31. December 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Fiction, Graphic Novel, Kristy

El Deafo by Cece Bell, 233 pages, read by Kristy, on 12/23/2014

20701984Starting at a new school is scary, even more so with a giant hearing aid strapped to your chest! At her old school, everyone in Cece’s class was deaf. Here she is different. She is sure the kids are staring at the Phonic Ear, the powerful aid that will help her hear her teacher. Too bad it also seems certain to repel potential friends.

Then Cece makes a startling discovery. With the Phonic Ear she can hear her teacher not just in the classroom, but anywhere her teacher is in school–in the hallway…in the teacher’s lounge…in the bathroom! This is power. Maybe even superpower! Cece is on her way to becoming El Deafo, Listener for All. But the funny thing about being a superhero is that it’s just another way of feeling different… and lonely. Can Cece channel her powers into finding the thing she wants most, a true friend?

This funny perceptive graphic novel memoir about growing up hearing impaired is also an unforgettable book about growing up, and all the super and super embarrassing moments along the way.

(goodreads.com)

23. December 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Poetry

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander, 240 pages, read by Angie, on 12/22/2014

It doesn’t happen often, but every once in a while you read a book and it just blows you away. I really enjoy novels in verse even though I don’t enjoy poetry like I probably should. I love how authors who write novels in verse can get across so much information with so few words. Sometimes novels in verse read like short prose paragraphs, but the truly great ones highlight different styles of poetry and draw the reader in completely. Kwame Alexander’s Crossover has been getting a lot of buzz lately and all of it is well deserved. The Crossover is a potent novel that draws readers in and doesn’t let them go.

Josh and JB are twin brother and the stars of their middle school basketball team. Their mom is the assistant principal at their school and their dad is a former basketball star and olympian. The Crossover is told through Josh’s voice as he practices his mad rap skills on and off the basketball court. He is your typical 13-year-old boy with a lot of the same concerns and issues most boys his age deal with. He is cocky about his basketball skills, he is jealous when JB gets a girlfriend and starts spending more time with her, he is concerned about his dad’s health. Things come to a head with JB when Josh takes his frustration and anger out on the basketball court. Concerns about his dad get more real when he realizes just how sick his dad potentially is. When dad has a heart attack and is in the hospital Josh and JB have different reactions regarding basketball. Their team is playing the championship game and they have to decide if they are going to play or spend time with dad. It is heartbreaking to watch Josh win the championship at the same time he loses his dad. A truly heartbreaking story.

Dead, dying or sick parents seems to be a trend in middle grade literature right now. The subject makes for really powerful stories as kids have to deal with situations they shouldn’t have to deal with for years. You really don’t expect to lose a parent until you are an adult yourself. So losing one at a young age is horrible and heartbreaking and makes great literature. While The Crossover isn’t really about the aftermath of losing a parent it is an essential part of this story. The dad was the heart of the family and Josh and JB and the mom have to learn to readjust their life with the heart gone.

One of the things I really appreciated about this book was the fact that the poem styles were all over the place. There are lots of different styles here that make this book so much more interesting than if everything was written in the same style. I really liked the poems where Josh described the action on the basketball court. Even though I am not a sports fan, this style really brought the game alive in a way that regular prose would not have been able to. Hopefully the fact that this story is told through poems will not turn young readers off. It is a wonderful story about family and brothers and basketball and loss and growing up. I highly recommend it.

22. December 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction

Where I Belong by Mary Downing Hahn, 240 pages, read by Angie, on 12/21/2014

Brandon is a foster kid who is bullied by his teacher, his classmates, his foster mother and the town thugs. He is a dreamer who could care less about school or any of the people around him. He escapes to the woods where he has built a tree house and daydreams about the Green Man. One day he finds an old man asleep at the base of his tree. He believes he has finally found the Green Man and the man goes along with it. Because he has flunked 6th grade, Brandon has to attend summer school where he meets Shae. She is different from all the other kids he knows and he finds himself a little interested in knowing more about her. Together, Brandon, Shae and the Green Man form a family of sorts in the woods where they are safe and loved. But Brandon is beat up terribly by the town thugs who then go after the Green Man. Brandon must find his courage and step up for what is right.

