15. January 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction · Tags:

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan, 380 pages, read by Angie, on 01/14/2015

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.

After reading this book for the second time I am still torn about my feelings for it. On one hand I really love the how Willow is able to build a family after tragedy. On the other there are several things that really bothered me about the book. 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. Second is the fact that Dell is completely incompetent as a counselor and yet is given all the tough cases to deal with. He doesn’t even attempt to help these kids and who knows what becomes of all the others besides Willow and Quang-ha. Third is the fact that Willow is immediately suspected of cheating on the standardized test she aces even though she has tested as gifted in the past. There is no retesting or attempts to figure out if she is just truly genius. She is just labeled a cheater and sent to counseling. This seemed off to me. Fourth is the fact that Willow’s house and the parents’ estate is never mentioned. Just because someone dies doesn’t mean the bills stop. Who is taking care of that? At some point you assume the house will be sold, but surely Willow will be consulted. I just really wanted to know what happened to that house and the garden that Willow so loved. I thought it was wrong that she completely abandoned it even after she started coming out of her grief. The last thing is the ending…it is way too Disney-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 hard-working mom trying to build up her business and keep her family going. Plus she makes Dell pay for everything! The bonus of this is one is Pattie’s romance with Jairo which also seems to come out of left field. Suddenly there is a built-in wealthy family for Willow to become a part of. I still really like this book and will recommend it, but I wish the ending wouldn’t have been so perfect. Willow could have still been adopted by Pattie even if she wasn’t wealthy right?

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

Freaky Fast Frankie Joe by Lutricia Clifton, 248 pages, 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.

20. June 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Multicultural Fiction · Tags:

The Young Healer by Frank N. McMillan III, 216 pages, read by Angie, on 06/18/2014

Feather and her grandfather set out on a quest to heal her young brother Peter. Spotted Eagle is a Lakota medicine man and he wants to teach Feather the traditions of their people. Their quest leads them throughout New York City during a raging snowstorm as they meet a Chinese herbalist, a homeless woman, a bear at the zoo and a grandfather at the Empire State Building. Their journey is full of magical coincidences that help making the vision quest more special. Feather’s mom, Ann, is resistant to the old ways and doesn’t want anything to do with a traditional healing ceremony, but Feather and Spotted Eagle are determined to help Peter. 

I really enjoyed the fact that this book highlights a culture not seen in children’s realistic fiction very often, the Native American culture. I also liked that it was not only set in modern times, but also in a modern city. It highlighted how Native Americans can adapt their cultural traditions to fit a modern world, but still honor those ancient customs. I thought Feather and her grandfather were both fun, dedicated, interesting characters throughout the book. I did think Feather’s parents were a little one-dimensional, but they didn’t play a very big role in the book. I liked how the reader was left wondering if there was really magic playing a part or if it was just coincidences. A very special book that I am sure would be great for discussions.

02. June 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Fantasy, Fiction, Tracy · Tags:

The Familiars by Adam Jay Epstein, 360 pages, read by Tracy, on 05/22/2014

Is the kingdom’s fate in the hands of an orphan cat?

Running fast to save his life, Aldwyn ducks into an unusual pet store. Moments later Jack, a young wizard in training, comes in to choose a magical animal to be his familiar. Aldwyn’s always been clever. But magical? Jack thinks so and Aldwyn is happy to play along.

He just has to convince the other familiars the know-it-all blue jay Skylar and the friendly tree frog Gilbert that he’s the powerful cat he claims to be.

Then the unthinkable happens. Jack and two other young wizards are captured by the evil queen of Vastia.

On a thrilling quest to save their loyals, the familiars face dangerous foes, unearth a shocking centuries-old secret, and discover a destiny that will change Vastia forever. Their magical adventure an irresistible blend of real heart, edge-of-your-seat action, and laugh-out-loud humor is an unforgettable celebration of fantasy and friendship.

01. June 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Fiction, Leslie · Tags:

Freaky Fast Frankie Joe by Lutricia Clifton, 248 pages, read by Leslie, on 05/25/2014

Freaky Fast Frankie Joe

Twelve-year-old Frankie Joe Huckaby, forced to live with the father he never knew, a stepmother, and four half-brothers in Illinois, starts a delivery service to finance his escape back to his mother in Texas, not realizing he is making a better life for himself than he ever had with her.

A very good story on blending a family, I enjoyed the way that Frankie found ways to deal with his situation positively.  A great story to show kids that lashing out is not the only way to deal with difficult situations.

