Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Super Jake & The King of Chaos by Naomi Milliner

Super Jake & the King of ChaosMy name is Ethan, and I have a chance to meet my hero Magnus the Magnificent! All I need to do is travel to Atlantic City and win my age category at the Magic Fest. I think my act is good, but is it good enough? I like practicing at home with my little brother Jake. He's confined to a wheelchair and can't speak, and his health can get seriously bad due to changes in his body temperature. Anyhow, things were going great until Ned arrived at school. We don't get along even though our mothers went to college together, but then he crossed the line. He called my brother a retard, and I lost it. There's no way I'm going to apologize for what I did, so Magic Fest is off. I mean, I shouldn't need to say I'm sorry for protecting my brother, right? I thought magic was the most important thing in my life until the day I received some horrifying news. I don't know what to do.

This book was a wonderful blend of love, humor, and sadness, and you can expect a roller coaster of emotions. It was fun to read about the tricks in Ethan's magic show, as they included talent and comedy. He displayed compassion for young and handicapped children, as most of his performances were for those audiences. Ethan tried to be an average middle school student and understood the importance of family. His character demonstrated admirable qualities for any protagonist. Ned and his family introduced a different type of problem for Ethan. Ned was dealing with his own issues and took them out on Ethan. Each character's anger kept him from trying to understand the other. Jake's character created a bumpy plot due to the ups and downs of his health. Even though he never said a word and couldn't move on his own, his character evoked strong feelings. Overall, the book presented a warm story of a family dealing with challenging problems. I liked it and recommend you give it a shot. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Unbelievably Boring Bart by James Patterson and Duane Swierczynski

Unbelievably Boring BartMy name is Bart, and I've moved with my dad to a city near Los Angles. I'd be happy at my new school if everyone ignored me, but the bullies have other plans. I don't have any friends, unless you count CyberGirl03 living in my apartment complex. I spend most of my time secretly coding an augmented reality app called Hecklr. I shared it with CyberGirl03, but I don't know how the kids at school got a hold of it. I was shocked and proud when the app went viral, and now everyone around town is hunting the Lerkian aliens. We even have tourists from out of town converging on our city! It's kind of cool to see people looking into their Smartphones, searching for the little creatures. All of this attention is keeping me busy with creating updates and debugging the program, but I'm afraid I'll be discovered. What will happen if people realize I'm the boring loser behind this fantastic app?

You'll really like this book if you've enjoyed the humor found in other James Patterson books. It's told from a first person point of view, so you'll be inside Bart's brain. As described above, he wants to remain inconspicuous like many middle grade students, but his app draws interest from across the nation. Many people would relish the opportunity to be special and famous, but Bart's kind of shy. The bully problem is a very important factor in his life, but they're the only students who ever notice him. Much of his attention goes toward avoiding them or dealing with their conflicts. Even though I found the book fun to read, I must admit I wasn't sure where the plot was headed. The conflict didn't create major tension, and the events revolved around Hecklr. So where did the plot end up? It settled on a fun and funny story of a young boy trying to anonymously make his mark in an uncomfortable world. Overall, it was a quick-read of an entertaining adventure, and I recommend you check it out.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Captain Superlative by J.S. Puller

Captain SuperlativeMy name is Janey, and my life changed forever the day Captain Superlative appeared in the school's hallway. I always tried to go unnoticed, but Captain Superlative ran around in her leotards, mask, and cape helping classmates by opening doors, picking up books, and creating study guides for tests. She said small deeds are just as important as big ones, and I listened. Her most dangerous deed was to protect Paige from Dagmar, the top student, best cheerleader, soccer star, and the seventh grade's biggest bully. Captain Superlative challenged Dagmar with truth and kindness, and none of us knew how to react. Then one day, I stood up to Dagmar too. What was I thinking?! My dad was proud of me, and Captain Superlative asked me to become her sidekick. Seriously?! I was shocked and terrified when I agreed to her request, and I just knew I'd become the bully's next target.

This book isn't like my usual adventurous tales of speculative fiction, but it tells a special story. The prologue begins the mystique, as the characters talk about Captain Superlative in the past tense. She's gone, and everyone is devastated. Then, the plot begins with Captain Superlative's first day of school and students calling her a weird freak. It creates an interesting contrast to start readers wondering. Janey's still dealing with her mother's death from three years ago, and she doesn't want to draw attention to herself. That's a common feeling among middle grade students, so they don't open themselves to teasing. Captain Superlative shows up in the plot spreading help and kindness to others and forces Janey to question why that's strange. What's wrong with being good and nice? Janey's character transforms in many positive ways, although she refuses to wear a superhero uniform or change her name. As the plot progresses, readers will learn there's more to Dagmar's anger than meets the eye, and it becomes clear that something is physically wrong with Captain Superlative. Janey seems to be the last one to know. Captain Superlative is a warm, heart-felt book that I can strongly recommend for your reading pleasure. With that being said, be prepared for an emotional ending.

Monday, January 1, 2018

The Amber Amulet by Craig Silvey

The Amber AmuletI am the Masked Avenger, and I protect the citizens in the homes along my street. I have knowledge about the power stored within different stones, and I use them to enhance my own personal characteristics. Recently, while on patrol in the middle of the night, I've been concerned about the woman living in the house at the end of the street. I heard yelling and screaming, and her husband stormed out of the house. I know she's sad, and it's up to me to change that. I know amber has the power to bring happiness, so I gave her an amulet I found in my mother's room. However, I didn't know the amulet belonged to my mother's grandmother, and now my mom is devastated. The Masked Avenger can't ask the woman to return the jewelry, so I must use my powers to think of another solution. 

