Thursday, December 26, 2013

Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickles, America's First Black Paratroopers

Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickles, America's First Black Paratroopers
by Tanya Lee Stone
160 pages
Late Elementary-Middle School

Decades before the civil rights movement, the army was just a segregated as the the general population.  If you were black and joined the army, you usually ended doing dishes, building roads, or other support roles.  No units were mixed white and black, very few officers were black, and everything from housing to mess halls were separated.

When World War II hits and blacks start enlisting, they realize that prejudice is still very strong.  Although they joined to fight racism across the ocean, they must face it at home first.  As they struggle to prove themselves, the 555th company learns not only parachuting skills, but also how to stand up to prejudice they see all around them.  Standing up for themselves is just as important as standing against the enemy.

This was the story of the 555th company, later battalion, that helped integrate blacks into the rest of the army.  Numerous pictures and personal experiences dot this narrative.  I love how often they are found with smiles on their faces even if the times were rough.  They stood for what they knew what right, even though it wasn't easy.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book.  It took me a little while to get into the rhythm of the narrative, but after I got the hang of it, the book was really engrossing.  Sometimes it was hard to keep names straight- lots of names in this!- but I think it was worth having all the personal experiences related in their words and personal situations.  I liked learning about another aspect of the war that I haven't known much about in the past.  While it didn't necessarily teach me about the war in general, it was very enlightening on what it was like to be of African-American decent during that time.

I will definitely recommend this!  Nothing grisly or bloody in the book (they don't see much was action) which makes it appropriate for the late elementary age, but would take the right kid to be excited about it.  If they want a historical perspective on the situation from a minority's point of view- perfect!  Really liked it, would have gotten full marks except I'm not a huge history fan in general. 

Monday, December 23, 2013

Go: A Kidd's Guide to Graphic Design

Go: A Kidd's Guide to Graphic Design
by Chip Kidd
160 pages
Middle-High School

Each book cover, every sign, and even books are designed for maximum effect.  How do they do that?  The answer is graphic design.  Everything from exit signs to gum wrappers are carefully designed to say exactly what the maker wants it to say. 

This book contains design secrets whittled down to the most basic principles, then built up into more complex ideas.   Written by an experienced graphic designer, he gives multiple examples of great work, his own and others, so that the reader can see effective use of the principles as he is teaching them.

So, this was a fascinating book!  Where was this two years ago when I was designing a website for school- I needed this!  I learned a lot about design, typography, and more.  It was super interesting, and really fun to read.  Lots of colors, and I loved the examples with the concepts.  At the end of the book, there are 10 projects that someone can participate in, and he's even built a website for people to share what they have made or designed!  Go here to see it: http://gothebook.tumblr.com/

Overall, really cool book.  I liked it a lot, but can see some kids not getting it.  Middle school to high school kids that are interested in the topic would devour it, but other might see it as uninteresting.  I enjoyed it a ton and learned a lot!  Very cool!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Code Name Verity

Code Name Verity
by Elizabeth Wein
368 pages
Middle School/High School

Verity is in a horrible situation.  She's in Nazi-occupied France as a English spy and has been captured.  Now she faces the worst possible scenario: reveal all her secrets or die.  Slowly, day by day, she writes her story on whatever scraps of paper they give her.  As each day passes, she is more and more sure that each note will be her last.

Verity decides to start at the beginning, telling how she joined the war, revealing aircraft types, locations and codes for the wireless along the way. Each little note tells more secrets, more of her story, and gives more information to her captures.  But will it be enough?  Will they still send her away, never to be heard from again?  Or will her loyal friends be able to help her escape?

First of all, prepare for your heart to be broken.  Again and again and again.  When I read this, I was at first stunned, had to go back and make sure I read it right, and then proceeded to deny that it really happened.  It happens.  Get over it, keep going.

Despite the harshness (it is war, after all), I really did love this book.  I loved the friendships: watching them develop, sacrifices made, and everything else.  Such an amazing book on friendship and what it really means to people.  Great book just for that aspect.

Add to that the historical setting: France in WWII.  Great way to learn about a different aspect of the war, how it affected not just the typical people, but lots of other points-of-view.  This book gives a great foundation for the war- how people felt leading up to it, how common people got involved, and more.

Overall, this was simply amazing.  Action and adventure, but a lot of emotional connections, too.  The narration style from Verity is awesome- such sass coming through, it made me laugh a lot of the time.  The switch to Maddie threw me for a moment, but once I read a little and got into her style, it was fine. Because of what happens toward the end plus the grisliness of the situation (war captive being tortured for information), I would hand to more mature readers.  Awesome book, just be ready to be overwhelmed by the emotion of it toward the end!!!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Belle Epoque

Belle Epoque
by Elizabeth Ross
336 pages
High School+

When Maude Pichon leaves her small town to come to Paris, she expects a more glamorous life, one full of love, freedom, and new possibilities.  What she finds is reality: life is hard and rent is expensive.  Sick of doing laundry, Maude responds to an add in the paper.  Instead of the menial work that she was expecting, she instead becomes a repoussior, an ugly girl set next to a normal girl to make her look more beautiful.

Slightly repulsed by herself, the job and the other girls that work there, but out of other options, she throws herself into the work.  She becomes the companion of a nobleman daughter, going to everything to tea to fancy balls as a good friend's distant relative.  The unsuspecting girl is at first mean to her, but gradually thaws and they start actually talking.  After seeing her camera and study room, Maude is impressed by this girl, her dreams and capabilities.  Not wanting to deceive her new friend, Maude is being trapped in a lie of her own making...

So, this is one of the nominees for the YALSA Morris award.  For more info on that please go here:  http://www.yalsa.ala.org/thehub/2013/12/04/yalsa-announces-2014-morris-award-finalists/

First issue I have with this book: THE COVER!  This book is about ugly girls.  Not pretty girls: UGLY girls.  WHY did they choose this cover?  Get a new cover!

Next issue: why is this a romance?  While Maude is escaping her awful life in her small town, and comes to Paris because it is supposed to be full of possibilities.  I get that she is looking for a better life, she does run into boys, she does long for something more than what she has.  But to me, I think a lot more could have been done with the idea of the repoussior.  Intriguing idea, but this story just felt so flat and blah.  Even the elements that I (and most teens) would consider the "romantic" parts, were very minimal and under emphasized.  You don't need to hit me over the head with it, but a little more would have been nice.

One thing I did like was the use of the setting to make intriguing parallels.  This book takes place during the building of the Eiffel Tower, in Paris, and Maude often sees it or makes reference to it.  That was one thing that was nicely woven into the story.

So, if you couldn't tell, I was not impressed with this book. While I read this book fairly quickly (took me less than 4 hours), I really wasn't that into it.  I kept feeling like more should happen, like there had to be more to the story, but that was it.  I will not really recommend this to anyone, unless they just want a bland, historical novel.  Maybe I've read too much adventure and fantasy books, but this did not leave a favorable impression at all.

Quick note: some french is helpful, but not necessary, while reading this.  Most of it is explained, or could be understood contextually, so not essential to understanding the book.

Happy Holidays!


Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays everyone! 

Sorry about so little posts recently.  I tried to participate in NaNoWriMo during November, and basically every spare moment was spent trying to write.  While I didn't get my 50,000 words, I made a lot of progress on an idea, and that was worth it to me! 
In addition to that, I've been sick twice (still kind of sick), had a holiday or two to celebrate, a birthday or two to celebrate, and overall, life was busy!  I do have several posts coming up this week, plus I am participating in the YALSA Hub Morris and Nonfiction Reading challenge!  For more info on that, see here- http://www.yalsa.ala.org/thehub/2013/12/09/yalsas-2014-morrisnonfiction-reading-challenge-begins/
As I read them, I will be reviewing each on my blog.  You can participate too!  It's not to late to start!

Once again, Merry Christmas!  Have a great holiday season, whatever you celebrate, and hopefully you get some awesome books for Christmas this year!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Last Dragonslayer

The Last Dragonslayer
by Jasper Fforde
296 pages
Middle School+

As a foundling, Jennifer Strange had a rough childhood: competing with the 40 other girls for the only handkerchief to use as a pillow each night.  But despite that, or maybe because of that, she is super strong, stands up for herself, and is capable of managing a magic company while the actual manager is missing.  Kazam Magic is one of the only two magic companies in the kingdom, in a world where magic is on the decline.  And Jennifer has to get their wizards jobs, keep the wizards on task (since they are notoriously scatterbrained), and budget the books.  A lot of responsibility for a (almost) sixteen-year-old.

