Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Flying the Dragon by Natalie Dias Lorenzi

Skye is an amazing soccer player who has finally qualified for the all-star team.  She's not even done celebrating when her parents let her know that she might not be able to play on the team that summer.  Her grandfather, uncle, aunt, and cousin are moving to Virginia from Japan so that Grandfather can receive treatment for his cancer.  Skye has never met her father's family or thought much about her Japanese heritage but now she has to take lessons in Japanese in order to communicate with them and those lessons will interfere with her soccer.  Skye's cousin Hiroshi is not happy with the move either.  He and his grandfather have been preparing for rokkaku, or kite battling.  Grandfather is a master kite-builder and he has been teaching Hiroshi his craft but now Hiroshi feels that everything is ruined.  Forced together, the two cousins resent each other and are jealous of the time the other spends with Grandfather whom they both love.  They are also worried about how much time Grandfather spends resting each day and whether he will be able to join them in the rokkaku battle at the National Cherry Blossom Festival.  This is exactly the kind of book I generally don't like at all because it is often just a thinly veiled message of cultural understanding where everyone learns to appreciate each other's differences in the end.  But I really loved this book.  Both Skye and Hiroshi felt authentic to me with their resentments of each other and the way in which they excluded the other but then eventually began to get along.  Skye's growing sense of her Japanese heritage also seemed realistic without going over the top.  And the kite festival was the perfect set-up for some huge crisis that would then bring the family together - and it would've been that stereotypical scene in a lesser author's hands.  But here it was just engaging and made me want to go see the battle at the actual festival next year.  A very nice interweaving of America as a melting pot with a new friendship with some intergenerational relationships with a "sport" unfamiliar to most Americans.

The Raft by S. A. Bodeen

Robie lives on Midway Island with her scientist parents.  When she gets too bored of life on the tiny atoll she flies on a supply plane to Honolulu to spend time with her aunt.  Robie is staying in Hawaii when her aunt has to leave her alone for a job.  At first Robie is thrilled by the freedom but soon gets a little spooked being alone so she decides to head home early.  Caught in a storm, her plane crashes into the ocean.  Robie is helped to escape by Max, the co-pilot and the two of them end up in a raft in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with Max badly injured.  It's up to Robie to try to find a way to somehow get them to safety.  When the raft does make it to an island it's still no guarantee of safety or survival.  I really want to like books by Bodeen because I am such a huge fan of The Compound but I haven't much liked anything since then.  I think this could have been much more compelling with Robie having to do some things she wouldn't normally such as having to eat some of the animals she loved.  I think readers are supposed to be moved by a revelation towards the end of the book but that didn't surprise me nor did it seem all that shocking given Robie's condition.  I think the book will still be appreciated by teens, but it's not as well done as it ought to have been.

Freakling by Lana Krumwiede

In Taemon's city everyone uses their psi to move items with their minds.  Besides his psi, Taemon has always had the ability to do what he calls "mind wandering" where he can see how things work which allows him to work them with his mind.  He has figured out that he is unique in his mind wandering ability so he keeps it a secret but he has to use it to stay alive when he is almost drowned by his power-hungry older brother.  When Taemon turns his power on his brother her hears a voice in his head telling him that he has permission to kill if he wants.  Frightened, Taemon stops and loses all his psi power entirely.  Using his intelligence he is able to fool everyone for awhile but his loss of power is eventually discovered and he is sent to the "dud farm" with others who have no psi.  But life working with your hands is not at all what Taemon had been led to believe and he soon finds out that something is afoot back in his old city.  This is a well-written, unique dystopia that I really enjoyed.  Unlike some sci fi or fantasy books that have convoluted plots and backstories this one was easily grasped which is definitely not to say that it was simplistic.  Just a good story.

