Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Gilda Joyce: The Ladies of the Lake by Jennifer Allison

This is the sequel to Gilda Joyce, Psychic Investigator, which is an excellent book. In this book, Gilda changes schools to attend a private school, Our Lady of Sorrows, which her mother's despicable boyfriend Brad gets her a scholarship to. The only reason Gilda wants to go to the school is so that she can solve the mystery of the haunting of the school by the ghost of a student who died by falling through the ice of the lake. Gilda is willing to put up with having to wear a uniform instead of her trademark outfits including such off-beat items as a leopard-print jacket and stilleto heels, and being separated from her best friend Wendy, in order to delve deeper into the bizarre atmosphere and secrets of her new school. Gilda must also deal with her mother's increasingly serious relationship with her boyfriend, and she misses her dad; she writes him letters keeping him up on her investigations and life at home. I liked this book just as much as the first one. It manages to be funny, even though it deals with the serious issue of hazing. Review by Stacy Church

Friday, November 10, 2006

Things Hoped For by Andrew Clements

I was so excited when I saw this book. I loved Things Not Seen and was eager to see what had become of that book's main character, Bobby. In this book, Bobby (now Robert) is a musician staying in New York City while he auditions for college. There he meets Gwen, a violinist living with her grandfather while she attends music school and prepares for her own college auditions. Gwen loves her grandfather, but feels that she doesn't really know him very well. One day, after overhearing a heated argument between him and his younger brother, Gwen returns home to a mysterious message on the answering machine. It seems that her grandfather has gone away for a while, under mysterious circumstances. Gwen feels torn between her desire to achieve her dream of becoming a concert musician and her need to find out what has happened to her grandfather. As she befriends Robert, he becomes involved in unravelling the mystery. A creepy stranger who is tied to Robert's past adds to the suspense. This is a quick and very satisfying story with some unexpected twists. Review by Jane Malmberg.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Wand in the Word: Conversations with Writers of Fantasy compiled and edited by Leonard S. Marcus

This is a fun book to look through. Some of my favorite fantasy authors are included: Susan Cooper, Nancy Farmer, Philip Pullman, Garth Nix. I don't think the cover is very attractive, but inside the layout is nice, and there are current pictures of the authors and pictures of them when they were growing up. The editor asked each author the same set of questions, which makes for some interesting comparisons, but also can get boring if you read too many interviews at once! Not surprisingly, most of the authors were great readers when they were younger, but some came from families where no one ever read a book. Some were good in school, some weren't. Several are dyslexic. A couple were born the same year that I was, and unfortunately, one not very attractive picture of an author as a girl looks an awful lot like an old picture of me! Review by Stacy Church

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Manny Files by Christian Burch

This is such a funny book! Keats is the only boy (besides his father) in a family of girls, so he is thrilled when his new babysitter turns out to be a man who calls himself "The Manny." Keats is a pretty quirky character - he likes to wear button-down shirts and ties - so the Manny's weird behavior is a delight to him. His older sister Lulu, who is at an age where she doesn't want to have attention drawn to her, is less amused by having her bus met by the Manny wearing a sombrero, carrying a portable stereo playing "The Mexican Hat Dance," with his youngest sister in tow, wearing a chihuahua costume. Lulu keeps a journal with all of the Manny's bad behavior chronicled in it, which she plans to use to get the Manny fired. I found it irritating that the author doesn't tell the reader the ages of any of the kids in the book until near the end, but I liked pretty much everything about it. Review by Stacy Church

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Babymouse Rock Star by Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm

Another adorable book (the fourth)in the Babymouse series by brother and sister team Jennifer and Matthew Holm. The drawings are great, as always. The story this time centers around the fact that Babymouse is possibly the worst flute player in history, but she really wants to be good. She chose playing the flute because, "It's just so silvery!" Mostly, she just doesn't want to be last chair in band again like the year before, with her archenemy Felicia Furrypaws sitting next to her, making fun of her. Inside the back cover are Babymouse's very funny Tips on Being a Rock Star. I can't wait for the next book in the series, Babymouse Heartbreaker, due out in February. Review by Stacy Church

Friday, October 13, 2006

In the Company of Crazies by Nora Raleigh Baskin

Thirteen-year-old Mia Singer has her life together. At least she used to. But when a classmate dies unexpectedly in a car accident, Mia is surprised by how much the loss affects her. Now it seems that her usually stellar grades are slipping and she just doesn’t care. She finds some odd sense of comfort in shoplifting. When she finally gets caught, her mother reacts with anger and disappointment. Her parents decide to send her to an "alternative" boarding school. Away from her parents, Mia has time and space to reflect, and with the help of the other students, to learn about herself. I really liked this book. The characters are believable and the dialogue rings true. The ending is tied up a little quickly, but all in all it is a good book that deals with some very real problems in the life of teenagers. Review by Jane Malmberg.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