The endearing part of the book was the way the author described Liam, the Masked Avenger. In the beginning, it was unclear if he actually had superpowers or only a vivid imagination. The boy had a creative mind. As I read the book, I tried to figure out if middle grade readers would enjoy it. Liam was a cute, young boy and will appeal to elementary-age readers. His alter-ego was only concerned with the happiness and well-being of his neighbors. On the other hand, the book had some serious thoughts about love and marriage, and I'm not sure young readers will be interested. Liam's father divorced his mother, and Liam feared his father had fallen out of love with him. Liam was able to get the woman at the end of the street to reflect on her own marriage. I also questioned a situation where a young boy was able to wander his neighborhood at night and would give away a valuable amulet from his mother. It would be different in a fantasy novel, but I had some problems with it in a realistic fiction. Overall, the book will be fine for the right audience; I'm just not sure it's right for followers of my blog. 

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Button War by Avi

The Button WarJurek is a crazy idiot! The Russian soldiers have left our town, the Germans have moved in, and he thinks his button war is the most important thing in the world. He's challenged us to find the best button from a soldier's uniform, which is dangerous to do while they're still wearing it. I should ignore Jurek, but I can't back down from his dares. Things will get really bad for our group of friends if he wins the contest. I thought the German bomb that blew up our school was the worst thing, it killed our teacher, but this button war has made the danger of war even more personal. Two of my friends have been killed because of it! All Jurek can think about is who has the best button, which makes me keep searching for them. However, I just found something different on the body of a dead English man. I shouldn't have taken the pistol, but I did, and now I know Jurek has his eye on it.

I don't normally read historical fiction, but the plot in this book moved quickly. As you might infer from my description above, Jurek's character drives the conflict. From the beginning, he displays a need to be the best at everything. The reason for this obsession is unclear, but Patryk, the narrator of the story, knows early on that Jurek is dangerous. Patryk doesn't want to look like a coward, so he accepts the challenges. As the plot moves along, Patryk's decisions are motivated by a need to protect his friends more than beating Jurek. Jurek is already a pain in the butt, but he would become dangerous if he were to win the button war; he's declared the winner of the contest will rule over everyone else. His callousness is a little upsetting, especially when his "friends" are hurt or killed. I used quotation marks, because I'm not sure Jurek actually has any real friends. The power he has over the group is amazing, since they all know he's crazy. I'm not sure how middle grade readers will react to the button war, it may not hold their interest, but the plot becomes much more interesting once the Germans arrive. The Button War is a thought-provoking tale about innocent kids caught in the middle of World War I.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Death and Douglas by J.W. Ocker

Death and DouglasMy name is Douglas, and I've lived with death all of my life; my parents own a funeral home. However, my thoughts about dying have drastically changed since the monster struck for the first time. The victims of the serial killer have had letters cut into their cheeks, apparently to show the days of the week they were killed. My best friend Lowell and I are determined to discover the identity of the Day Killer; kids are easily able to listen in on conversations and sneak around the town collecting clues. I didn't expect to become the target of the murderer. I haven't gotten a good look, but I know someone has been hiding in the shadows, waiting to get me. My dad says I know more about death than other kids, probably more than most adults. I hope Lowell and I can help the police catch the serial killer before I become his next victim.

I've got to admit that I thought a middle grade book with a focus on death and a graveyard had to be in the fantasy genre. Nope. As I've described above, the plot's all about the kids searching for the murderer stalking the town, and Douglas trying to understand this new type of death. He's grown up understanding that death is a natural part of life, but murder is unnatural. He also tries to understand how his family's business fits into death and grieving, and he wonders about his own feelings. Does he want to go into funeral services when he grows up? These questions seem to be the actual focus of the book, as there are some questions left unanswered. The killer's no longer a problem in the end, but the author chooses to not reveal much about his identity or past. The character had no identification on him, and no one knew for sure why he committed the crimes. Also, there were two women who expressed concern about Douglas's living situation; they felt it wasn't healthy for him to grow up around death every day. They hinted that they might contact children's services, but nothing ever came of it. Douglas and his dad seemed to come to the conclusion that Douglas was okay, but there wasn't any information that the women had accepted it. There was an indication on the book's cover that this it included humor, but I didn't find much of it.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Swirl #1: Pumpkin Spice Secrets by Hillary Homzie

Pumpkin Spice Secrets (Swirl, #1)My name is Maddie, and my seventh grade year has become very complicated. I bumped (literally) into the cutest boy a few days before the year started and instantly had a crush on Jacob. However, before I could tell my best friend Jana, she announced she had a crush on him. Now, we all know the BFF Code, right? You can't steal your BFF's boyfriend, so I couldn't tell anybody how I felt. I had hoped Jana would quickly lose interest, like always, but she didn't. I think I could have handled the problem, except Jacob and I were paired together for a Social Studies debate and had to work closely for two weeks. We got along great, and I knew he liked me. I've lied to Jana to save her feelings, but I'm afraid of what will happen when she finds out. Can you help me? What should I do?

This book is definitely for middle grade girls. It addresses many common problems they face at this age, and first crushes is the main focus of the plot. All middle grade students experience these feelings. In addition, Maddie's parents have high academic expectations, her sister is a high-achiever with a secret of her own, and Maddie has a fear of public speaking. My feelings? Well, I'm a grown man reading about the problems of a seventh grade girl, so I had some trouble connecting to her character. The plot was easy to follow, and the author told it from Maddie's point of view. This was obviously a great choice, since Maddie's feelings were the most important part of the plot. I understood Maddie's reluctance to hurt her friend's feelings, but things would have been so much easier if she was honest in the first place. A lesson learned for all! Overall, middle grade girls should enjoy this book and might get some hints on how to survive their early teenage years.