Pinned by Sharon Flake

Autumn is a star on her school's wrestling team.  She has no problem working hard at making weight and practicing her moves.  But she has let her grades slide for a long time, especially in math and reading.  Adonis was born without legs but he doesn't let his disability stop him from being the smartest boy in school.  He can't help but know that Autumn likes him since she tells him so nearly every day, but he has no interest in someone he feels is below him intellectually.  When Autumn's parents decide to crack down and make her quit the team after her latest bad report card she is furious at first but then makes up her mind to put her boundless energy into catching up in school.  With Adonis' help, she might be able to do it. I am usually a fan of Flake's books but not this one.  Adonis is way too condescending for me to feel any warmth towards him or to see why Autumn likes him.  When their relationship does finally begin I don't see any actual change in either of them to make it feel plausible that now he would suddenly like her or allow her to just crawl into his lap.  Nor did I understand why Autumn would be interested in him throughout the book considering how he consistently treats her.  The whole storyline fell flat for me.

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina

After her mother makes them move in a huff Piddy has to start at a new school.  After just a few days a girl comes up to Piddy and tells her that Yaqui Delgado wants to kick her ass.  Piddy doesn't even know who Yaqui is and can't imagine what she could've done to offend her.  She learns, much to her surprise, that she shakes her hips when she walks and that has attracted the attention of Yaqui's boyfriend.  Up until now Piddy has always been an excellent student and has never questioned who she is.  But faced with a bully she begins to question everything about herself.  Suddenly she's doing poorly in school and giving herself a sterotypical Latina bad girl look.  This book is a great, realistic portrayal of girl bullying and the reaction to it.  Rather than shrugging it off Piddy lets the bullying turn her into a totally different person.  It's also great to have a book with Hispanic characters that is not just all about them being Hispanic. 

Monday, April 29, 2013

Deck Z: The Titanic: Unsinkable, Undead by Chris Pauls

What could make the events on the night of April 14, 1912 more terrifying than they already were?  Zombies!  Scientist Theodo Weiss has discovered a plague in the far east that turns people into zombies.  He is working on a cure when he realizes that the German government wants to take what he has collected and use it as a weapon.  Weiss flees with "the toxic" and plans to continue his research in America.  But he is unaware of the fact that he has been followed by an agent who releases enough onboard the Titanic to quickly turn much of the crew and passengers into zombies.  Captain Smith is involved in valiantly fighting the zombie hordes while Bruce Ismay is trying as hard as he can to hide what is happening belowdecks from uninfected passengers and his competition.  I had great hopes for this book and found myself getting more discouraged as I read through the first few chapters of Weiss' escape and the groundwork of getting the Titanic underway.  But once the first zombie was found on the ship the story picked up speed and was tons of fun!  I thought I knew what was going to happen with the iceberg and how that was going to mesh with the fictional part of the story but I was wrong.  I wish I'd been right because I like my idea better, but I still enjoyed the book.

Timeless Thomas: How Thomas Edison Changed our Lives by Gena Barretta

What did Thomas Edison invent?  We all know that he invented the lightbulb but he did much more than that.  This book not only shows lots of his inventions but it also explains how Edison's work is the basis for lots of things that matter to us today.  It was eye-opening for me to learn about ALL of the items he invented about which I hadn't heard before.  This is my favorite kind of nonfiction book - one that gives lots of information in a fun format that is easily read.  You can choose to just focus on the biggest sections or read all the side comments for more details.  Really great!

The Story of the Blue Planet by Andri Snaer Magnason

Brimir and Hulda are friends.  They live on the blue planet where there are only children and everyone is happy all the time.  They love spending time together and they are awed by the beauty of the flock of butterflies who leave their cave to fly around the world once a year.  One day the two friends observe a spaceship landing and out comes Jolly Goodday who promises to make dreams come true.  At first the children on the island think they don't need anything but when Jolly makes it possible for them to fly they find that their wants grow and grow.  Jolly gives them everything they want and all he takes in exchange is a little bit of their youth.  One day Brimir and Hulda are blown off course and end up on the other side of the planet where is it dark all the time since Jolly has nailed the sun in place over Brimir's and Hulda's home.  Struck with how their actions have impacted the other children Brimir and Hulda try to change opinions when they get back home but find that most of the children are not willing to change.  This message of this parable about natural resources and sharing the wealth is right up my alley but the execution left me cold.  Too overbearing to wrap me in the story with Jolly too easily changed by his own tactics at the end. 