The Book of Dead Days by Marcus Sedgwick

This creepy fantasy, seemingly set in Medieval times, tells the story of Valerian, a disagreeable magician, and his servant named "Boy." Valerian treats Boy badly (as you can guess by the fact that he never gave him a real name). He orders him around, punishes him for the slightest mistakes, keeps him up all night long running mysterious errands, and doesn't provide him with much in the way of food and clothing. After a sudden death at the theater where Valerian performs, a young girl named Willow, servant to another performer at the theater, turns to Boy for help. They both end up helping Valerian in his desperate search for a book which he says he must find before the end of the "Dead Days," the days between Christmas and New Year's Day, or else he will be dead. Did Valerian really make a pact with the Devil? Is his friend Kepler, the inventor, really helping him or is he sabotaging him? The book keeps you guessing until the very end. Review by Stacy Church

Monday, August 14, 2006

Jumping the Scratch by Sarah Weeks

I really liked this book. The story centers around Jamie Reardon, a fifth grader who has always heard that bad things come in threes. That certainly seems to be the case for him. First, his cat dies, then his father runs off with a cashier from the local discount store, and then, his aunt Sapphy is injured in an accident at the cherry factory where she works, and loses her short-term memory. After Jamie and his mother move in with Sapphy to help take care of her, he hopes that now his life will go back to normal. But unfortunately, there is something else bad waiting for him -- something that he later tries in vain to forget -- even going so far as to let his neighbor, a strange girl name Audrey Krouch, hypnotize him. All the whille Jamie continues to try to find the magic trigger that will help Sapphy's memory jump the scratch, like the needle on her favorite record. This book is sad in parts, funny in parts, and the characters really ring true. The relationship between Jamie and his aunt Sapphy reminds me of the mother-daughter relationship in another of the author's books, So Be It. Review by Jane Malmberg

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Rules by Cynthia Lord

I really enjoyed this book. The story is told first person by 12-year-old Catherine, whose brother David is autistic. David's behavior is not always what Catherine would like it to be, so she has a constantly evolving set of rules to help him, for instance: If the bathroom door is closed, knock first (especially if Catherine has a friend over)! Some rules are made to be broken, such as: No toys in the fish tank. David usually announces this rule as he comes into Catherine's room, and then she knows that he has put yet another toy in the fish tank. Catherine feels that her social life is ruined by David's inappropriate and irrational behaviors. She also feels that her parents don't pay enough attention to her, and that they expect too much of her. While waiting for David at his occupational therapy, Catherine draws the attention of a wheelchair-bound, non-verbal boy named Jason. To make up for sketching a picture of him without his permission, she illustrates some word cards for his "communication book" and she starts to look forward to seeing him every week. The book is funny and paints a good picture of life with a disabled sibling. Review by Stacy Church

Saturday, July 29, 2006

The Book of Everything by Guus Kuijer

This is a very strange and disturbing book. I liked it, but I can't really say I enjoyed reading it. It is set in the Netherlands in 1951, when the country is trying to recover from the Nazi occupation during World War II. Thomas lives in a household that is dominated by his father's physical abuse of his mother and bullying of Thomas and his sister. Thomas records his thoughts in "The Book of Everything." During his father's tirades, Thomas recites to himself the bad things he wishes would happen to his father as punishment. There is magic in the book, and only Thomas can see it. He is befriended by a neighbor who is thought to be a witch by the neighborhood children, and she tells Thomas that it's true. She certainly works magic with Thomas, introducing him to the uplifting power of music and books, and helping him to stop being afraid. I have to also mention that Thomas sees Jesus and speaks with him, holding very strange conversations. Religion plays a large part in the book, as it is the reason Thomas's father gives for beating his wife and children. The plagues of Egypt occur but only Thomas can see them. The book has a happy ending (to an extent), although Thomas's father isn't able to change. Review by Stacy Church

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

It's Hot and Cold in Miami by Nicole Rubel

This is the first novel by Nicole Rubel, who, in addition to writing picture books, illustrated the Rotten Ralph books. The main character Rachel is the less appealing of a set of twins growing up in Florida in 1964, and while some of the stories are amusing, I found the book to be kind of unsettling. Rachel's twin sister Rebecca and their parents seem to blame Rachel for everything that goes wrong (and plenty of things do!). Throughout the book you get the feeling that Rachel will redeem herself and everyone will see how great she is, but that doesn't ever really happen. There are some funny stories about their wacky relatives, but mostly there are a lot of stories of Rachel being treated badly. At the end, she has developed her artistic talents and gets some recognition for them, but the pat ending doesn't really ring true. If you're looking for a light read and your expectations are not too high, this book is an ok choice. Review by Stacy Church

