Monday, March 29, 2010

The Adventures of Jack Lime by Jack Leck

Adventures of Jack Lime, The Adventures of Jack Lime, The by James Leck

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Have a problem that needs solving?  Jack Lime is your guy!  Readers follow along as Jack solves three different cases: the first involves a missing bike (that belongs to the brother of a gorgeous girl); the second is about a kidnapped hamster; and the third is about students that have gone mysteriously missing.  Jack doesn’t work for free, of course, but rather than work for money, he collects favors that he can use later on.

Jack’s one weakness is his narcolepsy; when situations get stressful, his body wants to fall asleep—and it often does!  He doesn’t let this stop him though; he is serious about being the private eye students go to for help (although he does, at times, wake up in the hospital!).

This is a funny book—readers are bound to like Jack immediately.  The three cases are told using entries that note the day, time, and location Jack finds the information he shares.  This book would be great for readers who enjoyed the Chet Gecko series when they were younger.

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11 Birthdays by Wendy Mass

11 Birthdays - Audio Library Edition 11 Birthdays - Audio Library Edition by Wendy Mass

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Amanda and Leo have celebrated their shared birthday together since their first birthday, and
they are each other’s best friend—that is, until Amanda overhears Leo say something mean about her to his friends at their 10th birthday.  Angry and hurt, Amanda hasn’t spoken to Leo since that day.

Now it’s a year later, and Amanda and Leo are both turning 11—but they will celebrate their birthdays separately for the first time ever.  Amanda is glad when her birthday is over and can just forget about her awful day—if she has to hear about Leo’s cool party one more time, she is going to lose her mind!  When she wakes up the next morning, she’s happy that it’s finally Saturday and her and Leo’s birthdays are behind her.  But the strangest thing happens…when she wakes up, it’s not Saturday at all—it’s Friday (and her 11th birthday) again!  To make things worse, when she wakes up the next morning…and the next morning…it’s still Friday!

No one besides Amanda seems to notice that she keeps living the same day over and over again; everyone else is living Friday for the first time—that is, except for Leo, who she learns is living the same day over and over again too!  After a year of not speaking, Amanda and Leo work together to figure out why every day is their 11th birthday.

This is a very cute book that might call to mind the movie Groundhog Day.  Amanda is very likable (as is Leo, once he’s forgiven).  Readers who enjoyed this book might also enjoy Take Two (DeVillers) or The Secret Language of Girls (Dowell).

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Raider's Ransom by Emily Diamond

Raiders Ransom Raiders Ransom by Emily Diamand

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
23rd-Century England is much different from the England we know today; much of the land has been flooded, Scotland’s lands have been extended, and technology is something no one knows about anymore.  Raiders looking for more wealth and power come to Lilly’s village and kidnap the Prime Minister’s daughter Lexy as a ransom.  When the Prime Minister learns this, he blames the people of the village; he rounds up all able-bodied men to fight for him, leaving the young and old men in prison.  Lilly thinks she could get Lexy back by trading a “jewel” Lexy’s aunt has for Lexy’s freedom.  With no one else in her village able to go, Lilly and her cat sneak off after the raiders with the jewel.

While Lilly heads in the direction to where she thinks Lexy might be held, she meets a boy named Zeph.  Lilly (who’s dressed like a boy) tricks Zeph into helping her into raider territory after she learns that he is the raider boss’s son, and along the way they become friends.   Unfortunately for Lilly, Zeph isn’t as naive as she thinks, as Zeph knows about  her tricks.   He has some tough decisions to make about his loyalty to his father and to his new tricky friend.

This story is told in the alternating points of view of Lilly and Zeph, so readers get to see through both the eyes of a poor fishergirl and the son of a well-to-do raider boss.  It’s fascinating to think that humanity could regress so far after a devastating environmental attack; Lilly and Zeph’s descriptions of how they live without any technology remind me of how  people of  today think of  people living hundreds of years ago.  There is also a hint of a sequel coming.  For a similar read, try The Faerie Door by Bruce Maxwell.

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Unfinished Angel by Sharon Creech

The Unfinished Angel The Unfinished Angel by Sharon Creech

My rating: 1 of 5 stars
This story is told from the point of view of an angel who is hundreds of years old and living quite peacefully in a tower of a house in the Alps until a family moves in.  Zola and her father are Americans who move to Switzerland to get a fresh start; her father plans to open a boarding school.  The angel isn’t used to people being able to see it, so it’s startled when Zola addresses it when she enters the tower.

The angel and Zola become wary friends; Zola often asks it questions it doesn’t know the answer to (are you a boy angel or a girl angel?;  where are your wings?; etc.).  As time passes, Zola and the angel get more used to each other.  Zola begins asking the angel to help her with things; most importantly, Zola has discovered a group of orphans living in an old shed.  The angel wonders what it can do to help; it seems uncertain of its role as an angel.  What it can do, however, is send a sort of feeling/image into the heads of the local adults that will make them want to help the children and, alternatively, it can send feelings/images into the heads of the orphan children that will make them feel better.   Will this be enough to save these children?