Some people are just lost. They become disconnected from the world and live in their own minds. Brandon is beginning down that path. He can’t seem to find anything worthy in the real world. He wants to live in his idea of a perfect world where nature matters and the Green Man is there to protect the forest and its inhabitants. It is easy to see why he wants to disconnect from the world. He doesn’t know who his parents are; his mom abandoned him as an infant. He has been shuttled around foster homes his whole life. His current foster mom Mrs. Clancy seems to care more about watching tv shows and doing crossword puzzles than paying attention to Brandon. His teacher is a nightmare who bullies him and allows the other students to bully him. The forest is really his only refuge. Shae isn’t quite as broken down as Brandon, but she too has her issues as does Ed Calhoun/Green Man, a Vietnam vet who became a homeless bun, drinking in the park and living in the woods. Together they start to heal each other. The story doesn’t have a happy ending, but it does have a hopeful ending. Hopeful that things will start to get better.

22. December 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Mystery, Paranormal

Greetings from the Graveyard by Kate Klise, M. Sarah Klise (Illustrations), 160 pages, read by Angie, on 12/21/2014

The residents of Spence Mansion are going into the greeting card business. Ghost Olive C. Spence writes the cards and young Seymour Hope illustrates them. The new business came about because author Ignatius B. Grumply started getting letters from an old love who wouldn’t take no for an answer. Nadia S. Richenov is determined to get Ignatius back now that he is a successful author and she is having money troubles. Then there are the two escaped criminals who look a lot like the new couple in town offering home security systems. There is a rash of burglaries but no one will listen when Seymour tries to tell them the truth. Olive brings back her old butler, also a ghost, to act as security at the mansion, but he just drives Ignatius crazy. The book is told through letters, greeting cards, newspaper articles, text messages and notes. I’m not a huge fan of this format as I think it doesn’t do a great job of telling the complete story. However, the book was a fun, quick read with a nice light mystery.

22. December 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction · Tags:

Chasing the Milky Way by Erin E. Moulton, 288 pages, read by Angie, on 12/21/2014

Lucy and Cam want nothing more than to get out of the Sunnyside Trailer Park. Their plan is to compete in the annual BotBlock competition, win $5000 and 15% college tuition. They have a plan to complete their mission that includes raising the admission fee, building and programming their robot and getting to the beachside competition. Lucy wants to escape a mom with manic-depressive disorder who seems to be off her meds and Cam wants to get away from a house filled with children and his mom’s abusive boyfriend. In addition to their problems at home, they are also hassled by a bully at school. Their road to victory is hit with several roadblocks when Lucy’s mama takes them on a runaway roadtrip to escape the authorities.

Mental illness is a hard topic to cover in middle grade fiction. It isn’t often written about and when it is sometimes it is overblown or completely unrealistic. Chasing the Milky Way does not suffer from either of those problems. It is a very realistic look at what it is like to live with a mentally ill parent. Lucy deals with so much more than most kids will ever deal with, but I am sure kids with mentally ill parents will recognize a lot of her story. It is a book that was a bit hard to read because it seemed so realistic. I just knew disaster was around the corner and I kept not wanting it to arrive. I wanted Lucy and Cam to succeed but knew there was very little chance it was going to happen. It was almost like watching a horror movie where you knew the bad guy was going to attack at any moment. You cover your eyes or hide behind the chair and peak out at intervals. That is kind of like how I felt reading this book. Mama is not the bad guy of course, her illness is, but it still felt like it could jump out at you at any moment, which I am sure is how mental illness sometimes feels. This book is going to be a hard sell to a lot of readers, but the ones that tackle it are going to have their eyes open to a world I hope they never experience.