And then, from one of her most dependable wizards, comes one of the most startling prophecies of all: the last dragon in the world is going to die. And not only that, but Jennifer is somehow deeply involved.  How can she run Kazam, teach the new kid the ropes, take care of her magicians, and resolve this issue with the dragons???

So, this book was GREAT!  I loved it!  Loved it so much I went out and found the sequel and devoured that book as well.  I liked the second, but not quite as much as the first.  Both are full of tongue-in-cheek humor and an amazing contrast between the practical way and the whimsical wizarding way.  It provides a new perspective on a world that is slightly familiar, but full of discoveries at the same time.

Jennifer is a great balance of practical thinking in a strange world. She has to have this endless patience to deal with the whimsies of the wizards and at the same time stay on target enough to accomplish what the company has been paid to do.  Great character for a teen book.  Lots of fun seeing how she approaches and solves problems.

Overall, definitely a book that recommend.  I can see this appealing to both boys and girls, starting in middle school and into high school.  Also a great introduction to this author for younger readers, since most of his works are aimed more toward adults.  Interesting book, fun read, and best of all, dragons!  (Yes, multiple!  But you have to read it to find out...)

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

America's National Parks: A Pop-up Book

America's National Parks: A Pop-up Book
Paper Engineering by Bruce Foster
Illustrations by Dave Ember
Concept and Text by Don Compton
Elementary+ (with supervision for really young kids)

Take a trip across the United States and catch the vision of the National Parks.   Learn about their features, their history and what makes them special!  Several parks are mentioned, with 6 covered more in depth.  Lots of illustrations, but lots of facts as well!

Not only is this book informational, but it is simply amazing!  This officially takes it's places as my favorite pop-up book of all time.  It has 6 full pop-up pages, plus fold outs, little booklets, sliding windows, plus more pages of info on other parks.  Each pop-up has lots of details, and is fascinating from any angle. Tons of information presented in such a unique format.

My favorite quote from this book was on one of the side columns: "'To a grizzly bear every-thing is food, except granite.' -John Muir" (from the Glacier National Park page).  This totally shows the feeling surrounding the National Parks!  Nature is powerful, amazing, and we can't really control it.  But it's beautiful and worth exploring!

Great book!  Lots of info, great pictures.  I went to Yellowstone recently, and the pop-up page on Yellowstone captured the feel and majesty of the park wonderfully.  Love this book!  This would be a great gift for any kid!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Tower of Treasure: Three Thieves Book One

Tower of Treasure: Three Thieves Book One
by Scott Chantler
112 pages
Elementary+

The acrobatic Dessa lives with a traveling circus, helping distract the audience with her dazzling skills while another member of the troupe robs them.  As they come into Kingsbridge, Dessa hopes to find the mysterious man who killed her parents and kidnapped her brother.  But some members of the circus have other plans: to steel the king's treasure.

Caught between her search for her brother and the temptation of treasure, Dessa must use all her skills to evade traps, escape dungeons and simply survive.  Can she ever find the man that took her brother?

This was a great beginning to a series of graphic novels.  It sets the scene, gives you an idea of the characteristics of the main characters, and creates great conflicts on several levels.  Lots of great potential for the further books.

Tower of Treasure would be a good book for boys or girls.  Lots of action and adventure, without there being tons of violence.  I would recommend starting around 4th grade to around 6th grade.

Overall, fun storyline, adventure and action, interesting characters on all sides, and lots of potential.  I can see where some of it can go, but we never know what direction the author will take!  Good balance between the artwork and text, which is a must for graphic novels.  Really good book, interesting possibilities! 

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Dream Thieves

The Dream Thieves (Book #2 of the Raven Cycle)
by Maggie Stiefvater
416 pages
High School+

Now that Cabeswater is awake, some things have been different while others have stayed the same.  Noah is only there sometimes, Ronan is moody and distant, Adam has moved out of home, and Gansey is still searching for the Raven King.   Cabeswater has changed, and the energies are surging.  Gansey feels closer than ever, but then Cabeswater disappears.

Ronan is dreaming more and more now.  As he discovers more about these dreams, he begins wondering more about his father.  What did he do for a living, where did his money come from, and did he dream as well?  Can he bring other things out of his dreams besides his raven Chainsaw?

With Cabeswater missing, Ronan involved in his dreams, and Adam caught up in adapting to his new role as Cabeswater's eyes and hands, Gansey and Blue are left to try to figure out things.  Spending more and more time together, Blue is reminded about her destiny: when she kisses her true love, he will die.  But who is her true love?  And is it her kiss that kills him?

With everything going on, time is running out.  Cabeswater has disappeared, and they need to find out why.  Ronan's dreams are getting more involving and out of control.  Adam is seeing things, and not quite sure what he needs to do for Cabeswater.  What is the next step to find the Raven King?  And what is the Greywarden and why are dangerous men looking for it?

So, I was slightly conflicted about this book.  For me, at least, it took longer to get into this book, than The Raven Boys, but once I got into it, I loved it.  The ending moved swiftly, like the first book.  Even though I was super excited about this book, I don't feel like it quite lived up to my expectation.  It was still a great book, and I did find prose that was beautiful and I had to read twice to enjoy it fully.  Great book, just not quite sure it was what I expected.

This book focuses more on Ronan, unlike the first book which was much more focused on Blue.  While the reader still gets scenes from her, it's much more about Ronan, his struggles and his history.  This book was about Ronan's part in the story.  The others are still there, and still important, but Ronan is central.  Because of this focus on him, this book is a little darker than The Raven Boys.

This series is great about the characters having real-life struggles intertwined with their fantastical journey.  Ronan has issues with his brothers, they all deal with keeping up with homework and school, the difference lives between the rich and the poor, and even teens trying to figure out who they really like or don't like.  If that is not enough, then add all the struggles with Cabeswater and dreaming and everything else.  This makes the story believable, despite all the fantastic elements.

Overall, really good book.  Beautiful writing, inventive and original.  While not quite what I expected, still interesting and great book.  Highly recommend the series!  Now I have to wait another year or more for the next book...  No fair!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Limit

The Limit
by Kristen Landon
304 pages
Elementary-Middle School


A girl was taken from Matt's school today.  Taken to go to a workhouse until her family got back under the debt limit.  But Matt doesn't have to worry about anything: his dad is successful and about to sign the biggest deal in his life.   Money has never been a concern for his family.

Then at the grocery store, it happens.  His mother's credit card is rejected?!?!  How can that be?  Frantic, his mother drags him and his younger sisters out of the store.  They try to call his dad, but get no answer.  By the time they get home, a long black car is already there, waiting to take Matt away to work off the family debt.  Although he rights, he has no choice but to go with "Honey Lady," the obnoxiously sweet manager of his new home, a workhouse for children.

Once there, Matt is scared and alone.  Tomorrow's test will determine what level he works on, how much he will make for his family, and what kind of conditions he will live in.  Will it be kids crammed together like level 4?  Or the super posh level 1 with all the perks?  But more important, why won't his family answer his emails?  And above all, why are all the kids getting headaches?  That can't be good for their work...

This book could be a great introduction into dystopian novels for boys.  It's not too frightening or violent, so fairly suitable for late elementary and middle school students. 

I like Matt's character and how he reacts to things.  He seems fairly typical for the age, even if a little more proactive about things.  I know lots of kids that might not necessarily like a situation, but being willing to break tons of rules and think outside the box to accomplish things seems a little unusual.  But, if he was really as smart as portrayed, then I could see him doing these types of things. 

Another thing that I enjoyed is the fairly realistic situations: boys playing basketball, brother and sister not getting along, boys getting into mischief, and stuff like that.  While some of Matt's actions seemed a little outside the norm, the daily interactions seemed normal and believable.