Dead Cat Bounce by Nic Bennett

On "take your child to work day" 12 year old Jonah travels with his distant father to his brokerage firm.  Jonah is awed by the bigger than life presence of The Baron, who has created his own universe in the office where he works with his team on risky, but hugely profitable, trades.  Warned by his father to stay away from the Baron, Jonah nonetheless keeps in touch with him under his mentorship.  When Jonah turns 16 he has already earned $400,000 and goes to work in the Baron's office.  During his first week there the Baron's team earns several hundred million dollars from one deal.  But when there is a problem with the deal Jonah's dad is accused of doing something wrong and he goes on the run from a shadow agency that seems to control the finances of the entire world.  The first one hundred pages of this book take place when Jonah is 12 so it was jarring to me to find that the real meat begins when he is 16 after such a very long backstory.  If dialogue such as "Gold, platinum, silver, all rising!" "River Deep diving!" "Mountain High roaring!", "20k Anglo gone!",  "10 mill rouble/dollar gone!", "Buy thirty Banqe de Triomphe!", and "Shares driven down by heavy shorting" is your cup of tea then this is the book for you.  As for me, I thought it would never end and I snorted out loud when it ended on a cliff-hanger and I realized that there is more yet to come.  This first book has yet to leave my shelves so I don't think teens are all that interested in the impact of speculative trading on the global economy. 

The Seven Tales of Trinket by Shelley Moore Thomas

After her mother's death Trinket decides to leave home to search fro her father, a bard who has been missing for several years.  She is accompanied by Thomas the pig boy who is merely looking for adventure (and a steady source of food) but who becomes a stalwart companion.  As Trinket searches for her storyteller father she thinks that she might not mind being a bard as well so she begins searching for stories to tell.  She gathers her first story from Feather, the daughter of a gypsy king who can see the future.  Feather advises Trinket to come up with seven stories so that she will be able to stay in towns for a week.  As Trinket and Thomas travel throughout the country searching for her father, Trinket gathers six amazing stories.  But the story of her missing father is one that she never anticipated nor can she predict how it will end.  Loved this book and the stories Trinket lives/gathers! 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Lost Treasure of Tuckernuck by Emily Fairlie

Laurie has had to leave her beloved school and best friend to attend Tuckernuck Hall, her parents' alma mater and home of the Cluckers.  Annoyed by everything at Tuckernuck including the chicken hats they have to wear for assemblies Laurie is just biding her time until she can return to her former school.  It appears she might get her wish because a school board member is planning to close Tuckernuck as soon as possible.  Given her aversion to the school no one is more surprised than Laurie when she stumbles across a clue to the treasure that was supposedly hidden by the original headmistress 80 years before.  Laurie teams up with Bud who was there when the first clue was uncovered and the two begin to solve the mystery that has stumped generations of Cluckers.  But their time is running out as the school is scheduled for demolition.  This is a fast-paced mystery/treasure hunt.  The clues are difficult to figure out which I generally appreciate although these really can't be guessed by the reader because they rely on information we don't have until the characters uncover it. Besides the usual narrative this book also includes e-mails and handwritten notes from teachers, parents and students.  I found those asides funny since they usually referred to school politics or events that had just happened but I wondered if student readers would understand what was happening with them.  I also enjoyed the teachers who kept roping Bud and Laurie into activities they didn't want to do because that seemed realistic.

Jepp, Who Defied the Stars by Katherine Marsh

Jepp has helped his mother with her country inn for his entire life. But when a stranger comes to visit he asks to take Jepp to court to become one of the royal dwarves.  Enticed by a life of riches and admiration Jepp goes along.  At first he is awed by the amount of food and the grand clothing he is given along with the other dwarves who serve the Infanta.  But he soon figures out that they are often humiliated during their performances and that their fate relies on their ability to keep the royals entertained.  Jepp is particularly drawn to Lia but when he tries to help her escape after she is hurt he ends up being sent far away to begin a new life as a servant, treated no better than a dog.  But is Jepp fated to be a peon his entire life or can he show his new master that there is more to him than meets the eye?  This title is inspired by true accounts of court dwarves as well as the work of Tycho Brahe who becomes Jepp's new master.  I had a hard time getting through the book and was uninspired by Jepp's search for his father and mad once he found him but discovered what had happened to his fortune.  I can appreciate how well-written the book is so I think if you are a historical fiction fan, you might really enjoy this title.