22. December 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Graphic Novel · Tags:

The Complete Adventures of Johnny Mutton by James Proimos, 160 pages, read by Angie, on 12/19/2014

Johnny is a sheep who is left on the doorstep of Mrs. Mutton. She takes him in and raises him like any child. He goes to school and even though he is different he is basically treated like a weird child. This is a collection of three adventures, but really includes several short chapters that can all be read on their own. Graphic novels are extremely popular in the library and I am sure this one is going to find its fans. It is more geared towards beginning chapter book readers than some of the other graphic books I have read. Johnny is in kindergarten and dealing with first year of school type issues: friends, bullies, teachers, parents, etc. It was a light, entertaining read.

22. December 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Paranormal

Boys of Blur by N.D. Wilson, 208 pages, read by Angie, on 12/19/2014

Boys of Blur is one of those books you are going to be thinking about long after you finish the last page. You will be wondering what just happened and how did all that fit into one short book. You will look at the book with squinted eyes as its cover and description has bamboozled you into thinking this was just your typical boys coming of age book. You will think all of that and then wonder if you should read the book again to see if there were things you missed. This was a very ambitious book that worked on a lot of levels. Sure it had a few issues, but it kept my attention. In fact, at a certain point in the book it grabbed my attention with both hands and wouldn’t let go until I completed the book. I’m still not 100% sure what exactly happened, but I know this is not a book I will soon be forgetting.

If you read the description and look at the cover of the book, you will think this is a book about sugarcane and boys running through the burning fields. It is about a boy named Charlie who comes back to the town of his birth, Taper, for the funeral of the legendary town football coach. He is accompanied by his stepfather Mack, mom Natalie and baby sister Molly. In Taper, Charlie meets his distant cousin Cotton who helps him begin his epic quest. He also learns his abusive father is in town somewhere and that Mack is thinking about taking over the football program at least through the end of the season. But this is mostly the story of sugarcane and muck and zombies. That’s right, zombies! Cotton takes Charlie into the sugarcane to show him these strange white stones on mounds of earth and the dead offerings that are left there. They meet Lio, with his helmet and sword, and Lio’s two panthers. Then comes the stank, the Gren, who are the dead risen again to be the army for the Mother. She wants to take back the world and bring it to ruin. Charlie and Cotton become embroiled in the struggle against the Gren. It is up to Charlie to find a way to stop the Mother and save Taper and ultimately the world.

When I started this book I really did think it was going to be about Charlie coming to terms with his abusive father and about Mack taking over the football program. I figured there would be a lot of running through the burning sugarcane chasing rabbits and football games and Charlie not fitting in with the other kids. Sure all of that stuff was there, but it was such a minor point of the book. I was not prepared for the story to take a turn for the supernatural. I wasn’t prepared for zombies or beings who control the dead. I wasn’t prepared for dead boys coming back to life. Maybe not being prepared made the book that much more intense. I wanted to keep reading to find out what the heck was going on. Sure sometimes I didn’t think the Gren story always worked, but it kept my attention as did the human story.

Charlie struggles to come to terms with his past. Mack and his father were football rivals who both went on to success. Unfortunately, his father’s demons got the better of him whereas Mack kept shining. That rivalry is still alive and well in the small town of Taper where football, even twenty year old football, still counts for a lot. So Charlie has to deal with other people talking about his dad like he is a hero when all Charlie knows is the abuse. I liked the fact that the adults were still valuable characters in this book. So often in middle grade novels the adults/parents are absent idiots who play no part in the story. Mack and Natalie are good parents and the story is even told from their point of view at times. Charlie’s dad also has his moments to shine even though his past doesn’t make him a hero.

I didn’t realize this was a homage to Beowulf until after I finished the book. It has been many years since I read Beowulf and I am not as familiar with it as I once was. It is mentioned briefly in the story, but it was not until I refamiliarized myself with the story that I realized how much Boys of Blur takes from Beowulf. It is not an exact reproduction of course but more of a homage to the epic poem. The Gren monsters attack the town and people of Taper, Charlie comes to do battle with the Gren then must battle the Mother. I don’t think you need to familiar with Beowulf to enjoy this story, but it is a great introduction and could lead young readers to seek out the original.

