Friday, November 29, 2013

Ultra a novel by David Carroll

Ultra-marathon runner David Carroll, a Kennesis Lake cottager, is hoping to inspire young readers to follow their dreams with his new book, Ultra, a novel. Ultra is a fictional book centred around the running event, ultra-marathon. Carroll has competed in the Haliburton Forest Ultra race for five years. He will compete in his sixth on Sept. 7. His book comes out in September.Imagine having a heart that is 20% larger than normal and muscles that don't cramp. This describes Quinn, and he's entered an ultra marathon, running one hundred miles through the wilderness in less than twenty-four hours. He must run over mountains, through forests with bears, cougars, and snakes, and survive the weather. Even a tornado. Along the way, his mind tires, and he starts to hallucinate. The strange dreams are confusing but also provide inspiration. What is the reward for surviving this ordeal? A silver belt buckle. But for Quinn, it may also bring peace of mind.

I was amazed that people would choose to put themselves through one-hundred miles of agony and the fear of getting DNF, did not finish, after their names. The author was able to make running through the wilderness sound interesting, and the hallucinations made me think and added humor. Something was going on with Quinn's father, but that question wasn't answered until the end. Although the whole story is focused on running, even non-runners can find enjoyment in the book.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Wig in the Window by Kristen Kittscher

The Wig in the WindowSophie and Grace sneak out in the middle of the night to discover the identity of a serial killer. However, they get side-tracked when they pass the school guidance counselor's house. She's yelling into her cellphone that she'll "rip their throats out" and slams a cleaver into a bag sending red splattering everywhere. The girls are convinced the counselor is a killer, but the police investigate and tell the girls they are wrong. The counselor becomes more involved in Sophie's life, and the girls are still convinced that she's done something wrong. Then, a woman claiming to be an FBI agent tells them a story about the death of eight teenagers in Texas, and she says the counselor was involved. Are the girls making their observations fit their assumptions, or is something totally different going on? They receive a warning that they're in danger, but they ignore it. Bad move!

In the beginning, I felt like this was a silly mystery with girls having overactive imaginations, but it quickly became more serious. Although there was a main suspect, the author made me question the evidence. Then, I questioned it again. The resolution to the mystery was both expected and surprising. You'll need to read the book to see what I mean.

This Journal Belongs to Ratchet by Nancy J. Cavanaugh

This Journal Belongs to RatchetRatchet lives in a small town with her strange father, but she wishes she knew more about her mother, who died when Ratchet was little. Her father moves frequently, fixes cars in the garage with Ratchet's help, and yells at the city council weekly to tell them how they're idiots and should be trying to save nature. Consequently, Ratchet is home schooled and doesn't have any friends. Her father's latest craze is to save the local park, but it just seems to be one more thing to embarrass her. Ratchet's anger grows from loneliness, missing her mom, and her father's secrets. It seems as though things get worse when her father is sentenced to teach a go-cart class at the community center, and the neighborhood boys and girls make even more fun of Ratchet. Finally, Ratchet decides to take over the class and she's determined to uncover the mystery of her mother by herself.

The entire book is composed of different forms of writing as Ratchet completes her assignments. There are free verse poems, narratives, journal entries, and persuasive essays. This format offers a nice variety of writing, and the plot flows along. The author was able create empathy for Ratchet, as she tried to learn about her past and improve her future. The book had an interesting cast of characters with Ratchet, her father, Hunter and his mother, and Eddie J, the adult town bully.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Handbook of Nothin' by N.K. Wright

Handbook of Nothin'Nathan Wright is always messing up, so people called him Nothin' Right. There's a 350-pound goat in the corral that sends him flying whenever he tries to take care of the other animals. He breaks his brother's bike, spills buckets of milk, and gets picked on by bullies. However, he's able to impersonate famous people, seems to have a growing talent for high jumping, and a cute girl may like him. He sent away for a Kung Fu handbook, and it just arrived in the mail. Is this the solution to his problems, or will it make things worse? Real life is a lot different from television and books.

Nathan is an underdog, and it's easy to root for him. The descriptions of his screw-ups are usually humorous, and the on-going battle with the goat is entertaining. His relationship with the cute girl creates some tension for him, but it also helps him to develop some confidence. She believes in Nathan. It was more difficult to follow the plot early in the book, but I enjoyed the book overall.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Summer of the Woods by Steven K. Smith

Summer of the WoodsDerek's family moves to Virginia, so he, along with his brother Sam, have more room to explore the outdoors. The brothers plan an adventure in the woods behind their house, and Sam finds a 1931 wheat penny in the creek. They find out that a previous owner of their home was suspected of stealing rare coins from the local museum. Later, in his house, Derek discovers an 1895 Indian Head cent and a treasure map of a cave. He's determined to find the stolen coins, but searching in caves is very dangerous!

