Freak, Fiona and River live in Cheshire. Cheshire is just your normal small town except for the fact that there is a giant wasteland eating up the middle of it. Years ago the Rodmore Chemical plant ignited the coal under the ground and it has been burning ever since. It has created the Hellsboro area and the kids are the only people living on one side of town because all the houses were destroyed. One day while waiting for the bus they find a sofa sitting at the bus stop. The sofa leads them to the Underhill House across the road where they discover Alf. Turns out Alf is an alien from Indorsia, their is a AI computer named Guernica, Alf’s dead sister Miranda’s consciousness lives in the computer and the sofa can tesser. Alf’s father is trying to take over Earth through mind control and flash mobs and they must stop him with the help of a rare zucchini crayon.
If you think this sounds ridiculous you would be right, but it is also a lot of fun. There are tons of fun details in this book and they are what makes it so special. I loved the references to books like Lord of the Rings and A Wrinkle in Time. I loved strange things like the zucchini crayon and Jackson Pollock’s coloring book. I especially loved the intelligent sofa and the ax-weilding crazy ghost. There is a ton of things going on in this book and you really have to pay attention to appreciate them all.
Paige Turner is tired of her name. She now wants to be known as Oklahoma. She wants to be as spunky and independent as her cousin and she doesn’t want to be picked on anymore at school. The name change is easier said than done. Her brother and parents can’t seem to remember and she gets teased more than ever. Her friends support her, but soon her bid for independence causes a riff with her best friend Gavi. There is nothing really wrong with this little book, but I did think the whole name change to Oklahoma was a little ridiculous. Mean girl Viveca’s actions were also never really explained or resolved. I wish there was a little more meat to this one.
Hayley finds an old ukulele at a garage sale. She learns how to play and starts a uke band at school. The school board wants to cut costs so they are going to cut the music program at school. Hayley and her friends organize a protest at the school board meeting to get the music program reinstated. Learning the ukulele really brings Hayley out of her shell and helps her make friends and make a difference in her school. There is a good lesson in here about standing up for yourself and for what is right. Nice beginning chapter book.
Mary Roach is one of my favorite nonfiction writers. Not only are the subjects she chooses to write about fascinating, but her writing style is both humorous and educational. She takes topics that most people don’t think about or want to think about, like dead people and digestion, and makes you want to learn more. I am always amazed at the people she finds to interview, the resources she uses and the topics she chooses to discuss. Gulp is all about our digestive system from one end to the other. Your average person doesn’t really want to know that much about the processes of the alimentary canal. As long as things are working properly we are ok in our ignorance. Not Mary; she wants all the dirty little details and she wants to share them with us. After reading several of her books I really do believe poop might be one of her favorite subjects since she incorporates mention of it in a lot of her books. I learned many things in this book: cows chew a mouthful of food up to 40 times; rats and rabbits eat their poop to get needed nutrients and without it their growth will be stunted; Elvis died due to an enlarged colon and constipation. Seriously! There is a disease that causes your colon to not push things through which causes it to be enlarged and you to have constipation. There are documented cases of 28 inch colons (average is 3 inches or so). Elvis could change waist sizes by several inches depending on whether he had gone to the bathroom that week. While these things might seem like stories you would read in the National Enquirer, Roach backs them all up with research studies and interviews of scientists. I will definitely continue reading everything she chooses to study as I haven’t found a clunker yet.
The characters of stories and legends have been driven from their homelands by “The Adversary”. They are now living in the “mundy” world. Those able to pass as human or able to afford glamours live among the mundys in New York. Those who can’t pass live at “the farm” in upstate New York. The first few chapters are the story of Rose Red’s murder. Her sister Snow White and Bigby Wolf investigate, linking the murder to both Jack (of beanstalk fame) and Bluebeard. The second set involves the farm and the uprising of its inhabitants. I loved Willingham’s take on these characters. I love that Prince Charming is a freeloader and has been divorced by both his wives. I liked Snow White as a take charge administrator. And I really enjoyed Colin pig’s escapes to the city (though I was saddened by what happened to him at the farm). I was a little surprised by how adult this book was considering its characters, but I guess that is why it was in the adult section at the library not the teen section! I will definitely be checking out the rest of this fun series.