Overall, pretty good book.  If you have a kid that wants to read Hunger Games or The Maze Runner but isn't quite old enough, give this one a try!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Wrapped

Wrapped
by Jennifer Bradbury
320 pages
Middle-High School

Agnes Wilkins, from London, is really not looking forward toward her Presentation. Instead of being interested in dresses and curls, she wants to discover Egyptian artifacts and travel the world.  While looking forward to being a little more independent, she's not sure if she is ready to marry, especially to the very promising bachelor.  After receiving not just an invitation to his mummy unwrapping, but place of honor as on of the first to slice at the bandages, she is feeling the pressure of his attention.

Then things start happening at the mummy party.  As Agnes is unwrapping the mummy, she finds something interesting: an artifact with a hidden note.  But when the host admits to a mistake and asks for all artifacts to be returned, she tucks it into her bodice, hiding it and taking it home.

This simple act envelops Agnes in intrigue, history and politics.  From secret messages sent from Napoleon's army to spies hiding in London to mythical artifacts with rumored powers, Agnes is drawn into the middle of it.  Can she decode the message in time to save the world from being conquered?

First of all, I like that the author put a note in the back about the "historical accuracy" of the book.  While most of the book had roots in history, Bradbury took liberties with certain things.  She mixed trends or events several time periods together, because it works for the story.  With a book like this, that historical accuracy doesn't matter, I'm fine with it.  In fact, as long as the book doesn't claim to be fact, I'm fine with authors changing or rearranging history to suit their needs.  Makes life fun!

Anyways, I enjoyed this book, and had fun with it.  I liked the Victorian London setting, the supernatural bend, plus the strong willed woman element.  Made for a fun story, interesting scenarios, and fun times.  This would be a great step before Jane Austen, or other romances or Victorian based novels. Another good stepping stone book would be A Spy in the House by Y. S. Lee.

Although I enjoyed this book, there were a few things that could have been improved.  Agnes, while different than the "normal" girl of the age, was still a little flat and didn't really change very much.  A fun little story, but not necessarily tons of depth.

Overall, fun book if you just want something light and not completely historically accurate.  I enjoyed it a lot, and would be a good stepping stone between levels.  Another book with a tie to mythology, this time Egyptian.  Good book, I liked it a lot!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Ender's Game

Ender's Game
by Orson Scott Card
352 pages
Middle School+

 At a young age, Ender Wiggin is drafted to fight the alien Buggers.  He's brilliant, a great strategist, and 6 years old.  After rejecting his older brother for excessive violence, and then sister for not being aggressive enough, Ender seems like the best hope for mankind against the next Bugger invasion.  With nothing besides the clothes on his back, Ender is sent off to Battleschool.

Up in the space station of Battleschool, Ender is not the only child prodigy.  He's not even the smallest, but he might be the best.  Quickly adapting to the life of classes and simulated battles, Ender excels.  He is innovative, bright, and beating students that have been there years longer than he has.  On the outside, life couldn't be better.

But Ender's life is lonely.  He misses his sister, his victories feel hollow, and the simulated games are losing their appeal.  If Ender really is mankind's best hope, then where is his hope and happiness?

Wow, what a book.  Super powerful, and even more the next time you read it.  Knowing what you learn at the end of the book (don't jump ahead!  Read it in order) makes the rest of it really interesting.  Like a lot of other books, the more times you read it, the deeper and more significant references and actions in the book are.  Definitely read this more than once.

This book is full of people doing bad things and withholding secrets for the "greater good."  Even within the book, there are consequences for these people, but how much suffering do we let people go through for their own good?  While ultimately, it saves the world, what damage does it do to Ender and his friends?  Is that trade off acceptable?  I could write papers upon papers on this book (not that I really want to, but hey, there are enough issues to keep a writer occupied for years).

I know they are doing a movie on this, and I have mixed feelings about how it will turn out.  While I'm excited for a lot of it, but I'm also not quite sure how they are going to get all of Ender's angst and personal struggles communicated to the audience.  So much of the book happens in Ender's head: are they going to change that?  Make him more reactive to people?  Should be interesting to see the movie!

So, overall, great book that makes the reader think.  Deep, thought provoking, and a little disturbing at times.  While the characters in the book are young, I would give this mostly to high school student, and maybe the occasional middle school.  Lots of violence in the book, both military and person to person, not to mention a little language.  Not knowing what the movie is like yet, don't know if you need to read the book before you seen the movie or not...  But amazing book!  Have fun and read it!


Quick note about sequels or companion books- I liked Ender's Shadow and that series a lot more than the Speaker for the Dead series.  To me, the books that followed Ender (Speaker for the Dead) just got weird and hard to read, but I last read them as a teen.  Ender's Shadow was much more interesting to me.  But that is just by opinion. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Been gone a while...

So, apparently I can't write when I'm sick...  Got sick last week, so even though I had finished Ender's Game and a couple others, I couldn't write my blog posts about them.  And then I went to Yellowstone (still half sick) and got distracted by geysers and waterfalls.  Anyways, back now!  Healthy and going strong!  Expect a few more posts over the weekend to make up for my long absence!


Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Daughter of Smoke and Bone
by Laini Taylor
432 pages
High School

Nothing about Kazou is typical.  From her long blue hair (which grows that way) to her lack of knowledge about her past, her life is one great mystery not only to herself, but to others.  It doesn't help that she is constantly disappearing to run errands for the only family she does know, a misfit group of monsters.

Raise by the beasts that look like a mix of human and animals, she is used to the extraordinary: monsters, wishes, and portals that open into different places in the world all through the same doorway.  Trying to balance her normal life as an art student and her life with them, friends have been few and far between. 

On her current errand, Kazou is sent again to pick up teeth from one of her regular traders.  While there, she feels a little unsettled, like someone is watching her.  Across a crowded market, she sees him: perfectly beautiful, fierce and vibrant, a man that is unknown but hauntingly familiar.  Deciding to flee from him, she rushes back toward a portal, only to be blocked by him, an angel with fiery wings and swift flight.  After they fight, Kazou barely makes it back to the portal, only to fall in, half dead.

Thus begins the newest, and strangest so far, chapter in Kazou's life.  Just who is the angel?  Why didn't he kill her, even though he could have, and who are these monsters that have raised her? Where did the scorch marks on all the portals come from?  And just who is she?

Wow.  Interesting book.  I have tried to read it before, and got sidetracked or distracted by other things, and now wish I had read this sooner!  Great mix of semi-ordinary girl in strange circumstances discovers things are even stranger than she thinks.  I love that even though she didn't grow up in normal circumstances, she is still normal in other ways: she spends wishes on trivial things, has an annoying ex-boyfriend, and a favorite place to hang out and eat.  Stuff like that makes her feel normal, even if she really isn't.

One thing that I'm not sure if I liked or not was the story telling time line.  While trying not to give too much away, the reader kind of enters into the middle of the story, and much of who Kazou is, and why she is in that situation is told through flash backs.  While not necessarily hard to understand, it chops up the story a little, and jumps back and forth, and here and there, giving you glimpses, and then later filling out those glimpses into full scenes.  Kind of weird.  Knowing what I do at the end of the book, it seems kind of necessary, but still not really smooth.

I did really like the world created in this novel: the angels vs. the chimaeras.  Great setting for this story: the impossible lovers.  But the richness of the chimaera world is great.  I really loved the world, and can't wait to see how it all turns out.

Overall: pretty good book!  I had a hard time not reading this time through.  I did rate as high school mostly for what was implied sexually (nothing overt, just the occasional kiss), and for the implied violence as well.  Angels and chimaera do NOT get along well.  Great book.  I would recommend for people that like The Mortal Instruments series! 


Thursday, September 5, 2013

Ungifted

Ungifted
by Gordon Korman
288 pages
Late elementary+


Donovan Curtis isn't really a bad kid, he just lacks impulse control.  When that impulse is to whack a bronze statue of Atlas on the backside, which causes the globe on his shoulders to come of and roll into the gym during a basketball game, it cause him lots of trouble.  Especially with the superintendent standing right there.  After going to his office and getting his name written down, Donovan expects the worst: the dreaded call to his parents.  When that never comes, Donovan wonders what happened.

