Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The End of the Line by Sharon E. McKay

The End of the LineBeatrice's Jewish mother is taken off a train in Holland by the Nazi police. To save Beatrice, Hans and Lars tell the Nazis that she is their niece. It's hard for two old men to raise a six-year-old girl, so they get help from their neighbors, Mrs. Vo and Lieve. Lieve is a young woman, and she was once a teacher. She helps Beatrice learn English, and all four of the adults protect her from the Nazis. However, food is hard to find, there are spies everywhere, and the Nazi police are constantly stopping people to see their identification papers. Beatrice doesn't have any papers, so it's only a matter of time before she's found.

It's not hard to connect with a book about an innocent child caught in the middle of World War II. She only wants to be back with her mother. It's amusing and heart-warming to see two men in their sixties trying to help a small girl. They give her a metal train car one night to help her stop crying! It doesn't work. The story captures the fear and bravery of citizens trying to help innocent victims during the war. Love is the common bond of all the people helping Beatrice.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Secret of Ferrell Savage by J. Duddy Gill

The Secret of Ferrell SavageFerrell and Mary have been best friends since they were in diapers, and they're each entering the annual sledding race. Mary's "sled" is an old sink, and Ferrell decides to use a beat-up lawn chair. Ferrell doesn't win, but he becomes famous for the most spectacular wipe-out. Later, the boy who actually won the race enrolls at the school and seems to be angry with Ferrell. This boy says he knows a terrible secret about Ferrell and Mary's ancestors that could devastate their lives. He later learns that a long time ago, his ancestor survived a journey across the mountains by eating the other people with him. The new boy says he won't tell everyone about the cannibalism if Ferrell will race again. However, Ferrell doesn't know this race will be held on the most dangerous hill around. Even skiers won't go down it. Is it worth the risk to keep his family's history a secret? Maybe not, but is it enough to save Mary's secret?

The focus of the story was unusual, but it kept my interest. A huge sled race for kids that had the whole town talking for days was strange. Ferrell's principal even asked him to visit a first-grade classroom, because her son wanted him for Show and Tell. The idea of Ferrell's relative being a cannibal was a little gross, but Mary's connection to it added an unexpected twist. I liked how Ferrell was naive and how others had to explain things to him. It gave him an innocence that was easy to like, but he also was brave to stand up for Mary. I enjoyed it!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Surrounded By Sharks by Michael Northrop

Surrounded By SharksDavey's family takes a vacation on a tiny island off the coast of Key West, Florida. He wakes up early one morning and decides to secretly explore the beach, looking for a peaceful place to read. After a little while, he decides to wade in the ocean, but he slowly moves into deeper water. Before he knows it, a rip tide carries him a couple miles off shore. Davey finds a large bottle to keep himself afloat, and he starts to watch the curious, little fish around him. However, he soon notices a larger shape about twenty feet down and realizes a large shark is circling under him. When he notices more sharks, he's not sure if there will be any pieces of his body left for searchers to find.

The title of the book describes the plot. The plot moved a little slowly for me, but the suspense amped up once the sharks arrived. It was frustrating to read about all the time wasted in searching for Davey, but I guess that was to create a larger problem. No one knew where he had gone, and the family insisted he would not have gone swimming. If you have the patience to continue reading until the sharks show up, you'll probably enjoy this book.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Summer I Saved the World in 65 Days by Michele Weber Hurwitz

The Summer I Saved the World . . . in 65 DaysNina is enjoying the start to her summer, soaking up the sun. She watches her neighbor trying to plant flowers with a broken leg and gets the idea to do something different. She sneaks over later and plants the flowers and then decides to do nice things for others every day for the rest of the summer. She does it secretly, and it seems like a good idea, but another neighbor is worried someone is vandalizing their homes. Also, Nina's best friend likes a boy across the street, but Nina quietly likes him too. Nina doesn't know who she can talk to. Her parents are too busy with work, her brother keeps sneaking off, and she doesn't really have any other good friends. She misses her grandmother, and she's not certain her secret kindness is doing any good.

