Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Disappearance at Hangman's Bluff by J.E. Thompson

Disappearance at Hangman's Bluff: A Felony Bay MysteryThis book is the sequel to The Girl From Felony Bay. Abbey and Bee are best friends and neighbors, and they've formed a detective agency. They're trying to find out who dog-napped a neighbor's valuable Boykin spaniel, Yemassee, and they later discover the same men are armed robbers. The girls search around town for the dog and finally find one of the dog-nappers murdered in a stolen truck. Of course, the parents of both girls are angry and forbid them from doing any more searching for the dog. And, of course, the girls find a way to disobey their parents and continue trying to solve the mystery. Their adventure brings more danger, and a familiar enemy from book one reappears seeking revenge.

It always amazes me when kid characters disobey their parents and take on dangerous criminals. The relationship between Abbey and Bee is very unique, because Abbey's relatives used to own Bee's family as slaves. Bee's family bought Abbey's old home after her dad racks up medical bills recovering from a coma. The plot describes a nice mystery that should be easily followed by readers. The author includes just enough action and suspense to keep readers wanting to reach the climax.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Curiosity by Gary Blackwood

CuriosityRufus may be small, weak, and have a hunchback, but he is very good at playing chess. He never knew his mother, and his father has been imprisoned in a poor house. He ends up with an evil, greedy man named Maelzel who wants to take advantage of Rufus's talent. The plan is for Rufus to hide inside a mechanical, chess-playing man, the Turk, and take on challengers for money. Rufus is treated cruelly, but he goes along with the plan in order to raise money to free his father. However, Maelzel never pays him, and he fears he'll be killed if he refuses to keep playing. Rufus also may be killed if anyone discovers he is actually inside the machine. Many people try, including Edgar Allen Poe, but Rufus wonders about a woman dressed in black who seems to be following him. It seems there's little chance of Rufus escaping his predicament alive.

I enjoyed reading The Shakespeare Stealer series by this author. This book had the poor boy who feels forced to join a performing group, and he had to keep a secret. The chess playing was not really in your face; there were references to some games, but it wasn't move-by-move boring. The plot dealt more with Rufus's situation than chess playing. I enjoyed the mystery of the woman in black and the suspense of anyone discovering the secret. The climax was anticlimactic. The story seemed to just end rather than reaching an exciting, suspenseful moment in the story. The last few chapters seemed more like an epilogue.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin

Rain ReignRose has a form of autism, and she's obsessed with homonyms, prime numbers, and rules. She has an aide at school who helps control her obsessions, not always successfully. She has trouble speaking appropriately around other people; she was kicked off the school bus for distracting the driver about traffic rules. At home, she makes her father crazy with her questions, homonyms, and weekly notes from school. Her father gives her a dog he finds behind a bar, and she names it Rain because of the weather. Rose gets nervous when she hears about a huge hurricane that is coming, but her dad says it won't come near them. However, he's wrong, and Rain disappears when Dad lets her out during the storm. Rose's big heart is up for the challenge.

This book was well-written, and I was able to appreciate the details used to describe Rose's character. Some young readers may not like the constant references to homonyms and prime numbers, but that will make them connect with her dad's frustrations when she does it. Rose is very intelligent, and she is full of innocence and kindness. Her uncle is a wonderful supporting character, because he understands her. The story lets readers inside an autistic mind, but I fear middle grade readers may not have the patience. My suggestion? Give it a try!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Meaning of Maggie by Megan Jean Sovern

The Meaning of MaggieMaggie loves to learn, she loves school, and she loves her dad. He is confined to a wheelchair, but he still has a great sense of humor. He is forced to quit his job as he loses more control of his muscles, and Maggie's mom must start working. Maggie decides to study her father's disease for her science fair project, but she's frightened when she learns the facts. Each family member must deal with it in different ways, but it's hard for Maggie. Her parents keep secrets from her and treat her like a child, but she discovers it's sometimes easier not knowing the truth.

Some readers might not appreciate Maggie's love for learning, but just consider it a quirk of her character. The author was able to capture the many emotions surrounding serious, long-term illnesses. Dad's health had its ups and downs, but his sense of humor was constant. I think this was confusing for Maggie. There were feelings of sadness, joy, confusion, and anger. The author kept the story real by including descriptions of the family dealing with the illness. The kids had to help their dad in and out of his wheelchair, he sometimes dropped things, and they had to strap him down to keep him from falling. He still wanted to do "normal" things, so the family had to figure out ways to keep him safe. Overall, an enjoyable book with realistic hope.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood by Varsha Bajaj

Abby Spencer Goes to BollywoodAbby has a seriously allergic reaction after eating coconut, and the doctor asks if her father has the same allergy. Good question. Abby's never met her father, and he lives in India. Her mother tells her a little bit about the man, but Abby decides to search for more information on the computer. She discovers her father is actually a Bollywood movie star, kind of like India's version of Brad Pitt. The next thing she knows, Abby is 8,000 miles away in Mumbai meeting him for the first time. It's a strange mixture of excitement and sadness as she discovers her father's life as a star and then sees the poverty of the people living outside his walls. However, Abby can't let the public know she's Naveen's daughter, because it might ruin his image as a sexy, movie god. It's hard to develop a loving relationship with her father while keeping it a secret.

Most of the setting was in India, so the author was able to share cultural information. I appreciated the effort to contrast Naveen's life of riches with the lives of poor people forced to live on the streets. I also liked when Abby and Naveen showed concern and empathy for the needy. Abby's character seemed to adapt to the whirlwind of finding her father and traveling to India pretty easily.

Half a Chance by Cynthia Lord

Half a ChanceLucy and her parents move to New Hampshire, and their new home sits next to a lake. Lucy decides to enter a national photography contest, and she gets help from Nate, the boy living next door. It gets complicated, because her father, a famous photographer, is the judge. Two endangered loons have laid eggs on an island, and their survival becomes the main focus of the kids. Nate's grandmother heads a loon patrol that keeps track of them every day, but she's having some memory problems. Dangers face the loons and their babies, and Lucy must make some difficult decisions that may hurt people she cares about.

Lucy faces many problems encountered by many young people. Making new friends, jealousy, impressing parents, and other tough choices. Nature lovers will enjoy the story, although the major focus on photography may not appeal to all. Lucy has a passion for her family, friends, an and the author does an excellent job of displaying it.

Monday, October 13, 2014

There Will Be Bears by Ryan Gebhart

There Will Be BearsTyson worships his grandfather and is looking forward to their hunting trip in the Teton Mountains. However, his parents are against the trip after some humans are attacked and killed by a grizzly bear in the park. In addition, his grandfather is having some health problems and is moved to a nursing home. To top things off, Tyson's best friend seems to be getting chummy with the football team, but he's leaving Tyson out. Then there's the cute new girl from Texas, but is Tyson brave enough to speak to her? All Tyson knows for sure is that his grandfather made a bear swear, and they're definitely going hunting. It may not be a wise decision with his grandfather's bad health and a deadly grizzly bear roaming the area.

The author lays quite a few problems on Tyson in this book: his grandfather's health, parents, little sister, friend abandoning him, new girl, bad grades. He always seems desperate and lost but manages to persevere. His grandfather is a pretty cool character, but Tyson discovers something about him later that may affect their relationship. Tyson's obsession with hunting may turn off some readers, but it was a great story.