Quinn begins receiving messages on his Ouiji board from the members of Club 27 - Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison.  Together, they start charging people at school to receive advice from the rock legends.  But the more Quinn interacts with others the more he becomes aware of life outside of his city, especially when his sister's friend shows up asking Quinn for help in dodging the draft to avoid going to Vietnam.  I enjoyed the many references to the music of the 60's and 70's as well as the cultural allusions - a substitute teacher writes her name as Ms. Jones and the kids don't know what that means.  But I don't see it reaching many teens today who most likely don't know who these people are.

How to Beat the Bully Without Really Trying by Scott Starkey

When Rodney is forced to move to Ohio he finds that his new school has some bullies who pick on everyone, just like in his last school.  Rodney also feels sure that he will be the target of biggest bully Josh, just like in his last school.  Sure enough, he comes face to face with Josh on the first day and prepares to be humiliated.  But just as Josh is about to hit him, a stray baseball flies out of nowhere, hits Josh in the nose, breaks his nose, and disappears.  Since no one else saw the ball Rodney suddenly gets a reputation as the toughest kid in school - the only one who has ever been able to put Josh in his place.  Rodney is sure everyone will find out about his true nature before long but luck keeps going his way.  But how long can he continue to fool everyone, especially once his mean teacher becomes one of the people trying to ruin his life?  This is a light book that I think would be enjoyed by younger students.  However, at some point in the book I began to feel that Rodney himself was becoming a bully in a way.  I expected this would be addressed by the author but it wasn't and I believe that we are supposed to just be happy with the many ways Rodney gets back at those who are picking on him.  Most of the bullies in the book deserved it but I ended up feeling a little sorry for Josh who was cowed fairly early on.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Code of Silence by Tim Shoemaker

Cooper and his two best friends Hiro and Gordy are hanging out at their favorite restaurant when it is robbed.  The robbers don't see the three teens until they try to escape.  Although the criminals are wearing masks Cooper believes that they might be police officers because of the rest of their clothes.  Unsure about who they can trust the three friends decide to take a code of silence about what they have witnessed.  But the code faces serious troubles when police officers show up at school on Monday looking for the teen witness who left his bookbag behind at the scene of the crime.  Also, talking might help their friend who owns the restaurant who was nearly killed by the robbers.  While Cooper stubbornly sticks by the code he alienates Hiro who believes they should trust the police and ask for help.  This book surprised me about halfway through when God kept coming up in the discussions between the kids.  It became clear that this was a story meant to help explore telling the truth and relying on God.  Since the book is not billed as Christian literature and I wasn't expecting that, that realization threw me for a bit.  But as I reflected more I thought it was nice to have a book with Christian characters that is not just all about being Christian or about teaching you the lesson in a hard-hitting way.  As a story, not a bad mystery/adventure although I felt that the author dragged out the teens' decision to finally get some help.

UnWholly by Neal Shusterman

After the events in Unwind the law has been amended so that teens are no longer subject to unwinding at age 17 rather than 18.  Rather than making things better there is now a demand for black market body parts since there are fewer unwinds.  Connor has become the leader of the airplane graveyard and Risa works there as a medic.  Lev is under constant supervision by the government because of his clapper activities but even that supervision can't stop a terrorist attack on him.  Meanwhile, a covert organization has made Cam, a boy assembled entirely from unwound parts.  I had huge expectations for this book since Unwind is one of my favorite books of all time.  I would blame my probably unrealistically high expectations for my disappointment with this sequel except that all of my friends have had similar reactions.  Sad face. 

Scandalous! 50 Shocking Events You Should Know About by Hallie Fryd

This nonfiction book gives the details on fifty scandalous events throughout history.  Told in chronological order each event is covered in four pages.  Besides the details of what happened, the author includes information about how it impacted the world, what happened to the people involved, similar scandals, and why we still care about it today.  Even though I knew something about all of the scandals listed I still found a lot to learn here.  I had actually planned to only skim through the scandals but soon got caught up enough to read the entire book!