The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls by Claire Legrand

Victoria is perfect in every way - perfect grades, perfect looks, perfect manners, and more.  As such, she cannot tolerate anything else so when she gets a B in music class she is obsessed with finding a way to raise her grade.  Victoria has taken on Lawrence as a pet project and constantly harrangues him about his messiness and his love of music which she does not understand.  Worrying as she is about her grade she doesn't notice the signs that something strange is happening in town and doesn't notice that Lawrence has disappeared until several days later.  Victoria begins investigating the titular home but finds that most people don't even seem to remember that it, or their missing loved ones, even exists.  After asking one question too many Victoria finds herself a prisoner of the Cavendish Home where all children are made perfect through unspeakable means.  This book seemed almost whimsical at first to me, sort of in a Lemony Snicket type of way.  But the more we find out about the Cavendish Home and the people who run it, the darker the story becomes.  By the end it is really a horror story, especially as you find out what has happened to the people who got too close to the truth and the children who couldn't be changed.  Something about it didn't grab me but I suspect it will be popular both because of its weirdness and the horror of the Home.

My Super Sweet Sixteenth Century by Rachel Harris

Aspiring artist Cat is in Italy which ought to be a dream come true.  Unfortunately, she is there with her father and soon-to-be stepmother whom she despises.  Her new stepmother is young and bubbly but worst of all, she is planning Cat's sweet 16 party for MTV's show.  Cat decides to get away from the adults with a guided tour of Florence.  As the tour nears its end Cat is surprised to see a gypsy tent right on the piazza.  On a whim she enters but when she leaves the tent she finds herself in 16th century Italy as a guest of her great ancestors.  At first Cat is thrilled to be rubbing elbows with the great artists of the period and she is also enjoying the company of gorgeous, romantic Lorenzo.  But on her 16th birthday she learns that her aunt and uncle have some plans for her future that are too creepy to imagine for a modern day girl.  Cat has to find a way to return to her real life as soon as possible!  A fun, girly book.  Although Cat is supposedly trying to fit in with the 16th century she does a pretty poor job of it.  But she does learn some lessons while stuck out of time. 

Capture the Flag by Kate Messner

Anna, Jose and Henry meet when they are all dragged to a reception at the American History Museum in Washington, D.C. celebrating the restoration of the original Star Spangled Banner.  Jose's mother is part of the restoration team.  Anna's father is a U.S. Senator and she is an aspiring journalist hoping to get an interview with another senator who is running for president.  Henry is staying with his aunt while his father honeymoons with his new wife.  The next day the three teens find themselves together again as they are snowed in at the airport while trying to get home.  While getting something to eat they hear that the Star Spangled Banner has been stolen.  Anna is certain that the thief must be trying to smuggle the flag out of the city that day so the flag has to be somewhere in the airport.  Not only were the three at the reception the night before, but they also discover that their families are part of the Silver Jaguar society, a secret organization that protects artwork and antiquities.  With the storm ending the new friends only have a little time to find the flag before it leaves the city forever.  This is a great middle school action/mystery.  The kids are believeable as teens and the adults also ring true.  The story moves along at a nice clip but isn't too long.  Just about right in every way for 6th graders in particular but still enjoyable for others.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons by Eric Litwin

Pete the cat is back!  In this book he is wearing a favorite shirt with four groovy buttons.  But what will happen when the buttons pop off one by one?  Will Pete cry?  Like the first Pete the Cat book, this story comes with a song and a deep message by zen master Pete.

Lucky Ducklings by Eva Moore

Mama duck takes her babies out for a walk through town one day.  The ducklings are following along doing fine until, one by one, they drop into a storm drain.  Mama is distraught but people in the town rush to the rescue and save all the babies.  This picture book is based on a true story and reminiscent of Make Way for Ducklings.  Being a HUGE Make Way for Ducklings fan, I was a bit let down by this duck story although I'm very happy that the ducks were saved.  :-)

Monkey & Robot by Peter Cat

Best friends Monkey and Robot watch a scary movie, care for a cocoon and play a game together.  Robot is calm throughout which is helpful when Monkey is scared while watching the movie.  I laughed out loud when different animals came in to eat the caterpillar food and even more when Robot hid behind Monkey's chair in hide and seek.  The illustrations are a bit lackluster for me but the stories were fun.