Frances and her parents move in with Elsie’s family in Yorkshire during the Great War. Behind the house, in the beck (creek), Frances starts seeing fairies. One day she tells her family what she sees and Elsie says she sees them too. The adults want proof so the girls create fairy cutouts and take pictures with the fairies. Somehow word gets out and none other than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle starts corresponding with the girls to learn more about the fairies. Edward Garner starts lecturing around the country on the Cottingly fairies. The girls are forced to keep up their charade in order to avoid getting into trouble. They take another set of photos, but even that doesn’t stop the attention. They kept their secrets about doctoring the photos until almost the end of their lives; finally coming clean as elderly women. Mary Losure does a great job of telling Frances and Elsie’s stories. This was a very interesting and entertaining little book.
Mousemobile is the follow up to Prudence Breitrose’s Mousenet. In this installment, Megan and Joey and Jake and Fred are still the only humans who know about the evolution of the mouse nation. They are working diligently with their mouse partners to create thumbtops and save the planet. Unexpectedly, they are called to a meeting with the Big Cheese in mouse headquarters. It seems the Mouse Nation is under attack and drastic measures have to be taken. What measures? Why a giant, gas-guzzling RV of course! Megan and Uncle Fred rescue the mice at mouse HQ and start a cross-country journey with an RV with 2445 mice in an RV. They are pursued by a stranger in a green truck and worried about a spy in their midst. There are car chases, near misses, espionage and strange anti-climate change cults in the woods. Of course everything is going to work out fine. Perpetrators will be caught, minds will be changed and mouse will move.
I actually liked this book a bit more than the first one. While the premise is still pretty silly, I do appreciate a road trip book. Just picturing this giant RV with mice all over it made me smile. Even with the silliness, there is still the message about climate change that comes through loud and clear. I think there are more adventures to come in this story as Mouse HQ is now located at the thumbtop factory and everyone is in one place.
I received an advanced copy of this book from Netgalley.com.
Amy Fields is a poor little rich girl trying to get her daddy’s attention. Her mother committed suicide and her father immersed himself in work and then got remarried. Amy acts out by getting facial piercings, smoking during a final exam and go to clubs all night. Her father buys a yacht and decides to take the family on a round-the-world sailing trip. Amy is naturally resistant and petulant during most of the trip. Then along the coast of Somalia they are kidnapped by pirates. The Somali pirates, or Coast Guard as they call themselves, don’t want to hurt the passengers they just want a ransom.
The strength of this novel was in the characterizations of the pirates and Amy’s coming to terms with her mother. The pirates are not shown as villainous, evil men. They are shown as people just trying to make a living in a war torn nation with no economy and no jobs. Nick Lake does a great job of making them human and contrasting their living situations with those of the Fields. While this doesn’t excuse their behavior, it does give them a more human aspect and shows that to them this is just a job and everything has a value.
The novel also shows how this forced confinement forces Amy into coming to terms with her mother. Her mother suffered from OCD and severe depression and her life was not easy. Amy tended to gloss over the bad times and just remember the mom she wanted to remember. She never faced up to the fact that her mom called her before she jumped from a roof and basically told her what she was going to do. Amy starts to remember the good times and the bad times with her mom and she starts to make peace with her. She also starts making peace with her father and realizes her stepmother might not be the horrible person she thought she was.
I think the weakness of this novel is the relationship that develops between Amy and Farouz. Farouz is a young translator for the pirates and it is through him that we learn about life in Somalia. It is through his stories we learn about the endless wars that have ravaged the country. How his parents were killed in front of him, about how he and his brother fled Mogadishu and what his brother did for him so they could survive. He is a pirate so he can earn enough money to free his brother from jail. We also learn how piracy was born in Somalia and why so many of its men are pirates. Amy and Farouz are attracted to each other and during the captivity they become closer and closer. They are clearly not on equal ground however as Amy’s life is in the hands of Farouz and the other pirates. I found this relationship distasteful and unbelievable. I didn’t see the emotional connection or believe they would be relaxed enough in their environment to meet as often as they did. I don’t think the seriousness and danger of the situations was as accurately portrayed as it could have been. The good thing is that neither of them really believe the relationship is going anywhere; there is no future for them as much as they might dream of one.
