Monday, September 26, 2016

Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli

Maniac MageeMy name is Jeffrey, although people on the streets call me Maniac. I first met Amanda in the East End and stayed at her parent's house after they discovered I didn't have a home. People in the neighborhood call me Maniac for catching footballs against high school kids, running on the train rails, untying the legendary Cobble's Knot, and other heroic feats. However, other people think I should go back and live with the "whities", so I ran away and was staying with Earl in a storage room. Now Earl was pretty old, but he told great stories about being a minor league pitcher. We really cared about each other, but now he's dead. I had to run away again, and I'm back on the West End, face-to-face with an old bully "friend".

I read this Newbery-winning book years ago but just realized it wasn't on my blog. Maniac is a wonderful character. He has the confidence to move across the city as the need arises, and he has an innocence to accept people as they are (except for his aunt and uncle). Even though he doesn't understand the racial tensions he encounters, he becomes aware enough to do something about it. His acceptance of others, his kindness, and his sense of humanity allow others to take a liking to him. Even bullies and bigots end up on his side. His "heroic feats" are entertaining and amusing and help to make him an endearing character. His need to run wherever he goes is a unique quirk that adds to "maniacness". The entire plot can be seen as several separate stories, as the settings change between "homes" and cultures. It all comes together in the end, as Maniac finally finds a home.

the Island of Beyond by Elzabeth Atkinson

The Island of BeyondMy name is Martin, and my parents are ruining my life! My dad insists I spend the month of July with my Aunt Lenore on some remote island in Maine. I've just met the old woman, and she's forgetful and nutty. There's no television up here, no internet, and my cellphone burned up when I tried to charge it. What am I going to do all month? Then, I met a boy named Solo roaming around the woods and property, and we've become good friends. My dad has made me feel like I can never do anything right, but Solo has helped me change. I've learned to fish, row a canoe, climb trees, but I still can't swim.  The strange thing is, it looks like everyone up here has secrets; Solo, Uncle Ned, and even my dad are hiding something. And, it seems as though my aunt may not be as crazy as I thought.

I don't normally read books like this one, but it was still pretty good. (I read more fantasy and adventure books). Martin is learning to find himself, as he needs to gain confidence and escape from his father's put-downs. He is characterized as a kid who is almost helpless without technology and familiar surroundings. His life was a routine of video games and hanging around the house, so the wilderness presents a fearsome obstacle. Solo represents freedom, as he comes and goes as he pleases and is able to take care of himself. However, Solo is putting on an act, and Martin offers something his life is missing. I was happy to see how Martin changed in the end, and it would be interesting to see what his life would look like in another year or two. The secrets in the plot aren't super compelling, but they keep the story interesting. Uncle Ned's secret was probably the biggest one, although I might have missed clues along the way that foreshadow it. This book presents a nice coming-of-age story.

Friday, September 2, 2016

All Four Stars #3: Stars so Sweet by Tara Dairman

Stars So Sweet (All Four Stars, #3)My name is Gladys, and I've gotten myself into a situation. I guess I'm pretty good at writing about food and restaurants, because I've been hired by the New York Standard newspaper to create a few reviews under the name G. Gatsby. However, they still don't know I'm just starting the seventh grade, and now they want to hire G. Gatsby as a full-time restaurant critic! I don't know how to fit in at my middle school, the editor of the school paper hates me, and I need to tell my parents the truth about the newspaper. How can I be honest with them now after I've been lying to them for the past six months?

This book is the third in the series, and I somehow missed reading the second one. I don't think you NEED to read the others, but I recommend you at least read the first one. This book will appeal to readers who enjoy cooking and food, but non-foodies may not be able to sink their teeth into it. Like many middle school students, Gladys' love for food is definitely uncommon at this age, but it's the passion that gets her through her days. Everyone needs a passion. Her friend Sandy adds humor to the plot, as he tries to become known at his school for eating the grossest foods. The Peruvian dish called Coy, an animal similar to a guinea pig, even made Gladys feel ill. Gladys' middle school issues just provided more opportunities to introduce cooking. She became the organizer of every bake sale to support the various clubs and sports teams. A favorite hangout was the local food store and all its unusual foods. As I already said, foodies will love this series!

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.