There aren't many books being written about characters doing nice things for others, so this book is a pleasant change. Nina and her best friend are an interesting contrast in characters. The friend is very self-centered, and Nina is trying to find ways to make others happy. The boy across the street is going through a rough time and questions Nina's efforts. His little brother and the lady next door add smiles to the plot.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Pack of Dorks by Beth Vrabel

Pack of DorksLucy thinks she's going to be one of the coolest girls in the fourth grade after kissing Tom during recess. However, she misses the next day of school after her mom delivers a baby sister, and things change in a big way. The new baby has Down's Syndrome, and the family must make adjustments. When Lucy returns to school, she finds the other kids are now making fun of her, and her best friend won't speak to her. Lucy is forced to talk to the nerdy kids and partners up with Sam to do a research project on wolves. Things go from bad to worse when Sam gets bullied and won't come back to school. Lucy learns a lesson about life from the wolves, and decides to form her own pack.

Many books have been written about getting along with classmates and friendship, but this book added the issue of mental handicaps. The author shared Lucy's frustrations as she slowly realized she needed to change. Her parents needed time to deal with a handicapped infant. Lucy's grandmother was a fun character, as she had no trouble speaking her mind. She also told Lucy that she had teased other kids when she was young, so she was able help Lucy with her problems.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Squeeze Play by Cal Ripken Jr. and Kevin Cowherd

Cal Ripken, Jr.'s All-Stars: Squeeze Play (Cal Ripken, Jr's All Stars)Corey is the starting centerfielder for the Orioles, but he hasn't been hitting the ball well for weeks. He's still a great fielder, but he can't seem to get a hit at the plate. To make matters worse, the girl playing right field constantly teases him, and his dad takes the games too seriously. Corey's dad calls players names, boos, and almost gets into fights with other parents. The team travels to North Carolina for a big tournament, and Corey is feeling the pressure. His dad's behavior seems to be getting worse, and Corey's about ready to give up the game he loves.

This book is for fans of baseball. The author describes the games as they're played, and he also shares some of the finer details of  baseball. The conflict with the girl playing right field is predictable, but Corey's relationship with his dad may connect with many athletic readers. Parents can put pressure on their kids playing sports and embarrass them with inappropriate behavior. Corey's dad is an extreme case, but I've seen parts of him in many parents over the years. Overall, a great book!

The Girls of Gettysburg by Bobbi Miller

The Girls of GettysburgThis book tells the stories of three girls leading up to the famous Civil War battle at Gettysburg. Tillie lives in the town and watches as neighbors and black people flee it before the Confederate soldiers arrive. She's sure the Union army will force the enemy away, but she soon finds herself in the middle of the violence and death. Grace is part of a black family that refuses to leave. Her father finally decides it's getting too dangerous and puts his family on a train out of town. Grace hops off to stay with her father, but she finds herself hiding in a cellar before the Rebel forces find her. Annie disguises herself as a boy, so she can join the Confederate army. She proves herself as an excellent shooter and a feisty soldier. It's sometimes difficult to keep her secret, but she just wants to head north and kill some Yankees.

It's unusual to read about the story of a famous battle through the eyes of three females. Annie's story was the most interesting to me; the author shared more consistent character interactions, and her secret added a sense of mystery. Grace's story became more suspenseful as the Rebel army drew closer. Tillie's story was least compelling to me, although her character showed great strength and courage when the battle began. I admired her actions once it came to an end.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Manhunt by Kate Messner

ManhuntValuable paintings are being stolen from art museums around the world, and no one has a clue about the thieves. Henry, Anna, and Jose are junior members of the Silver Jaguar Society, and they've solved some mysteries in the past. They travel to Paris with their parents, full members of the society, where they meet up with Hem, the son of another member. They discover the Serpentine Princes are behind the thefts and proceed to conduct their own investigation when their parents disappear. The society thinks one of its members is giving secrets to the Serpentine Princes, so everyone is a suspect. The adventure to save the artwork takes the characters all around, and below, the city of Paris.

I believe this is the third book in the series about the Silver Jaguar Society, but they can be read out of order. There were few references to previous books to confuse readers. The missing artwork, secret messages, and sneaking around the city created a nice a mystery and adventure. The unknown mole in the society added a bit of suspense.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Nickel Bay Nick by Dean Pitchford

Nickel Bay NickThis book is the 2014 winner of the Cybils Book Award in middle grade fiction. Nickel Bay Nick has been secretly passing out $100 bills for the past seven years, but he hasn't been heard from during this Christmas season. Meanwhile, Sam is a problem child. It's been years since he had his heart transplant, but he's now hanging out with older kids, vandalizing property, and stealing from stores. However, he makes a big mistake when he destroys the Christmas decorations of the old man down the street. It seems this man was once an international spy, and he has enough private information to blackmail Sam. He forces Sam to use his skills as a liar and thief to do some missions around the town, and he's almost caught by the police. Sam must continue to follow orders or he'll be taken from his father and sent to a juvenile facility.