The plot moves quickly, and the events are easy to follow. The book shares historical facts about Virginia, and there's a good deal of information about coin collecting. The parents are very supportive, and the brothers learn something about making good decisions.

Prisoner B-3087 by Alan Gratz

Prisoner B-3087Yanek is living in Poland as the Nazis begin their invasion at the start of World War II. The Jews hope that help will arrive soon, but Yanek's family realizes that they can only remain safe if the Nazis don't find them. This works for awhile, but they're eventually found and sent to prison camps. Yanek ends up alone and understands that he must not care for anyone else if he hopes to survive the camps. The work is hard and many prisoners die from it or are murdered by the guards. It is said that Goeth, one of the prison commandants, won't eat breakfast until he's killed a Jew. Yanek has dreams of escaping, but he is sent to Auschwitz, a legendary death camp. Yanek vows that he will survive and never forget the horrors he has witnessed.

This book recounts the cruelty and fear facing Jews at the hands of the Nazis. The author is able to express the terror, so readers can feel it too. The events are based on true stories which is even scarier. Yanek displays a determination and will to survive that is not seen in many people.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Whistle in the Dark by Susan Hill Long

Whistle in the DarkClem leaves school at the age of thirteen to work in the mines with his father, as is expected. Clem has bigger dreams, but many complications create problems for him. He finds a stray dog (his mother hates dogs), his sister has frequent epileptic seizures, he becomes friends with the scarred, school outcast whose father is an abusive moonshiner, and there's always the risk of cave-ins while underground. It's almost more than Clem can handle. Some major events rock Clem's world, including a death, and he will need to make some life-changing decisions to survive.

I liked the many emotions the author was able to touch throughout the plot. There was joy and sadness, fear and courage, hope and despair. Clem's unlikely friendship with a young girl, with facial scars that resulted in becoming the victim of verbal insults, caused him to reflect on his life and gave him someone else to care for. The dog helped create positive change, but the author included several tragic events that created despair. I thought the book was written well.

The Stormglass Protocol by Tim Pratt and Andy Deemer

The Stormglass ProtocolJake discovers that people are hiding in the abandoned house down the road, and he's even more surprised when they appear in his room that night. Lizzie and Filby are secret agent kids, and Jake has been chosen to join their organization, Stormglass. The kids are investigating the mass deaths of some animals in the park, when Jake discovers a strange-looking bee, dead on the ground. It turns out an evil organization is planning to set genetically-engineered killer bees loose on the world. The trio sets off around the world to stop them, but it looks like there's a mole within Stormglass. And the mole seems to be Lizzie or Filby!

The introduction seems adventurous and interesting. Basically, Jake is taken right off the street and becomes a new secret agent. I found it strange when his parents talked about spies and missions like it happened every day. I guess they must think Jake is making up stories. The plot moves along nicely, and there's a good amount of action. This book will appeal to middle grade readers who enjoy teen spy novels.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Twerp by Mark Goldblatt

TwerpJulian is in the sixth grade and has a close group of friends, especially Lonnie. Julian agreed to write a book to get out of reading Shakespeare, and this book is the result. He talks about playing with fireworks, a conflict with a pigeon, and outrunning cars. But, problems really start when he writes a love letter for Lonnie and gives it to Jillian, the cutest girl in school. Misunderstandings follow. Then, Julian's title as fastest runner may be coming to an end, and something happened to a boy named Danley. Julian was suspended for what he did, and it continues to bother him. The book will help Julian find peace.

Julian is a great character. He's a normal kid trying to do the right thing but still makes mistakes. I can identify with his problems. The early chapters are almost like separate short stories, but the plot is more focused after the letter. The book has a nice message, and Julian's good deeds work out in the end.

Totally Unrelated by Tom Ryan

Totally UnrelatedNeil has been playing Celtic music with his family since he was five years old. Their family band goes on tour every summer, and they've become very popular. Neil's best friend wants to enter a talent show with him, but Neil thinks they need a singer. Then at one of the family performances, Neil meets a girl. Sandy wants to play guitar with him sometime, but Neil discovers that she has a voice too. She agrees to perform in the talent show and starts to have feelings for him. Neil's guitar playing improves as he puts in more practice, but a problem is brewing and may ruin everything.