22. December 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction

The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Brenda Woods, 240 pages, read by Angie, on 12/19/2014

Violet Diamond is growing up different. She is a mixed race child in a predominantly white family and town. Her Black father died before she was born and she has never met his family. Her white mother and sister and grandparents love her and treat her like normal, but Violet often feels anything but normal. She gets frustrated when people look at her funny when she is out with her blond haired mother or sister. She gets frustrated when people think she is adopted instead of her mother’s natural child. Her family tries to tell her that race doesn’t matter, but to her it does since she is the one who is different. One day she overhears her mom and grandma talking about her other grandmother. She convinces her mom to let her meet the grandmother who has rejected her her entire life. At first Bibi is standoffish and distant as she blames Violet’s mother for her father’s death, but she does warm up to Violet and invite her to visit. Violet gets to meet her African American family and get to know her grandmother.

Even though I am white as can be, I did feel like I understood Violet just a bit. I grew up in a small town that had exactly two Black families. There was only one Black kid in my high school when I was there. I always wondered how they felt when they looked around the classroom or the cafeteria and saw no one like them. At least the one Jewish kid could hide in plain sight, but they were not able to blend in. Thankfully my small town as become more diverse in the past twenty years, but I am sure there are other towns out there just like it. Living in a city with a more diverse population you don’t think about race nearly as often. I see people of many colors, religions, and economic circumstances everyday. That isn’t to say there aren’t still problems, but it feels more like there shouldn’t be.

I thought this book did a wonderful job of portraying Violet’s frustration with her situation. There is never any doubt that she loves her family or that they love her. It is the people outside her immediate circle that bother her. Mixed race families can make people curious and sometimes rude; they will wonder if the children are biological, fostered or adopted. There are so many blended families today that I do wonder if this will become less and less of an issue. I thought this book was a good introduction to race for young readers. It doesn’t delve too much into negative aspects of black vs. white, but does show how it can impact a child’s life.

19. December 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Lisa, Mystery

The Swallow: A Ghost Story by Charis Cotter, 318 pages, read by Lisa, on 12/04/2014

 In 1960s Toronto, two girls retreat to their attics to escape the loneliness and isolation of their lives. Polly lives in a house bursting at the seams with people, while Rose is often left alone by her busy parents. Polly is a down-to-earth dreamer with a wild imagination and an obsession with ghosts; Rose is a quiet, ethereal waif with a sharp tongue. Despite their differences, both girls spend their days feeling invisible and seek solace in books and the cozy confines of their respective attics. But soon they discover they aren’t alone–they’re actually neighbors, sharing a wall. They develop an unlikely friendship, and Polly is ecstatic to learn that Rose can actually see and talk to ghosts. Maybe she will finally see one too! But is there more to Rose than it seems? Why does no one ever talk to her? And why does she look so… ghostly? When the girls find a tombstone with Rose’s name on it in the cemetery and encounter an angry spirit in her house who seems intent on hurting Polly, they have to unravel the mystery of Rose and her strange family… before it’s too late. (from Goodreads.com)

18. December 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction

Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle, 288 pages, read by Angie, on 12/17/2014

Nate loves musicals and dreams of being on Broadway. He concocts a scheme with his friend Libby to escape Jankburg, PA and run away to New York City and audition for E.T. the Musical. Nate is bullied at home and at school for being gay even though he says he is undecided on his sexuality. In New York, Nate realizes just how different the big city is. He is exposed to both the good and bad of city life as he sees how diverse the city is. His audition goes better than expected, but is still wonderfully strange. Nate’s dreams are coming true just as his scheme is coming to light at home. He is helped along the way by Libby and his Aunt Heidi. Then his mom shows up in New York and family secrets come to light.