This is a gentle story that readers will be sure to remember.  The angel is so innocent; it doesn’t even know how to properly pronounce certain words although it’s been around so long.  Zola can be bossy, but her heart is in the right place.  Readers who enjoyed this might also enjoy Beyond the Station Lies the Sea (Richter).

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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Princess Plot by Kirsten Boie

The Princess Plot  (Scandia, #1) The Princess Plot by Kirsten Boie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Jenna is tired of her mother always being so overprotective, so when the chance comes along for her to audition for a part in a movie, she decides to go for it without telling her.  All of Jenna’s friends are auditioning; why shouldn’t she? 

The movie people tell her that the role for which they are casting is the part of a princess.  Jenna doesn’t think that she’s very princess-like, so she can’t believe it when they tell her that she got the part!  She can’t believe that they didn’t even have her read any lines, either.  When she mentions this, the movie people say she has great “presence” and that is what they are looking for.  She doesn’t think that her mother will let her be in a movie, but, to her surprise, when she texts her asking if it’s okay, her mom texts back and tells her that it is!  With that, the movie people take her on a private plane to Skandia, the (fictional) country where the movie is being filmed.  However, Jenna soon finds out that there is no movie—and that she has become a part in a crazy plot involving the princess of Skandia.  Jenna needs to get home before anything worse happens!

This is a great book!  It not only is (mostly) realistic; it is also full of suspense, adventure, and survival.  Jenna is a very likable character who the reader will root for throughout the story.  Suggest this to those who enjoyed The Princess Diaries (Cabot), but warn them that it’s not all fun and romance!

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No Castles Here by A.C.E. Bauer

No Castles Here No Castles Here by A.C.E. Bauer

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Augie lives in a bad neighborhood in Camden, New Jersey.  Not only does he have to worry about avoiding the drug dealers in the rundown park on the way to and from school, he also must worry about the bullies in his class.  Sixth-grade is turning out to be quite a difficult year for him.  Things get even worse when he accidentally takes a book from a bookstore downtown.  Although Augie isn’t a huge fan of reading, he finds this book of tales fascinating.

When an ice storm hits the town in December, Augie and his classmates are told that their school has been damaged by the frozen plumbing system—damaged so bad, in fact, that it will remain closed for good, and they will all be split up into different schools.  Augie can’t believe that adults would give up so easily!  With the help of his teacher, his fellow chorus members, his Big Brother, and his mom, Augie fights to save his school.

This is a good story that has the tales Augie reads from his stolen book interspersed within the regular story.  Augie’s attitude in the face of his tough life will surely bring smiles to readers.  Readers who enjoyed this might also enjoy Finding Stinko (De Guzman) and Slam Dunk! (Robinson).

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The Year the Swallows Came Early by Kathryn Fitzmaurice

The Year the Swallows Came Early The Year the Swallows Came Early by Kathryn Fitzmaurice

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Groovy’s life always seemed pretty normal—until her father gets arrested one Saturday morning as they were walking together.  When she explains what happened to her mom, her mom’s unconcerned reaction seems crazy until she tells Groovy that she was the one who called the police.

Groovy cannot comprehend why her mother would do such a thing!  What could her father have done?  After putting off an explanation for what seems like ages to Groovy, her mom explains that Groovy was left an inheritance to use for college from her great-grandmother, but that her father gambled it all away.  This was money she could have used to attend cooking school—her dream!  Can she find it in her heart to forgive him for taking her inheritance…and her mother, for being the one who turns him in?

This is a sweet story with memorable characters who are all trying to deal with huge issues the best way they know how.  Groovy is especially likeable.  Suggest this book to readers who enjoyed How to Steal a Dog (O’Connor) and The Big House (Coman).

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Anything but Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin

Anything But Typical Anything But Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
12-year-old Jason isn’t like everyone else: he is autistic.  Jason tells his story using first-person narration so the reader gets to see the world through his eyes.  Other kids (and even some adults) think he is weird because he has trouble keeping still and doesn’t often talk.

Jason shares his experiences at home, school, and also about when he was little.  The highlight of his days is going online to a Storyboard site to post the stories he writes.  He becomes friends with a girl named Rebecca who comments on his stories; he figures that he and Rebecca easily become friends because she doesn’t know him in real life.  When a Storyboard convention is held, he is worried that Rebecca will find out who he is and not want to be friends anymore.

This is a very touching story.  The readers learn about what goes on in Jason’s head—how he views his environment and how others view him.  Jason is a likable character and the reader’s heart will feel for both his difficulties and his joys.  Other books that deal with autism include The Boy who Ate Stars (Kochka) and Rules (Lord).

