Friday, December 18, 2009

Crocodile Tears by Anthony Horowitz

Crocodile Tears (Alex Rider, #8)
I've been a fan of the Alex Rider books, ever since I picked up Stormbreaker several years ago. This action/adventures series is more than your typical shoot-'em-up. There's a real backstory that's revealed a little more in every installment. One of my favorite things about Alex is how even while in extremely dangerous situations he finds ways to not have to use a gun. It'd be so easy just to arm him and let him at the bad guys, but that's not what is done. Oh, and the tiny bits of humor that are thrown in from time to time just get me. Maybe it's a bit of an ode to Ian Fleming and James Bond, I don't know, but it's fun to read. It's been way too long having to wait for Crocodile Tears, but the wait was worth it.

In Crocodile Tears, Alex reflects on the last year of his life and the "jobs" he did for MI6, glad to have finally made a break from working for them. He's spending his Christmas holidays in Scotland with Sabina and her family. While there he attends a New Year's Eve party at the castle home of a wealthy and famous British ex-politician, Desmond McCain. Ultimately, this brief meeting of McCain is what leads Alex to do another job for MI6, this time involving genetically enhanced farming and world aid charities.

Sometimes in long running series I start to get tired of the characters, but that hasn't happened yet here. Alex is still as fresh and exciting and he was in Stormbreaker. Granted, he's grown out of his naiveness and become a bit more callous. (Though, not completely callous yet.) The plot was not quite as engaging as some of the prior ones, but I was still involved enough to want to know how it ended.

There are many things to like about the Alex Rider series, and Crocodile Tears is no exception. I especially love how this series even attracts reluctant readers and has them eager for the next book. While it's not the best of the series, Crocodile Tears will appease those Alex Rider fans and fans of action/adventure books. It's a solid B for me.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Sure Fire by Jack Higgins and Justin Richards

Sure FireSure Fire is the first book in a series about twins Rich and Jade Chance and their father John Chance. At the start of the story Rich and Jade meet their dad for the first time at their mom's funeral. Chance didn't know anything about the twins until Social Services contacted him about his wife's death and their existence. The "getting to know you" part is awkward for the newly-introduced family. And, then before things can settle down into a regular life, Chance disappears. The twins find out their father is a spy and he's been kidnapped. Now, Rich and Jade must stay one step ahead of the danger and also find their dad.

With the popularity of Anthony Horowitz's Alex Rider series, there's a demand for anything that features teen spies. Sure Fire is another one in what's becoming a long list. For me, it doesn't even come close to the cleverly written Alex Rider books. All I could find in here was one shoot 'em up action scene after another, as the Chance twins seek to rescue their father. I knew exactly what was going to happen next, because it's all been done before -- in one book, television show, or movie after another. Most of the characters are two-dimensional and I was longing for some tidbit into who they are and what made them that way. Sadly, I never did learn any more than the basic outline for any of them. I know there's another couple of books in the series, and, hopefully, there's more character development in them.

I, for one, was sadly disappointed in this story. One can only hope that others in the series will be an improvement. I give it a C-.

Moving Day by Meg Cabot (Allie Finkle's Rules for Girls #1)

Moving Day (Allie Finkle's Rules For Girls, #1) Let me start by saying that I love reading Meg Cabot's books. I *get* her humor, her style, her stories -- they definitely match what I want to read. Which leads me to her series for younger readers... Allie Finkle's Rules For Girls. The intended audience is much younger than for the other Cabot books I read and I hesitated a bit in reading it. Would her writing style and humor still work with a lower interest level?

Allie is nine and in the fourth grade. Her life is thrown into chaos when her parents announce that the family is moving. Suddenly Allie's safe, known world is changing -- she's going to move to a new house, start a new school, have to make new friends. How will she cope?

Each chapter starts off with one of Allie's "Rules for Girls", such as "Don't Stick a Spatula Down Your Best Friend's Throat." The rules are a cute, smile-to-yourself kind of way to put you in Allie's frame of mind, and for me they worked. Allie's fears and hopes about all of the changes in her life seemed totally believable. I can remember how scary it was to move and wonder if you were ever going to find a new best friend or how your bed would fit into your new bedroom.