I actually loved Nate. I thought he was an awesome mix of innocence and curiosity. I admit I laughed out loud when he did his first audition. I also really liked how Federle brought up the issue of sexuality in such a nonissue kind of way. It is a topic I think needs to be dealt with more in middle grade fiction. Thankfully it is slowly making its way into the mainstream, but there are still very few books that deal with it for this age group. Nate is called a fag and lady Nate and homo and all the other terrible words you can think of. Even his family uses derogatory language with him. I like that Nate is undecided, but obviously kind of interested in boys; he at least checks them out occasionally. Even so this is a very gentle introduction that is couched more in bullying then exploring your sexuality. I think it is a good way for kids to think about it and wonder how much bullying they do themselves without realizing it.

17. December 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction

Life on Mars by Jennifer Brown, 240 pages, read by Angie, on 12/16/2014

Arty is obsessed with space and finding life on Mars. His best friends Tripp and Priya support his obsession as does his dad who works in an observatory. When dad loses his job and decides to move the family to Las Vegas, Arty is devastated. There are too many lights in Vegas for stargazing. Arty is left with a mysterious neighbor when the parents go house hunting. Turns out the neighbor is not a zombie who will eat your face, but a retired astronaut who never made it to space. Arty and Cash bond over the stars and build a machine to make alien contact.

This is a lovely story about friendship not just with people your own age but who share your interests. It is also a story about not giving up on your dreams or letting others destroy them. I really enjoyed Arty’s family and their obsession with space. All the kids are named after stars even though they have shortened their names. I liked Arty’s friends as well. Tripp provided a nice comic relief and Priya was a great girl friend who isn’t a girlfriend. Cash was probably the most interesting character as he went from a gruff, unfriendly possible zombie/serial killer to a dying man trying to encourage his young friend. One editing quibble: at one point Arty says something about realizing Cash was as interested as he was in astrology…pretty sure it should have been astronomy. That threw me off and really stuck with me.

17. December 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fairy Tales and Folklore, Fantasy, Fiction, Historical Fiction

West of the Moon by Margi Preus, 224 pages, read by Angie, on 12/16/2014

Astri and Greta live with their aunt and uncle on a farm in Norway. Their mother has died and their father has gone to America to find a better life. The aunt sells Astri to a goatman, Mr. Svaalberd, who doesn’t treat her very well. On the goatman’s farm she finds Spinning Girl who doesn’t talk but spins beautiful wool. Astri is determined to run away and find a better life for her and Greta. When she does finally get away, she is pursued by the goatman throughout her journey. Astri, Greta and Spinning Girl make their way to the coast and a ship to America. Turns out the money Astri stole from goatman will not get them all on the ship. Spinning Girl is left behind as Greta and Astri sail for America. Throughout the story Astri recounts tales and legends, mainly East of the Sun West of the Moon, to help her get through her horrible days. This is a time in history when the old ways have not given way to the new Christian beliefs completely. There is talk of trolls and huldrefolk and magic spells and rituals. It is an interesting mix of fantasy and reality in this historical tale. I found a lot of the historical information really interesting, especially how people had to supply themselves for voyages to America. I am not sure how many fans this book will find among the intended age group though. It is a little confusing with the mix of fantasy and reality and is plenty violent. I really wanted to like it more than I did.

I received this book from Netgalley.

17. December 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Mystery

Unstoppable Octobia May by Sharon G. Flake, 288 pages, read by Angie, on 12/16/2014

Octobia May lives with her Aunt Shuma who runs a boarding house. Octobia is obsessed with Mr. Davenport, one of the boarders. She believes he is a vampire for much of the book. Octobia and her best friend Jonah start following Mr. Davenport and belief he killed a girl. No one believes them until Mr. Davenport and banker Mr. Harrison try to railroad Shuma when she goes for a loan. There is a lot of mystery and intrigue in this book as Octobia and Jonah try to figure out what is going on with Mr. Davenport. Octobia is a strange child who seems obsessed with death; she died for a little while and talks to the statues in the graveyard. There is a lot of important topics discussed in the book that aren’t often talked about in middle grade fiction. Some of the boarders are holocaust survivors, no one will loan Aunt Shuma money because she is black and single, schools are segregated, there is talk of passing as white for light skinned Blacks, mixed race children and what it means to be free. You would think all of that would make this a more enjoyable story. It doesn’t! I think Octobia’s vampire obsession at the beginning of the book just made the whole thing seem more unrealistic and put me off the rest of the story. It was a bit on the long side and seemed less cohesive than I would have liked.