My First Day by Robin Page

This picture book starts with humans who don't do much on their first day of life but then moves on to other animals.  Unlike humans, many other animals are quite active on their first day.  For example, a wood duck jumps right out of the nest and begins swimming after its mother.  And a Darwin frog emerges from its father's mouth where it has been growing.  Each page gives a short explanation of the first day for some familiar and several totally unfamiliar animals.  More information about each animal is provided at the back of the book for further exploration.

Millions, Billions & Trillions by David Adler

Adler takes some big numbers and puts them into perspective using examples that make sense.  For example, one million dollars would buy you two pizzas every day for 68 years.  Who can't relate to that?  Even with examples of that type it is difficult to imagine just how big a trillion is.  Adler also does a nice job of explaining WHY we need to have some understanding of the size of these numbers in our everyday lives.  It's also nice to have a math book that can just be read almost as a story rather than nonfiction. 

Rabbit and Robot: The Sleepover by Cece Bell

Rabbit has planned an exciting sleepover with his friend Robot but nothing goes as planned.  Consulting his list of activities Rabbit finds that the first activity of the evening is to make pizza but Robot likes nuts, bolts and screws on his pizza.  When moving on to the watching TV portion of the night Robot passes out and a message begins printing but what does it say?  This is a silly picture book that reminds me very much of Frog and Toad stories.  Rabbit is exciteable but Robot always stays calm (as you would expect from a robot) which leads to funny situations.

Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson

Chloe and her friends ignore and sometimes tease Maya when she arrives at their school.  Maya wears secondhand clothes and is soon called "Never New" by Chloe and others.  When the teacher leads the class in an activity showing how each kindness performed impacts many people as the effects ripple outwards, Chloe is ashamed to discover that she can't think of any kind acts she has performed.  Chloe especially wishes she could make things up to Maya but it is too late since Maya has moved again.  This picture book addresses bullying from the other side, pointing out that even the bully suffers. 

Boris by Cynthia Rylant

Boris is a book of poems about a big grey cat and his owner.  As a cat lover I was drawn in by descriptions of Boris and the catty things he did.  As a somewhat extreme cat owner I was unhappy with Boris being let outside and lyrical descriptions of how much he was living life even if he disappeared one day.  Pleasant, some laugh out loud moments, but probably more appreciated by adults who are cat nuts than teens.

Colin Fischer by Ashley Edward Miller

Colin can't stand to be touched and sometimes has meltdowns because of his Asperger's syndrome.  He also has problems recognizing emotions and relies on pictures of faces to help determine how others are feeling.  He has been picked on his entire school life because of his problems with his biggest bully being Wayne.  High school brings a whole new set of problems with both students and teachers.  When there is an incident involving a gun in the school cafeteria the principal is quick to blame Wayne.  But Colin, who reveres Sherlock Holmes and thinks just as logically, knows that Wayne wasn't to blame.  Colin only wants to solve the mystery and find the truth so he doesn't find it strange to be defending the boy who has been his nemesis.  I didn't dislike the book but I didn't really warm up to it either for some reason.  One main thing I didn't like was how Colin's brother treated him without there being any repercussions from their parents.  The brother is a minor character so that isn't a major theme in the book, but it still bothered me.  I did, however, laugh at Colin's lies to his parents which were so stiff and would be obvious from any other teen. 

A Whole Lot of Lucky by Danette Haworth

Hailee is embarassed by how poor her family is and the fact that they have to buy clothes at the Goodwill and Salvation Army.  When her parents win the lottery Hailee starts making a list of the things she wants and envisions her new amazing life.  But while she does get a new bike and - finally! - gets a cell phone, she is dismayed to find out that one of the things her parents decide on her behalf is to send her to exclusive Magnolia Academy.  She makes a couple of new friends but is very drawn to bad girl Nikki and soon finds herself alienating new friends, her best friend from her old school and her parents.  After Nikki pulls Hailee into a scheme that makes her realize how she has been behaving Hailee realizes she has to try to fix things.  But not everything can be resolved with just an apology.  I expected something different from this book but in the end I found it to be a pleasant story.  It is obviously aimed at younger readers who are worrying about fitting in and, sometimes, making the wrong choices even if they don't have millions to worry about. 

