Thursday, March 25, 2010

Mirrorscape by Mike Wilks

mirrorscape Here are the things I like about this book:

1. Great beginning: “It should have been darker than the darkest night, as black as Indian ink.  But it was not.”

2. Lots of (sometimes gory) action, including kidnapping, torture, maiming and murder

3. Wonderful imaginative premise: The world is ruled by five “Mysteries,” each of which has dominion over one of the senses.  For instance, the First Mystery controls the sense of touch and controls the production of cloth and tailoring, among other things.  If someone wants to develop a new type of cloth, they have to pay the First Mystery for something called a “Pleasure.”  The Mysteries, which originally were a way of regulating trade and guaranteeing quality,  have become corrupt, only interested in profit, not value.  Everyone lives in fear of being imprisoned and sent to the mines for running afoul of one of the Mysteries.  The book is all about the Fifth Mystery, which is the most powerful.  It controls the use of color.

4. It’s all about the world of art.  Mel loves to draw more than anything, and apparently he’s very talented at it.  So talented that the most famous artist in the land sends his most trusted minion to get Mel to come be one of his apprentices.  Unfortunately, he lands right in the middle of a lot of intrigue and the aforementioned kidnapping, torture and murder. 

Here are the things I didn’t like so much about the book:

1. Too many battles in the world-within-the-paintings.  At first it was really cool, and the imaginary creatures were fun, but after a while it got tiresome.  It seemed that one struggle would just barely be over and a new one would start. 

Review by Stacy Church

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper

out of I love the beginning of this book, where Melody talks about words and how she loves them. It’s not until the end of the first chapter that you find out what words really mean to her: “I have no idea how I untangled the complicated process of words and thought, but it happened quickly and naturally. By the time I was two, all my memories had words, and all my words had meanings. But only in my head. I have never spoken one single word. I am almost eleven years old.” Melody has cerebral palsy. She’s unable to move voluntarily (except for her thumbs), although she sometimes moves in a jerky, spastic way, especially if she’s upset or excited. She can’t really communicate, but there’s plenty going on inside her head. Luckily her parents always believed in her intelligence, and her neighbor Mrs. Valencia, who has been babysitting her since she was born, has pushed her to try and do what she can for herself. School, though, has been terrible up until fifth grade, which is when the story takes place. Now there are some inclusion classes, there’s a special ed teacher who believes her students are capable of learning, and Melody gets her own aide, Christine, a college student. Things really start to look up for her when she gets a computer that can talk for her. Melody is alternately ignored and made fun of at school, and it’s not until the tryouts for the Whiz Kids quiz team that the other kids (and the teacher) are forced to recognize that maybe she isn’t an idiot after all. Melody, with her computer to help her communicate, gets all the questions right. The ending is good, because it’s not too pat. Review by Stacy Church

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Giant-Slayer by Iain Lawrence

giant-slayer The Giant-Slayer is really two stories in one.  The main story tells about a girl growing up in 1955, before the polio vaccine was discovered and many kids were being stricken with the illness.  Because polio affects the muscles of the body, it also affects one’s ability to breathe normally.  The solution in 1955 was to put the afflicted in an “iron lung,” a machine that completely encased the body and worked like a bellows to force air in and out of the patient’s lungs. Laurie is a lonely little girl whose mother is dead and whose father works for the foundation that is raising money to fund polio research. She spends her days with a housekeeper, Mrs. Strawberry, who has old-fashioned ideas about how to keep Laurie from catching polio, which means she isn’t allowed to go anywhere during the summer where other children congregate, especially if there’s water involved.  Laurie has never really had a friend, but then Dickie moves into her neighborhood.  Everything is going great, until Dickie comes down with polio.  Laurie goes to visit him in the polio ward, even though her father and Mrs. Strawberry have forbidden her to.  There are 2 other kids in iron lungs, too, and Dickie convinces her to tell them a story, just like they used to tell each other before he was in the hospital.  So she starts what is the second story in the book.  To be honest, at first I had trouble getting into the giant-slayer story that Laurie tells, but once I could keep the characters straight I enjoyed it.  The style of the writing seems a little young compared to the content, which is pretty sad and upsetting, but I got used to it and ended up really liking the book.  Review by Stacy Church

