02. October 2014 · Write a comment · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction

Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff, read by Angie, on 10/01/2014

Albie is a boy in fifth grade who has issues. He doesn’t do well in school. He is so bad in fact he was kicked out of his fancy prep school and sent to public school instead. He isn’t good at math or reading or spelling or art. His parents expect a lot more from him; his dad expects perfection, but Albie is just not able to deliver. He isn’t cool or smart and doesn’t have many friends. His new babysitter Calista helps though. She tries to help him study and does fun things with him. His parents are distant and don’t really seem to have a lot of time for him. Albie spends the school year trying to figure things out and figure out his place in the world.

I have mixed feelings about this book. On one hand I really liked the fact that Albie was just your average kid. He wasn’t super talented or super smart or super anything. In fact he was pretty much the opposite. He struggles with school. He struggles with making friends. Things are hard for him and they don’t get miraculously better at the end of the book. On the other hand I had a really hard time with this story. Albie’s parents are horrible with unreal expectations for him (which could be very realistic) and with little time or interest in Albie. They make no effort to find out what is going on with him or what he is having problems with or even what he likes. My biggest issue was probably Albie himself though. At one point Albie is tested for dyslexia and finds out he doesn’t have it, but he clearly has something. He is very immature for a fifth grader, he doesn’t pick up on social clues that most kids his age would clearly understand and he has a lot of problems learning. I think a lot of kids reading this book will be frustrated by Albie and the fact that he is so clueless about things. When the bully Darren starts being nice to Albie most kids will instinctively know that Darren can’t be trusted. He is clearly trying to get close to Albie because his friend is on a reality TV show. But Albie thinks he is suddenly cool and tries to help another “uncool” friend become cool. I can’t imagine any fifth grader acting like this. It seems more like the behavior of someone in third grade. I think the message of this book is good though. It is all about accepting yourself for who you are and realizing that not everyone is a superhero or has special powers. It was just a bit of a mixed bag for me though.

01. October 2014 · Write a comment · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fantasy, Fiction

The Glass Sentence by S.E. Grove, read by Angie, on 09/30/2014

At some point in our future the Great Distortion takes place and the world is unstuck from time. What does this mean? It means that different eras/time periods co-exist throughout the world. You have the Prehistoric Snows in Canada, Late Patagonia in South America, the 40th Age in the Philippines area and here in the United States you have New Occident in the east and the Baldlands in the west. Some areas are so disrupted they are closed, but many others are open to exploration and trade. Sophia lives with her uncle in Boston in New Occident. Her parents were explorers who disappeared when she was three. Uncle Shadrack is one of the foremost cartologers (mapmakers) in the world and is teaching her about maps. Then Shadrack is kidnapped and leaves a message for Sohpia to find Veressa. She teams up with Theo and heads off to the Baldlands. Turns out Shadrack was kidnapped by the mysterious Blanca and her Sandmen. She wants Shadrack to help her find the carta mayor, the water map of the world, and revise it so the world is whole again. Everyone meets up in the Baldland capital of Nochtland, but there they discover that the world is not static like they thought. A glacier age is making its way north and wiping out every other age it crosses. Sophia, Theo, Shadrack and the friends they have made have to figure out how to stop it and stop Blanca.

So if the description confuses you, you are not alone. This is a very complex story that while fascinating requires a suspension of belief to enjoy. The description of the world is amazing, but it really doesn’t answer a lot of questions. For instance, no one knows what age the great disruption occurred in; however, there are ages from the distant past and the distant future. How can there be an age from a future after the great disruption if the great disruption occurs? Why are some ages closed and others open? Why can you travel and trade among some but have no idea what is going on in others? If this is earth, why are there people with feathers or metal bones? How can ages move and expand? It kind of makes your head hurt when you think about it. I think one of my biggest headaches was the language. There are lots of made up words that are like our words but not. Things like Baldlands (which I always read as Badlands) and cartologer (which I read as cartographer). It made a confusing story even more confusing. There is also the issue of the maps. Seems in this world you can make way more than paper maps. There are water maps, glass maps, cloth maps, metal maps and these maps contain not just geographical features but memories from people. No explanation on how these maps were created or how people learned to make them. Of course there was no explanation on the carta mayor and how and why it was created either.