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Puns, Allusions, and Other Word Secrets by Jennifer Fandel

This book is part of a great new series called Understanding Poetry, and it's the best book I've seen for older kids about poetic devices. The poems that are used as examples are by some of my favorite poets: Pablo Neruda, e. e. cummings, Dylan Thomas, and William Carlos Williams, to name a few. Each book in the series tackles a different set of devices, and with the wonderful examples given it's really easy to see what they're all about. We've ordered the other books in the series and should have them available soon! Review by Stacy Church

Gossamer by Lois Lowry

In Gossamer, three different planes of reality intersect and affect each other. We meet Littlest One, who is growing up in a nighttime world of beings where she takes her task as a "bestower of dreams" very seriously. We observe an older woman going about her daily life with her dog on a remote farm. Then we meet a very angry, troubled eight-year-old boy, who is invited to spend the summer at the farm. Sometimes, we are on the outside, looking down on the lives of three very different characters. Other times, we sink right into the beings and feel their hope, their pain, their frustration, and their growing. Lois Lowry's beautifully chosen words paint a luminous landscape of outer and inner worlds for us. Review by Trudy Walsh

Moccasin Thunder: American Indian Stories for Today, edited by Lori Marie Carlson

Where are the American Indians now? How do they live? We all have seen pictures of Indian chiefs in full regalia with feathered headdresses. We may even have been to local powwows and watched some ceremonial dances. But, what do we know about the modern lives of the American Indians of so many different and diverse tribes? In Moccasin Thunder, through a collection of short stories we are introduced to some modern American Indians who are struggling with their identity and are trying to find their way in our multicultural society. Review by Trudy Walsh.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Wall and the Wing by Laura Ruby

I think the thing I liked best about this book is that the strange things that characterize the world where the story is set are never really explained: people can fly (well, most people - those who can't are called "leadfeet"); cats are rare and shunned; birds are worshipped. "In a vast and sparkling city, a city at the center of the universe, one little man remembered something big." So the story opens. The man is The Professor, an eccentric man with a head full of long green grass, who wears ladies' snap-front housedresses because he doesn't like clothing, and who takes advice from The Answer Hand, which he bought on eBay. What he's trying to find out has something to do with Gurl, a 12 year old girl who lives at the Hope House for the Homeless and Hopeless. Of course, life at the orphanage is terrible, until Gurl finds a kitten to adopt, and makes friends with a new orphan named Bug. Well, they're not really friends at first, but they team up to escape from the orphanage, and eventually to find out the truth about Gurl. The book is funny, inventive and reminds me in some ways of the Molly Moon books. Review by Stacy Church

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Drums Girls & Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick

This book is written by a middle school English teacher (but that shouldn't keep you from reading it!), and you can certainly tell that he knows kids that age - the characters and situations they face are true-to-life. I enjoyed the book so much I couldn't put it down. It's very funny, and also tragic. Written in journal form, the book chronicles a year in Steven's life. One morning while he is making oatmeal for his little brother Jeffrey, Jeffrey develops a nosebleed that won't quit. It turns out that he has leukemia. Their mom has to quit her job to take Jeffrey for his treatments, so their family income is cut in half, and Steven is left with just his father (who doesn't communicate very well) a lot of the time. He feels neglected and also guilty for feeling neglected. Meanwhile, he's going through all the normal teenage stuff like having a crush on a girl who doesn't notice him at all. Steven is a talented drummer, the youngest ever selected for the All-City High School Jazz Band, and the book is also full of music. This is a great story of a funny, engaging boy whose family is in crisis. Review by Stacy Church

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Ask Me No Questions by Marina Budhos

I found this book really absorbing. It is the story of a Muslim family that immigrated to the U.S. from Bangladesh prior to 9/11, told first person by 14-year-old Nadira. Her family is close, despite Nadira's jealousy of her seemingly perfect older sister Aisha. Although the family seems well assimilated on the surface, in reality they have a motto, "Go to school. Never let anyone know. Never." Nadira's father decides that things have become too tense for them in the U.S., with other Bangladeshis being deported, so he takes them to Canada to apply for asylum there. Unfortunately, too many other Muslim immigrants are doing the same thing, and Canada turns them away. When they try to reenter the U.S. they are stopped, and the father is put in jail to await a deportation hearing. This is the beginning of the real story - how Nadira has to become the strong one and bring her family back together. Read this not only because it will help you understand the situation of illegal immigrants in the U.S., but also because it's a gripping story. Review by Stacy Church