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

evolution I’m embarrassed to say that I just got around to reading this year’s Newbery winner.  What an unusual book!  I will just tell you that I am not happy with the ending though.  Calpurnia Tate is unlucky enough to be growing up during a time (1899) when young ladies are expected to be interested in all the things that will make them good wives and mothers: cooking, sewing, knitting, darning; and not the things that will make them good scientists: evolution, the natural world, the scientific method and how to distill whiskey from pecans.  Calpurnia is the only girl in a family of 6 boys, and during the summer just before she turns 12, just as she discovers that the grandfather she’s always been so afraid of is a home-grown scientist who welcomes her company and help in his scientific endeavors, her mother decides that it’s time for her to really buckle down and learn the arts of housewifery.  Most of the book moves along happily enough, with entertaining tales of her exploits with her grandfather and funny stories about her brothers, but as I got closer to the end I kept waiting for the moment when Calpurnia would be saved from the life that was expected of her.  She bravely asks her oldest brother if he will help her if she wants to go to university, and asks her grandfather if women can’t be scientists too, but it’s pretty clear that although you, the reader, can hope for a different outcome, it isn’t very likely.  And for a character that I grew so fond of, that’s not a satisfactory ending for me.  Review by Stacy Church

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Love, Aubrey by Suzanne LaFleur

love aubrey “It’d been a good three days: crackers and cheese for breakfast, TV; crackers and cheese for lunch, TV; crackers and cheese for dinner, TV, bed. Nothing to think about but TV and cheese. A perfect world. Then I ran out of cheese.”

Like most children in her situation(if books are to be believed), Aubrey covers for her mother after she disappears. She doesn’t tell anyone that she’s all alone, she doesn’t answer the phone, and she doesn’t answer the door. When she runs out of cheese, she takes the money she got for her birthday and goes to the store, buying only the important things, like SpaghettiOs with meatballs, Cheerios, bread, some vegetables, and a pet fish. The aloneness doesn’t last long. Aubrey’s grandmother is worried and comes down to Virginia from Vermont on the train (and she hates to travel!), and when she understands that her daughter Lissie has gone off and left Aubrey alone, she takes her back to Vermont with her while she tries to find her. The story just gets better from here. Aubrey doesn’t want to give in and be happy, but Gram is too good at getting her to cooperate for her to fight it for long. Also, she becomes instant friends with the girl next-door, Bridget. Aubrey bottle up her feelings inside (this may be why she feels sick to her stomach so often) and really only lets them out in letters she writes to her younger sister’ imaginary friend. The author only gradually lets the reader in on the back story –what happened to the rest of Aubrey’s family. In the end, Aubrey has to make a difficult choice: whether to go back to Virginia with her mother, or to stay on in Vermont for a little bit longer. Review by Stacy Church

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Back Home by Julia Keller

back home Back Home is the story of what happens to one girl’s life when her dad returns from the war in Iraq with sever injuries: he’s lost an arm and a leg and suffered a traumatic brain injury.  Rachel is 13, her sister Marcy is 8 and their little brother Rob is 4.  Their mom is the kind of parent who doesn’t keep secrets from her kids, even though she tends to give speeches, “My mother…is one of those people who believes she can get out ahead of things –bad things, I mean –by preparing everybody in advance, by speaking slowly and carefully about the sadness or confusion or frustration you’re about to feel.”  Rachel feels that she can’t ask silly questions like her little sister, but she wonders how much of a person needs to be intact to make you still the same person as before.  At first, her dad doesn’t seem to really be there at all. Not only does he not communicate, but he doesn’t respond to things going on around him.  The hospital said he should be able to do things for himself (like take care of his “personal needs”), but he doesn’t seem to want to.  Then Rachel realizes: “It’s not that Dad didn’t want to do things. It’s that the part of his brain that told him to do things was one of the parts that was injured. So what looked like laziness wasn’t laziness at all. When it looked like he just didn’t care, it wasn’t that he didn’t care. Caring, it turns out, comes from your brain. I know that’s a strange way to think about it, but it’s true: caring comes from your brain. The part of my father that wanted to do things wasn’t there anymore.”  This is a beautifully told story, and even though the ending might not be what you hope it will be, it is certainly realistic. Review by Stacy Church

The Case of The Case of Mistaken Identity by Mac Barnett


In this first book of the new “Brixton Brothers” series, Steve  Brixton dreams of becoming a famous detective…until he discovers that he already is one! When he is given a boring homework assignment requiring him to research the history of quilting, he heads to the library to find some books. It is there that his adventures begin, as he is surrounded by librarians who are actually CIA agents, and becomes immersed in a search to find a long-hidden quilt. Along the way, he tries to use the “detective work” tips he’s picked up from reading his favorite mystery novels, but the tips just don’t seem to work in his favor. When I picked up this book, I was not expecting to enjoy it as much as I did. This book is a laugh-out-loud kind of story, and the references to the old-fashioned mystery novels that Steve loves to read are hysterical. The illustrations add so much to the humor of the story, and I am looking forward to the next book in this series! Detecting is hard work, but Steve Brixton has finally solved his first real case. Review by Ellen Parkinson