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley.

15. December 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fantasy, Fiction

By the Grace of Todd by Louise Galveston, 240 pages, read by Angie, on 12/12/2014

Todd’s room has got to be the grossest ever. There are dirty clothes and dishes everywhere, he has food stashed under his bed, and I am not sure he has ever cleaned. All this filth leads to new life however when Todd discovers his gross gym sock has created a race of tiny people. The Toddlians worship Todd as their supreme creator. Todd has no idea what to do with them so he enlists the help of is homeschooled neighbor Lucy. Unfortunately, Todd is also bullied and has to let bully Max Loving use the Toddlians for their science project to survive middle school. Max, being the bully he is, also bullies the Toddlians. Todd has to come to terms with his responsibility towards the Toddlians and save them from the evil clutches of Max.

This book is definitely geared towards boys as I think girls would just be grossed out. It reminded me a lot of other books with tiny races like The Indian in the Cupboard, The Carpet People or The Borrowers. I liked Todd’s struggle with his role in the lives of the Toddlians. I also really enjoyed his younger sister Daisy and the three main Toddlian characters. I thought the bullying story seemed pretty realistic but I wanted more repercussions for Max at the end. Definitely not my favorite book, but not the worst thing I have read either.

10. December 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Multicultural Fiction

Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood by Varsha Bajaj, 249 pages, read by Angie, on 12/10/2014

It has always been just Abby and her mom, but an allergic reaction to coconut makes Abby wonder about the father she has never met. Turns out he never knew she existed and has become a huge Bollywood start in the past fourteen years. Naveen wants to meet Abby and arranges for her to travel to Mumbai during Thanksgiving break. India is a completely different world than Abby is used to in Houston. She discovers a second family with Naveen, his mother and his loyal staff. However, the world doesn’t know about Abby either and they have to be careful how the reveal the truth to the press. Naveen has a movie premiering and the plan on reveal the secret at the same time. Of course things don’t go according to plan.

The cover and description of this book led me to believe it was going to be a lighter read. And while it does have its humorous moments it is really a touching story about a girl connecting with her father for the first time. I really enjoy books that give the reader a glimpse into a new culture and this look at Mumbai was wonderful. The book doesn’t shy away from revealing the good and the bad of Indian culture. Abby is exposed to the extreme poverty of India as well as the wealth of her actor father. I like that even though Naveen was an absent father for most of her life (not by choice of course), he doesn’t come across as disinterested. This is really a story about a girl with very loving parents and a good home life, one just happens to be half a world away.

10. December 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Multicultural Fiction, Poetry

The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney, Shane Evans (Illustrations), 336 pages, read by Angie, on 12/09/2014

Amira lives with her family in a village in South Darfur. She is envious of her friend Halima who gets to attend school in a neighboring city. Even though her family is fairly prosperous in the village they do not have the money to send her to school, nor would her conservative mother allow it. Their idyllic life is destroyed when the Janjaweed invade the village killing many of the people including Amira’s father. The survivors trek through the Sudanese desert to a refugee camp at Kalma. The camp is nothing like their village and Amira has a difficult time adjusting until she receives a red pencil and a pad of paper from one of the refugee workers. Suddenly Amira’s dream of learning to read and write becomes a possibility.

I really enjoy novels in verse. I think they are a beautiful way of telling a story. I think Pinkney’s verses are lyrical and really illustrate Amira’s thoughts and environment. I also appreciate stories that take place in settings or deal with situations or events that are not often covered in middle grade books. I can’t say I have ever read a middle grade book about the situation in Darfur and it is not one you hear about in general. This was a good introduction to the genocide that has been taking place there for the past decade. I only wish more information could have been included about the conflict, the Janjaweed and what is actually happening to thousands of people. Because the book is told from Amira’s point of view, and she has little knowledge of the conflict, readers do not get a lot of information.