Friday, May 05, 2006

First Boy by Gary Schmidt

This is the best book I have read in a while! It is suspenseful, has great characters, and is beautifully written ("...the sun was already set and drawing the day down after it.") The main character is Cooper Jewett, a 14 year old boy who lives in New Hampshire with his grandfather. The suspense kicks in right away, as Cooper's best friend Peter notices a black sedan "prowling Main Street like a panther." Peter's grandfather dies very early on in the book, leaving Peter all alone on the dairy farm. He is determined to keep the farm running, which is hard enough: keeping up with the chores, his schoolwork, and cross country. It becomes even more difficult when someone starts sabotaging him and trying to drive him off the farm. Gary Schmidt also wrote the Newbery Honor Book, Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, which I definitely want to read. Review by Stacy Church

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Sweetgrass Basket by Marlene Carvell

Written in something the book calls "prose poetry" (which I think means it isn't really either one), this book tells the story of two Native American sisters who are taken away from their home and sent to a boarding school far away from their Mohawk reservation after their mother dies. The school is run by a cold, vicious woman, and the sisters suffer terribly. The children at the school are forced to work as slave labor, and are taught only what they will need for their future lives as domestic servants. The book is historically accurate, set around the turn of the century at the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania. The story is told in the alternating voices of the two sisters, but they are so similar that I had trouble keeping up with which sister was which. Although one sister fares better than the other, neither is happy. I would have liked the book better if it were written in regular prose - I think it needs more fleshing out with descriptions of the setting and characters - but it still is worth reading. Review by Stacy Church

Saturday, February 25, 2006

The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

For all of you who read the first two books in this series, your long wait for the final installment (six years!) is finally over! I loved The Thief and The Queen of Attolia, but The King of Attolia is by far my favorite. Eugenides, as you may remember, has married the Queen of Attolia, despite the fact that she cut off his hand when she caught him breaking into her palace one too many times. The people of Attolia and his guards and attendants have no respect for him, but the reader knows from past experience that there is more going on than meets the eye. Never forget that the way Eugenides operates is by playing the fool. The Queen wants Eugenides to act more like a king, but he resists her efforts to make him behave. There's plenty of action, including an assasination attempt that ends with two dead and one mortally wounded. I couldn't put this book down until I finished it, so make sure you have plenty of free time when you start! Review by Stacy Church

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Hitler Youth: growing up in Hitler’s Shadow by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

In 1926 Hitler and the Third Reich began attracting groups of children to be in a prestigious group called “Hitler Youth.” They enticed these naive children to join with promises of camping trips and parades. Slowly, over the years, the activities became more military: children were taught how to use guns and throw grenades as well as to hate Jews and other people who were not “perfect Germans.” The book answers the question of how the Holocaust happened. In this book you meet twelve people that were in the Hitler youth, and through interviews, pictures and diaries you see how the nation changed over many years. By 1945 there were millions of children in the Hitler Youth, and they were performing actual military duties, as well as wrecking Jewish homes and stores, thinking the victims deserved what they got. This book is very well done and is for older children who can handle this subject matter. I would recommend it to anyone wanting to know more about the Holocaust. Review by Joyce Levine

Bear Dancer by Thelma Hatch Wyss

Elk Girl can ride her pony like the wind. She loves to hunt deer in the Rocky Mountains with her brother, Ouray, a Ute chief. Elk Girl grows up happy and free. Everything changes on the day she is captured, first by the Cheyenne and then by the Arapaho warriors. Elk Girl becomes a slave on the Plains. She is afraid of her captors, but she fears the White Men – the White Enemy – more. When Elk Girl is finally rescued by some White Men who bring her to Camp Collins, a Western outpost, she learns a whole new way of life. Eventually, Elk Girl is able to return home to her tribe. Bear Dancer is based on the true story of a very brave Ute girl named Cutshutchous, which means “Elk Tooth Dress,” who lived in the American West in the late 1800’s. Review by Trudy Walsh