Then the completely unexpected happens: instead of getting reprimanded for what he did, Donovan is getting promoted.  His parents received in the mail a letter stating that because of his excellent test scores, he has been invited to attend the Academy of Scholastic Distinction, the school for the super smart kids.  Donovan figures this is a great place to hide from the superintendent until he remembers to punish him.

At this school, Donovan couldn't be more out of place.  While other kids are acing calculus, everything said in class is going way over his head.  His only redeeming feature: he's normal.  He quickly names the school robot (Tin Man), makes the robotics team a true team, and introduces the smart kids to YouTube.  Making their days better, he seems to fit in, even without the smarts.

But can he stay there forever? His teachers are quickly realizing he's not gifted, the superintendent is still looking for him, and now his pregnant sister is moving back home.  On top of all of this, he's got to take care of her spastic dog that doesn't like anyone but him.  How long can he keep hiding, and keep his random impulses under control?

This book made me laugh so much.  The visual of a kid whacking Atlas' backside with a tree branch, and watching, horrified, as it rolls into the school gym was priceless.  He is continually defying expectations and norms.  Quirky kid, who just doesn't want to be yelled at.

I liked how the point of view switched between people.  It always came back to Donovan, but you got a great look at how frustrated the superintendent is when he loses Donovan's name, and how his new teacher really likes him and values what he is doing for the class, but wonders why this kid was chosen for the gifted school.  Makes you realize the other characters in the book aren't necessarily oblivious to what is happening, and gives their perspective on the story as well.  While in other books, I have seen this distract from the story line, it really worked out well in this instant.

Another thing I really liked was how the characters could grow while staying true to themselves.  Donovan changed his perspective on some things, grew out of some childish tendencies, but at the end is still struggling with his impulse control (great scene!  Robot showdown!).  He is still himself, but an improved version of himself.

Overall, really good book.  The characters were fun, the story was great, and had meaning without being preachy or trite.  Lots of humor, and both girls and boys should enjoy it.  Have fun reading it!
 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Diviners

The Diviners
by Libba Bray
592 pages
High School+

Evie O'Neill is in trouble.  Again.  While at a party in town, she was not only drinking (NOT allowed during Prohibition), but she also decided to tell secrets.  Secrets she should have no way of knowing.  When this gets her in hot water, Evie gets shipped off to New York to live with her uncle for a little while.

While Evie didn't expect Uncle Will to completely hip, she gets the creeps at his place of employment: The Museum of  American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult—also known as "The Museum of the Creepy Crawlies." Filled with haunted and sinister looking things.  While thrilled to be in New York with all the glitz and glamor, she is not as thrilled with the Museum.   But together with her uncle's assistant Jericho, she is now helping show the few visitors they get around.

 One day, when a policeman asks Uncle Will to consult on a bizarre murder, Evie decides to come along for the ride.  At the murder scene, she is moved to pity for the victim, a young girl who is now missing her eyes.  Filled with sympathy, Evie bends down to straighten a bow on the shoe, and is suddenly seeing images from the girl's life.  This is what got Evie in trouble in the first place: when holding something connected to a person, she sees into their lives.

Pulled into the mysterious murders, Evie must help her uncle solve the cases.  Why are the bodies missing parts?  What is with the strange verses left at the scenes?  And will Evie's talent be more help or will it endanger her and her friends?

On this book I am a little torn on if I liked it or not.  I liked the characters alright, the story was interesting, great setting, good background, but the length and pacing of the story bugged me a little.  It took forever before things really started moving.  I can tell it is building up to more than just this book, but there was almost too much building, and not enough happening.  While interesting, it took me a while to get really involved in the characters.

Those issues aside, I liked many other aspects of the book.  The setting is great: New York during Prohibition!  Hidden clubs, jazz music, and flappers!  Glamor and bright lights!  A great setting for a ghost story and the world being in danger.  The setting was very vivid, and I liked the glimpses of so many different points of view.  Everything from the show girl, the activist, the poet, the scholar and the flapper.  The characters are all great studies of life at the time.

Overall, while the scenery was great, I felt like to much time was spent building up the story and not enough on the story itself.  This does build up to another book, and I will probably read it when it comes out, but probably won't try to reread this before.  Good story, great setting, alright characters, but I would have liked it a little more condensed.  I rated this for high school mostly because of the grisly details at murder scenes and scary stuff like that.  I'm not a big fan of scary movies or books, and even as an adult, I tried not to read it right before bedtime!  Good creepy book, if that is your thing!

Friday, August 30, 2013

Poems I Wrote When No One Was Looking

Poems I Wrote When No One Was Looking
by Alan Katz
drawings by Edward Koren
160 pages
Elementary+

This collection of poems reminded me a lot of Shel Silverstein.  Same type of humor and lots of play on words.  It also has little illustrations that go with each poem!  Very fun!

Not a lot to write about, though!  Good book!  If kids like humor, they'll like this! Super fun book, I'll recommend it to kids, definitely!

 This was one of my favorites.  Enjoy!

"What a Gas!" (from Poems I Wrote When No One Was Looking) by Alan Katz

My two brothers,
Mom and Dad, and I
went to the Museum of Fine Arts.
We had spicy food right before we arrived-
now it's the Museum of Five Farts.


Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Nine Lives of Alexander Baddenfield

The Nine Lives of Alexander Baddenfield
by John Bemelmans Marciano
Illustrated by Sophie Blackall
144 pages
Late Elementary+

The Baddenfields are the worst people around.  Alexander's ancestors have done horrible things: blamed Abe Lincoln for chopping down a tree, spiked Rip Van Winkle's drink so he would sleep, and even tried to kill the last remaining black pygmy rhinoceroses!  As last of the Baddenfields, Alexander has to live up to his family name!

And Alexander has a fantastic idea: why must only cats have nine lives?  He wants nine lives too!  He searches everywhere for a doctor that will transfer a cat's lives to him.  After going through the best doctors in the world, he finally finds Kranstenenif, a crazy scientist who specializes in grafting different animals together, like a rabbittortoise (a hare wearing the shell of a turtle).  When he hears of Alexander's strange request, he is ecstatic! He knows just the organ to transfer.  After a successful operation, Alexander now has eight lives (one being spent in the operation) to use doing what he does best: being bad.

After trying all the foods he couldn't eat before (he might be allergic), he comes up with a great idea: let's see if the third rail on the subway really is fatal!  After that, he kind of drowns, really drowns, flies through the air, and even enters a bull fight.  But it's never enough for him.  Alexander must be as bad as possible.

So, first of all, I won this as an advanced uncorrected proof on Goodreads.  Yay for winning books!  I was very excited to get this and to read it!

Next, I laughed so hard while reading this.  Alexander is pretty much the most spoiled, rotten little kid you can imagine.  But what happens to him is pretty funny.  The humor is kind of grim (spoiler, he does lose all his lives), so while funny, it's a certain type of funny that will appeal to some but not others.  It's kind of grim and graphic, since Alexander dies 9 times, so I will be careful who I recommend it to.

The background for the story was really well built.  The reader gets a look at Baddenfield genealogy, but it's not boring like a back-story can be occasionally.  But it's necessary for understanding the story and why Alexander is the way he is, plus what Winterbottom serves Alexander the way he does.   Good use of introducing the story.

I also liked the illustrations.  Totally adds to the story, and breaks up some heavy seeming text blocks.  They really help the reader increase their understanding of the characters and get a good sense of the humor of the story. 

Overall, this was a fun book, great humor, great characters and back-story, and good balance with the illustrations.  Will appeal to the kids that like Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, or other books like that.  Kind of grim, so I will be careful who I recommend to, probably mostly boys that want a funny, scary book.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Pandemonium

Pandemonium
by Chris Wooding and Cassandra Diaz
176 pages
Elementary+

Seifer Tombchewer is a darkling: a flying being that loves skullball (think flying soccer but more violent), likes his family alright, but sometimes wonders if there is more beyond his little village.  Reading books is frowned upon by his father who loves sports, but it's how Seifer satisfies his curiosity.  Dreaming of more, he practices his skullball skills, and visits his grandpa to read some more books.

Then one day he wakes up in a palace with a splitting headache.  Abducted by spies, he is the spitting image of Prince Talon of the Pandemonium tribe, who is missing.  There to replace Talon, Seifer must learn how to act princely enough to fool not just the prince's family and allies, but also his enemies.  The hardest one to fool: Talon's huge cat who tries to swallow Seifer every time they meet.