Celtic music is unusual for a novel, but it's not a problem. The plot moves quickly, and the author was able create an interesting problem. I don't know that I liked Neil's decision, but either way would have had issues. It all worked out in the end.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Power of Two by Lori Sawicki

Jamie is tired of Sadie controlling all of the other girls during sixth grade recess. Sadie appears to be popular, but everyone is afraid to disagree with her and face her bullying. Jamie finally decides to stand up to Sadie and becomes good friends with Pru, a small girl already being targeted by Sadie. The girls start playing lacrosse during recess and hope other boys and girls will join them, however the fear of Sadie still remains. They'll need to try something different. And the situation becomes more complicated when Pru collapses from a food allergy. The fear of losing her best friend takes over all of Jamie's thoughts and emotions.

Bullying by the "popular" kids is not an uncommon issue in schools. This plot describes the difficulty kids have in standing up to them. It also deals with a couple of health problems that face kids, asthma and allergies. Pru's health is a major issue. The inclusion of lacrosse as the new recess sport may turn readers off, or it may make them curious and draw them in.

World War II Pilots by Michael Burgan

World War II Pilots: An Interactive History AdventureThis book is an interactive history adventure; it's a choose your own adventure story. The beginning shares a brief history about the start of the second world war. You can then choose to become a pilot in the Royal Air Force and fight the Germans. You might decide to join the American Air Force to fight the Japanese in the Pacific. Finally, you can opt to join the Tuskegee Airmen, a new force made up of black pilots. From there, you will make decisions that will affect the war and will eventually determine if you survive. You can choose the types of planes you want to fly, which targets to attack, and other options. Sometimes your decisions result in positive consequences, but sometimes you're killed.

These types of books can be quick-reads, but it's always fun to create different stories. This book also lets readers learn about the war and the effect the air force had on its outcome. It's a nice experience.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Ellie McDoodle Diaries: The Show Must Go On by Ruth McNally Barshaw

The Ellie McDoodle Diaries: The Show Must Go OnThe sixth grade at Ellie's school is putting on a play of "The Wizard of Oz", and she is the stage manager. She promises her best friend, Mo, the part of Dorothy, but the adults in charge of casting choose someone else. Now, Mo won't speak to Ellie. Ellie finds that the job of stage manager is more complicated than she expected. She tries everything she to make the play, and her friendship with Mo, work, but things don't go smoothly. Luckily, Ellie has a loyal group of friends who are willing to help.

The plot was easy to follow, and it had a nice message about friendship. The focus of the plot was on the play, and it provided some drama and humor. I enjoyed Ellie's brothers. Her older brother had creative ideas for different projects, and her younger brother saved the day for opening night.

The Hidden Summer by Gin Phillips

The Hidden SummerNell and Lydia are best friends, but Lydia's mom says they cannot see each other for a couple months, or more. It seems the mothers can't get along. Nell gets an idea for the girls to spend summer days together, living at the abandoned golf course next door. The girls pretend to be going to camp and summer school each day, but they return home each evening. Things seem to be going along well until the girls suspect that someone else has been coming to the golf course too.

The idea of girls hiding in an abandoned putt putt course all day makes an interesting conflict. Their friendship is admirable, and Nell's plan is creative. Both girls have issues with their mothers. Nell feels like her mother doesn't want her, and her mother has a bit of a temper. Lydia feels like her mother ignores her. The girls' plan is adventurous, but can it help them fix their lives at home?

Sunday, November 10, 2013

All That's Missing by Sarah Sullivan

All That's MissingArlo lives with his grandfather, but his grandfather's mind "travels in time." He forgets things, and it's getting worse. One evening, Arlo's grandfather doesn't come home, so Arlo sets out in the rain to find him. The police meet Arlo in front of the house and tell him that his grandfather is in the hospital. He had a stroke, and a social worker wants to put Arlo in a shelter. Arlo decides to run away to find a grandmother he hasn't seen since his parent's funeral, when he was two. He has no idea what will happened when, or if, he finds her.

Arlo is an interesting character as he struggles to hide his grandfather's mental issues from everyone else. He struggles in school, but he has a great heart. The conflict is unique, although the adults are pretty naive. What the plot lacks in action it makes up for with sympathy and concern for Arlo.

Turn Left at the Cow by Lisa Bullard

Turn Left at the CowTravis runs away to stay with his dead father's mother in Minnesota. He never knew his father, but Travis discovers that he died after breaking into a bank. When some of the stolen money turns up, everyone assumes Travis found it. Kenny and Iz were already searching for the money, so they decide to team up with Travis to find it. However, Travis receives a threatening note, and the adventure suddenly gets dangerous. Is it from the crazy man living at the dump or someone else? Or is it possible that Travis's father is still alive?