01. June 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Fiction, Leslie · Tags:

The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis, 307 pages, read by Leslie, on 05/14/2014

11288619

With love and determination befitting the “world’s greatest family,” twelve-year-old Deza Malone, her older brother Jimmie, and their parents endure tough times in Gary, Indiana, and later Flint, Michigan, during the Great Depression.

I tried but could not find the appeal of this book, as I did with Bud, Not Buddy.  I just found it too unrealistic, the more I read, mainly with the father.  I think young readers will not see those aspects to it but will enjoy seeing the family overcome each obstacle tossed in it’s way.

01. June 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Fiction, Leslie · Tags:

The Young Healer by Frank N. McMillan III, 208 pages, read by Leslie, on 05/08/2014

14639150

“What starts out as just another day becomes anything but that for Feather Anderson. Her beloved grandfather, a traditional Lakota healer, pulls her out of class one snowy morning and takes her on a traditional vision quest in the heart of New York City in hopes to find the perfect Lakota medicine. It becomes the most magical day of Feather’s life as she saves her little brother’s life and earns her newly-given secret Lakota name”

A good story, I think that both boys and girls will enjoy reading it, the Native American traditions that are written about are sure to inspire research for some students.  While it seems that Feather and her grandfather pack a lot of stuff into the length of one day, I really enjoyed the story.

01. June 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Fiction, Leslie · Tags:

Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead, 180 pages, read by Leslie, on 05/05/2014

17308183

Seventh-grader Georges adjusts to moving from a house to an apartment, his father’s efforts to start a new business, his mother’s extra shifts as a nurse, being picked on at school, and Safer, a boy who wants his help spying on another resident of their building.

Not a fast paced book, but a good story of building friendships and trust.  Georges isn’t fond of the way his name is spelled, his dad loses his job and they are forced to move to an apartment, where Georges meets Safer and his sister.  Georges isn’t sure what to make of Safer but they eventually overcome their differences and Georges comes to admit to himself that his life is not he has been painting it to be, in his mind.

06. May 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Cats, Children's Books, Fiction, Leslie · Tags:

The Five Lives of our Cat Zook by Joanne Rocklin, 218 pages, read by Leslie, on 04/12/2014

12735988

As ten-year-old Oona and her younger brother conspire to break their sick cat Zook out of the veterinary clinic, Oona tells the story of Zook’s previous lives.

I love how Oona makes up stories to entertain her brother in the ways of the world, with themselves as the central characters.  She does this because her father did it with her and he has passed away, it’s a way to keep her father alive for both her brother and herself.  While she gets herself into trouble on occasion and says things occasionally she knows is hurtful, she comes through at the end, making things right and learning life lessons.  Girls will probably be drawn more to this book than the boys will, but I think it would suit any reader.

06. May 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Leslie · Tags:

Privateer's Apprentice by Susan Verrico, 195 pages, read by Leslie, on 04/08/2014

14432994

From Charles Towne, Carolina Territory, in 1712, thirteen-year-old Jameson Cooper, orphaned and indigent, is abducted by privateers working for Queen Anne but proves himself worthy to be called a royal sailor through his writing and drawing skills, as well as his hard work and courage.

I find that this will be a book that appeals to boys, not really sure about the girls, however, as it really has no female characters to speak of.  I think that if the reader pays attention, they may get quite a life lesson from this book, to take pride in whatever work you find yourself doing.  Full of adventure, a little suspense, I did enjoy the story.

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

Chomp by Carl Hiaasen, 290 pages, read by Angie, on 04/15/2014

Mickey Cray has been brought down by a frozen iguana. It has caused a concussion, headaches and double-vision. It also means he hasn’t been able to work as an animal wrangler. Bills are piling up so his wife has gone to China for a job, leaving Mickey and son Wahoo home alone. Then along comes Expedition Survivor and Derek Badger. He is a reality tv survivalist who believes his own hype and wants to film an Everglades episode; he is also a big fake. Mickey and Wahoo hire on to the show and start saving Derek from one animal after another. He is almost drowned by an alligator, bitten on the nose by a snapping turtle, bitten several times by a snake and attacked by a bat he is trying to eat. Mickey and Wahoo are joined on their expedition by Tuna, a girl in Wahoo’s class whose father hits her and who needs a safe place to hide out. The Expedition Survivor shoot is filled with chaos, mainly because of its star. Things get even worse when Tuna’s dad shows up and kidnaps Mickey.