Airball: My Life in Briefs by L.D. Harkrader

The only reason Kirby Nickel wants to join the basketball team is to meet NBA star Brett “McNet” McGrew. Kansas University has announced that they will retire Brett McGrew’s jersey, and that his hometown seventh grade basketball team will be invited to participate in the ceremony. Klutzy Kirby’s chances of making the basketball team are slim, but he has to find a way to succeed since this is his only chance to meet Brett McGrew, who might be his father. It is not easy to be on the seventh grade basketball team. The coach has supplied the team with special “Stealth” uniforms, guaranteed to make the players run faster, jump higher, and perform better. There’s only one problem: for anyone who doesn’t have what it takes to be a good basketball player, the uniforms are invisible. Does their coach expect the team to play in their underwear, or are there really electrical currents flowing around each player, energizing and empowering them through their special “Stealth” uniforms? Airball: My Life in Briefs is a fast-paced, hilarious, fun-filled basketball story with just a touch of mystery for suspense and a surprise ending! Review by Trudy Walsh

Friday, February 10, 2006

Out of Order by Betty Hicks

This is a book about blended families, told in alternating chapters by each of four stepsiblings. The story begins and ends with Lily, a sixth-grader who was once the eldest in her family, but has now dropped in rank to second-youngest, thanks to the addition of her smart, beautiful, and sometimes cruel stepsister V, and 14 yr-old Eric, who dresses in black, reads Hemmingway, and plays Rock-Paper-Scissors with Lily's younger brother Parker. Each of the siblings is struggling to find his or her place in this new family, which is made all the more difficult by a series of false accusations and misunderstandings. A group project to raise enough money to send soccer balls to kids in Iraq brings the family together eventually. I chose this book because it sounded unusual in plot and style, and I was glad that I did. All of the characters are great -- well-written and very real. The story moves along quickly, and there is lots to make you laugh and cry. Review by Jane Malmberg

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

This book is the first in the new Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, about a 12-year boy who finds out that he is the son of the Greek God Poseidon. His mother is human, which makes Percy a demigod, or "half-blood" as the gods refer to such children. Percy has been kicked out of six boarding schools in six years, due to his penchant for causing trouble. He is dyslexic and has ADHD, which, as it turns out, is a sure sign of the child of a Greek deity. As if that isn't bad enough, it seems that Percy is being chased by all kinds of monsters, (the Furies, a minotaur, and Medusa, just to name a few), who are charged with killing him. Someone has stolen Zeus' lightning bolt, and Percy is being framed for the crime. If he isn't able to find the missing bolt and return it to Zeus, it could be the start of a world war between Zeus and Poseidon. Fortunately, his best friend is a satyr, assigned the job of keeping him safe, and they are aided by the daughter of the Goddess of Wisdom, Athena.

This book reminded me of Harry Potter -- it was full of action, adventure, magical beings and creatures, and lots of humor. The Gods themselves are quite funny, and there are lots of references to the original Greek myths. I really enjoyed it and am looking forward to the next book, The Sea of Monsters. Review by Jane Malmberg

Monday, February 06, 2006

Babymouse: Queen of the World! by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm

This is such a cute book! It's a graphic novel, with the text by Jennifer Holm (she wrote the Boston Jane historical novels and one of my favorite books, Our Only May Amelia) and the illustrations are by her brother, Matthew. Babymouse is a slightly hyper, very imaginative middle-school-aged mouse who is prone to lengthy fantastical daydreams right in the middle of whatever she's supposed to be doing. The illustrations are entirely in pink, white, black and gray, and the characters are adorable with great expressions. I can't wait to read the second babymouse book, Babymouse: Our Hero. Review by Stacy Church

Ptolemy's Gate by Jonathan Stroud

This is the third book in the Bartimaeus Trilogy, and it is just as good as (or maybe better than) the first two! In this book, it becomes clear just how much the magicians have ruined England with their corrupt, elitist government. Nathaniel, who is now the Information Minister, is so boring and pompous it's hard to remember why I had any sympathy for him in the previous books. Kitty, on the other hand, (who, by the way, is supposed to be dead) reminded me constantly how intelligent and resourceful she is. This conclusion to the trilogy is satisfying - plenty of intrigue and action, and you learn a lot more about Bartimaeus's past and what it's like in the Other Place. Review by Stacy Church

Friday, January 20, 2006

What I Believe by Norma Fox Mazer

This is the latest book by Norma Fox Mazer, the author of many good books for older kids. The story is told in verse of all different kinds and journal entries (I'm not sure if the journal entries are in some free form kind of verse, or are just journal entries) and overall I found the format distracting. The story is really good though. The first page is "Memo to Myself," and the last line kind of sums up Vicki's mission throughout the book, "Try very hard to act normal." Vicki's family goes from living a very middle class life - nice house, good schools, friends - to being poor. Her father gets laid off from his job as an executive, and isn't able to find another job. They have to sell their house, move to an apt. in the city, change schools, and then, the worst thing happens. Vicki goes out to a fast food place with her new friend and sees her father working there. It's a quick read, so even if you don't like the format, it's worth reading. Review by Stacy Church