09. December 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Mystery · Tags:

Lantern Sam and the Blue Streak Bandits by Michael D. Beil, 288 pages, read by Angie, on 12/08/2014

Henry is traveling with his mother and sister on the Lake Erie Shoreliner. He meets chatty heiress Ellie who decides they are going to be great friends. They also meet conductor Clarence and his telepathic cat Sam. When Ellie disappears soon after Henry, Clarence and Sam are determined to find her. Someone has kidnapped Ellie and demanded her mother’s priceless necklace, the Blue Streak, as ransom. There are a lot of characters on the train with secrets and hidden agendas. Our intrepid investigates must sort through all the hidden motivations and identities of the passengers to figure out who is behind Ellie’s kidnapping.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book and was a bit skeptical of the telepathic cat, but it all worked here. As an adult reader I was able to pick out the bad guys pretty quickly, but I am not sure younger readers will figure it out quite as fast. There are a lot of twists and turns to this mystery that made it even more fun to read. I especially liked the confined environment of the train as the setting; it gave the mystery a feeling of immediacy as the train got closer and closer to its destination. Train travel in the 1930s was nothing like it is today and the setting highlighted just how much it has changed. The mystery of Ellie’s kidnapping is interspersed with Lantern Sam’s autobiography as he tells of his many adventures and nine lives. This part of the story seemed to justify having a telepathic cat in the plot and added a lot of humor to the story. Sam is a smart aleck calico with a love of adventure and sardines and perhaps the star of this story. 

08. December 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Courtney, Fiction, Graphic Novel, Teen Books

Deadman Wonderland, Vol. 4 by Jinsei Kataoka, Kazuma Kondou, 200 pages, read by Courtney, on 11/07/2014

Ganta is recruited into the Scar Chain, an antiestablishment group planning a mass prison escape. After a brief meeting with Shiro, he stands at a crossroads, but Nagi persuades him to take part in the escape. However, a traitor has already leaked the plan to the Undertakers, a unit specially formed to stamp out the rebels.

08. December 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction

Pack of Dorks by Beth Vrabel, 240 pages, read by Angie, on 12/05/2014

Lucy has the biggest day of her life when she meets Tom behind the shed and kisses him in front of her entire 4th grade class. It is sure to cement her as one of the popular kids. Then her mom has her baby sister Molly and Lucy has to miss a couple of days of school. When she gets back her status has fallen. Tom has broken up with her and her best friend Becky treats her like dirt. If that isn’t bad enough her home life is in an uproar because Molly has Down’s Syndrome and her parents were not prepared at all. Lucy loves her little sister no matter what and can’t understand what the fuss is about. At school Lucy is firmly in with the dork crowd and her only options are nose-picker April and super-quiet Sam. When she and Sam team up to do a project on wolves Lucy learns all about packs and forms her own pack of dorks with the outcasts from her class.

I loved this book! I thought Vrabel truly captured the world of 4th grade girls and just how unpredictable they can be. I sympathized with Lucy when Becky turned against her. She leaves school on Friday on top of the world and comes back the next week at the bottom of the pack. I also really enjoyed her reaction to her sister. There aren’t a lot of books that deal with siblings with disabilities and this one was really touching. Lucy is a character that readers really take an interest in and want to come out on top. I think her journey of discovering herself and what is really important to her was a very satisfying one. Definitely a book I would recommend.

08. December 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Science Fiction

Super Schnoz and the Invasion of the Snore Snatchers by Gary Urey, 154 pages, read by Angie, on 12/05/2014

Super Schnoz is a kid with a huge nose. It allows him to sniff out just about anything and catch the winds and fly. Unfortunately, he has started snoring and his big nose is causing earthquakes around town. He and his friends investigate and discover aliens are putting something up his nose every night to cause him to snore. They must battle the aliens to save the earth. I am sure this book will find excited readers from fans of The Adventures of Captain Underpants and the like but I am not one of them. It just seemed so ridiculous for me to get into the story. Maybe because I am not an eight-year-old boy or maybe because I just like a little more believability in my books.