Quarterback Season by Fred Bowen

Matt is the quarterback of his middle school team and football is all he cares about.  But his new English teacher is also making him keep a journal.  Unsure of what he could possibly write about Matt decides to focus on football.  His first few entries are short and uninspiring but his teacher's feedback forces him to be more descriptive.  As the book goes on Matt becomes a very descriptive writer, pulling the reader into his problems on the team.  In particular, Matt struggles with new player Devro who is also a talented quarterback and Matt's biggest competition.  Often books that use a class assignment as a device come across as an unrealistic portrayal of a cool kid who comes to unwittingly love schoolwork.  Our students are not fooled by this!  This book does a better job of realistically portraying Matt's growth as a writer while also showing his growth on the field.  Like many sports-themed books it is pretty simplistic in plot but offers enough of a story to keep readers interested.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Storm Runners by Roland Smith

Ever since Chase's father survived being struck by lightning he has been dragging Chase with him as he chases storms.  With a huge hurricane bearing down Chase and his dad travel to Florida.  Chase begins school while his dad goes to a nearby town where he thinks the hurricane will make landfall.  When predictions prove wrong and the storm is raging around Chase's school the students are sent home.  Based on his experience Chase knows that traveling on the bus is a bad idea but he goes along with his new friend anyway.  But Chase's fears prove to be valid when the bus crashes and he and two others are stranded in the middle of a hurricane with only his backpack to help them survive.  There are several Roland Smith books I like a lot for middle schoolers.  This is not one of them.  While his writing is usually solidly middle school-esque, it doesn't usually talk down to them.  But this title was just too predictable and blah even in the middle of what ought to be a heart-stopping situation. 

The False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen

Sage is plucked from an orphanage by Conner, a nobleman.  Along with two other orphans Sage is schooled in manners, swordfighting and academic subjects.  Conner's ultimate plan is to choose one of the boys to impersonate the long lost, presumed dead, prince now that the rest of the royal family has been poisoned.  With his own imposter in place Conner plans to take control of the kingdom for himself.  After witnessing Conner's cold-hearted killing of one of the orphans who defies him Sage and the remaining boys realize that their competition literally has life or death consequences.  Despite this Sage seems to go out of his way to annoy Conner at every opportunity but his schemes have a plan behind them that Sage slowly reveals to others around him.  This is a great adventure with interesting characters, including the secondary characters.  I suspected what was going on with Sage but that just made it more fun for me to read to see if the events confirmed my suspicions.  And although I was correct in general, there were a great many more things in play that I didn't see the significance of at the time.  Adventure, mystery and some very satisfying revenge made this a favorite for me.

You'll Like it Here (Everybody Does) by Ruth White

As a young child Meggie was traumatized by a man who broke into her classroom with a gun claiming that there were aliens in the room.  Her family moved across the country and have been living happily in a small town in the south.  But when certain members of the town begin to talk about aliens living amongst them and a mob forms, the family is forced to move again since they actually are aliens.  Meggie's mom and grandfather only know a bit about operating their spacecraft so the family ends up on a planet that looks very much like Earth but has an alternate history.  Everyone in their town does whatever the Fathers prescribe and standing out in any way is a crime.  Meggie and her family try to fit in but they are unhappy with their new home.  With her mom and grandfather forced to work all day, every day Meggie decides to try to understand the manual for her spacecraft herself.  And with members of the family attracting more attention for their unique behavior each day, it seems like they might need to use their ship sometime soon...  This is obviously intended to be a dystopia in the vein of 1984 for an upper elementary age.  Perhaps for that age group this would be thought-provoking but I was not impressed.  The writing was pedestrian and I didn't care much about any of the characters. 