Then you have the book itself. It is rather long and the age it is aimed at is questionable. It is complicated and has some nasty bits (torture and such) which seem to point towards a more teen reader, but the main character is obviously young and there is no romance between Sophia and Theo which points toward a more middle grade reader. I’m not really sure who I would recommend this book to. Of course there is the story itself which got even more far-fetched the longer it went along while at the same time remaining completely predictable. That isn’t to say I didn’t like the book or enjoy it. I couldn’t put it down and really wanted to know how everything ended up. I was disappointed by the ending and still very confused when I finished.

29. September 2014 · Write a comment · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction

Immortal Max by Lutricia Clifton, read by Angie, on 09/28/2014

Sammy wants nothing more than to have a puppy. Unfortunately, he is stuck with Max, a smelly mutt his sister brought home. Even though Max is loyal and well trained, Sammy doesn’t want to have anything to do with him. Sammy starts working as a dog walker at CountryWood, the nearby gated community. He has to earn the money for the puppy himself. His single-mom doesn’t have any extra money for a puppy and doesn’t want one since they have Max. At CountryWood, Sammy has to deal with bully Justin who terrorizes him every time he is walking the dogs.

I’m not sure why this book took me so long to read since it is less than 200 pages. It was a nice story about a boy learning to appreciate what he has. I also liked the fact that Sammy’s friends are a nice mix of cultures and personalities. I just found the book to be a bit heavy-handed in its message. I also found Sammy to be a bit selfish and self-absorbed. I identified more with poor Max than with any of the people characters. I am sure it will find appreciative readers, but I wasn’t one of them.

This is the second book in the last but not least series. Lola Zuckerman is always last in line and doesn’t like it. Her parents are both out of town and her grandma is staying with her and her brother Jack. She is also having a bad week at school. Her best friend Amanda is spending more time with friend stealer Jessie. New girl Savannah is also trying to butt in. Lola keeps doing mean things and getting in trouble. The girls are alternatively nice and mean to each other and no one comes off perfectly nice in this book. It is a good story for those beginning chapter book readers even if it is a little long for that type of book. That is my main complaint about the book. The characters are in second grade and the book is clearly geared towards that age group yet it is a whopping 195 pages. It is a much better story than the first one of the series and hopefully the author will keep getting better.

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley.com.

25. September 2014 · Write a comment · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, History, NonFiction

Strike!: The Farm Workers' Fight for Their Rights by Larry Dane Brimner, read by Angie, on 09/24/2014

Strike!: The Farm Workers’ Fight for Their Rights details the history of the farm workers struggle that started in California with the grape workers. These workers were generally migrants who travelled northward through California as the grape harvest came in. The Filipino and Chicano workers were not paid very much and their living conditions were deplorable. In the 1960s, two dynamic leaders started organizing the workers and trying to get them better working conditions. Cesar Chavez worked with the Chicano workers and Larry Itliong worked with the Filipino. They eventually banded together to form the United Farm Workers of America Union and led a successful strike and boycott of the industry. Their efforts took many years, but they showed through peaceful, nonviolent means that they could accomplish their goals. This book is an excellent source for kids to learn about the creation of unions and the conditions workers had to endure. It offers a wonderful historical perspective on what was going on in the agriculture sector during the 20th century.

