Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Sisters of the Sword by Maya Snow

Sisters of the Sword (Sisters of the Sword, #1)My name is Kimi. My father, the Jito, was visciously murdered by his brother. My uncle then killed my brothers, so my sister and I had to find somewhere safe to hide. We've disguised ourselves as boys and are now working as servants at a dojo. We learned samurai skills from our father, but we hope to improve them enough to rise up and get revenge against our uncle. Keeping our identities a secret has become harder, since our cousin is also at the dojo. He's become a bully, and I suspect the path to our uncle will pass through my cousin.

Children vowing to kill an adult is pretty uncommon for middle grade fiction, and using female characters to do it is even rarer. It's unbelievable to think the young girls will become skilled enough to kill an experienced, ruthless samurai, but the plot is still entertaining. The first part of the book started quickly with the father's murder, but the middle portion of the plot slowed down. I was surprised with the conclusion of the book and don't understand how the conflict merits a sequel. There must be big changes in store.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson

Fever 1793My name is Matilda. Yellow Fever is spreading throughout Philadelphia, and many of our neighbors are fleeing the city. Catching the fever will most certainly result in death. My mother, grandfather, and I are doing our best to keep the coffee house going, but fear of the fever makes people crazy. My mother orders me out of the city after she falls ill. My grandfather and I are left stranded, and the next thing I know, I wake up in a hospital with the fever, waiting to see if it will kill me too. 

Books like this are attractive, because they're based on actual people and events. The author captures the paranoia that goes with a deadly disease spreading across Philadelphia. The cause is unknown, so the medical treatments are pure guesswork. I was happy to see Maddie finally realizing blood-letting actually harms the patients! Her character displays great courage and determination against overwhelming physical and emotional obstacles. The plot has little action, but the epidemic creates a compelling problem. Lovers of historical fiction will savor this book.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

One Crazy Summer (Gaither Sisters, #1)My name is Delphine. Papa is sending my sisters and I to Oakland to spend a month with Cecile, our mama, for the next month. But Cecilie left us when Fern was just a baby, and she don't want us around. She says she never asked for us to come and won't even let us go in the kitchen for a glass of water! She sends us to Ming's for Chinese food cause she won't cook, and we have to walk to the Center every morning for breakfast. The Black Panthers run the Center, Cecilie prints posters for them too, and I'm scared we might get hurt. The Panthers protest against the police for the rights of us colored people, and we color posters for them after eating breakfast. The police don't like the Panthers, and I heard about a boy, only a couple years older than me, who was shot down right in the middle of the street! I have a bad feeling about the rally in two weeks, but I'll never forget what happens there.

This story takes place in the early sixties during the civil rights movement. It shares the frustrations and anger of minorities during that time, and it shares the frustrations and anger of daughters trying to understand a mother who abandoned them. The author describes the mother's lack of emotions toward her kids, and the resolution doesn't satisfy my frustrations toward her. I enjoyed the closeness of the girls and how they stuck up for each other. I was surprised and amused by Fern's poem at the rally. Who would have thought this little girl could steal the show at a civil rights demonstration?

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Case of the Missing Marquess by Nancy Springer

This book is the first in a series, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Enola Holmes is the much younger sister of Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes. Enola's mother disappears, and no one is sure if she is alive or dead. Enola's mother has left her some clues and some money, so she decides to run away and search for her mother. She doesn't want her brothers, especially Sherlock Holmes, knowing where she's gone. During her adventures, Enola reads in the newspaper about a missing boy and finds herself in the middle of the problem. The conflict and plot center around Enola's search for her mother and also the missing marquess.

The beginning of the book seemed to drag on a bit, but it became more interesting once Enola's brothers entered the story. The action picked up even more once Enola ran away and was on her own. I enjoyed how Enola tried to out-think Sherlock Holmes, so he wouldn't be able to find her. She was very creative and had great deductive thinking skills, just like her famous brother. She was also able to solve the mystery of the missing boy before him.

The series continues in book two as Enola continues the search for her mother. I assume the beginning of the second book will be better, because the author won't need to go into much detail to describe Enola's situation.

Montmorency: Thief, Liar, Gentleman? by Eleanor Updale

This book is the first in series, and I gave it a rating of four out of five, although I'm not real sure how much it will appeal to my sixth graders. A criminal is seriously injured while committing a burglary, and a doctor uses experimental surgical procedures to make him healthy. Upon his release from prison, he takes on two identities. He becomes Scarper, the thief, and successfully robs many homes and businesses while using the London sewer system for his escapes. He uses the money from his thefts to become Montmorency, a respectable and cultured member of society. He has many close calls as he tries to elude the police and maintain the secrecy of his two identities.

The plot is unique, although it may not have enough action for my students. I'm also not sure if they'll be able to connect with Montmorency's character, since he's a member of high society. Scarper's character is less complex, and he's mostly a common thief. Both identities have internal conflicts as there is some remorse for his cellmate who is executed for Scarper's crimes. I wasn't sure where the plot would end, but Montmorency does some work for the government near the end of the book. I assume this will be the basis for the plots in the sequels.

Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer by John Grisham

This is the first book in a new series, and I gave it a rating of three out of five. Theo Boone is the 8th grade son of two lawyers and gets himself involved in the biggest murder trial in the town's history. A husband has killed his wife, but it looks like the prosecutor won't be able to present enough evidence to convict him. Theo discovers a secret witness with evidence that could convict the husband, but the witness wants to remain anonymous.
It was an interesting plot, and the author shares a lot of information about the workings of trials. Theo is an interesting character, and the side stories with all of his classmates offer a variety of small cases. Theo has a strong interest and knowledge about lawyers and trials, so others come to him for free legal advice. He helps them with an impounded dog, a drug-dealing brother, and an adult arrested for drunk driving.

Although the murder case provided a conflict, the description didn't really grab me. The discussions about the trial and the way the legal system works were a distraction for me. Adolescent readers might find it helpful to understand what's going on. My biggest complaint is that there was no resolution to the conflict. We don't know the result of the trial, Theo's friend is going through a custody trial between her parents, and it's implied that a private detective is going to do something to Theo. It's a unique novel, but I like my stories finished.

Westmark by Lloyd Alexander

This is the first book of a trilogy, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Theo apprentices as a printer's assistant back in medieval times, but his master is killed by the king's soldiers. Cabbarus, the chief minister for the king, is plotting to take over rule of the kingdom and controls all printing. Theo becomes a wanted "man" and flees the city. Along the way, he meets up with a con man and his dwarf, a homeless girl, as well a band of men preparing to stop Cabbarus and/or the king. Theo gets himself involved in the uprising and must decide in the rising action if he is able to kill in order to save the lives of others.

I enjoyed the plot, although I thought the climax might have been played up more. The climax may be surprising to some readers, but it's predictable when you look back at the clues. I like how the author ended the book and allows an opening for the sequel.