I found the book just a little too young for my middle school girls, but I bet this series is hugely popular with the upper elementary crowd. That said, I totally loved it -- the story, Allie, the zombie hand. Meg Cabot can write for whatever interest level she chooses. I give it a B, Recommended, especially for 9-10 year old girls!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Seer of Shadows by Avi

The Seer of ShadowsI'm always on the lookout for new ghost stories for my students as they are always begging for more. Avi's The Seer of Shadows seems to be an ideal addition to the collection.

Set in 1870's New York City, the story centers on Horace Carpetine, a young apprentice to a society photographer. Horace's boss has been hired to take a photograph of a wealthy woman, one who is grieving the death of her daughter. All is not as it seems in the Von Macht house, for many secrets are revealed to Horace via Pegg, the Von Macht's servant. When strange images of Eleanora, the Von Macht's dead daughter start showing up in the pictures Horace takes, he and Pegg must discover why her spirit is back and what she wants.

This story never grabbed my attention the way it should. I didn't feel the emotional attachment to the characters that I'm used to feeling in great books. In scenes that were probably meant to be suspenseful, I just read them with little reaction. Sure, I wanted to find out how it all worked out in the end, but I doubt I'll remember much about this story in a year or two. Avi writes so many truly wonderful books that I'm probably too critical of his work, and I've come to expect so much from him. I have a feeling my students will like the story a great deal more than me, if for no other reason that it's a ghost story. I give it a C.

Smiles To Go by Jerry Spinelli

Smiles to GoI wanted to read Smiles To Go, because I'm a huge fan of Spinelli's Maniac Magee and Stargirl, and it featured a *gasp* skater. Yes! Finally a main character that will relate to my skater kids.

Unfortunately, that's not what I got. Smiles to Go features Will Tuppence, whom I see more as a nerd that skates rather than a skater. Maybe I'm being harsh in classifying him as a nerd, but he (a) loves science and talks incessantly about a current news story where it's announced that a proton has died, (b) plays Monopoly every Friday night with his two best friends and it seems to be the highlight of his week, and (c) is a competitive chess player. I'm not too sure that many kids that identify themselves as skaters would do a, b, or c, much less all three.

Once I got into the story and forgot about my first impressions, I found a solid story dealing with the typical life of a middle schooler. Will has to learn to handle the changes in his friendships as they all grow and mature. Also, I enjoyed the family dynamics -- learning to live with the annoying little sister and realizing how much she means to him after all.

Smiles to Go was just one of those stories that doesn't leave you with much. I wanted to like it more than I actually did. It's not a bad story; it's just not memorable either. My rating: C.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Being Nikki by Meg Cabot

Being Nikki (Airhead, #2)Being Nikki, the follow-up to Airhead, continues Em's story as she adjusts to her new life in the body of famed teen supermodel Nikki Howard. When Nikki's brother arrives in New York City looking for help in locating their missing mother, Em becomes embroiled in intrigue as to what really did happen to Nikki, why Em's brain was transplanted into her body, and what Robert Stark and Stark Enterprises has to do with it.

Okay, suspend your disbelief once again with the whole body transplant thing. I know, that's completely out there, but I completely forgot the silliness of that while reading Being Nikki. The story tiptoes away from the whole tomboy-in-a-supermodel-body gag and develops into a suspense-filled romantic adventure. I loved how the humor took the edge off of some what might have otherwise been intense moments. Some of the secondary characters are stepping into the spotlight and stealing the show, especially Lulu. She's fabulous and highly entertaining. The ending is another cliffhanger, which I hate, because it leaves you desperate to get your hands on the next installment of the series. (Yes, I've already preordered Runaway.)

Fans of Meg Cabot will adore Being Nikki as much as I did. Highly entertaining and humorous, it was a fabulous escape from a dreary day. The only reason I didn't give it an A stems from the crazy backstory of the whole body transplant. Yes, I still can't completely get over that. But, it's a strong B+ for me.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Fat Cat by Robin Brande

Fat CatI'm just amazed at what I think about after finishing Robin Brande's books. I look at what the blurb say the book is about and I just come away with so much more than that. I'm not sure how to describe my reaction to Fat Cat. I never expected this story to affect me the way it did. I knew Fat Cat would be something special, if Evolution, Me, and Other Freaks of Nature was anything to go by, but I sure didn't expect it to change the way I look at the world. Now, this doesn't mean I decided to change my name, shave my head, or quit my job. I started looking at what I eat and drink, I mean REALLY looking at what I eat and drink. Granted, I'm not quite as strong as Cat -- haven't been able to give up COMPLETELY on my Diet Cokes yet. But I have noticed that I'm reading labels more, thinking twice about what I'm eating and purchasing. It sure opened my eyes to what I'm putting in my body and I give all the credit to reading this book.

I give this book a B+.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Modern Military History, Facts at Your Fingertips Series published by Brown Bear Books

World War II (Modern Military History, Facts at Your Fingertips) I liked the format of this series, giving an overview of the main events of the year and then brief entries over battles with stats, maps, importance of. I think it'd be a good introduction for those wanting to learn about the war. Titles in the series include World War I by Ian Westwell, World War II by Antony Shaw, Vietnam War by Leo Daugherty, and War on Terror and Cold War both by Steve Crawford. I give the series an overall grade of a B.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Lost Conspiracy by Frances Hardinge

The Lost ConspiracyWow. As I picked up The Lost Conspiracy, that's the first thing that popped in my head. It's 550+ pages long and I knew that it'd have to take a special something to keep me 'in' the story. It starts off promising by introducing Hathin, the younger sister and attendant of Arilou. Arilou is a Lost -- one of a special group whose spirits can leave their bodies. The Lost are revered on the island and looked to as leaders. Hathin is worried about the tests that the Lost inspector will perform on Arilou, for she is their clan's only hope for survival. When all the Lost on the island except Arilou mysteriously die, Hathin fears for Arilou's safety. Together they must escape from those threatening them.

This is a beautifully written story, with vivid descriptions to enhance all the senses. The only thing that kept this from being an 'A' book for me happened somewhere after about the first 100 pages. Some events take a long, l-o-n-g time to set up. It's a good thing I was already invested in the characters, or I might not have continued reading. While the size might put some off, I found it worth spending time with this gem. I give it a B.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A New Hope : The Life of Luke Skywalker by Ryder Windham

A New Hope: The Life of Luke SkywalkerJust like it says in the title, this book tells the story of the life of Luke Skywalker from his childhood on Tattoine to his participation in the rebellion against the Empire. Basically, it combines events shown or mentioned in the movies and puts them in novel form. This is a must-read for Star Wars fans, but probably of little to no interest for others. I give it a C.

Operation Yes by Sara Lewis Holmes

Operation YesBo's cousin, Gari, comes to live with his family on an Air Force base in North Carolina when her mother is called to active duty in Iraq. Neither Bo nor Gari are excited about living together and going to school together. But, both become excited about their unconventional sixth grade teacher who brings a sofa into the classroom, proposes a drama club, and surprises the class with improvisation activities from time to time. When Miss Loupe's brother is declared missing in Afghanistan, her class pulls together and organize a program of support for Miss Loupe's brother and others like him.

Operation Yes is an inspirational story of support and friendship. Even kids who haven't experienced life on a military base or don't have relatives on active duty will find pieces of themselves in the students of Miss Loupe's class. I found it an uplifting tale, set amid the heartbreaks of being on the homefront during wartime. I give it a B.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan

The Last Olympian (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, #5)I usually don't read books in a series back-to-back or even close together, because I like to space out books by the same author. I want to make sure that the similar writing style or the familiar characters don't diminish my enjoyment of the book or bore me. But, I made an exception in the case of The Last Olympian. I started it less than a week after finishing The Battle of the Labyrinth. I just couldn't wait to find out how Percy's story concludes.

I wasn't disappointed either. This is another action-packed story that equals what I've come to expect from Riordan. The climactic battle between Kronos and the Olympian gods finally comes to fruition, and I was pleased with the attention paid it, given its importance to the story. Many characters introduced in earlier books make an appearance, so I would recommend the books be read in order. I think fans of the earlier Percy Jackson books will be pleased with the conclusion of the series.

I loved The Last Olympian and I'm sad to see the series end. I give it an A!!

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

The Graveyard BookI must have been hiding under a rock or something, because I'd never even heard of Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book until it won the Newbery Medal in January. Of course, after hearing about it, I had to get it. A variation of Kipling's Jungle Book, but the orphan boy is raised by ghosts in a graveyard instead.

The first time I read it, I just sat and read the book through in one sitting. It's a quick-paced, smooth-flowing story that makes for an ideal afternoon of escapism. I loved how each chapter was an episode in Bod's life, that would be ideal reading for reluctant readers. The second time I read The Graveyard Book, I began to appreciate the richness of the language and the vivid descriptions of scenery, characters, and action. It was even better the second time.

I give it a B.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan

The Battle of the Labyrinth (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, #4)I don't know why I put off reading this book for so long. Maybe I was just a bit tired of Percy and the gang, or, more likely, it just got lost in my TBR pile. Anyway, I FINALLY pulled out The Battle of the Labyrinth this month to read. Once I got started, it was difficult to put it down. The action of one scene flows smoothly into the next one. Before you know it, you've read 100 pages!

Percy and the gang continue to look for ways to defeat Kronus and his plan to destroy the Olympian gods and take over the world. This time, the group must descend into the labyrinth (of the Minotaur fame) to ward off Kronus' army led by their former friend-turned-traitor, Luke.

I worried that the story would be one of those set-everything-up-for-the-last-book ones and while you'd have to read it, it wasn't that great of a story on its own. Not so here. Yes, it does set everything up for the last book, but it's a well-crafted story on its own. There's plenty edge-of-your-seat action that have you groaning when your reading time is interrupted. The reader is teased with more clues to some of the series-long questions, and I hope all is revealed with the conclusion of the series. I was sad to see the end of the book and I know I'll be turning to the next Percy Jackson book soon. I definitely won't be leaving it on my TBR shelves for another year!

I give this one an A -- Highly Recommended!

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Great and Only Barnum by Candace Fleming

The Great and Only Barnum: The Tremendous, Stupendous Life of Showman P. T. Barnum I usually shy away from reading children's biographies, because they tend to be either two simplistic or all style and no substance. I decided to read The Great and Only Barnum because of all the wonderful reviews I'd read, plus I've always been a wee bit curious about Mr. Barnum.

Visually, I like this book. Its chapters begin with what look like advertisement cards for Mr. Barnum's attractions. Each chapter focuses on one event or part of Barnum's life, told succinctly with just enough descriptive language to keep it from being dry. Plenty of illustrations and photographs fill the pages, but not too many to take away from the words. The sidebars were distracting to me. It may just be a personal thing, but I hate to stop reading the text or finding a stopping point in the main text to go back and read the side bar. It takes me out of the story and I have to settle back in. I realize why they are there and they do have relevant and interesting information, though. The story is well-told, with plenty of facts used, but the text flows smoothly. The reader is caught up in the story of Barnum's life, rather than seeing the text as a list of facts tied together.

There's plenty to like about The Great and Only Barnum and I know I'll be recommending it a lot this year. I give it a B, Recommended.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Search by Eric Heuvel

The SearchA companion to A Family Secret, The Search tells Esther's story of what happened to her during World War II. As a German Jew, she and her family faced discrimination and abuse and finally chose to emigrate from Germany to Holland. There, she befriends Helena, a Dutch girl and neighbor. When the Nazis invade the Netherlands, Esther and her family face many of the same discrimination as they had in Germany and worry about being transported to labor camps, so they decide to go into hiding. Before they can arrange for the hiding places, Esther's parents are picked up by the Germans in a mass sweep of the neighborhood. Esther then tells the story of how she goes into hiding alone and what happened to her during and after the war.

Told in graphic novel format, The Search tells about the horrible events of the Holocaust. The pictures aren't overly gruesome or violent, but the reader does get a sense of how despicable the events truly were. For example, when talking about how many Soviet Jews were rounded up, shot in the forests and dumped in mass graves, the reader sees the pit with the Jewish people by it and German soldiers with weapons, then a close-up of the terror on the faces of the Jewish people, then in the next frame the German soldiers by the pit with a mound of clothing behind it. You get the idea of what happened, but you don't actually see it.

The Search and A Family Secret used together will be a great introduction to the world of Anne Frank. Students who are not familiar with the events of Anne's day will get a glimpse of what life was like for her and many others. By using the graphic novel format, this story will be accessible to many students of all levels, including reluctant readers.

I give this book a B, Recommended.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

A Family Secret by Eric Heuvel

A Family SecretA graphic novel about the Holocaust? I immediately think about the fabulous Maus books, but this one looks to be for a little younger audience.

A Family Secret starts off with Jeroen searching his grandmother's attic for items for a yard sale. While there, he discovers her scrapbook and other mementos from World War II. When he questions his grandmother about it, she tells him about her long-lost best friend, a Jewish girl named Esther, and what happened to her family during and after the war.

I got caught up in this story and read it in one sitting. The story engages the reader and I think even those without prior knowledge of the Holocaust or World War II will find it engrossing. The illustrations are done in an open, friendly way, but don't seem too campy for the serious content. Any darker, edgier illustration might put off the reader, rather than bring him in. A Family Secret is going to have many people clamoring to read and re-read it.

My rating: B, Recommended.

Outlaw: The Legend of Robin Hood by Tony Lee

Outlaw: The Legend of Robin HoodA retelling of the Robin Hood tale in a graphic novel format. I liked the use of darker shades in colors -- whether it was the grays and purples in the castle or the greens and golds of the forests to tell a story that is rather dark itself. To me, the shading around the faces was a bit too dark at times, causing some difficulty in discerning one character from another. But, a rather minor nit-pick in an otherwise super book. Outlaw will find fans with GN readers as well as those that read adventure stories.

I give this one a B, Recommended.

Ghost in the Machine by Patrick Carman

Ghost In The Machine (Skeleton Creek)In this sequel to Skeleton Creek, Ryan continues his journal of the events that occurred when he and his best friend, Sarah, try to uncover all the mysteries surrounding the dredge on the edge of their town. Just like the last book, Sarah's entries are shown in a video format via a website and password. As the duo digs deeper into the mystery, they find more and more connections between the secrets of the dredge and people in town, including Ryan's dad.

Not as scary as the first book, Ghost in the Machine, instead focuses on solving the mystery and discovering who is behind it all. The videos aren't as compelling as in Skeleton Creek, but are an integral part of the story. (And I still love the concept!) I think fans of the first book will eat this one up and beg for more of Ryan and Sarah. I give this one a solid B, Recommended!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Malice by Chris Wooding

MaliceI picked up this book to read because of the really cool cover. It has a 3-D look with the character actually coming out of the cover. The story too is a pretty neat concept of combining a novel with a comic book.

Malice tells the story of three kids that find themselves trapped in a comic called Malice. The kids hear rumors about this story and the urban legends surrounding the summoning of "Tall Jake" to take them away. The kids discover that the urban legend is real and Tall Jake really does take them away -- into the world of the comic, Malice. Once there, the kids must use their wits in order to survive the strange creatures and dangers around every corner.

Malice is mainly told via prose, but with some graphic pages interspersed throughout the story. The graphic pages do add to the story -- they aren't just there for pretty scenery. Unfortunately, even with the neat concept, I found the story itself rather bland. It really didn't grab my interest as much as I would have expected. I found much about the Malice world confusing and it seemed like the back stories of the main characters were a hodge-podge mess -- not fully developed. Maybe this is the intention of the author, to slowly clue the reader as to what is really going on, but I would have wished for a bit more clarity. That said, I think many comic and horror fans will grab this book, enticed by the fabulous cover, and most will probably be satisfied with the story.

My grade = C.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Magician by Michael Scott

The Magician (Nicholas Flamel, #2) In this second book of the Nicholas Flamel series, the twins, Sophie and Josh, escape from Doctor Dee in California with Flamel to Paris. There, the twins attempt to escape capture from Machiavelli, also charged with capturing them.

Filled with many battle scenes, this is a fast-moving story. I was engrossed in the story, and finished it in no time. There are still many unanswered questions at the end of The Magician, leaving me eager to read the next book in the series. A solid read, fans of The Alchemyst and fans of magical fantasy in general will love it.

I give this one a B, recommended, but it came very close to being an A book!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Princess of Gossip by Sabrina Bryan and Julia DeVillers

Princess of GossipI picked up Princess of Gossip to read because I liked the cover and I thought it might be a cute story. (And I liked Julia DeVillers' How My Private, Personal Journal Became a Bestseller.) Avery has just moved to southern California from Ohio and becomes embroiled in the world of celebrities and their publicity events after starting a fan page for a new musician. Okay, complete fluff and totally unbelievable, but fun to read in parts. I really liked the idea of how the friends created a second life type world for fans of the singer. I thought the climax and ending was a bit rushed and Avery really didn't get into as much trouble as I would have anticipated, but overall just what I expected -- a cute story. There's nothing special about it, but not a total waste of time either. I give it a 'C' -- Optional.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Inkdeath by Cornelia Funke

Inkdeath (Inkheart, Book 3)I was feeling a bit daunted by the size of INKDEATH when I first picked it up (700 pages!), but I got over that quickly as I once again became immersed in the Inkworld. This story focuses more on Mo than on Meggie, but after getting over a teeny tiny disappointment in that, I was fine. I thoroughly enjoyed the exciting adventures of Mo as he battles death and imprisonment, worries over possible betrayal all in his quest to keep Meggie and Resa safe. While there are recaps of books one and two at the start of the book, I still think the best bet is to read all three books in order. I felt the series came to a satisfactory conclusion, with enough of a question at the end that you can imagine things working out as you please. Loved, loved this series! My grade? An A, Highly Recommended!

Bayou Dogs By Tony Abbott

Bayou Dogs (The Haunting Of Derek Stone)After the cliffhanger ending of CITY OF THE DEAD, I was excited about reading more about Derek in BAYOU DOGS. The story starts off right where the previous book ends, so it's helpful to have already read COTD. There's plenty of action, spooky spirits returning from the dead and suspense to please. Unfortunately, I didn't find it nearly as gripping as the previous book. It seemed to devolve into a ghost story that's not as original as I'd hoped. Warning, this installment ends with another cliffhanger and many questions still unanswered, and the reader will definitely want to find the next volume in the series. I give it a C, Optional.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Tail of Emily Windsnap by Liz Kessler

The Tail of Emily Windsnap
Cute story of a girl that discovers a secret about her past and goes on a search for her missing father. I really enjoyed reading this one and wished I'd found it when my daughter was a bit younger. Interest for it will probably be no older than 6th or maybe 7th grade, but an excellent story for the intermediate grades (like 4th or 5th). I will be reading more in this series, if for nothing more than my private pleasure.

My rating: B, Recommended.

Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles

Perfect Chemistry I liked this story about two kids from different sides of town who fall in love. While on the surface, their two lives seem to be worlds apart, they turn out to have a ton in common. I wish the Spanish phrases had been easier to figure out in context, but it really fit with the story. (Some, I had to go translate!) It's a bit too mature for middle school -- some issues in this novel are just a bit more than most sixth graders are ready to confront. I think this would be a good fit for many teens, including some relutant readers. My rating: B, Recommended.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis

Prince Caspian is my second favorite in the Chronicles of Narnia. Hands down, my favorite is The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but I love Caspian too. I guess it's because of Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy. I'm attached to them, and when they aren't in the story, it's just not the same.
Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy return to Narnia after a year of being back in their own world, only to discover it's been over a hundred years in Narnia. Things have definitely changed there too. Narnia is now being ruled by an evil king which has led all the enchanted creatures to go into hiding. The four children, along with Aslan, help Caspian, the nephew to the current king and the rightful heir return Narnia to the days of old.
Another great installment in the Chronicles of Narnia and one that many will enjoy. I give it a B, Recommended.

The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis

I decided to revisit the world of Narnia this year. I hadn't read the Narnia books since I was a student in elementary and middle school, and while I remember enjoying them at the time, the only one that really stuck with me all those years was The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. And, maybe that was because I remember the animated movie that I watched as a child. No, not the Disney one, nor the live-action one from the BBC. This one was from the late-70's and was entirely animated. Don't remember it? That's okay -- you're probably not the only one. Anyway, back to the Narnia books. I started reading the series in the chronological order, rather than in publication order and that meant starting with The Magician's Nephew, which was a new way for me to go.

I've just finished with The Horse and His Boy and came away thinking it was a good stand-alone adventure. I don't really think it can be appreciated as well in between The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian, because, frankly it gets lost in the shuffle. It's definitely not as strong a story as those other two and doesn't have as dynamic characters. That's not to say it's not a worthwhile story with plenty of action. It's just not going to stand out in the midst of those. I give it a 'B', Recommended.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Airman by Eoin Colfer

Since I adore Colfer's Artemis Fowl books, I'm always hesitant to read any of his other stories. I know they aren't going to have the same feel, and I worry that I won't like them.

Conor is the son of the king's head bodyguard and has enjoyed a childhood with much freedom and friendships. He's especially close friends with the king's daughter. One night, Conor overhears plans to murder the king, but is unable to stop the assassination. The conspirators then set him up as the fall guy and send him to jail, hoping he will die in prison. Conor has other ideas and begins to plan a way to escape. You see, Conor has always been interested in flight, and has always wanted to design an airship. Hot hair balloons are a rarity and no one has successfully built a flying machine. But, Conor thinks he can ... and it'll be his way to freedom.

Airman is way different that Artemis Fowl. There's no smart-aleck Artemis, no strong and silent Butler, no heroic Holly, but I still loved it. I enjoyed the richly depicted characters, even the evil ones. I felt like I was there in the stinking prison, having to dive for pearls, worried if I'd live until tomorrow. I miss the humor that is always a part of the Artemis Fowl books, but I found I could overlook it. The story was just that fulfilling.

My grade? An 'A', Highly Recommended.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson

The Adoration of Jenna Fox. It's a strange title for a book, I thought. And, what's with the butterfly on the cover? How does that connect with Jenna Fox? So many questions, that made me eager to open the book and dig in.

I guess it was a good thing I was already in a questioning mood, because reading the story made me ask more questions. What happened to Jenna?!? Why did they move? Why does her grandmother hardly speak to her and seem to hate her? Why can Jenna remember every little detail about the French Revolution like a walking, talking encyclopedia, but can't remember her life before the accident?

Oh, I kept reading to find the answers, almost finishing the book in one sitting. I would have too, if real life hadn't interrupted me. Oh, this is one of those uber-fantastic books that stick with you a very long time after finishing. I had so many other, deep, meaning-of-life-type questions to ponder when I finished Jenna Fox. But, I will say those pesky questions about the cover and the title? Well, I did find out the answers to them and it all makes complete sense now. I give this one an A, Highly Recommended!

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Compound by S.A. Bodeen

Wow. That was my first response when finishing The Compound. I couldn't believe how simply "weirded out" the book made me.

Eli and his family have been living for six years in an underground bomb shelter. It's not your typical one-room bomb shelter from the fifties, but rather a lavish living space with lots of amenities. You see, Eli's dad is a multi-billionaire and was able to get his family to the "Compound" before the first nuclear bombs exploded. Well, most of his family. You see, Eli's twin brother Eddy and his grandmother had to return to the house to get Eddy's medicine and didn't make it back in time. One night, Eli was checking out the laptop, when an IM pops up. It's from Eddy and he tells him that he and Grandma are alive and well -- there was no nuclear war. Eli begins to realize that his father has locked them down in the Compound and he might be completely insane.

As I said before, I got shivers just thinking about the things Eli and his family were having to contemplate. With food supplies, especially protein, running low, their father had devised some simply awful ways in order for the family to receive the protein. Ugh! I still get shivers... The suspense and horror felt was like seeing a really bad car accident. You don't want to look, but you can't help yourself. With all the events that slowly, step-by-step, built up to the climax, I felt the ending just rushed by. I'm sure it was because I was dreading what was going to happen next. A superb horror story that will please many different readers. I can't wait to get some reactions to this book from others! I give it an A, Highly Recommended.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Found by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Ever since watching the preview for Found during last year's book fair, I've been intrigued by this book. Unfortunately, everyone else was intrigued as well and I wasn't able to read it during the year, since it was always check out. Thankfully, it's included on this year's Lone Star reading list and I've put those at the top of my to read list this summer.

Jonah's life has been that of a typical seventh-grader. He likes to play basketball, has a younger sister that bothers him, and parents that can be embarrassing. The only thing that makes him out of the ordinary? He's adopted. It's not that big of a deal to him, since he's known that as long as he can remember. When he receives a strange message in the mail that says, "You are one of the missing," he thinks it's weird and wonders who sent it. When he receives a second one that says, "Beware! They're coming back to get you," he gets a little more nervous, especially when his friend, Chip, received the exact same letters and was also adopted 13 years ago. Jonah and Chip decide to investigate the strange letters and their adoptions. After Jonah and Chip discover that they were two of 36 babies that strangely appeared in a plane at the airport, their detective work leads them smack dab in the middle of a mystery involving the FBI, kidnapping, and strange men that appear and disappear right in front of their eyes.

I think students will love this book, because it's fast-paced and contains plenty of suspense. Each chapter ends with a cliff-hanger that will have you wanting to read just one more chapter, and then, just one more until you reach the end of the book. It's not the end of the story, though. There's enough of a tease to leave you waiting impatiently for the next book in Jonah and Chip's story. I give Found a B, Recommended.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Red Necklace by Sally Gardner

Okay, so I usually love reading historical fiction, but something about The Red Necklace just put me off. I'm not sure exactly what turned me off... the illustration on the cover maybe or it might just be that it is set during the French Revolution, which is definitely NOT my favorite time in history. So, yes, I started reading it with a bad attitude. And yes, everyone sometimes feels that way! I know, I know! Boy, was I wrong.

The beginning of the story focuses on a boy, Yann, and his mentor, a midget named Tetu. (I kept thinking, "de plane, de plane" from Fantasy Island. If you don't know what I'm talking about you are too young!) They are gypsies and are working with an illusionist in a Paris theater. Apparently these two are the ones with the magical talent to make all the illusions seem real. At a house party, Yann meets the daughter of an aristocrat that will play an important part in his life and the choices he makes. After his boss is murdered, Yann travels to England to live with a gentleman, meets all sorts of interesting people, and even gets finds himself in Paris right after the storming of the Bastille.

Filled with descriptive scenes of terror, The Red Necklace, sure kept me turning the ol' pages way into the night. I desperately wanted to see Yann triumph over Count Kalliovski and rescue Sido. This book will appeal to those who love adventure stories as long as you don't mind a few gory scenes. I couldn't believe I didn't want to read it! I know, silly me. Don't judge a book by its cover... how many times do I say that to others! The Red Necklace is a wonderful story and I give it a B, recommended.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Great Wide Sea by M.H. Herlong

Okay, as I picked this book up, I thought, a book about three brothers that become shipwrecked. Hmmm... wonder how this will compare to other wilderness survival stories like the fabulous Hatchet by Gary Paulsen?

My verdict? Surprisingly well. The story begins with a teaser ...
"Once upon a time three boys were lost at sea. One almost drowned. One almost went crazy. One fell off a cliff."
... and then switches to the beginning of the story--way before the island. We learn that the three brothers and their father are going to be taking a years' sailing trip in the Bahamas. The mother recently died in a car accident and all in the family are struggling with their grief. Yes, lots of dysfunction here! Dad apparently doesn't bother to tell the boys his plans until AFTER he's set it all in motion. Some of this part of the story drags, but it's good to know a little of the family history.

The action picks up with the sailing trip. Lots of description of what it takes to sail, especially good for someone like me who lives hundreds of miles from the ocean. What really makes this story is the interaction between the three brothers once they are marooned. The action picks up as well and it's a real page-turner until the end.

I'd definitely recommend this for those fans of Hatchet, and anyone else looking for a riveting survival adventure. I give it a B+, Recommended.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Waiting for Normal by Leslie Connor

I really, really didn't want to read this book. Another story about a girl struggling in life with a mom that didn't know how to be a parent. Ugh! I see enough of that in real life. Do I have to read about it too?!? But, this is a Lone Star Book this year and I wanted to read them all before the school year starts, so I took a deep breath and dove in.

The story starts off with Addie and her mom moving in to a run down old trailer at the edge of town, right next to a railroad bridge. Her mom has just divorced her stepdad, Dwight, a man to whom Addie has become very attached. Dwight has custody of Addie's two half sisters and is moving out of town for a job, and Addie won't get to see any of them very often. She has to start a new school and her mom is glued to either the television or the computer screen. Addie takes care of herself, and at times takes care of her mom as well. When her mom meets a new man, Addie knows that it may be days before she returns home. Addie has to check the food in the pantry and see how long she can make it last. More than anything, Addie longs for a normal life and a normal home, but it doesn't look like she'll get that. When a tragedy occurs, Addie's life once again changes. But will it be a change for the better?

Waiting for Normal is one of those books to tug at the ol' heartstrings. My heart just went out to Addie and I hurt when she did and actually teared up at points. While some sad things happen in the story, it does have a hopeful ending, so don't worry those of you that want the happily ever after ending.

Overall, a fantastic book! Ignore the 'eh' cover, and just dig in. It's well worth the time to read this lovely and poignant story. I give it an 'A', Highly Recommended. This book is a must read for those that enjoyed Pictures of Hollis Woods or So B. It.