Things are not going well for Celie. She is fighting with her former best friend Lulu and she doesn’t even know why. She and Lulu have to attend Friendship Forward to work on their problems. Her big sister is friends with mean Trina, who Celie can’t stand. Her grandma is acting strange and her parents are worried. Celie has been spying on everyone and keeping secrets. Celie is keeping track of everything in her top-secret diary and spy notebook. There is a lot going on after all and she doesn’t want to forget anything. I thought Celie was a fun character and would appeal to girls starting to read chapter books. She is dealing with real world problems that a lot of young kids have to deal with: friends, siblings, parents and grandparents. I did think the book would appeal to younger readers, maybe early elementary grades. Even though Celie is 10, I think a lot of 10-year-olds will be beyond this book. Would probably appeal more to 8-9 year olds.

I have never heard of Pellagra or the fact that it was an epidemic in this country in the first half of the 20th century. After reading this book I am pretty happy that it is not a disease we need to worry about any longer. This book was so very interesting. I love learning about new things; I also really like reading about disgusting things. Pellagra is a disease that was around Europe for hundreds of years before appearing in the United States in the 1900s. It was believed the disease was caused by eating bad corn products which is why it affected mostly poor people in the South. They lived on grits and cornmeal and little else. Pellagra caused the four Ds: dermatitis, diarrhea, dementia and death. It killed between 1 in 10 and 6 in 10 people affected. It took almost 40 years of investigations by multiple doctors to figure out what really caused Pellagra and how to treat it. Dr. Joseph Goldberg worked on the Pellagra problem for over 15 years and was the one who discovered that it was a lack of niacin in the diet that caused the problem. Because of his work with the Public Health Services that our grain products are now fortified with vitamins and minerals to decrease the chances of diseases caused by dietary deficiencies. This was a truly fascinating book.

23. September 2014 · Write a comment · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fantasy, Fiction

The Quirks in Circus Quirkus by Erin Soderberg, Kelly Light (Illustrator), read by Angie, on 09/22/2014

The Quirks are not your normal family. Mrs. Quirk can influence your thinking by looking you in the eye. Grandpa can skip time. Grandma is a tiny little fairy. Young Finn is invisible unless he has gum in his mouth. Penelope can make things just by thinking of them. Only Molly is normal though she is immune to everyone else’s quirks. The Quirks have only been in Normal a short time and hope to not move again any time soon (they always have to move when their quirks cause too much commotion). However, their neighbor Mrs. DeVille is snooping around and the Quirks are afraid she is going to cause trouble for them. They are also enjoying the fact that they are getting circus lessons at school and may get to perform in front of the entire town. The Quirks are fun and quirky and they don’t want anyone to find out how unique they are. I thought this was a fun book with a lot of character. The Quirks are entertaining and unusual. I didn’t realize this was the second book in the series, but I don’t think it detracted from the story. I think kids will enjoy this unique series.

22. September 2014 · Write a comment · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction

Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms by Katherine Rundell, read by Angie, on 09/20/2014

Will has lived her whole life on the a farm in Zimbabwe and she loves the freedom of it. She is friends with the horseboys and loves to ride her horse over the bush and explore everything Zimbabwe has to offer. Her father is the manager of the farm owned by Captain Browne. They adore Will and indulge her wildcat ways. Then her father gets sick and dies and Cynthia moves in on the Captain. She is a young, gold-digging witch of a woman who can’t stand Will. As soon as she marries the Captain she convinces him to ship Will off to a boarding school in London. Of course Will doesn’t fit in at the school. She has had a formal education, she is dirty and wild, and the other girls are horribly cruel to her. She runs away from the school and lives on the streets of London for a while until she gets her bearings again and is able to endure the school.   I really enjoyed this book. I loved the first half with Will in Zimbabwe. Her life there just seems so idyllic and charming. She has the run of the place and can basically do whatever she wants. I liked her friendship with Simon and the relationship she had with her father and the Captain. I thought it was surprising how fast the Captain gave in on sending her to London. I thought Cynthia was very one-dimensional as the villain of the story and the Captain’s capitulation very stereotypical. Since most of the book took place in Zimbabwe we really didn’t get a lot about the school before Will runs away. The girls are cruel and girls can be and Will really doesn’t help her case. She doesn’t even bathe for two weeks after getting there (gross!). I am not sure she ever brushed her hair either and it had never been cut so it was a disastrous mess on her head. I know she ran wild in Africa but that seemed a bit extreme. I also couldn’t figure out how she got away with not going to school in Africa. This is never explained properly. So while I loved the story and Will in particular I did think the book had problems that detracted from my enjoyment a bit.