Despite my issues with the book, this was a gripping, gritty read. I wanted to know how it was going to end because we kept getting hints and flashes of the outcome. This is not a happily ever after kind of story, but it is a happier now than before kind of story (for most of the characters). I appreciate the realness of the story and its ending.
I received a copy of this book from both Netgalley and ALA 2013.
Darling lives with her family in England. It is the height of WWI and dogs are in demand on the front. Her family sends her to be a soldier. She learns how to be a mercy, or red cross, dog. She finds wounded soldiers on the battlefield and brings her handler back with help. Darling is sent to the front lines in Belgium and sees several battles. She rescues lots of soldiers. During the a big battle she is wounded, but still manages to save several soldiers including her handler Private Kent. She becomes a hero of the war and is sent back home.
This was a cute little book perfect for beginning chapter book readers. It was interesting reading this from a dog’s perspective. I like the fact that it is pretty historically accurate. The author includes information on war dogs and WWI. I received a copy of this book from Netgalley.
What do most people know about the Norman Conquest, if they know anything at all? They know that William the Conqueror came over to England from Normandy in 1066 and conquered England. That’s it for the most part. This book is a highly readable account of the years leading up to the Conquest in both England and Normandy, what led to William crossing the Channel and what happened after the invasion. The cast of characters in this book is enormous and many of them have the same name, but Marc Morris manages to make history come alive. It amazes me how much information does still exist from the Conquest since it was almost a thousand years ago. Sure there isn’t a lot, but the fact that accounts of events do still exist is amazing. Morris uses contemporary (meaning 11th century) sources to explain the events of the time. He isn’t afraid to point out inconsistency or lack of information. He does a great job extrapolating the truth or the most likely truth from the accounts. This book highlights how violent and turbulent the times where in the eleventh century. It is truly amazing that anyone survived! Morris does not shy away from exposing the brutality of the Conquest or how William used violence to subdue the people. However, it does show that the Normans were maybe not quite as violent as their English counterparts in everyday life. William had a huge impact on how things were done in England. He changed everything from the structure of society to religion to land management to slavery. William also started a building boom in England that is still evident today. Many of the churches and castles built during this time are still standing and in use. America is such a young country that it is often hard to comprehend the fact that there are thousand year old structures in England. If you are looking for a good read on the history of the Norman Conquest, I would recommend this book.
I did receive a copy of this book from Netgalley.com.
Isaac is obsessed with pitching the perfect game. He comes close but never quite succeeds. His father pressures him with practice and perfection. His coach takes a different route and invites him to help with a Special Olympics basketball team. Through working with the team, Isaac realizes that he doesn’t have to be perfect.
This read like an after school special. Pressured Isaac only realizes perfection is not all there is after getting to know less “perfect” people. There is a lot of baseball, which I can see boys responding to, but the “messagey” quality of the book might turn other readers away.
Zombies rule! Especially cow head zombies. Rabi, Miguel and Joe are friends who play on the same baseball team. They live in a small Ohio town with a big meat packing plant. Milrow Meat Solutions is pumping their cows full of all kinds of things, which have the effect of creating zombies. The boys have to battle the zombies and evil plant executives to survive the summer.
This book was full of humor and fun and zombies! It also had some serious messages about immigration and domestic abuse and corporations. At its heart it is a story about friendship and what you will do for your friends. All set against the backdrop of the zombie apocalypse. I loved it!
This book gives us the biographies of some of the Wild West’s most notorious bad guys and gals. People like Billy the Kid, Belle Star, Doc Holliday are featured. We learn their history and how they became outlaws (in most cases). The book also asks what it truly means to be bad. It was an interesting look at the topic and the people in the book are all ones that kids would like to know more about. I do think the word “bad” is overused, but other than that it was a nice offering.