Despite what my summary says, this book is a feel-good story. The missions are surprising and share a positive message for readers. Although Sam seems to be a sassy pain in the butt, the missions allow his good qualities to shine. The author is able create a sense of mystery surrounding the old man and his missions. There's something the old man isn't saying, but readers may be able to guess it. This book is one of my favorites of the year.

Ice Dogs by Terry Lynn Johnson

Ice DogsVicky lives in Alaska and loves racing her sled dogs. She used to help her father train the dogs until he drowned last year. She heads out through the woods with her dog team and plans to return before nightfall. She gets lost but discovers an unconscious boy who crashed his snowmobile. The city boy knows nothing about surviving in the wilderness, so it's up to Vicky to keep them both alive. She has a plan to find a familiar trail, but she honestly has no idea which way to go. Mother Nature decides to throw all kinds of dangers at the kids: blizzard, wolf, moose, cold, hunger, thirst, etc. It will take all of Vicky's survival skills, and some luck, for the kids to make it back alive.

This book reminds me of some old Gary Paulsen books about sled dogs, and it describes the special connection between drivers and their teams. Obviously, surviving in Alaska during the winter creates suspense, but the dogs are the real heroes in this story. The author gives each dog a personality, and they become characters in the plot, not just pets. Readers who enjoy stories about dogs or survival will love this book.

The Odd Squad: Bully Bait by Michael Fry

The Odd Squad, Bully BaitNick is the shortest twelve-year-old on the planet, at least that's what he says. He has a bully problem, Roy, and regularly finds himself stuffed in his locker. The principal decides Nick needs to join the three-person safety patrol with Karl and Molly, two other victims of bullying. The kids try to figure out a way to stop Roy with guidance from the school janitor. Their first efforts don't work, and Nick's secret texts to Roy only make the bully angrier. Nick gets more upset when he sees Roy with the most beautiful girl in school, but Nick is too frightened to speak to her. Things don't get much better until Nick discovers the bully's biggest weakness.

The author created an entertaining tale about the topic of bullies. Nick's grandmother was a funny character, and the janitor shared some strange stories and advice. Roy's character was easy to dislike, but he became almost human in the end. The resolution of the problem was a bit unusual, and it added more humor to the story.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Cartwheels in Thunderstorms by Katherine Rundell

Cartwheeling in ThunderstormsWilhelmina, Will, lives with her father on a ranch in Zimbabwe. She loves everything about the country and the freedom it provides. She is given the nickname Wildcat, and she's definitely earned. it. She enjoys playing and exploring with her best friend, but her happy life soon comes to an end. Her father dies, and Will is sent to a private school in London. Life in Zimbabwe was wild, but she is not prepared for the lessons, rules, and other girls at the school. They call her a savage, and Will doesn't know how to adapt. Her spirit is challenged, and she doesn't know what to do in order to survive.

The author did a wonderful job of developing Will's character. I was able to connect with her emotions and appreciated her frustrations. She was a little wild, but she was a good person. The death of her father was sad, but the way she was treated after his death was cruel. Students sometimes have trouble fitting in with new classmates, but it's nothing like the culture shock experienced by Will.

Chasing the Milky Way by Erin E. Moulton

Chasing the Milky WayLucy and her best friend, Cam, live in a trailer park and have a plan to escape their situation. They've made a robot from scrap parts and plan to receive thousands of dollars by winning a competition. Lucy's mom has mental issues, and her moods quickly change from happy to depressed, with a warped sense of reality. Cam's mom's boyfriend is abusive. Their whole plan relies on winning the robot competition, but the school bully manages to complicate things. After he knocks a school computer into a pond, things really get out of hand. Lucy's mom is accused of kidnapping, and the police put out an Amber Alert.

Lucy's character is put in charge of her family's well-being. It's probably an exaggerated situation, but I'm sure there are real families where a child is the most responsible member of the family. I felt bad for Lucy, and I admired the positive qualities in her character. I won't say I always admire her actions, but her heart's in the right place.

Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere by Julie T. Lamana

Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere
Armani is eagerly looking forward to her tenth birthday party, but there's one problem. Everyone is distracted by weather reports about Hurricane Katrina even though it's not even headed toward New Orleans. Armani's dad decides it's okay to have her party, but her friends are told not to come, just to be safe. The family realizes the storm has changed its course when the winds pick up and a giant oak tree smashes Dad's truck. The family huddles in the house for safety, but a wave of water smashes into it. A levee must have broken sending flood waters throughout the ninth ward. Dad keeps saying things will be okay up until the point when he's washed away in the flood while trying to save his son from drowning. The rest of the story is an adventure.

The plot develops much like any other book as Armani deals with her friends, family, and Meemaw. The threat of the hurricane is just a nuisance. Then, the plot becomes a survival story. The author successfully shares Armani's special relationship with her grandmother and the confusion surrounding the storm. The family's life-threatening conflict creates suspense and reminds readers that stories do not always end with happily ever after.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Zane and the Hurricane: A Story of Katrina by Rodman Philbrick

Zane and the Hurricane: A Story of KatrinaZane, with his dog Bandy, travels to New Orleans where he meets his great-grandmother for the first time. Hurricane Katrina is on the way, and everyone in the city is ordered to evacuate. Zane and his grandmother hitch a ride with the minister from the church, but Bandy jumps out the window of the van. Zane goes after him, but the dog ends up running all the way back to grandmother's house. The power goes out, and flood waters start to swallow up the house. Zane manages to get on the roof where he's picked up in a canoe by a man and a young girl. That's when the adventure begins. They search for dry land, but the girl's past creates a problem. It seems a drug dealer wants to get his hands on her, so the group must find a way to escape this fearsome man along with the dangers of the hurricane.

The plot begins with surviving the hurricane, but it evolves into much more than that. The conflict with the drug dealer, poisonous snakes in the water, and frightened people willing to shoot anyone coming near their homes create a much bigger story than surviving a storm. The book addresses the subplots of Katrina. It's not just about the storm's devastation or feel-good stories of heroism. Pre-storm problems still existed, and some people were only concerned for themselves. The voice of the story is not complicated, and it's easy to follow.The storm's destruction is part of the story, but the plot goes well beyond it.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Dorothy's Derby Chronicles#1: Rise of the Undead Redhead by Meghan Dougherty and Alece Birnbach

Dorothy's Derby Chronicles: Rise of the Undead RedheadDorothy moves to her grandmother's house which happens to be an old funeral home. She makes a big impression on the first day of school when her grandmother pulls up in a black hearse. It's hard to fit in when you have a wacky grandma, and the popular girls decide to start picking on her. Dorothy tries to get back at one of the girls during dodge ball, but she faints after whacking herself in the head with the ball. When she wakes, she has a new nickname, The Undead Redhead. Dorothy goes to the roller rink with her grandma and discovers she was once a roller derby star named Shotgun Sally. Dorothy and her two friends decide to start a team, and Grandma is going to be the coach. However, one of the popular girls is also hanging out at the rink, and she seems to be keeping a secret. She behaves strangely around Dorothy's school locker, and Dorothy can't figure out what's going on.

This book is the first in a new series. Roller skating, and especially the roller derby, are unusual topics for a book, but I think they made this book interesting. Dorothy's unique grandmother will keep the attention of readers. She drove a hearse, sometimes with a dead body in the back, she packed Dorothy a "sparkly tiger-striped jumpsuit" to wear in gym class, and she hip-checked a bully at the roller rink. Not normal behavior from a grandmother. The topics of fitting in and being picked on are common, but the author was able to share them in unusual ways.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Brenda Woods

The Blossoming Universe of Violet DiamondViolet feels like she needs to know more about her family history. She's biracial, and her father died when she was younger. Violet's sister had a different father, and it bothers Violet when people can't believe they're related. Her mother is white, but Violet wants to know more about her father's side of the family. She's never even met her dad's mother, because her grandmother is upset that he married a white woman. Violet decides it's time to meet the woman, so she travels to a museum in Seattle where her grandmother will be signing autographs. Violet and her mother aren't sure what to expect when they arrive. It may me a big mistake, but it's something Violet needs to do to complete the jigsaw puzzle of her life.