22. September 2014 · Write a comment · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Science Fiction

My Zombie Hamster by Havelock McCreely, read by Angie, on 09/20/2014

All Matt wants for Christmas is a Runesword so he can play the game with his friends online. What he gets is a hamster named Snuffles. Then Snuffles dies and turns into a zombie hamster. Snuffles escapes outside and starts building his zombie pet army, turning all the pets and animals in town into zombies. Of course there are people who are zombies also, but they are all outside of the town walls. Matt and his friends Charlie, Calvin and Aren devise several plans to stop Snuffles before he is discovered and Matt and his family get in trouble. All of these fail miserably. Then Charlie dies and becomes a zombie, but she isn’t like the others. She still has her personality and doesn’t want to eat brains. She is a new breed of zombie. Of course not everyone wants to find that out.

I am sure young boys will love this book. It is funny and gross and has zombies. I didn’t think it was that great, but then I am not a young boy. The story was engaging and entertaining and at least kept my interest. It was a little light on the whys though. Why did Snuffles build a zombie pet army? Why was the mayor so obnoxious yet was still the mayor? Why were there zombies in the first place?

Third book in the Clone Chronicles series; I haven’t read the first two. Fisher and his clone Two are living at his house and Two is in hiding. The evil clone Three is out there in the world somewhere and bound to wreck havoc. Fisher and Two get into trouble at school and Fisher finally fesses up about Two to his parents. Shortly after that Three launches his evil attack turning everyone grouchy and mean. Fisher and Two (now named Alex) must come up with a plan to stop Three before he takes over the world, or destroys it. Can’t say I was that impressed with this book. It is very light on the plausibility scale and the story was just too far-fetched for me. I am sure this series has fans but I am not one of them. I would probably give it to boys who like comic books and superheroes and stories that don’t rely to heavily on reality.

19. September 2014 · Write a comment · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction

Half a World Away by Cynthia Kadohata, read by Angie, on 09/18/2014

Jaden was adopted by his parents when he was eight years old. He is now twelve and still has issues. He doesn’t feel safe and secure enough in his home to stop hoarding food, stealing, lying and he doesn’t believe he loves his parents. When they decide to adopt a baby from Kazakhstan, Jaden has to go along and deal with his issues of trust and jealousy. In Kazakhstan, the family discovers that the baby they were promised has already been adopted and they are forced to choose another baby in minutes. Jaden doesn’t approve of the process or the fact that the baby is blank with no reactions at all to the family. He meets a toddler named Dimash who is special needs but touches his heart. As Jaden is bonding with Dimash, his parents are trying to bond with the baby and to make Jaden bond as well. Jaden has to deal with his issues and figure out if he can love his parents and new brother and get over his jealousy and security issues.

I loved Jaden’s touching story. You really feel for this little boy who doesn’t think he is capable of love (even though he does actually love his parents). He has a lot of issues that would make it difficult for his parents to love him, but they don’t seem to have any problems in that area. He is jealous of a new baby coming in to the family believing his parents want the baby because they are not happy with him. I thought Jaden’s journey of acceptance was a beautiful one. The one thing I kept questioning the entire time I was reading was the actual adoption process in Kazakhstan. The whole thing seemed so shady and borderline illegal. It seems like you shouldn’t be able to bring just any child back from another country; you should have paperwork for a specific one. And the fact that the parents were shown a parade of babies and forced to choose in minutes was really strange. As I have never adopted a child from a foreign country I don’t know what the process would be, but I have had friends who have and they were always working to get a specific child to adopt. If you can overlook the weird adoption bits and focus on Jaden’s journey this book is a wonderful one.