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The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes

The Hundred Dresses The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Soon after starting at a new school, Wanda becomes the focus of a daily taunting by the other girls.  Wanda wears the same—albeit clean and pressed—blue dress to school every day and, on top of that, the kids think that she has a strange last name: “Petronski.”  On the way to school one day, Wanda feels less shy than normal and whispers to Peggy, the prettiest and most popular girl in class, that she has one hundred dresses at home in her closet.  Clearly, she’s not telling the truth, but Peggy doesn’t let the subject drop; instead, she asks Wanda every single day thereafter how many dresses she has…and Wanda always answers the same way.  Following her answer, the girls laugh and then  ignore her.

Peggy’s best friend Maddie doesn’t like how the girls follow Peggy’s lead and make fun of Wanda.  Maddie knows that she should say something to Peggy about stopping the teasing, but Maddie is afraid that Peggy will start making fun of her instead!

When Wanda and her family suddenly move away, Maddie feels awful that she never had a chance to apologize to her and must deal with her feelings of guilt and shame over her behavior.

This is a quick read that will leave the reader thinking long after the story ends.  It takes place in the 1940s, although there is no mention of the war.  For readers seeking a sweet story about friendship and acceptance, recommend this.

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The Dragonfly Pool by Eva Ibbotson

The Dragonfly Pool The Dragonfly Pool by Eva Ibbotson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Eleven-year-old Tally doesn’t want to go to a far away “progressive” boarding school, but she agrees to go, understanding that her father wants her to be safe if England really does enter the war against Hitler.  Much to her surprise, she finds that she really enjoys the school and the other students.

Meanwhile, Prince Karil of (the imaginary country) Bergania dislikes his royal life more than ever.  All he wants in life is to be free; that is, do what he wants and to have real friends.  When students from schools (including Tally’s) all over Britain and Europe visit Bergainia to perform in a folk dancing festival, Karil hopes he will be able to spend time with kids his own age.

The students end up befriending Karil, but not under normal circumstances.  They all work together to help him when his father, the king, is assassinated by Nazi sympathizers in front of everyone at the start of the festival.  Those close to him fear that his life is in danger, so he must escape the country unnoticed.

This is a sweet story about the true meaning of friendship and how everyone, from the poor, regular citizens to the rich, famous royalty, need to be loved by friends.  Tally is extremely likable, always putting others ahead of herself.  Readers will root for Karil as he’s forced to find his own way after losing his father.  Those who enjoy this WWII story might also enjoy Finding Sophie by Irene N. Watts.

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A Taste for Red by Lewis Harris

A Taste for Red A Taste for Red by Lewis Harris

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Stephanie (who prefers to be called Svetlana) moves to a new town and attends a new school.  Many of the kids think that she’s a bit of an oddball; Svetlana prefers wearing black, only eats red food, has extrasensory powers, and believes that she’s a vampire.   Is that really so strange?  What Svetlana finds strange is her new neighbor Mrs. Bones.  At first glance, Mrs. Bones seems like a perfectly normal old lady, but Svetlana soon learns differently.

Meanwhile, Svetlana and her classmates meet their new science teacher Ms. Larch.  For some reason, Ms. Larch smells like rotting garbage to Svetlana and no one else.  And as she spends more time with Mrs. Bones, Svetlana realizes that Mrs. Bones smells like cookies baking.  What is going on?  Late one night, Svetlana wakes to the sound of her dog barking and finds Mrs. Bones in her treehouse (which she calls The Oak of Doom).  There, Mrs. Bones tells Svetlana that she is not a vampire, but one “who knows” and is now part of the Circle, a secret group who fights vampires throughout the world.  Their first task, Mrs. Bones explains, is to eliminate evil Ms. Larch!

This is a great book; Svetlana is a snarky girl who has a good head on her shoulders.  The two dorky boys she enlists to help her are funny cowards, while Ms. Larch is a smooth villian!  Recommend this to female readers who want a good book about vampires but aren’t ready for the Twilight  series yet.

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Heroes of the Valley by Jonathan Stroud

Heroes of the Valley Heroes of the Valley by Jonathan Stroud

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Halli Sveisson is a member of the House of Svein, one of the twelve ruling houses in the valley each named for a long-dead hero.  He’s at a tough age right now (14) because he’s too old to play with the children of his family’s land and too young to do ‘manly’ things; it doesn’t help that he’s very short, either.   During  the yearly Gathering, Halli witnesses an arbiter from another house kill his uncle before leaving.  Vowing revenge, Halli leaves his house and travels the valley after the evil Hord Hkonsson and his brother Olaf.