The plot developed into a decent mystery with many suspects to choose from. The solution was a surprise. Travis and Iz had family problems, and that may have helped to bring them together.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Words With Wings by Nikki Grimes

Words with WingsThis book about Gabby is written in prose. Her parents divorce, and she moves away with her mother. It's hard on Gabby, but her daydreams help her escape to fond memories with her parents. However, the daydreams keep her from making new friends and keep her from doing well in school. The teacher is trying to figure out ways to help Gabby, but change doesn't really come until she meets the quiet boy at the back of the room. Maybe it's possible to be practical like her mom but still be a dreamer like her dad.

I'm not typically a huge fan of poetry and prose, but this book was well done. The book quickly moved through Gabby's post-divorce life, but the author creatively blended in descriptive memories of Gabby's life growing up. There were vivid images of leaves, and winter, and spring, and life when her parents were together. It was an enjoyable experience.

Sasquatch in the Paint by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Raymond Obstfeld

Streetball Crew Book One Sasquatch in the PaintTheo grew six inches taller over the summer, so he's expected to be the star center on the school's basketball team. However, he stinks. He starts to put in extra practice time, but he may lose his place on the school's academic team because of it. He meets a mysterious girl near the neighborhood basketball courts, but he finds himself threatened when he tries to save her from a dangerous biker. Then, he's forced to visit a cousin he hates, but his cousin seems to have changed, a little. The cousin secretly gives Theo a CD that will later create more problems for him. Can Theo possibly succeed on the basketball and academic teams at the same time, or is he destined to fail at both?

With Sasquatch in the title, I wasn't expecting much from the plot. However, the author was able to create some interesting conflicts and character interactions. Perhaps too many. There was the basketball team, the academic team, the mystery girl, his cousin, and Theo's dad joined a dating service. I think the plot would have worked better if the focus had remained on basketball and academics, and maybe the girl. The cousin and dad's dating just distracted me from the main problems. However, I enjoyed the book overall.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Seeing Red by Kathryn Erskine

Seeing RedAfter the death of his father, Red is living with his mother and younger brother. Life is tough, and Red's mother decides they're going to move to Ohio to be closer to her family. Red is very upset about moving away from memories of his father, so he'll do anything he can in order to stay. A neighbor boy talks Red into spray painting his home, so people won't want to buy it. Red gets caught. Red meets with a gang of boys in the middle of the night to ask for help, but they make him set a cross on fire and want him to hurt a black friend who has been tied to a tree. In school, he doesn't understand the need for history, but he starts to learn about injustices done to black people in the South. He realizes it's unfair and starts to think about making his own history.

The book started with Red's determination to stop the move to Ohio, but it transitioned into a plot involving racism. Both events were traumatic for him. I found it surprising at how naive Red was about the treatment of blacks in the South, especially with the story being set in 1973 Virginia. There were many references made to games, television shows, etc. from that time period, and there was a great deal of information about the civil rights movement.

City of Dead: Galveston Hurricane of 1900 by T. Neill Anderson

Horrors of History: City of the DeadThis books shares fictional accounts of real people as they fought to survive a powerful hurricane that destroyed Galveston, Texas. A young woman struggles to help neighbors as their homes are swallowed by the Gulf of Mexico. A doctor plans to watch the storm from his porch until he realizes there are two feet of water in his home, and it's still rising. And an orphanage full of innocent boys and girls slowly crumbles in the waves.

The Galveston hurricane is still the deadliest natural disaster in United States history. It was hard to read about real people knowing that many of them wouldn't survive. The doctor was a great example of a man who had no idea that this hurricane was going to be worse than anything he had ever seen. The plot changed points of view, but the suspense grew as the water quickly rose. The homes didn't stand a chance against the rain, wind, and waves, and I kept wondering which characters might manage to live.

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Great Trouble by Deborah Hopkinson

cover_imageEel lives in London, in 1854, and he does various odd jobs to survive. He must keep his life a secret, because there's a dangerous man, Fisheye, searching for him. Rumor had it that Eel had died, but somehow Fisheye discovered the truth. Eel seeks help from one of his employers, but the man has fallen ill with cholera, The Blue Death. More people are stricken with the disease, and over seventy citizens have died. Eel seeks help from a doctor he knows, but it may be too late to save other victims, including young children. The doctor's new ideas about the disease may not be enough to stop this deadly plague.

This story is historical fiction, but the author is able to help readers identify with Eel. The plot describes the dangers of cholera, but also introduces scientific advancements regarding the disease. The side problem between Eel and Fisheye adds additional tension to the story.