The book talks about many aspects of family life. It was nice to read about well-educated parents and sisters who actually liked each other. The grandmother's anger added drama to the story, but she was full of mixed emotions. It was refreshing to read about characters with problems who did not do crazy things to deal with them. Despite the conflicts, anger, and regret, there was always an underlying feeling of love.

Friday, October 31, 2014

The Magic Trap by Jacqueline Davies

The Magic TrapJessie and her brother, Evan, live with their mother, but their dad is rarely home for more than one day. He travels the world as a news reporter and leaves the kids home feeling hurt, confused, and angry. Mom must go on a business trip for a week, and the dad offers to stay with the kids for the whole seven days. He says Evan should put on a magic show in an auditorium, but they make a plan to have the show on the back porch instead. Dad helps Evan get props, helps him practice, and even buys him a rabbit. However, the dad is always on his cell phone, and Evan wonders how long it will take before he skips out on them again. Little do the kids know how bad things can get.

The characters are easy to like, but readers will feel sorry for them. There aren't very many books written where a parent is this irresponsible. I've read a few books where parents, usually dads, behave immaturely, but there's normally an underlying love and concern for the kids. The author weaves an enjoyable plot, but it's hard to find a positive lesson to the story. The kids had to get tough and survive.

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.

Death by Toilet Paper by Donna Gephart

Death by Toilet PaperBen's father passed away, and his mom is finding it hard to pay the bills. They're behind on the rent money, and the landlord gives them four extra days to pay up before he kicks them out of their apartment. Ben wants to help, so he's entering all kinds of contests to try and win the cash prizes. He's won a free sandwich and a free barbecue grill, but those things won't keep them from losing their apartment. He comes up with a plan to make quick money, and he's now determined to win $10,000 by coming up with the best new slogan for his favorite toilet paper. However, money problems get worse before they get better, and Ben's grandfather, suffering from memory problems, moves into the apartment.

This book deals with some heavy topics: death of a parent, serious financial problems, and aging issues. I don't remember reading many books that involve a middle-class family scratching for money and fearing for the loss of their home. It's a roller coaster ride of emotions. The author includes some amusing events, but Ben's friend, Toothpick, supplies much of the humor. Every chapter begins with an interesting fact about the history of toilet paper.

Friday, October 10, 2014

When Audrey Met Alice by Rebecca Behrens

When Audrey Met AliceAudrey's mother is the president of the United States, and it's not all that great. She plans a party at the White House, but it's canceled when there's a security alert. She can't go watch a movie with classmates, can't go on a class trip due to security problems, and only has one friend at school. She chooses her own dress to wear at a formal dinner and gets scolded for it by her mother. Life is difficult, and no one she knows can understand her frustrations. Then, Audrey discovers a hidden journal written by Alice, daughter of President Teddy Roosevelt, one-hundred years ago. Alice becomes the wise, older sister that Audrey needs. Her advice...To Thine Own Self Be True.

The whole idea of reading about the daughter of the president is not unheard of, but it's unique. Audrey has problems just like any other kid, but national security issues probably make her different from most of us. The author describes her frustrations well, and we're able to empathize with her character. I was expecting a bigger conflict and a little more drama to suck me deeper into the plot, but that didn't happen. It was a nice story about the only child of the president.

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Alison Levy

The Misadventures of the Family FletcherThe Fletcher family is composed of Papa, Dad, and their four adopted boys: Sam, Eli, Jax, and Frog. Sam's in the sixth grade, loves to play soccer, is a great storyteller, and now seems to have an interest in drama. After begging his dads to get him into a school for seriously gifted students, Eli is now thinking he made a mistake. But how can he tell his dads? Jax needs to interview a war veteran for a school project at his school, and he's decided to talk to his elderly neighbor. The man hates kids and has called the police on Jax's family, so that may be a problem. Frog is starting kindergarten, and he's brought along his invisible friend. It's a wacky family with wacky adventures.

It's unusual to have a plot dealing with a family of six male characters and no females playing a significant role. Each chapter seems to focus on a different son, although all of their stories overlap. The dads even join the adventure with their curious habits. Despite the grumpiness of their neighbor, they decide to have an outdoor Halloween party with music and many guests. Many common, and uncommon, problems are faced by the family, so the book will appeal to many readers.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

A Bird on Water Street by Elizabeth O. Dulemba

A Bird On Water StreetJack lives in a small mining town in Tennessee, but he doesn't want to become a seventh-generation copper miner. The pollution has killed most of the trees and other plants, and it's been awhile since they've even seen a bird. Things get serious when Jack's uncle dies, and the mining company lays off half of the workers. The remaining workers feel the conditions are becoming more dangerous, so they go on strike. Life was hard before, but now it's even worse. Jack's dream is to bring nature back to Coppertown, so he decides to do something about it.