Thrust into the middle of intrigue, Seifer must figure out who to trust, make new friends, and also discover his hidden enemies.  Responsible for the safety of the kingdom, he needs to figure out how to win the wars they are already fighting without plunging them into more.  And above all, no one can know who he really is.  Driven by his own moral compass, which Talon apparently never had, Seifer must become a prince to save the realm.

I really enjoyed this book!  It reminds me of some of the anime series, without being horribly dark or sickeningly cute.  It has some great humor, but balances it with serious thought.  Think Avatar: The Last Airbender, but abducted devil prince.  Kind of similar types of humor.  While Seifer always means well, sometimes his methods infuriate those around him and even seem unconventional, but are strangely effective.

Again, the writer and artist have worked together really well to obtain a great balance of story telling through art versus text.  The art often makes me laugh, but also reveals a lot of how the characters are feeling.  Some of the symbolism in the art is perfectly done, and I just loved it.

Overall, I enjoyed the artwork/text balance, the humor was great, the story line was really good, and the characters are believable.  Seifer is often doing things that I can see someone doing in a similar situation.  There are strange moments of humor throughout the book (like the prince's parents dying while working on a goat cannon).  Boys would get a kick out of it, but girls will love it too.  Read it!


Saturday, August 24, 2013

Divergent

Divergent
by Veronica Roth
496 pages
High School+

Long ago, the vices of men destroyed the world.  To prevent that from ever happening again, the factions were formed to bring out the best in people. At the age of sixteen you decide which faction you want to live in: Amity, Candor, Erudite, Abnegation or Dauntless become your family.  While some stay within the one they are raised in, others choose to change factions, leave their family, and start a new life.

Beatrice Prior grew up in Abnegation, always striving to be selfless and serve others.  While her parents and brother are great examples of this, she struggles to have the right frame of mind.  When her birthday comes, and she finally get to attend the choosing ceremony, instead of staying with her family, she leaves and joins Dauntless, the brave faction. On top of this, her brother, less than a year older than her and choosing his own faction, leaves to become an Erudite.

Life in the Dauntless compound is so wildly different than Beatrice could ever have imagined.  Guns and fighting classes are just the beginning.  Now known as Tris, she struggles to adapt but also hides a secret: when tested to see which faction she should belong to, her results were very abnormal.  She is Divergent, not really conforming to any one faction and able to think outside the traditions of any of the factions.  She thinks for herself, and that is dangerous.  If people learned about her secret, it could be very dangerous for her, and them.

So, I actually read this months ago, and decided to reread it since the third book is coming soon (October!) plus they are making a movie from it.  Looking back at my blog, I couldn't believe I hadn't blogged it back when I first read it.  I enjoyed it then, and I enjoyed it again, so great book!  Even knowing what happened the second time through, I had a good time reading.

Once again, truth and secrecy is a big theme in the distopian world.  Apparently the world goes to pieces because of secret plans the government doesn't want you to know about.  Even revamped governments get it wrong.  But even between individuals, truth can effect relationships.

Another big theme is bravery.  Dauntless is based on bravery but over the course of Dauntless history, the meaning of bravery has changed.  Tris sees what it has become, but isn't quite sure if she likes what she sees.  She has to discover what it means for her to be brave, personally.

Overall, great book.  I would definitely say high school or mature middle school aged, mostly because of lots of violence in the book.  While there is a little romance, it never really gets beyond kissing.  Great book, eager to see how everything gets tied up at the end!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Tiger's Voyage (Tiger's Curse Series #3)

Tiger's Voyage (Tiger's Curse Series #3)
by Colleen Houck
560 pages
High School+

Kelsey, Kishan, and Mr. Kadam have finally rescued Ren from the villainous Lokesh, but there is one big problem: Ren doesn't remember Kelsey.  While everything should be right with the world, Kelsey's world is continuing to crumble.  Not only does Ren not remember her, her very presence cause him physical illness.

While Kelsey tries to cope with this new development, the search for the treasures of the goddess Durga continues.  To break the next part of the curse, not only will they have to dive in the ocean, a new skill for all of them, they will also have to face five dragons, each with their own trial to overcome.  While this might be the best treasure yet, this might also be the hardest trial they have faced so far.

So, my feelings about this book are mixed, just like Tiger's Quest.  I still like the adventure part, but the love triangle is still driving me crazy!  Was I just a super level headed teenager/young adult?  Her reactions to things just seem over the top.  Yes, she is getting confused by everything going on, but oh my goodness, she is super dramatic.

I did LOVE the dragons!  One of the things I love about dragons in general is how different each culture sees them, and even within each culture, dragons can have varied personalities and traits.  This book lives up to that.  While each of the five dragons has some traits typical to dragons (loves treasure, magical abilities), Houck did a great job of having each be different from the last.

Overall, good book, I'm sure teen girls understand and sympathize Kelsey more than I do.  I will read the next, to see what happens, but that doesn't mean I will enjoy all the drama that the love triangle creates.  Fun dragons, fun adventure, but a little too heavy for me with the love triangle business.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Jellaby

Jellaby
by Kean Soo
160 pages
Late Elementary

Portia is smart but lonely.  With only his mother at home, and that only sometimes, no friends at school, and bullies on every side, she doesn't really enjoy life.  Even her teachers pick on her, even though she's the smartest in the class.

Then one night, when she can't sleep, she wanders downstairs and outside.  Strange noises in the woods lead her to a big purple monster, sitting the woods.  While initially scared of him, Portia quickly befriends him- she takes him home, feeds him and even teaches him how to swish through the leaves.

While at school, she sees the bullies picking on a boy, Jason.  For the first time, she stands up to the bullies for him.  Together, they get in trouble, and while waiting for the principle, the monster shows up through the window.  Instead of being scared, Jason is excited to see something so cool.  He even takes the monster home with him, feeds him cup o'noodles, and shows him TV.  Together, Jason and Portia name the monster: Jellaby.

Curious about Jellaby, Jason and Portia learn more about him and about each other.  But where did Jellaby come from?  And can Portia really trust Jason?

This was a cute, fun little book.  The color of the artwork is fairly mono-chromatic, but has little hints and bursts here and there of other colors, making it interesting.  Again, it's another good balance between text story-telling and artwork story-telling.  There's enough text, but there's also a lot told through the art.  Great balance.

Great book for talking about loneliness, friendship, and getting over being shy.  While there are fun moments, there are also some very serious themes.  I love that Portia and Jason don't get along terrifically at first.  Jellaby gets them together, but they have to work out their differences themselves.

Great book!  Very fun, but has great messages under the fun.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Saga of Rex

The Saga of Rex
by Michel Gagne
200 pages
Elementary+

On a world somewhere in the galaxy, the Shepherd Guardian initiates the ceremony: the gathering and trial of specimens from across the universe.  Of all the creatures brought from around the universes, only one will be chosen.

Little Rex the fox hardly expects his day to be different from any other day.  After chasing a little animal, he is swept up into an adventure that he can't begin to imagine.  He is carried away by some mystical force, meets a blue ball that morphs into a blue fox, and then set on some strange terrain he knows nothing about.

Thus begins Rex's adventures.  He sees strange lands, meets even stranger creatures and proves what he is made of.  His relentless curiosity aids him as he explores these unknown places.

I loved this book!  The beginning is a little wordy, but most of the story is told without words, and even the first part could be understood without the words.  The illustrations are a great balance between detail but not so much that it overwhelms the story; instead the illustrations enrich the story! While you can skim along, and get a general understanding of the plot, you can also take you time, enjoy the pictures and find fun little details in the story.  I loved watching Rex's expressions and feeling what he felt through them.

Overall, great book.  Girl or boy friendly, and a great twist on science fiction, without being too heavy on the science fiction.  Great book for teaching inference skills, but also good for teaching what sets Rex apart.  Definitely on my recommend list!

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Reaper of St. George Street AND Lost Souls of Savannah

The Reaper of St. George Street and Lost Souls of Savannah
written and illustrated by Andre R. Frattino
280 pages, 176 pages
Late Elementary+

In St. Augustine, Florida, the ghosts abound.  They lurk around every corner, invade the houses, and hunt the humans.  Locals know to be careful of them, but new comers aren't always safe.