This was a fun book. Carl Hiaasen obviously knows his animal info and is passionate about it. I thought he did a great job of passing along information about wildlife conservation and the plight of animals without shoving it down our throats. I liked how it was just a part of the story. I really enjoyed Mickey Cray, he is a fabulous character and one that was fun to read. His relationship with his son Wahoo was also really good. I liked how they were more partners than father and son, but Wahoo wasn’t the caretaker. I thought Derek Badger was hilarious and just how a reality tv star would be. Of course everything is fake and the star is a diva. The only part I didn’t think worked quite as well as Tuna’s dad. I thought his motivations were unclear and a little over the top. Other than that I really enjoyed it. The audiobook was great!

03. April 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Fiction, Leslie, Mystery · Tags:

The Shadow Collector's Apprentice by Amy Gordon, 202 pages, read by Leslie, on 03/31/2014

13486779

In the summer of 1963, after his father has inexplicably disappeared leaving Cully with his three eccentric aunts on their barely profitable apple farm, Cully goes to work for a mysterious antiques dealer who has the strange hobby of collecting shadows.

Another good read for both boys and girls, from Amy Gordon.  A bit of mystery rolled in with suspense and history.  Some of it is a bit far-fetched for me, but not for kids.  They will enjoy this one as a Mark Twain nominee.

03. April 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Fiction, Leslie, Mystery · Tags:

Capture the Flag by Kate Messner, 240 pages, read by Leslie, on 03/30/2014

12975886

When the original Star Spangled Banner is stolen, seventh-graders Anne, José, and Henry, all descendants of the Silver Jaguar Society, pursue suspects on airport carts and through baggage handling tunnels while stranded at a Washington, D.C., airport during a snowstorm.

A great first in a mystery series for young readers.  While easy for me to see where the plot is heading, kids will definitely enjoy the twists and turns the author takes them on.  A Mark Twain nominee, I can recommend this to both boys and girls.

11. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Fiction, Joyce, Mystery · Tags:

Theodore Boone, Kid Lawyer by John Grisham, 263 pages, read by Joyce, on 01/30/2013

 In the small city of Strattenburg there are many lawyers, and thirteen-year-old Theo Boone thinks he is one of them, but his inside knowledge of the justice system means trouble when a cold-blooded killer is about to go free and only Theo can stop him.
11. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Joyce · Tags:

In Front of God and Everybody by K. D. McCrite, 298 pages, read by Joyce, on 01/30/2013

In the summer of 1986, eleven-year-old April Grace, who lives on a rural Arkansas farm with her family, across a field from her grandmother, has her sense of Christian charity tested when a snooty couple from San Francisco moves into a dilapidated house down the road and her grandmother takes up with a loud, obnoxious, and suspicious-acting Texan.
16. January 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Mystery · Tags:

Capture the Flag by Kate Messner, 240 pages, read by Angie, on 01/15/2014

The original flag that inspired “The Star Spangled Banner” is stolen from the Smithsonian after a gala event. Anna, Jose and Henry were all at the gala where the restored flag was displayed and where it was later stolen. They are also all snowed in at the airport waiting on a flight to Vermont. Anna, who dreams of being a news reporter, is determined to solve the mystery and she convinces Jose, Henry and their new friend Sinan to help her. She is convinced the flag is somewhere in the airport and the thieves are in the groups of passengers snowed in with them. They pursue their suspects throughout the airport and into the baggage area below.The three also learn that they have something else in common; they are all descendants of famous artists and their parents are part of a secret society that protects works of art around the world. This makes them even more determined than ever to find the flag and return it to the Smithsonian. They must work together, find their way out of dangerous situations, and corral one overactive dog named Hammurabi, to have any chance of saving the day. Will they be able to find the real thieves and solve the mystery before the storm lets up and flights resume?

This is a fast-paced, fun mystery. The mystery has enough twists and turns to keep the reader guessing. I did think there was a bit of stereotyping with the kids however. Anna is the dogged reporter determined to be useful and solve the mystery. Jose is obsessed with Harry Potter and books and has a quotation for every situation. Henry is always sticking his face in a video game and relating every situation to some game he has played. Sinan draws every figure of speech he hears. I liked the secret society aspect of the mystery and thought it was a good setup for a new series.