I did receive a copy of this book free from the publisher after attending a Booklist webinar.
The assassination of JFK was a pivotal moment in American history. James Swanson leads us through the lives of JFK and Oswald leading up to the assassination. He takes us step by step through the day of the assassination and the immediate days following. Swanson definitely has a bit of a bias in the way he treats Oswald. Not that Oswald was a good guy, but at one point Swanson even calls him evil and describes him in very derogatory terms. His attention to detail is very good however, with lots of source material and photos. This book is geared towards the older kid and some of the graphic explanations of what exactly happened to Kennedy may be too much for more sensitive readers.
I received this book from netgalley.com.
Georgia has always been a good student even though her brother Rafe could possibly be the worst student ever! She starts middle school and is immediately in the shadow Rafe left. All the teachers assume she is just like Rafe and treat her horribly. The Princess Patrol makes fun of her and she doesn’t really make friends. Rhonda, a girl who screeches everything she says, starts following Georgia. She is also in a band that doesn’t really know how to play and is horrible. Rafe even signs the band up to play in the Battle of the Bands at the school dance. It seems like nothing is going her way.
I haven’t read any of the other books in this series, but I know they are hugely popular with the kids. The book contains lots of drawings and illustrations that will really appeal to kids who like books like Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Dork Diaries. Even with all the humor, the book does introduce some serious situations. There is bullying from the Princess Patrol, who I can’t believe actually get away with the things they say. There is also the grandma’s dementia. Finally, it turns out Georgia is adopted and she has to deal with this. Unfortunately, these things are just touched on and not really dealt with. Despite that I think the kids will embrace this book like they do all the others in the series.
Willow Chance is a special girl; she is interested in plants and medical diagnosis; she is an undiscovered genius. Willow has just started middle school when she aces a standardized test and is accused of cheating. This sends her to Dell Duke, incompetent counselor, and allows her to meet her only friend Mai, whose brother Quang-ha sees Dell as well. These are the people around her when her world is destroyed. Her adoptive parents are killed in a car crash. Suddenly Willow is alone in the world with no family and no place to go. Mai takes charge and convinces her mother to allow Willow to stay with them, pretending she is a family friend even though they have never met. Mai’s mother Pattie is from Vietnam and operates a nail salon. The family lives in a one room garage behind the salon, which would definitely not pass a social services inspection. So Pattie convinces Dell to let them pretend to live in his apartment. She takes charge and transforms it into a home. Before you know it Willow, Mai, Pattie, Quang-ha and Dell are like a real family. Willow slowly comes out of her grief as the family comes together, but will she be able to stay with her new family or will the state take her away and destroy all she has known again?
This is one of those books that will break your heart. Willow’s grief on losing her parents is real and visceral. You can feel and understand her pain as she shuts completely down. Willow is also very strange; her interests are strange; she doesn’t interact with people in what is considered a normal way; she doesn’t fit in. But she fits with this new group of people and she brings them together as a family. There are a couple things that kept this book from being perfect for me. The first is the fact that Willow is not forced to go to school for months. Her case worker, the school district, Pattie, Dell, none of them make her go to school. She tells them she isn’t ready and they drop it just like that. She is supposed to be homeschooling during this time, but no one checks on that either. The second thing is the ending…it is way too perfect. The entire time I was reading it I assumed Pattie would somehow get custody of Willow. There was no way the book was going to end with her losing her family again. However, at the end Pattie somehow ends up being rich, rich enough to buy an apartment building in California. Seems she was forcing her family to live in the garage so she could save up some cash. Really!!???! She always came across as a working mom trying to build up her business and keep her family going. Plus she makes Dell pay for everything! Pattie’s romance also seems to come out of left field. I think it would have been a stronger ending without the wealthy, two-parent Disney ending.
I received a copy of this book at ALA 2013 and from Netgalley.com.