Meet William, here for college and definitely NOT a believer in ghosts.  His wallet is stolen the first day, he has to put up with a super nerdy roommate, and meets a super cute girl.  Typical week for a freshman.  But one of his classes isn't exactly what he signed up for: instead of a freshman literature class, he ends up with the local paranormal expert.  They make a deal: if William can still say he doesn't believe in ghosts at the end of the semester, then the professor will give him an A+.  Determined to earn that A, he dives headlong into the studies.  But everything is not what it seems.

These were really interesting books! The artwork is just black and white, but seems detailed and active!  Great artwork, great details that helps tell the story, instead of hindering it.

I also liked that there was notes and references in the back.  The author, Frattino, actually did the research and used tales local to those specific locations to create his books.  That is awesome!  I love authors that take the time to do research for things like this, and that share their findings.  Brownie points for Frattino!

I read the second book before I read the first book, but that didn't hinder me or feel awkward.  It was actually interesting as I read the first book to see the connections and characters that carry over to the second.  I did like the second more than the first, mostly because the first seemed to drag just a little.  I wanted to go faster than the story was letting me.  But the first was pretty good.

Overall, really enjoyed both of these.  They will appeal to both boys and girls, anyone that likes the slightly creepy ghost story.  I liked it, and will recommend it to people!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Stars, A New Way to See Them

The Stars, A New Way to See Them
by H. A. Rey
160 pages
Elementary+

Ever looked up at night and wondered about the stars?  There are many constellations, but how do you find them?  What time of year can you see which constellations?

This book has amazing charts and detailed tools to find each constellation in the sky.  By finding the Big Dipper, the easiest of all, you are led to the rest of the constellations' locations. Easy to understand, but lots of depth for people that want a little more.

This is a great book.  I had it as a kid,and used it all the time to look at the stars.  Not only does it have the constellation charts, but also a lot of science thrown in as well. Such a great book that is simple enough for kids to use it, and it has enough that teens and even adults could continue to use it.  And I love that the author also writes Curious George!  Great book!  I highly recommend to everyone!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Tiger's Quest (Tiger's Curse #2)

Tiger's Quest (Tiger's Curse #2)
by Colleen Houck
496 pages
High School

After her latest adventure in India, Kelsey decides she needs some time away from not just from the danger, but from Ren and his attention.  Still unsure of her feelings for Ren and Kishan, Kelsey goes to college, takes martial arts classes, and even starts trying to date other guys.  But just as she is starting to feel like she is getting a handle on her life, Ren follows her back to Oregon, moves in next door, and even enrolls in some college classes.  Ren insists on a second chance with Kelsey, and is willing to take things as slow as she wants to go.

While she spends time working things out with Ren, Kishan decides to show up too.  Kelsey finally make peace with her feelings with Ren, enjoys  spending time with Kishan, and feels in control of her life again.  Just in time for kidnappers to come after them.  Although Kishan and Kelsey escape, Ren is captured and taken to the mysterious man Kelsey saw in her vision.  Torn up about being separated from Ren, Kelsey travels back to India to try to figure out how to rescue Ren.

Back in India, Kelsey, Kishan and Mr. Kadam must figure out the second prophecy.  They figure the best chance of rescuing Ren comes from getting the next gift and treasure from the goddess Durga.  If they can find these treasures, then they might have a chance at getting Ren back.

So, while I am slightly addicted to the series, it also bothers me.  To me, there are two main parts to the series is the adventure story (with the mythology, treasure, and rescuing Ren) and the love story.  I really like the adventure part of the story.  It's fun, interesting to see part of a culture and mythology that I'm not as familiar with, and intriguing.  I even like the new twist on the supernatural theme: were-tigers!  Pretty cool.

But, even though I really like that part, the romance part of the story drives me batty.  Kelsey is still taking forever to figure out what she wants, is continually doubting herself and putting herself down.  Kelsey drives me crazy.

If you like romance and romantic tension, read this.  The adventure is great, but I'm really not sure if it is worth it.  I think I will finish the series, partly to figure out what happens, but also for the adventure.  Next book (I've already started it) has dragons, and sounds really interesting.  Maybe I'll just skim over the parts that Kelsey is doing her thing...

Overall, good book, just a little heavy on the romance.  I wish Kelsey was a little more sure of herself, but her feelings fit with how a lot of girls tend to feel. This book does have a really interesting twist at the end (spoilers!), so it will be interesting to see how that all works out.  Good book, I'll keep reading the series, but there are a couple things that annoy me.  Again, I'll recommend mostly to girls- I see boys having a really hard time getting into this story because of Kelsey's point of view on things.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Update!

So, apparently I decided to take a little vacation in July.  I went camping, saw family, worked, and got my crafty groove going!  But, that all meant that I didn't read tons in July.  I did read a couple graphic novels, which I will soon post about, plus the sequel to Tiger's Curse, called Tiger's Quest and will soon blog about that too. 

Just so everyone knows, I haven't abandoned you!  Just took a short break, but soon to be back, better than ever!

And a couple quick questions: anything that you guys want me to review?  Any suggestions, books that you either really liked or have heard a lot about but haven't gotten too?  Any book lists you want? I would love to heard about what you want me to review!

Thanks!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Life of Pi

Life of Pi
by Yann Martel
336 pages
High School+

Pi Patel is the son of a zookeeper, and knows everything about the animals they care for.  When all the animals are sold to America, Pi and his family journey with them across the ocean. When the ship sinks, Pi's life changes.

Stuck aboard a boat a tiger, a hyena, an orangutan, and a zebra.  After the tiger dispatches the others, Pi must figure out how to co-exist on a small, floating refuge with a 450-pound carnivore.  Not only does he have to survive confrontations with the tiger, he has to provide water and food for both of them.  As they float, they see amazing things...

So, this was made into a movie recently, which I haven't seen yet, but really want to.  I really enjoyed the book.  It's been a little while since I read it, but I remember having a hard time putting it down.  Pi is endlessly creative and resourceful, yet doesn't come across as arrogant or prideful.  He loves the tiger, wants him to live as much as he wants himself to live.  Such an interesting situation!

I did feel a little cheated with the ending.  I love fantastical stories, bigger than life with unexplainable elements.  The ending seemed to reverse almost everything that happened in the book.  Or does it?  That little uncertainty kept me thinking about the book long after I finished it.

Overall, this was a very enjoyable book.  The story telling was great, Pi was an amazing character, and all the symbolism gave depth to the book.  High school students should do fine with it.  If you haven't read it, read it!  Even though I haven't seen the movie, I would say read the book before you see the movie- you always understand things a little better!

Monday, July 8, 2013

William and the Lost Spirit

William and the Lost Spirit
by Gwen de Bonneval and Mattheu Bonhomme
152 pages
Middle School+

William's sister Helise has run away.  After the death of their father, their mother is remarrying, and neither of them is particularly happy about it.  Helise has shown her displeasure by running away, and William is considering joining her.  After he raid's he father's alchemy workshop, he sets off, and spend the night in a tree. 

The next day, as he is trying to find some food, he notices a servant from his home running through the forest.  Right in front of William, the man is shot with an arrow through his chest.  Brigands have finally attacked their home.  When William goes back, everyone is dead, and crows are feasting on the bodies.  While searching for any survivors, he meets Brabant, a knight of uncertain origin.  Since traveling with him is better than nothing, Willaim lets Brabant escort him to his aunt Ysane's home.

When William gets to Ysane's place, the adventures start.  He travels far and wide, looking for his sister.  He meets men with no heads, but faces on their chests, griffons, monsters and more.  Throughout it all, the friendly little white goat he found a Ysane's is with him.  Will he ever find Helise?  And will they ever be united with their mother?

So, this was a really interesting story line.  Lots of symbolism, fantastical creatures, and meaning behind everything.  Great illustrations that really helped tell the mood of the story.  William was a good character: always wants to do right by his family, searching for why his fathered died, and trying to protect his sister. 

One thing I did not like was the violence and gore in the illustrations.  I loved the color, the variations on the mythical beasts, and the detail that went into everything.  I did not like seeing people ran through with swords, blood everywhere, and crows picking out eyeballs.  If possible, I would give this more to high school aged, rather than middle school, but everything else points to middle school.