The Farm by Emily McKay

Lily and her autistic twin sister Mel are living on a Farm after the United States has been overrun by Ticks, vampire/zombie-like creatures that eat humans and spread like a wild virus.  Most teens have been sent to Farms, supposedly to protect them from the Ticks. While there they are fed but they are also asked to give donations of blood to help feed the Ticks and keep them at bay.  Residents who get in trouble are tied outside the gates for the Ticks to feed on.  And girls who want to delay the inevitable get pregnant on purpose.  Lily has a plan for escape and sets off to trade a few precious things for the items she and Mel will need to survive outside the Farm's gates.  She runs into Carter, a boy she had a crush on in school before the Ticks.  Carter takes an immediate interest in Lily and once he guesses her plans reveals that he is actually there to rescue her as he believes she might have a power to stop the Ticks once and for all.  But life on the outside of the gates is even more dangerous than Lily imagined and Carter's allies present their own challenges to everyone's ultimate survival.  The story is fine and will appeal to those who can't get enough to this type of book.  As for me, I have had enough of the paranormal, action, survival, person with an ability that can save the world genre.  So you might want to take that into account when deciding whether to read the book or not.  I do appreciate that Lily is a strong character with more than enough backbone to stand alongside Carter.  I enjoyed the not-Tick vampire but was unsure of why all the people were so disgusted by his habits considering the world in which they live.  I saw the twist of what was happening with Mel a mile away. 

Hidden by Helen Frost

8 year old Wren is in the back of her car when it is stolen.  Unseen by the thief she ends up trapped in his garage for several days trying to figure out a way to escape and get back home.  She can hear snatches of pleas from her parents on TV begging for her return.  She also overhears the thief's wife and daughter talking to him about his crime as well as their cries when he yells or hits them.  While waiting for her opportunity to escape from the garage, Wren is helped by Darra, the thief's daughter, who leaves sandwiches and water in places Wren can find them.  After her escape her kidnapper is arrested and Wren tries not to think of him ever again.  But that becomes difficult when both girls end up at a summer camp, in the same cabin, several years later.  At first angry at each other they come to an uneasy truce and then begin to understand how the kidnapping affected both of them.  This is an interesting story told in verse but it didn't grab me much.  The chapter narrators alternate and I often had to remind myself which girl was speaking and whether that girl was the one who was kidnapped or the daughter of the kidnapper.  I think it was going for a deep message but it didn't get there for me.

The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen by Susin Nielsen

Henry and his father have just moved to a new town after IT happened.  Henry's counselor has asked him to keep a journal which he is doing reluctantly (hence, the title).  Starting at his new schoolHenry finds himself on the outside because of his weight which has gone up since IT happened, and because the geekiest kid in school immediately latches onto him.  Despite his misgivings he finds that he has a lot in common with his new friend including the fact that they both love professional wrestling although they root for different people.  Henry is also drafted into the school's academic quiz team where he makes other friends and meets an unusual and intriguing girl.  But as Henry chronicles what's happening at school he also reveals his past and what led to him being in counseling.  His older brother was bullied so badly that he shot the bully and killed himself and Henry has some guilt about what happened before that horrible event.  This is a powerful book that really gets into some of the thornier issues about bullying such as survivor's guilt and the impact on family members.  The cover, however, is one of the worst ever!  It makes the book appear to be akin to Diary of a Wimpy Kid so someone is going to get a rude surprise when choosing this title. 

The Encyclopedia of Me by Karen Rivers

Tink is grounded, again.  Rather than moping she decides to spend all her new free time writing her own encyclopedia which is all about her.  Although it might seem impossible to do so, the author manages to tell a cohesive story of Tink's summer with entries in alphabetical order.  Among other things Tink decides to begin skateboarding and meets up with cute neighbor Kai who teaches her skating vocabulary and tricks.  Unfortunately, her stunning best friend Freddie Blue likes Kai as well and Tink knows she can never compete with Freddie Blue.   Tink's summer is also filled with prepping for a visit from a People-type magazine that is doing a story about her family and how they deal with her brother's autism.  As the novel goes on it becomes clear that Tink is seeing things differently and this is bringing about some changes in her home and social life, some of the changes being totally unexpected.  This is a good story with romance, friendship and family life and is cleverly done with the encyclopedia format.  I was, however, highly annoyed by the many, many footnotes in the book which really broke up the flow of reading for me.  I don't see teens enjoying them much either. 

Peace by Wendy Anderson Halperin

This beautiful picture book requires lots of time to really pore over.  While there is a "story" of sorts - "For there to be peace in the world there needs to be peace in nations" - the real meat is contained in the illustrations and the many quotes contained therein.  The quotations come from so many famous people across all walks of life, all of whom are speaking to the possibility of peace in the world and our lives.  A really lovely title that is deceptively short.