Part of the life of those who live in the valley is the sharing of stories about the heroes.  The most notable stories are those that describe the twelve original heroes’ battles with the Trows (vicious beasts who live up on the hills beyond the family cairns ).  Aud, a girl he meets first at the Gathering and again later on, disbelieves these stories and, as Halli spends more time with her, he grows more skeptical of them himself.  However, when Halli and Aud find themselves up on the hill in the dark, they begin to think otherwise.

This is a fantastic book!  It has everything a good book should have; action, adventure, fantastical elements, snarky humor, and great main characters.  Suggest this to both boys and girls looking for
a great tale of bravery in the face of thieves, warriors, and monsters.

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Oracles of Delphi Keep by Victorial Laurie

Oracles of Delphi Keep Oracles of Delphi Keep by Victoria Laurie

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Ian, an orphan living in 1930s Britain, loves nothing more than to go exploring.  When he and his sister Theo spend their day away from the orphanage exploring some nearby underground caves, they come across some strange writing on the wall and a small silver box half buried in the ground.  Unfortunately, they inadvertently disturb a huge dog-like beast from which they barely manage to escape in one piece.

When the Earl of Kent learns of the beast, he instructs Ian to show direct the adults to where exactly he saw the writing in the cave and found the box.  This kicks off a wild adventure that involves Ian, Theo, a new orphan named Carl, 2 of their instructors, and a former university professor.  They use Theo’s psychic powers and their wills to survive to help them make it back home safely.

This is a great fantastical adventure book full of references to Greek mythology and legend (though the author uses these figures unusually), along with monsters, villains, and soldiers.  The second book of this series, The Curse of Deadman’s Forest, is coming soon.  Until then, suggest the Tapestry series (Neff), the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series (Riordan), or the Bartimaeus Trilogy (Stroud) to readers who enjoyed this book.

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Ragtag by Karl Wolf-Morgenlander

Ragtag Ragtag by Karl Wolf-Morgenländer

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Ragtag is a young swallow who belongs to the Feathered Alliance, a group of various birds dedicated to living in peace in the city of Boston.  When a large group of strong, evil birds—members of the Talon Empire—are forced to leave their homes due to human destruction of their land, they decide to take over Boston.  If the Feathered Alliance does not surrender to the Talon Empire, they are told, they will be killed…but surrender is not an option for the Feathered Alliance!  They bravely decide to face the Talon Empire to fight for their freedom.

Because the Feathered Alliance is made up of swallows, pigeons, mockingbirds, and other small birds, they know that it’s not going to be easy to defeat the Talon Empire, which is made up of hawks, falcons, ospreys, and more.  When the Feathered Alliance’s leader is killed, Ragtag can hardly believe that other members look to him to take over—especially when he was once viewed as an outcast.  Will he be able to lead the alliance to victory?

This is a story full of suspense that is told entirely from Ragtag’s perspective.  Readers are right along with him as he flies through the air (and through the Boston Public Library) and fights other birds.  Suggest this book to anyone who enjoys animals and a good battle.

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Highway Cats by Janet Taylor Lisle

Highway Cats Highway Cats by Janet Taylor Lisle

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Shredder, a grizzled old cat, discovers three abandoned kittens on the highway he lives near.  Miraculously, the kittens survive crossing the busy lanes.  At first, Shredder and the other feral cats don’t much care for these seemingly helpless kittens, but they soon warm to their innocence in the face of life in the wild.

Meanwhile, the mayor of the town has plans to build ramps leading to and from the highway—ramps that would run right through the woods in which the cats live.  Because the arrival of the kittens has changed the attitudes of so many of the previously cold-hearted cats, they band together to frighten the workers who would destroy their home.

This is a good story with drawings at the beginning of each chapter.  It was interesting to read about how all of the cats’ different personalities work together to care for the kittens and to save their homes from being destroyed.  Recommend this to readers who enjoyed The Incredible Journey or Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH.

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My Rotten Life by David Lubar

My Rotten Life (Nathan Abercrombie, Accidental Zombie) My Rotten Life by David Lubar

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Nathan thinks he has a rotten life...but things get much worse after he gets some experimental liquid called “Hurt-Be-Gone accidentally spilled on him!  After that, parts of his body start losing feeling, he stops digesting food, and he doesn’t need to go to the bathroom!

His friends Mookie and Abigail help him get the ingredients for the mixture that will stop him from becoming a total zombie—ingredients that include a scale from a rare breed of fish and a strange mushroom.  The problem is, he must have at least a little bit of feeling somewhere on his body for the mixture to work.  The more time that passes, the more he losses feeling everywhere!  Will the mixture be ready in time for him to use before he become a walking dead boy?

This is a funny story with very likable characters.  Nathan’s friend Mookie was probably my favorite with his laid-back attitude.  Even Nathan, who is very unhappy about becoming a walking dead boy, deals with his zombie-ness as best as he can.  It appears as though a sequel is on its way.  Recommend this book to those who enjoy the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series (Kinney) and the Captain Underpants books (Pilkey).

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