19. September 2014 · Write a comment · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fantasy, Fiction, Horror

Fat & Bones: And Other Stories by Larissa Theule, read by Angie, on 09/17/2014

Mr. Bald, the farmer, dies and his son Bones is finally free to go after Fat, the fairy in the tree. Mrs. Bald can’t stop crying over her husband’s death. Fat and Bones have been enemies for a long time though it is not explained what made them such. Fat makes a potion for Bones’s pig foot stew and unfortunately Mrs. Bald eats it instead causing her to go flat. Bones tries to cut down Fat’s tree and instead cuts off the cat’s tail. There are other stories interspersed in the Fat and Bones tales. A pig loses her last foot to the pig foot stew. A spider loses some blood to one of Fat’s potions. It is a gruesome little collection of stories that I am sure will find fans among those kids who like horror.

19. September 2014 · Write a comment · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Poetry

Voices from the March on Washington by J Patrick Lewis, George Ella Lyon, read by Angie, on 09/18/2014

This is a collection of poems that capture the spirit of the March on Washington on August 28, 1963. The voices range from young to old and from black to white. They capture the commitment of those determine to make a change in their world. While these are all fictional people it isn’t hard to believe there were those in the crowd who felt the way these characters felt. The poems are interspersed by verses by famous people who were actually at the March. This is an excellent collection of poems that really illustrate just how powerful that day was for those who were there.

19. September 2014 · Write a comment · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction · Tags:

Freaky Fast Frankie Joe by Lutricia Clifton, read by Angie, on 09/17/2014

When his mother is sent to jail Frankie Joe is forced to leave his home in Laredo, Texas and all his friends to move to Clearview, Illinois with a father, step-mother and four half-brothers he has never met or known about. Life in Clearview is different. He doesn’t have as much freedom; he has to go to school, do chores and report his activities to his father. Frankie Joe plans to run away and ride his bike all the way back to Texas. He needs money to take on the road so he starts a bike delivery service. As his business takes off, he starts making new friends in the people he delivers for. He does better in school and he starts becoming a part of the family.

I found this book entertaining and a quick read. Frankie Joe is a likeable character; he is enterprising and smart even if his school work doesn’t reflect it. I liked the small town part of this story and all the characters we meet. I did find some of the family members underdeveloped and a little one-dimensional, but that didn’t take away from the story. I thought all the fish-out-of-water bits were pretty realistic. However, I found it questionable that all of Frankie Joe’s friends, both in Laredo and Clearview, would be old people; he really only has one friend his age (Mandy) who is as big a misfit as he is.

Fun fast read and one I think kids will enjoy despite its problems.

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

Pink & Green Is the New Black by Lisa Greenwald, read by Angie, on 09/16/2014

Lucy is back in her third adventure. This time she is in 8th grade and wants to make it her best ever. Of course everything isn’t going the way she had hoped. Her proposal to make the school cafeteria go green is approved but she is having issues with her boyfriend Yamir. Yamir is now in high school and he is ignoring her. He doesn’t call or text or even really talk to her anymore and Lucy is getting tired of it. Then there is new boy Travis who seems to like her and does pay attention to her. Plus the 8th grade masquerade is coming up and Lucy has been roped into helping by mean girl Erica.

I think this is a good series for girls who are interested in realistic fiction, makeup and going green. Lucy is your typical teen girl with issues and problems. I like the fact that she seems more like a teen in this one instead of old-beyond her years like she has been in the other books. I’m not sure I always find her voice to be authentic but the issues she is dealing with definitely are. This is a solid addition to this series.

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley.

