Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Friendship Experiment by Erin Teagan

The Friendship ExperimentMy name is Maddie, and I don't have any friends. My "best friend" said I'm sometimes hard to get along with and later showed up with another girl from her new school. I kind of got mad and told her we should forget we were ever friends. Grandpa was a great scientist, and it looks like science is the only thing I'm good at. Why am I so mean when he was so nice? I still can't believe he died, and my parents want to give his things to a thrift store!  I keep a notebook of SOP's (standard operating procedures) like he did, but mine has subjects like how to survive lunch with misfit know-it-alls and how to spot a liar. I accidentally left the notebook at the liar's house, but I don't think she'll read the mean things in it, right? I think my sister's bleeding disorder is getting more serious, but she's lying to our parents. What if she dies like our grandmother?

Much of the plot was kind of depressing, as Maddie struggled with her issues. She wasn't dealing well with no friends at a new school, she was missing her grandfather terribly, and symptoms of the family illness were getting worse for the two girls. Maddie isolated herself for most of the book, and she screwed things up when she finally took a chance on a new friend. The second half of the book was much more compelling, as she finally started to face her problems. Middle grade students often feel a loneliness, as they become very self-conscious,so they may be able to identify with Maddie's struggles in handling the world. While probably not as popular with young readers, I liked Maddie's obsession with science too. Overall, Teagan wrote an engaging story of a young girl battling with the complications of life. The real issues of death, friendship, and illness formed the basis of it. I can recommend this book as a good read!

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Travels With Gannon and Wyatt: Hawaii by Patti Wheeler and Keith Hemstreet

Travels with Gannon and Wyatt: HawaiiMy name is Wyatt. My brother and I came to Hawaii to learn about its culture, but we now find ourselves drawn into an adventure concerning King Kamehameha the Great. He ruled the islands in the early 1800's, but his sacred burial site has been hidden since he died. Our adventure started when my brother jumped off the rocks into the churning Pacific waves to save a drowning man. Before being taken to the hospital in critical condition, he gave us an old map and said there was danger. We think the map may lead us to King Kamehameha's remains, but what is the danger? We suspect the man in the ocean may have been pushed, and some strange things have been happening. Gannon thinks we're being cursed by spirits, but we need to help protect King Kamehameha from land developers. However, we may be in over our heads.

The plot is pretty straight-forward as I describe above. While enjoyable, this kind of book is not my cup of tea. I like adventures, and I like learning about new places. However, combining the two doesn't always work for me. This book teaches many interesting facts about Hawaii and its culture, but they're sometimes in your face. It's like the plot momentarily pauses, so information can be shared. I prefer to have the information blended more with the events. With that being said, there are many positive aspects to the book. It can be easily read, it includes excitement and suspense, and it takes place in Hawaii. I assume the rest of the series has a similar format, just different locations. This book will appeal to readers who enjoy a bit of mystery and learning about other cultures. Hey, it's Hawaii! 

Monday, August 15, 2016

Isabella for Real by Margie Palatini

Isabella for RealMy name is Isabella, and my life is out of control. It's all my cousin's fault. All I did was agree to let him make a video of me being myself. How bad could that be? I didn't expect him to post the videos on YouTube, and I certainly never expected them to get eleven million views! I now find myself hiding from reporters and cameramen all around my house. And what am I going to do when school starts again next week? I kind of let my friends believe my mom is Italian royalty, and the school elections are next week. I know I should have told the truth in the first place, but I just couldn't find a way to change their minds. Now, with the real me all over YouTube, what am I going to do?

The beginning of the plot started a bit slowly for me, but the whole book was less than one-hundred pages. I guess the "slow" start was just the result of vague events. Isabella was hiding out, hinted at her problems, but didn't clearly share why the reporters were lurking outside her house. The plot skipped around a bit as it mixed the present problem with the paparazzi with flashbacks to how the video and school problems started. Actually, the whole book could really happen to someone. Home videos posted on YouTube that become viral sensations? Potential friends at a new school with misinformation about the new kid? The new kid wants to be accepted, so she keeps quiet? Far-fetched series of events, but it's all possible. Overall, it was a fun story based on today's technology. Young readers should be able to identify with the problems and should enjoy the whole story.

Sherlock, Lupin & Me #4: The Cathedral of Fear by Irene Adler

The Cathedral of Fear (Sherlock, Lupin, and Me)My name is Irene, and I've discovered a piece of a map. I don't know what it's about, but two men attacked me trying to get their hands on it. I wrote letters to my good friends in London, Arsene Lupin and Sherlock Holmes, and they've both arrived here in France to help. Sherlock is the one who figured out the map is of an area of Paris, and we now find ourselves there searching for clues. We've discovered the man behind the thieves is called the Grand Master of Paris, but we have no idea of his true identity. Our search for the truth will take us into the countryside, to Paris itself, and even under the city.