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Price of Freedom by Dennis Brindell Fradin

This nonfiction picture book tells the story of two runaway slaves who managed to make it to Oberlin, Ohio.  Oberlin prided itself on being a safe haven for runaway slaves.  The two Price brothers decided to stay in Oberlin rather than running into Canada as they had originally planned.  However, the Fugitive Slave Act meant that they could be returned to slavery at any time if they were still in the United States.  When bounty hunters arrived in Oberlin Jon Price was captured and the hunters prepared to take him back to his former master.  What the slave hunters hadn't counted on was the fact that most of the people in Oberlin fought back to rescue Jon and keep him in town.  The picture book does a fine job but left me with some questions about what happened.  Luckily, there is more information included at the end of the book. 

Who Could That Be at This Hour by Lemony Snicket

Lemony Snicket is just a teen in this story about his start with a secret organization.  When he begins an apprenticeship with S. Theodora Markson he is taken to Stain'd by the Sea and the pair is hired to locate a missing statue.  Snicket's clueless chaperone works on finding the missing piece while Lemony discovers early on that something deeper is at work and tries to find out what is actually going on.  Along the way he meets a number of colorful characters, all of whom seem to be keeping secrets of some sort.  The prose came across to me much like Snicket's writing in the Series of Unfortunate Events books which might be a plus for prospective readers but is overblown and purposefully cute for me. 

The Look by Sophia Bennett

Ted has always compared her looks to her sister Ava's drop dead beauty and Ted knows it's no comparison.  Ted is tall, skinny, awkward, and has messy hair.  So when the two girls are out together in London and Ted is approached by a man who claims to be a model scout, she's sure it is a scam.  But when the modeling offer turns out to be real Ava is the one who encourages Ted to try it out. Ava is especially encouraging after she is diagnosed with cancer and her own activities are curtailed by her treatments and energy levels.  After Ted catches the attention of a woman who can really make things happen her modeling career explodes and she is poised to be the next supermodel.  But she is torn about where she should be when Ava begins distancing herself from everyone.  The part of this book I liked the most is the strong family and the close bond between the sisters, something that is rare in YA books.  The scene where Ted shaves her head to support Ava was touching without being portrayed in a cloying sweet "isn't this meaningful" way.  The look at the modeling industry is also interesting and, I think, realistic in that it takes a lot of work before Ted begins to have any success at all.  A nicely layered story that reads fast but leaves you with something to consider later. 

Peregrine Harker and the Black Death by Luke Hollands

Peregrine is a teen living on his own in London in 1908.  He has been lucky enough to have money to rent himself a room and he also works as a reporter.  Looking for a big break he is disappointed to be sent out to cover a story about the rising price of tea.  But he finds a huge mystery underneath as he begins to look deeper into the cost of tea.  Before long he is recruited to help a mysterious man and his beautiful, daring daughter.  But he also finds his life constantly in danger from those who would stop him in his investigation through any means necessary.  Although the book sounds exciting and does, in fact, have a great deal of action, I found it tedious to wade through the writing.  The narration came across as if it was trying hard to be charming, quirky and silly which wore on me before too long at all.  I was also put off by the death of one of the characters as it seemed a bit too tragic for a book that I think was trying to be more light-hearted fun. 

Buddha in the Classroom by Donna Quesada

The author of this book teaches at a community college but the situations she addresses are applicable to all teachers.  During one particularly bad semester Quesada felt burned out and found herself exasperated with her students in a number of situations that are familiar to teachers - students coming in late, students asking for extensions on deadlines, students complaining about their grades at the end of the semester, students disrupting class, and so on.  Although her first reaction was to snap at the students she stopped to look at each situation from a Buddhist perspective and let that insight guide her thinking.  She provides wisdom and guides the reader through ways in which to handle these frustrating parts of the job in a better way.  Although I know and get the Buddhist principles behind her suggestions for the problems, I couldn't always see myself following through on some of them.  But most seemed doable and gave me some ways of framing problems in a way that was likely to make me less stressed by the day to day problems with teaching.  The book is also appropriate/easy enough to understand for someone without a Buddhist background.