The Exceptionals by Erin Cashman

Claire is the only normal in a family of people with exceptional abilities.  She has always attended public school until she gets in trouble at the spring dance.  Now she is joining the rest of her family at Cambial Academy, a school for kids with special abilities.  While the other students hone their X-men like powers, Claire goes into the woods to draw.  It's there that she meets Dylan, a very attractive boy who asks a lot of questions about Claire and Cambial.  During her time in the woods Claire also finds herself tuning into the thoughts of the animals, an ability she had as a child.  She is particularly attuned to a young hawk and his mother.  Claire has always dismissed this ability as meaningless but when she tells her brother he helps her work on developing her power.  Suddenly the most exceptional students at the school are disappearing and a prophecy indicates that Claire might be the one to save them, but at what cost?  This is a fine fantasy but it had too many elements that reminded me of several other books I have read.  I did like the hawk a lot, though.  I wish she had spent time talking to many other animals as well!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Cold Cereal by Adam Rex

Scott has just moved to a new town because of his mom's job at the Goodco cereal company.  He wants to blend in and avoid problems but he is plagued by migraine headaches and hallucinations of leprechauns and large, talking rabbits.  He is befriended by "twins" Erno and Emily who look nothing alike and who compete to solve the complex puzzles given to them by their foster father.  When Scott actually meets the leprechaun face to face he learns that there is much darker side to the cereal company and that he and his new friends are right in the middle of it.  This is an absurd, silly fantasy.  I mean that literally and it is also my review of it in a less complimentary way.  However, for those who like silliness and lots of cultural references, this might be right up your alley.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Whole Story of Half a Girl by Veera Hiranandani

Sonia never questioned who she was when she was attending her beloved private school.  Everyone knew that she was half Jewish, half Indian and it wasn't a big deal to anyone, Sonia least of all.  But after her dad loses his job Sonia has to attend the local public school for the first time in her life and now people seem to care.  Sonia herself isn't sure where she will fit in.  She is immediately taken in by a group of popular girls when she tries out for the cheerleading team but Sonia doesn't feel completely comfortable with them.  She really likes her new African-American friend Alisha but knows that sitting with her at lunch will cause others to look down on Sonia.  While struggling with school issues Sonia's home life is also deteriorating as her father slips into depression and finally disappears.  This is a story with which many students could identify.  It is written in a manner that makes it seem lighter than the issues included. 

Once Upon a Toad by Heather Vogel Frederick

Cat lives with her astronaut mom and visits her dad and his new family on vacations.  Cat loves her dad and stepmom but can't stand her nasty stepsister Olivia.  When Cat's mom is selected to spend several months on board the international space station, Cat has to move to Washington.  Forced to room together and go to the same school, Cat and Olivia butt heads more than ever.  After a visit from Cat's kooky Great-Aunt Abyssinia things go from bad to worse.  Now every time Cat makes a sound a toad drops out of her mouth!  Meanwhile, Olivia is dropping diamonds, flowers and other precious gems from her mouth.  What has happened to the girls and how can they fix it?  An extemely light re-telling of the classic fairy tale with the two girls forced to work together to solve their problems.

Divergent by Veronica Roth

The world is divided into five factions each of which honors a particular virtue - candor, selflessness, bravery, peace, and intelligence.  Beatrice is part of the selfless Abnegations but she is faced with an important decision as all 16 year olds get to choose which faction they will join as adults.  Although most teens choose the faction in which they were raised, Beatrice decides to join the brave Dauntless faction and is immediately taken away from her family to train.  Deciding to call herself Tris she finds the training to be harder than she ever imagined especially since she is ostracized for being the only recruit from Abnegation.  Tris struggles with another problem - her placing test revealed that she is actually Divergent, someone who could be suited for several different factions.  But she has been warned not to reveal her status to anyone and as divisions between the factions become more and more apparent Tris realizes just how dangerous her situation is.  This has proven to be an extremely popular book with teens and it is good for a dystopia but I had a hard time buying the Dauntless training.  Why would they be so cavalier about their trainees?  And the losses that Tris suffers later in the book really annoyed me after others had sacrificed for her.