Monday, November 22, 2010

The Genius Wars by Catherine Jinks

The Genius WarsThe Genius Wars by Catherine Jinks

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was very much looking forward to this book and I found it to be pretty good. This one took a while for me to get into, just as it took me a while to get into the first two books, but it's worth it.

In this book, the third (and final?!) in the series, Cadel is trying to live a "normal" life as a university student (although he's still years younger than the rest of the students there) and as part of a real family (he has been adopted). Prosper English seems to be ignoring him the same way he is ignoring Prosper, and all seems well...

...until strange accidents keep happening that Cadel doesn't believe are really accidents. People close to him keep getting hurt or almost killed and Cadel is sure Prosper has something to do with this. He's tired of running, he's tired of hiding, and he's tired of worrying about those he cares about getting hurt because of him.

This was such a good story (but not as good as the first one--to me) and I can't believe that this is the final book. The ending doesn't tie anything up at all! Maybe there will be another book added because this story is NOT over yet. Assuming that there is indeed another book coming, I would recommend this series to anyone wanting to read an interesting, different type of series.

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The Dreamer by Pam Munoz Ryan

The DreamerThe Dreamer by Pam Muñoz Ryan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In a small village in Chile, Neftali Reyes is a shy boy whose mind is always wandering; he finds beauty in the simplest things in nature and is fascinated by words. His father, however, wants him to be more focused and hard working so that he might become a doctor or a dentist.

The reader follows Neftali as he grows up; we learn that, as an adolescent, he still has trouble focusing in school and that he still has a love of words. In fact, he has filled dozens of notebooks with his thoughts. He also begins to notice the social injustices suffered by the Mapuche people in his homeland and unites with his caring uncle to spread the word about this. He continues to write once he gets to university, only he changes his name to Pablo Neruda so as not to shame his father.

This fictional biography provides the reader with an idea of what Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda’s life was like growing up. Not only does the book share both heart-warming and heart-wrenching stories from Neruda’s past, it also includes illustrations by Peter Sis and bits of Neruda’s own (translated) poetry. Those who enjoyed this book might also enjoy these other fictional biographies: A Mind with Wings: the Story of Henry David Thoreau (Hausman) or Bear Dancer: the Story of a Ute Girl (Wyss).

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Mockingbird by Kathryn Eskine

MockingbirdMockingbird by Kathryn Erskine

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Caitlyn is a bit different from other kids because she has Asberger’s Syndrome. Although the kids she knows tend to think she’s weird, Caitlyn’s beloved older brother Devon knows that she can’t help disliking recess, most colors, and disruptions in routine (among other things). It seems like he’s the only person who truly understands her.

When Devon is killed at a shooting at his middle school, Caitlyn deals with his unexpected death much differently than others do; while others grieve for Devon, Caitlyn deals with his death in a rather matter-of-fact way—having Asberger’s makes it difficult for her to feel emotions as it applies to others. She continues seeing Mrs. Brook, a friendly school counselor who helps her better understand her emotions and Asberger’s. We see her slowly begin to grasp what it means to miss someone, along with what it means to have real friends.

This story is sure to touch the reader’s heart. Caitlyn is a likable character—along with her kind father, who tries his best as a widower to raise his now only remaining child. Readers who enjoyed this book might also enjoy Anything but Typical (Baskin), a story told by a boy who has autism.

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Rivalry: Mystery at the Army-Navy Game by John Feinstein

The Rivalry: Mystery at the Army-Navy Game (Final Four Mystery #5)The Rivalry: Mystery at the Army-Navy Game by John Feinstein

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Stevie and Susan Carol, both high school freshmen who have been writing special sports columns for publications such as The Washington Post ever since they won a writing contest, are invited to write about the annual Army (West Point) versus Navy (Annapolis) football game, which is special that year because President Obamba will be in attendance. Each of them is also allowed to get to know some of the players and coaches, along with learning about the heightened security measures that are going to be in place due to the president’s appearance. Excited about this opportunity, Stevie and Susan Carol plunge into their investigating.