18. October 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction · Tags:

In Front of God and Everybody (Confessions of April Grace #1) by K.D. McCrite, 298 pages, read by Angie, on 10/15/2013

April Grace is a country girl from the Ozarks and proud of it. She lets her new neighbors know what she thinks of them from the beginning even if she does get in trouble for it. Isabel and Ian St. James are from California and snooty; they have bought a run down place down the road from April Grace’s family. The place is in such bad shape that April’s parents invite Isabel and Ian to move in with them until it is habitable. Cultures clash between the St. Jameses and the Reillys and hilarity ensues. But through it all the Reillys (at least mom and dad) handle the situation with grace and kindness; they are an example to their daughters and their neighbors. The St. Jameses are not the only new additions to the neighborhood. Grandma has a new beau; Jeffrey Rance is a hard-of-hearing Texan who looks to sweep Grandma off her feet and clear out her pocketbook. It is up to April to find the evidence to prove her dislike of Mr. Rance right.

Being from the Ozarks, I enjoy books that show good honest country people and don’t make fun of them for being hicks or hillbillies. In this book it is the citified St. Jameses who come off looking bad and the Reillys with their simpler ways and good living who shine. April Grace is funny and sarcastic and honest and really enjoyable to read. I loved how involved her parents were in their children’s lives and what good examples they were for April and Myra. They are definitely part of the lead by example school of parenting. This is a great book with a great lesson on treating others with kindness.

08. October 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Courtney, Fiction, Science Fiction · Tags: ,

Found by Margaret Peterson Haddix, 320 pages, read by Courtney, on 09/10/2013

Found opens on an unusual note: a plane appears at an airport. It’s not on any manifest and there are no pilots on board. Stewardess Angela DuPre is the only who saw it appear and is the only one brave enough to set foot on the mysterious plane. What she finds is quite surprising: 36 babies on board with no parents or other adults in the vicinity. Once the infants are taken off the plane, it disappears.
13 years later, we meet a boy named Jonah who has recently begun getting mysterious messages in the mail that appear to be related to the fact that he is adopted. Things get stranger when his friend, Chip, reveals that he has also been receiving messages in spite of the fact that he’s not adopted. Or doesn’t think he is until he questions his parents. In shock over discovering that he has been adopted, Chip joins up with Jonah and his sister Katherine to figure out who is sending these messages and why. An unexpected interrogation by the FBI nets Jonah and Katherine a chance to find out a bit more. Chip and Jonah are among 36 kids who have all been adopted and are all located in the same geographic region. They realize this has something to do with the mysterious plane incident and subsequently begin to seek out other kids and witnesses who might know more.
As one might expect from Haddix, this is a fast-paced adventure story and the beginning of a series. This installment merely sets up what will undoubtedly become the main arc of the story, as the matter of how these kids got where they are currently is clearly not nearly as important as where they came from in the first place. There’s a lot of running around trying to piece together clues, only to have them explained in detail near the end. The first part of the book is intriguing and fun; the second becomes quite a stretch in terms of premise and execution. Unfortunately, the questionable premise is what will be driving the series and I’m not certain I can get over it enough to read the rest. Still, an entertaining diversion and a fun take on the time-travel genre.

09. September 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Fantasy, Fiction, Jane · Tags:

The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann, 390 pages, read by Jane, on 08/18/2013

Every year in Quill, thirteen-year-olds are sorted into categories: the strong, intelligent Wanteds go to university, and the artistic Unwanteds are sent to their deaths
Thirteen-year-old Alex tries his hardest to be stoic when his fate is announced as Unwanted, even while leaving behind his twin, Aaron, a Wanted. Upon arrival at the destination where he expected to be eliminated, however, Alex discovers a stunning secret–behind the mirage of the “death farm” there is instead a place called Artime.
In Artime, each child is taught to cultivate their creative abilities and learn how to use them magically, weaving spells through paintbrushes and musical instruments. Everything Alex has ever known changes before his eyes, and it’s a wondrous transformation.
But it’s a rare, unique occurence for twins to be separated between Wanted and Unwanted, and as Alex and Aaron’s bond stretches across their separation, a threat arises for the survival of Artime that will pit brother against brother in an ultimate, magical battle.

06. September 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Lisa · Tags:

Sparrow Road by Sheila O'Connor, 247 pages, read by Lisa, on 08/05/2013

In this affecting and beautifully written story of family and forgiveness, 12-year-old Raine spends the summer at a mysterious artists colony and discovers a secret about her past.