Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier

Molly and Kip are orphans after escaping the potato famine in Ireland.  They have finally managed to find work with the Windsor family at their home on an island where locals refuse to go.  The family is pale and sickly looking and the entire house is overshadowed by a huge, dark tree.  Within days of arriving it is obvious to Molly that something strange is at work in the house.  There is one locked room but whenever a family member comes out of the room he or she seems to have valuable things.  And before long Molly becomes aware of a shadowy man walking through the house each night who seems to be sucking the life out of the family.  Just as she is determined to leave the island with her brother Molly gets into the secret room herself and is given the one thing she wants the most...

A deliciously creepy story that sucks you in and gets you invested with all the characters.  The Night Gardener is truly terrible which I appreciate in a kids' book rather than pulling punches.  And the story keeps moving along at a great pace that doesn't sacrifice quality writing.

All Four Stars by Tara Dairman

Gladys loves good food and she loves to cook.  The problem is that her parents only eat very bad take out food and what they try to cook is even worse.  Gladys has been secretly cooking great things after school but she is found out when she sets the kitchen curtains on fire.  Now she is banned from cooking for six months!  Gladys hopes to make her parents understand how important food is to her by winning an essay contest where she describes her future dream job of being a food reviewer.  Due to a mix-up at the newspaper, Gladys is hired to be a freelance food reviewer and given the job of reviewing a new dessert restaurant in the city.  But how will she get herself into the city in time to visit the restaurant and submit her review?

Just a light, fun book, especially for budding foodies.  Gladys is a charming character and I liked the new friends she makes as well.  I thought the food her parents made was too bad to be believable but that does add a comedic element to the story.  Perhaps a little more suited overall to upper elementary rather than middle school.

Egg and Spoon by Gregory Maguire

Elena lives in a Russian town where everyone is starving.  Elena's mother is sick and dying and both of her older brothers have left to serve the Tsar.  When a fancy train is stuck in their town for a few days everyone hopes their fortunes might have changed and that there might some food for them.  Elena goes to the train every day to talk to Ekaterina, the rich girl on board.  Cat is traveling to St. Petersburg to be presented to the Tsar's nephew as a possible bride.  When the train is finally ready to leave an accident causes the two girls to switch places with Elena on her way to meet the Tsar and Cat left behind where she quickly runs into the witch of Russia, Baba Yaga.

Here is another book with stellar reviews that I didn't care for much at all.  Although I didn't like it personally, I think my biggest objection is the idea that it is something great for middle school.  I don't see it appealing to many teens at all and the humor - especially that of Baba Yaga - is waaaayyyyy beyond middle school what with all the analogies and cultural references.  Too long, too complex.

Girls Like Us by Gail Giles

Quincy and Biddy are Speddies - girls in the special ed program.  They are both graduating from high school and neither has much of a home to stay in so they are set up to share an apartment and given jobs.  Quincy is angry and defensive and doesn't want to live with Biddy who she believes has gone too far with boys in her past.  Biddy is thrilled to have a job cleaning for the elderly woman who owns their apartment and happy to be learning how to cook.  When something happens to Quincy at work Biddy is the only one who can understand and help her new friend.

This is a great book with a realistic portrayal of people who are often lumped together and dismissed.  The problems of both girls are quite mature but neither is written about so graphically as to make the book inappropriate for middle school. 

The Book with No Pictures by B. J. Novak

True to its title, this book has no pictures at all.  If you have elementary age children or if you work with them, buy it.  That's all you need to know.  Why don't you have it yet?!

My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J. Freedman

Tara's bat mitzvah is coming soon and she is preparing for it along with some of her friends and a couple non-friends.  One problem Tara faces is that she is both Jewish and Indian and some people are questioning whether she is actually Jewish at all.  Tara herself isn't sure if she should be going through with this ceremony when she doesn't have unquestioning faith.  In order to express her Indian side, Tara wants to wear a sari that has been in her family forever.  But she might have lost her chance to do so when she accidentally ruins it by burning a hole in it and throwing coffee on it.  And the problems keep coming with one of her best friends who now seems to want to take their relationship to the next level.  Tara doesn't know how to deal with any of this!

This is not deep book meant to leave the reader emotional, but it is good at what it does.  There are very few books dealing with Judaism - or really with any religion at all - so it's great that Tara's faith is such a big part of this one.  And what's more, her religion is not the sole point of the book hitting the reader over the head.  It is nicely woven in as just another part of Tara's life as she struggles to integrate all the things that are confusing her right now.  The relationship with Ben-O also rings true for middle school.