Because Stevie and Susan Carol shadow the Army and Navy teams two weeks before the actual game, they are invited to attend their games against other colleges—which is thrilling to them. However, they notice (along with the crowd, coaches, and players) that the calls the officials make seem unfair, though there’s nothing much anyone can do about it. When unfair calls are made by the same group of officials at the important Army versus Navy game, Stevie and Susan Carol resolve to get to the bottom of it.

This is a story that has a little bit of everything: sports, mystery, a touch of romance, and suspense. This book is actually the fifth book in the Steve and Susan Carol Sport Mystery series, but reading books 1-4 isn’t necessary to understand the plot; in fact, this book stands solidly on its own. Readers who enjoy this series might also enjoy The Million Dollar series (Gutman).

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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Librarian on the Roof! by M.G. King

Librarian on the Roof!: A True StoryLibrarian on the Roof!: A True Story by M.G. King

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book is just okay. Readers will admire the determination of the librarian RoseAleta, but it doesn't really excite me in any way.

When RoseAleta was hired as a new librarian at the Dr. Eugene Lark Library in Lockhart, Texas, she discovered that the library was very underused by the people in town (wouldn't she have learned this during pre-interview sleuthing about where she was going to interview?). The current staff seems generally apathetic, so she brings a new energy to the library personnel. When nothing she does-participates in parades, etc.-brings in children or adults, she re-evaluates the children's department and realizes that they need to update the furniture, computers, books, and more.

Of course, upgrades like these take money, and, of course, the library didn't have any money to spare. So RoseAleta endeavors to camp out on the roof of the library until 40,000 dollars is raised for the children's department. (Again, wouldn't she have gotten an idea of what the library's collection and budget were when she interviewed?).

All works out, happy ending, the library gets the money it needed to update the children's department, it is a busy place now, yadda yadda.

I understand that a suspension of belief is needed (maybe) for a story like this to succeed without having readers feel the need to ask questions like mine, but, like I said, I just can't get excited for this book.

I hope she got a raise after all she did for her library!

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A Million Shades of Gray by Cynthia Kadohata

A Million Shades of GrayA Million Shades of Gray by Cynthia Kadohata

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

It’s 1973: Y’Tin and his family live in a distant village in South Vietnam, and, for as long as he can
remember, his country has been at war with North Vietnam. While his father works as a guide for the American Special Forces, Y’Tin likes nothing more than to spend peaceful time with his beloved elephant, named Lady. In fact, he dreams of growing up and becoming one of the youngest elephant trainers ever. Yet things turn deadly when the Americans return home, leaving Y’Tin and his people vulnerable when the North Vietnamese troops invade their village.

While some villagers are able to escape into the jungle (including his family, as it turns out), Y’Tin and many others are taken prisoner by the enemy troops. However, Y’Tin and his fellow elephant-trainer friend manage to escape into the jungle. Happily, they find their escaped elephants, but the elephants aren’t their only concern, though, as they are being hunted by the North Vietnamese, trying to stay alive, and trying to catch up to the group of villagers who initially fled.

This is a thought-provoking book that strikes a delicate balance between Y’Tin’s love of his elephant and hate for the enemy troops. The reader is right there along with him as he escapes captivity and tries to stay alive in the jungle. Those who enjoyed this book might also enjoy Kadohata’s other books dealing with the grim realities of war, such as Cracker!: the Best Dog in Vietnam or Weedflower (pre-Pearl Harbor bombing).

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Monday, November 8, 2010

Woods Runner by Gary Paulsen

Woods RunnerWoods Runner by Gary Paulsen

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Samuel is a thirteen-year-old boy who spends his free time hunting in the woods near the remote home where he and his parents live. In fact, he is in the woods when their home is seton fire, his parents kidnapped, and his neighbors killed—all by the British soldiers who are in America to fight in the Revolutionary War.