Boxers told the Boxer side of the Boxer Rebellion. Saints tell the story of Vibiana, who we briefly met in Boxers. Vibiana was a Chinese girl who was not loved or appreciated by her family. They thought she was a demon or a devil. She becomes friends with Dr. Won mainly for the cookies, but along the way he teachers her about being a Christian. She joins the other Chinese Christians as they hide in a fortified stronghold and try to protect themselves for the Brother-Disciples. She has visions of Joan of Arc and likens herself to Joan. It seems they are both destined to be warriors for God. Like Joan, Vibiana too must sacrifice a lot for her faith.
I love how this book ties together with Boxers. They really should be read together to get the full story. Vibiana plays a role in the life of Bao at two different points. We also get a different side to the story told in Boxers. Neither book is especially enlightening about the Boxer Rebellion, its causes and its effects. But they do tell the story of a couple of characters journey’s during the Rebellion and what they fought and died for.
I received a copy of the this book from the publishers at ALA 2013.
Boxers is the story of the Boxer Rebellion told from the perspective of Little Bao. Bao has a calling to fight the foreign devils who have taken over his country. He trains men and together they become Brother-Disciples of the Righteous and Harmonious Fist. They roam the Chinese countryside fighting the foreign devils and the Christian Chinese. What they do does not always seem right, but they are fighting for what they believe is right. The final battle comes in Peking as they try to drive the foreigners from the city.
I know pretty much nothing about Chinese history. I had heard of the Boxer Rebellion but really had no idea what it was about. Gene Luen Yang distills the history of the conflict down so that anyone can understand it. The graphic novel format is perfect for this story. Since it is told from the view of Little Bao, we don’t get the entire story of the conflict and its aftermath, but we get enough. It will definitely peak your interest and make you want to learn more about the Boxer Rebellion.
I received a copy of this book from the publishers at ALA 2013.
Matt Thorsen is a descendant of the Norse god Thor. Ragnarok is coming and he has been chosen to fight the Midgard Serpent and save the world. No pressure! First he must gather his champions, other descendants of the gods, and find his talismans, then he will be ready for Ragnarok. His first challenge is convincing the descendant of Loki to join him. In the stories, Loki leads the monsters at Ragnarok and in real life Matt and Fen are not really friends. But soon Matt, Fen and Laurie, another descendant of Loki and Fen’s cousin, have joined forces. They set out with a little aid from the Norns and the Valkyries to fight trolls and find the other gods.
This is how I like my fantasy, full of legends and mythology and characters coming into their potential. I think Norse mythology is an untapped segment of the mythology fiction. We get to read a lot about Greeks, but the Norse are often overlooked. I really like learning about these gods and their stories. I think this is a fun set up to a series. Since it is the setup, there is a lot of character and story introductions, but by the end we know who the main players are (on the good side at least) and they are ready to set off on their adventures. Are there plot holes? Sure there are. Why do kids have to fight the serpent, why not adults? Why do the descendants of the Norse gods all live in South Dakota? However, it is still an awesome story and I can’t wait to read more.
Andi and her sister Bethany have to move in with their aunt Amelia after their parents die in a plane crash. The grieving sisters are forced to leave their home and friends and everything they know. Aunt Amelia lives in the home she grew up in in rural Ohio. Andi and Bethany are forced to share a room until Andi starts cleaning out the attic. She discovers a mysterious trunk with things that belonged to another Andora Boggs. Andi and her friend Colin start investigating Andora to discover why her things were hidden away and why no one will talk about her. They are not they only ones looking into the Andora story. There is a history professor from the local college who is also interested.
What could be better than the mystery of a depression era baby who goes missing? I liked how the book was structured as Andi and Colin built their case. They were true investigators and I can see this book becoming a series. I really liked how Andi and Bethany were shown grieving differently. I do think Bethany’s grief was a little more obvious than Andi’s. She quickly became immersed in the Andora mystery and didn’t seem to think about her parents as much. I wish Amelia’s character was a little more fleshed out as she seemed barely there. But overall, I really liked this book and its mystery.
I received an advanced copy of this book from both Netgalley and ALA 2013.