This book is a young reader's version of the classic Sherlock Holmes mysteries, and it's the fourth one in a series. The author provided clues to help readers solve the problem, but the resolution still included surprises. It was nice to see a female protagonist being assisted by two talented boys. The kids formed a tight-knit "family". The boys provided brains and "muscle", but Irene was the leader. Each character contributed unique abilities, and Irene didn't fit the stereotype of a young girl. She was inquisitive, rebellious, and took chances. Maybe even stretched the truth a bit. Overall, an entertaining book that will appeal to young lovers of mysteries.

Monday, July 4, 2016

5 Times Revenge by Lindsay Eland

Five Times RevengeMy name is Perk, and I must get my revenge. The school principal and his son are bullies, taking advantage of students, teachers, and Tommy, my brother with special needs. Adam and I are famous for our pranks, but this one must be epic. Adam really wants to put the principals's Shelby Cobra on the school roof, but we'll need help with whatever we do. The principal's son got Ray kicked off the wrestling team, gives Dutch wedgies and steals his homework, and treated Pearl, his ex-girlfriend, very rudely. They'll be motivated to help us. Tommy means the world to me, and I won't let anyone get away with embarrassing him. I'm sure Adam will come up with an amazing plan that fits our two main rules: No one and nothing get hurt or damaged, and we don't get caught!

I didn't expect to find a story about revenge that was also fun to read. The book wasn't amazingly written, but I found myself gently sucked into the plot. The pranks were creative and believable. From the cute girl, to the nerd, to the big lug everyone assumes is dumb, they combined their talents and stories to create an unlikely team. I guess I enjoy cheering for underdogs which really fit this situation. The author did a great job of making me detest the principal and his son, so that helped develop the emotional impact of the conflict. The love between Perk, Tommy, and Adam was evident. Emotions are powerful motivators for readers. I usually read fantasy/adventure books, so my enjoyment with reading this book should show its specialness. Give it a shot!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Pack of Dorks #2: Camp Dork by Beth Vrabel

Pack of Dorks: Camp DorkMy name is Lucy, and I'm proud to be a dork. I didn't really want to come to this caveman, fossil camp, but Sam dared me. However, he went off to a gymnastics camp, and my parents wouldn't let me back out. I thought things would still be okay with the rest of our pack going, but I've managed to mess everything up. My best friend, April, wants to hang out with snobby Kira, but I think she'd make a perfect girlfriend for Sheldon. I'm great at bringing people together, Sam told me so, but now everybody hates me. I've said mean things to April, lied to Jer, and people think I've stolen a bracelet, necklace, and laptop. What am I doing? Why can't April act like she used to? Everything is all mixed up. I've got to make things right, but what if it all blows up in my face? Again!

This book addresses the difficulties of friendship and growing up. The first book created the pack of dorks to help outcast kids support each other, but even dorks must change! The problems faced by Lucy are normal, but she learns there are some things beyond our control. Most readers can identify with her feelings of abandonment and wanting things to stay the same. Hopefully, readers will learn a lesson along with Lucy. The book includes a snooty girl with free insults for Lucy, although Lucy later learns that things aren't what they see. The innocence of the characters is a nice change from many of the books I normally read. The kids aren't geniuses with amazing talents or maturity. They're typical new-to-be fifth graders. I still enjoy Lucy's free-spirited grandmother who provides support and advice for Lucy. She's not afraid to speak her mind or do what makes her happy. Overall, I can recommend both books in the series to any fourth or fifth graders.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Still a Work in Progress by Jo Knowles

Still a Work in ProgressMy name is Noah, and my life used to be normal. I went to school with my best friends, and we talked about which girls might like us and stupid stuff too. But I have bigger problems. I really love my sister Emma, and I appreciate her advice about kids and school. I mean, she even taught Sam how to slow dance! I can't believe he's the first one in our group to get a date. But, I'm sick of Emma's obsession with vegan food. It's disgusting, and as a matter of fact, she doesn't eat much of it herself. My parents are careful about what they say around her, and I know they're terrified that "thing" will happen again. She says everything is okay, but what if it's not? What am I supposed to do?

This book evokes many deep emotions, and it's not light reading. Noah's middle school issues are pretty common, but his sister's problems take them a notch higher. Eating disorders have been the topics of many novels, but this situation is told from the brother's point of view. The last third of the book really spans Noah's range of feelings. He's concerned, scared, angry, and confused about what's going on. How is he supposed to feel about his sister, and shouldn't everyone else be just as miserable? How can they go on with their lives? Noah's interactions with his two best friends will sound familiar with other middle school boys. They talk about the puzzling world of girls, teachers, school, and family. And is it just me, or does the plot include an unusual number of references to farts and bad smells? I guess the focus of middle school boys can be hard to explain. This book will touch a myriad of emotions for readers, especially boys, and it will make them think. I recommend you give it shot.