Being the skilled woodsman that he is, Samuel undertakes to follow the trail made by the group of soldiers and their prisoners—he is sure his parents are among those taken, as he sees their shoe prints. Although a head wound from a scalping band of Iroquois sidelines him for a number of days, he is determined to keep moving towards British-held New York City. (It is believed that his parents, along with most prisoners of war, have been imprisoned there). Along the way, he meets Annie, a young girl whose parents had been killed right in front of her. She resolves to stick with him from this point forward, so he lets her. The traveling becomes easier when they meet a man named Abner who is willing to take them to New York City on his cart. However, when they get there, Samuel realizes that rescuing his parents isn’t going to be as easy as he thought it would be.

This is an interesting story that drops the reader right into the American Revolution. Samuel’s dedication to rescuing his parents is admirable, and one can’t help but feel for little Annie. Paulsen adds short entries of nonfiction in between pieces of the story to create an even stronger image of what one might face living in the Revolutionary time.

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The Time Quake: by Linda Buckley-Archer

The Time Quake: #3 in the Gideon Triliogy (Gideon Trilogy)The Time Quake: #3 in the Gideon Triliogy by Linda Buckley-Archer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Time Quake is the third and final book of the Gideon Trilogy, and I'm so sad that it's over. I enjoyed this series so much and I'm shocked that it wasn't more popular with the kids.

I was lucky to get my hands on the audio book version; I ended up having to request it from another library in this state. It's so good to listen to and was totally worth it!

Admittedly, this was my least favorite of the three books, only because the reader not only follows Peter and Kate, but also Lord Luxon, the Tar Man, Anjali and Tom, and of course Peter and Kate's families...which makes for a lot to keep track of. Plus, Peter, Kate, and Gideon were the characters I was most interested it and found myself a little impatient that so much time is dedicated to other characters. For example, Lord Luxon's plans on changing history were interesting, but I felt like I didn't know him well enough to really feel anger towards his character; rather, I disliked what he wanted to do more than the character himself. I found myself sort of sighing whenever the story focused on him.

There were also very serious parts to this story, such as Kate becoming more and more transparent (and fast-forwarding), Tom wanting so badly to go home (after we thought he was dead!), the Tar Man's ability to somehow travel back and forth between times, the secret about Gideon and the Tar Man, and, finally, the big ending where Peter has to make a choice about fixing everything that went wrong with time.

Speaking of the ending, I found it to be confusing--so much that I went back and listened to it again to see if I was missing something. I suppose that, when writing about time travel, events are bound to get jumbled up in a way that makes things difficult to keep track of. I kept playing the scene over and over in my mind (keeping in mind the other time travel book I read and loved: The Time Traveler's Wife) to make everything work out and makes sense.

Despite these issues, I found the series in its entirety very enjoyable and I look forward to watching for whatever Buckley-Archer sets her sights on next.

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Always with You by Ruth Vander Zee

Always With YouAlways With You by Ruth Vander Zee

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I came across this book while working on my library's weeding project. (I didn't weed it!) The book grabbed me because it looked like it would be very sad; I knew that a death was somehow involved, but I didn't know who or what the circumstances were.

It's a very quick read; it's a longer picture book that has a subject not so acceptable for browsing children/parents in the picture book section. I was right about my first impression though; it is indeed about a death.

This story is about a girl named Kim whose village is bombed during the Vietnam War. Her loving mother is killed and her dying words to Kim are: "I will always be with you."

An enemy soldier hits Kim with his gun, which ends up hurting her sight for the rest of her life. She is, however, eventually found by United States soldiers and taken someplace safe. Because she needed special surgeries for her eyes, she was sent to the United States for medical help and ended up staying in an orphanage there.

She ends up living a happy life overall, but she always remembers her mother's last words to her.

The story was so sad! But I think it's important to have pieces of literature like this so that we will always remember that events like this happened in our history.

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