Overall, I liked the story, I liked the characters, and mostly liked the illustrations, but because of the bloody details in the illustration, not my favorite book.  I will be really wary of recommending this, but for teens and adults, it would be more appropriate than kids.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Tiger's Curse

Tiger's Curse (Tiger's Curse Series #1)
by Colleen Houck
448 pages
High School+

When Kelsey Hayes starts her temp job with a circus, she doesn't expect it to change her life.  She likes the people, works hard for them, and helps take care of some of the animals, including Dhiren the tiger, or Ren, as she calls him.  Drawn to his majesty, she often sits and talks to him.  As her temporary position with the circus nears it's end, an outsider decides to buy the tiger, and offers Kelsey a job taking care of Ren on the trip back to India.  Amazed at this opportunity, Kelsey accepts the job, travels to India with the tiger, and promptly gets lost in the jungle on the way to the wild animal reserve. With only a tiger (and no cage!) and a backpack, she is on her own.

Not having much choice in the matter, she decides to follow Ren as he walks through the jungle.  Since he has never threatened her, she feels safer with him than being alone in a mysterious place.  After traveling a few days, they find a little hut in the jungle.  Grateful for any sign of other people Kelsey ties Ren to a tree, and then moves toward the hut.  When she looks back at the tree, to make sure Ren is alright, there isn't a tiger there, but a man.  Handsome and smiling, he tries to convince Kelsey that he is Ren.  For centuries, he has been under a curse to be a tiger and she is helping to lift the spell by her presence.  This starts off a journey of lifting ancient curses, betrayal, brothers and love.

This was a great book for a look at a different mythology or religion than normal.  I loved the trip to India, and all the culture and mythologies that are examined.  We have Percy Jackson to do the Greek, Roman and Egyptian, and this is almost like the Indian version of that.  Not quite the same, but still a great twist on Indian culture.

So, I really liked Kelsey for most the book.  Strong, adventurous woman.  Good head on her shoulders, practical, and kind.  But toward the end of the book, she starts doubting herself and her feelings, and is constantly putting herself down.  I hated that part!  Yes, she is trying to protect herself, but she is also being stubborn, blind, and not letting herself enjoy the moment.  She still accomplishes her mission, but her attitude the entire time is so hard to read about.

Otherwise, I really enjoyed this book.  Good characters, great plot, great setting. I just wish it had ended a little differently: not that the ending was bad, but it seemed drawn out.  Kelsey and Ren travel, they accomplish step one of four, and then it drags out, and nothing else happens even though there's more chapters.  Yes, I can see it setting up more stuff, and I realize that it sequels, but I just did not like the end.  Hopefully, reading the next book will help both Kelsey's attitude and continue the story.

Overall, pretty good book.  I will recommend mostly for girls, because it is told from a girl's perspective, plus all the romance involved.  I think boys would have a hard time being interested in everything that goes on in her head.  Since the sequel is out, that is good!  No waiting for the next book!  And the story was engaging and I really wanted to find out what happened next.  Good for fans of the Percy Jackson series! 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Curse of the Thirteenth Fey: The True Tale of Sleeping Beauty

Curse of the Thirteenth Fey: The True Tale of Sleeping Beauty
by Jane Yolen
256 pages
Late Elementary+

Everyone knows the story of Sleeping Beauty, the girl who slept for one hundred years.  They know of the evil fairy that cursed her, and the good fairy that helped save her.  Or at least everyone thinks they know the story.  Nobody even stops to consider why the fairy cursed the princess.

Meet Gorse, a thirteenth child of the Shouting Fey, who is accident prone.  While she learns from her father's books (from past present and future!), she also listens to all the Aunts, learning about Shouts, Wishes, and Curses.  She also learns about the King's Bidding, and how her family must do it.  When the King Bids the family to come bless his new daughter, they all must come and give her presents.

Unfortunately, Gorse is sick with fever, and misses the time.  Fearful for her family's safety, she grabs what she can and rushes out the door.  Instead taking the normal, long way around, Gorse heads down a shortcut, stumbles on a root, and tumbles into a hole.  Just what is down there?  And will she make it in time to save her family?

I loved this twist on Sleeping Beauty.  I've seen stories told from the fairy perspective, but they usually still keep the same alliances: good is good, bad is still bad.  But this story twists everything around and all presumptions go out the window!  This story isn't so much about Sleeping Beauty, but about the fairies and their backgrounds.  Fun twist!

As always, Jane Yolen does a fantastic job.  Great characters who connect to each other, great narrative voice, and an original idea.  Definitely on my recommend list!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Sidekicks

Sidekicks
by Dan Santat
224 pages
Elementary+

Captain Amazing is just that: amazing!  But his pets at home miss him terribly when he is gone.  Roscoe the dog waits patiently by the door for him to come home, while Fluffy the hamster plays video games all day long.  One day, a box comes in the mail.  What's inside?  Seems like nothing.  Until a sneaky chameleon makes an appearance. Captain Amazing names him Shifty, for his constantly shifting eyes.  When Captain gets hit by peanuts (he's allergic, his one weakness!), he gets to stay home for several day with the boys.

But all is not well in Metro City.  Dr. Havoc is running a muck, an unknown villain is sneaking around, and Captain Amazing is out of commission for a few days.  What he needs is a sidekick!  While he sets up auditions for a new superhero, his pets are left at home, missing him again.  What Captain doesn't know is that they might want to try out for the auditions.  While living with the Captain, his pets have each developed super abilities.  But will their abilities be enough to save the day?  And just who is that sneaky cat that keeps watching Fluffy like he's a tender morsel to eat?

This was a super fun book!  Think of it as "The Incredibles" meets animals!  The feel of the book was very kid friendly, which isn't always the case in super hero books, but it also has some great themes that takes it beyond just fighting bad guys.  These themes make it much more meaningful and thoughtful.

I really enjoyed the artwork and how it helped convey the mood at the moment.  The backgrounds go from bright and sunny to dim to dark as night.  Very expressive through the colors, and while there is lots of detail and color, I never felt overwhelmed or that it was messy.  Great balance of art to words, where the art aids the plot along. 

Overall, I really enjoyed this.  Great book for boys, especially some of the younger boys that still want the super hero books.  It still has a little fighting (especially the last big scene), but I think the values that it enforces is worth it.  I will definitely recommend for both girls and boys!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Towering

Towering
by Alex Flinn
296 pages
Middle School+

Rachel lives in a tower, seeing no one but Mama, an older woman who comes in to take care of her.  Everyday Mama comes, bringing her food, supplies, and conversation.  Mama is so nice to her, she can't help but think what the outside world is like.  Never seeing anything but the occasional deer and squirrel (which she knows from studying books), she sings to pass the time.

Wyatt needs to escape.  His feels like his life is in shambles, and he needs a change of scenery.  At his mom's request, he goes to live with the mother of an old friend of hers, Mrs. Greenwood.  She lives alone in this big, empty house in the middle of nowhere.  While grateful for a place to stay, Wyatt is kind of creeped out by Mrs. Greenwood the first night when he accidentally tries to sleep in her missing daughter's bedroom.  Not quite sure what to think of her, he moves to another room, but takes a diary with him.

Since Wyatt has made friends with some of the local kids, he gets invited to a New Year's party out at a remote cabin.  While they are walking from the car to the cabin, Wyatt hears something strange: a voice singing on the wind.  Though the other dismiss the sound, he can't stop thinking about it.  Drawn by it, he comes back during the daytime to try and figure out where it is coming from.  He struggles through the woods, searching for the source of the music.
Rachel has been watching out her window.  The snow is beautiful, but she feels like something is going to happen, like someone is coming.  Using some special lenses, she spies something different: a boy in a blue coat walking through the woods.  He's coming closer and closer, until he starts crossing the frozen lake.  Unfortunately, it's not completely frozen.  As he disappears, Rachel is faced with a choice: does she leave her tower, the home she has always known to rescue someone she has never met before?