16. September 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction

A Million Ways Home by Dianna Dorisi Winget, read by Angie, on 09/15/2014

Poppy’s life has been turned upside down lately. She is living in the local children’s home because her grandma had a stroke. Her grandma is her whole life and Poppy just wants things to get back to normal. Then she tries to go see her grandma and witnesses an armed robbery where a store clerk is shot. Police officer Trey is the one to question her and get her story and he is concerned because she saw the man’s face. So Poppy goes to live with Trey’s mom, Marti, in a sort of witness protection program. Through Marti, Poppy is introduced to Carol and Lizzie who work at a local animal shelter and to Gunner, the most beautiful dog she has ever met. Poppy is determined to help Gunner who has some issues. She is also determined to get back home with her grandma, but things don’t always work out how we want them to.

I loved Poppy’s story. It was touching and so very realistic. Ok, so not many 12 year olds witness robberies, but lots of them live with grandparents and I am sure lots of them have grandparents with health issues. I liked the fact that not everything went Poppy’s way, but she still ending up in a good situation that worked for her. Her relationship with Gunner really made me want to adopt a dog! This is a beautiful, heart-breaking story.

I received this book from Netgalley.com.

16. September 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction

Guinea Dog 3 by Patrick Jennings, read by Angie, on 09/15/2014

Rufus is looking forward to the annual camping trip to White Crappie Lake with his family and his best friend Murph’s family. Then his mom goes and invites his enemy Dimitri and strange girl Lurena. Dimitri is always trying to steal Murph as his best friend and Lurena is just strange. At the campground they meet Pablo and get to talking about their pets. Rufus has a guinea pig (Fido) who thinks she is a dog and whose daughter thinks she is a squirrel (Lurena got the guinea squirrel). Fido came from a pet store called Petoria which seems to have disappeared until Pablo says he thinks he saw one. So off they go to find Petoria and another guinea pig. Turns out this one is a guinea otter?

Such a strange little book. Even though this is the third in the series I don’t think you have to have read the other two to figure it out. I think younger readers will really enjoy this story. It has a lot of humor and fun in it. I liked the mystery of what exactly Petoria is and why the animals there turn out so different. I also like that the answers are not given to us in this book.

16. September 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Angie, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Mystery · Tags:

The Maid's Version by Daniel Woodrell, read by Angie, on 09/15/2014

The Arbor Dance Hall exploded in West Table, Missouri on a summer night in 1929. No one knows for sure who or what caused the explosion, but 42 people lost their lives and many others were destroyed by grief. Many years after the events, Alma DeGeer Dunahew tells the story to her grandson Alek. She lost her beloved sister in the fire and has always believed she knew who did it. No one was ever prosecuted for the explosion or the deaths. Was it because the person responsible was a powerful man in the community and those in power protected him?

I am not really sure what I think about this book. It is a very short book, but yet it took me a long time to read. It is a meandering story that floats from the present to different parts of the past and back again. It is primarily told from Alek’s point of view, but skips narrators throughout. You are never really sure what is going on or how the different view points will relate to the whole story. I was never really able to get sucked in to the tale nor relate to any of the characters. By the end of the book I really just wanted to finish it and be done. Then the last chapter departed from the rest of the book and basically just told us what happened. So strange. Definitely not my favorite.

16. September 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Informational Book, NonFiction

Chernobyl's Wild Kingdom: Life in the Dead Zone by Rebecca L. Johnson, read by Angie, on 09/15/2014

In 1986, the Chernobyl Reactor 4 exploded and spewed radioactive material over a wide swath of Belarus, Ukraine and Russia. The people were relocated from numerous towns and villages. There is controversy over how many people exposed to the radiation suffered from it. The area around Chernobyl was cordoned off and became the Exclusion Zone. Today the Exclusion Zone is a place empty of humans except for a few people who went back to their homes and scientists studying the effects of radiation on the animals and plants in the area. Some animals seem to have adapted to the radiation while others have abnormalities caused by the radiation. This book is an honest look at a couple of the studies done on animal populations in the Exclusion Zone. It is extremely readable and informative.

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley.