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.