Really interesting book.  Obviously a retelling of Rapunzel, but definitely mixed up from the traditional tale.  Rachel acts outside of the typical Rapunzel character, plus there are some added elements in the story.  Some of those elements felt forced at times, but it was a way to modernize the story and give an explanation to why Rapunzel is in the tower, so they are kind of needed, but still felt a little out of place.

I did like Rachel's character and how she isn't just waiting to be rescued.  She is timid and scared, but she still gets out and does things.  Much better than the traditional Rapunzel character.  Overall, the characters are fairly well written: they grow, change, make realizations, and progress.  Good characters to flesh out the traditional tale.

Overall, pretty good story, but not fantastic.  I liked it, glad I read it, but not sure if I would read it again.  I will recommend, especially to girls that want another fairy tell retelling.  Boys might like it too, since part of it is told through Wyatt's perspective. I did like all the connections and twists in the plot line! Good book!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Ana's Story: A Journey of Hope

Ana's Story: A Journey of Hope
by Jenna Bush
304 pages
High School+

Ana has HIV, and she insists that she is not dying from HIV, but rather she is bravely living with HIV.  Instead of letting it determine her life, she makes her own decisions and lives life as full as she can.  Even though she is a teen-aged mother, she wants to live life and experience as much as she can.

The story starts with Ana's earliest memories- including the memory of her baby sister's death.  Unknown to her at the time, her mother and the baby both had HIV, which is where Ana inherited it from.  Told from a young age that she must never tell anyone, her life becomes full of secrets- not just about HIV but of abuse and sadness.

Follow Ana as she deals from the youngest age with HIV, family tragedies, abuse and loneliness.  Her life is not easy, but she changes, grows and handles every new trial that comes her way.

This was a book I found just browsing through my library's collection of ebooks, and was ended up enjoying it a lot.  It was a quick read- very short, concise chapters with a few pictures interspersed.  Because the chapters are so short, it moved quickly, never got boring.

This book was almost brutal with the truth at times.  Her life was hard.  She was abused in different ways, had a child at 16, and just struggled through so many trials.  While it might be read quickly and it's not complicated, this book is hard hitting and straight forward.  I put it as high school aged mostly because of how honest and blunt it is.  I hope that by reading this, teens can realize how easy some of them have it compared to her, and also realize that their choices have consequences.  Ana slept with a guy once without using protection and became pregnant from it.  She had to live with the result of what she did. 

While it's not the typical thing I enjoy, I did find myself really drawn into the story.  I read it in a just a few hours, and it really drew me in.  Ana's life is so different than mine, and helped give me a different perspective on life.  Good book to help gain a new outlook, and help teens see that decisions have consequences.  I will definitely recommend it as a good non-fiction!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Elite (Selection Series #2)

The Elite, A Selection Novel
by Kiera Cass
323 pages
Middle School+

America Singer has survived the cut, and is now in the top 6 left competing for the hand of Prince Maxon and to become the next queen of IllĂ©a.  Still confused about her feelings for Maxon, she's not quite sure how much she really wants to stay or why she wants to stay.  Her feelings for Maxon have grown over the past weeks, to the point where she would miss him if she left.

Added to the mix is America's old boyfriend, Aspen.  He is in the palace serving as a guard.  While he had broken up with her right before she started the Selection, he claims she still has his heart.  Every time he is near, she is flustered and giggly.  Torn between Aspen and Maxon, America isn't sure what to feel about either one.

And on top of all of this, she must compete with the other girls.  While naturally friends with some, others will never be remotely close to her.  Pressure from them, plus the royal family, starts getting to her.  With rebels attacking, secrets being revealed, and visiting officials from other nations, America has never been so stressed.  How can she decide what she feels when she never gets a moment to think about it?

Can I just say, grrrrrr!  The first book was a complete cliff hanger, and this one wasn't much better.  A few things are resolved, but not enough.  Still so many unanswered questions, and things up in the air.  So aggravating!  And now I have to wait again for the next book.  Grrrrr!

Okay, getting over that, let's move on.  I was continually bothered by America's fickleness on who she likes.  When she kisses Maxon, she likes him, but when she's with Aspen, she likes him.  While I can understand her uncertainty when it comes to wanting to be a princess (and queen), I have the hardest time accepting that she is always flipping between the two.  Just choose and get it over with!

Other than that, I really enjoyed the book.  Very gripping, kept me wanting to read, and I like some of the developments and background that we are getting.  I get the sense that the rebels will be very important, but nothing significant has really happened with them yet.  America is starting to develop a greater purpose that just being there for the competition, and I hope to get more in the next book.  While the Selection is the reason America is there, I really want to see more in the other areas, not just this silly love triangle.

Overall, pretty good book, but aggravating at times.  Will definitely appeal to girls more than boys, and those looking for romance more than action.  I will recommend sparingly, but definitely need to read the first one before this one.  Good, but be prepared to be left hanging!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen
by Lucy Knisley
176 pages
High School+

Lucy grew up living with her chef mother and visits from a foodie father.  Food has always been an important part of her life.  Whether it is learning how to make luscious croissants or perfecting the chocolate chip cookie, her growth and her story can be told through food.

Follow Lucy as she grows up, following in the footsteps of her parents.  She goes to Mexico with her mother, travels with her father, and eats McDonald's to make them mad.  Not only is her own story told through food, but she shares some favorite recipes!

This was a fun memoir to read.  It jumps around a little, moving sometimes from her story to her mother's.  I liked seeing the comparison between their stories, and how parallel they really were, but at the same time unique to each person.  The author acknowledges that parallelism, but is also definitely telling her own story, not just the history of her parents.

I really think that teens can relate well to some of her circumstances: an awkward first period, her long-time friend (who happens to be a boy) discovering smutty magazines, doing things just to annoy her parents, and finding comfort in her food and routines.  There is definitely a huge emphasis on coming of age and growing up, but it's gently told, nothing hugely overt.

Overall, I really liked the book.  I loved the "cozy mysteries" that have the recipes in the books, so this was a great twist on that theme.  Non-fiction, but doesn't read like non-fiction.  Will recommend it for teens, mostly since a lot of it takes place as Lucy is a teen or young adult.  Fun book!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Dragonet Prophecy (Wings of Fire Series #1)

The Dragonet Prophcey (Wings of Fire Series #1)
by Tui S. Sutherland
336 pages
Elementary+

In the land of Pyrrhia, dragons roam.  Divided into several kingdoms, they are governed by several queens and have various allies and enemies. When war rules the land, a prophecy comes forth: five dragonets will be born on the brightest night, and are destined to bring peace to the land by choosing one queen.  The dragonets are coming...

Clay, Glory, Starflight, Sunny and Tsunami grew up together, in a cave, always hearing that they are the chosen dragons of prophecy.  They have read scroll after scroll about the outside world, but now they want to experience it for themselves.  When they overhear the elder dragons discussing getting rid of one of them, everyone decides that it is time to leave.  Clay, a little unsure about everything, helps rescue his friends, leads them out of their cave.

Instead of getting out and exploring the world, Clay and his friends walk right into the claws of one of the queens.  Capture and separated from each other, they long for the security of the cave again.  How will they survive and how will they fulfill the prophecy?

I really loved the detail that went into creating this world and all the different types of dragons.  In the front of the book there are diagrams of the different dragon types, so you can see the differences in body, size and abilities.  Lots of thought was put into this book and it has tons of background.  This does help the reader to distinguish between them, especially helpful at the beginning when the reader has several different dragons to keep track or right away.

I did feel like there were lots of stereotypical characters and not tons of depth to them.  Clay is the insecure big dude, and there is the sassy girl, and the know-it-all.  As the series progresses, I hope that they are more fleshed out, and develop more beyond these stereotypes.  The reader does learn more about Clay right at the end, but I almost wish that passage had been earlier in the book, so you could see Clay grow more throughout the book, instead of just at the end.

Regardless of the characters, I did like the story.  There is the great prophecy that has lots of murkiness that can be interpreted different ways.  Lots of foreshadowing and possible twists in future books.  This book set up lots of friends and connections that can come back later in the series.  I will be interested to see where it all goes!

Overall, great book for that age range. The first few chapters is a little slow, but after that it picks up really quick.  Good for girls and boys (main character is a boy!  Get them hooked!).  Good start to a series, the sequel is out and I will definitely look forward to more!