Character versus society. Character versus character. Character versus nature. This book touches on all these types of conflict. Jack battles with the expectations of his father as well as the culture he lives in. He's frustrated that plants and animals can't survive in the environment; an exciting event for the kids is when the company dumps waste down a hill. The plot is not full of action, but it's definitely full of tension.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Hope is a Ferris Wheel by Robin Herrera

Hope Is a Ferris WheelStar and her family move from Oregon to California after her high school sister is kicked out of school. Star discovers it's hard to find friends in the new town once they learn she lives a trailer park. She decides to start a trailer park club, but it changes into a poetry club when it only has three members. In addition to herself, the new club is made up of a quiet girl from class, her brother who seems to hate Star, a boy feared by most kids in the school, and his buddy. The kids in the group become Star's only friends. Her older sister says she wants to drive back to Oregon and find their father, a man they haven't seen in years. However, Star discovers something that may rock her whole world. Why did her mother keep the truth from her?

The characters in the group frequently reflect on their lives, and readers will too. What is hope? Are hopes and dreams the same. Star's boycotting of the weekly vocabulary sentences is amusing but also reveals a lot about her character. The plot involves the issues of trying to fit in, understanding yourself, and having hope. Hope is like a ferris wheel; it's up to Star and us to decide what it means.

Skies Like These by Tess Hilmo

Skies Like TheseJade travels from Philadelphia to Wyoming to spend several weeks with her aunt. She's not looking forward to it, but her aunt is very excited to have her. Jade slowly learns to appreciate the simple life of Wyoming, but the neighbor boy manages to find trouble. Ray believes he's related to the famous outlaw, Butch Cassidy, and his family needs help. His father lost his business when a big store came to town, so Ray needs to raise some quick money. Ray idolizes Butch Cassidy, and he's always talking about how Butch would steal from the rich to help the needy. Ray has many plans to help his family, and robbing the town's bank is one of them.

The conflict was interesting, and a little concerning for me, as I read about a kind boy doing some increasingly bad things. Is it okay to do bad things if you think you're helping people? Jade has problems as she tries to support Ray while hearing about the crimes he has planned. I was left wondering and worrying as I watched Ray get more desperate. The author was able to successfully blend the beauty and peace of Wyoming with the seriousness of Ray's situation.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Bringing Down the Mouse by Ben Mezrich

Charlie is a whiz at math, and he sits with the other Whiz Kids during lunch. One day, a mysterious boy named Finn saves Charlie from being bullied, and an unusual relationship begins. Finn introduces him to a new teaching assistant at their school, and she tells him about a secret college project. She loves math too, and she wants to see if her specially chosen group of students can win the big prize at a Florida amusement park. They'll first need to figure out how to beat the carnival games, and then Charlie must predict where a spinning wheel will stop. It seems pretty amazing, but Charlie wonders if something more is going on.

You probably won't like this book if you don't like math. It's kind of cool to read about ways to beat unfair carnival games, but it often involves math and science. The gang finds tricky ways to toss coins onto slippery plates, pop balloons, and climb a wobbly web made of rope. The book has an unusual conflict, and I always had a feeling there was something wrong about the teacher's story. It makes for a surprising climax.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

All Four Stars by Tara Dairman

All Four StarsGladys Gatsby has found something she loves! She loves to cook, but her parents only feed her meals coming from boxes or cans, fast-food restaurants, or that have been microwaved. Gladys secretly practices her cooking skills before her parents get home from work, but the secret comes out when she almost burns the house down. They ban her from cooking, watching cooking shows, and even reading cookbooks for the next six months! She's miserable until her new teacher at school asks the class to write about their hopes for the future. Through a series of events, Gladys finds she's been hired as a food critic for a big New York newspaper. How can she keep this secret from her parents, and how is she going to get to New York City for her first assignment? Sounds like scheming, plotting, and sneaking are in her future.

My family and I enjoy watching the competitive cooking shows, so I had a connection with the topic of this book. If you don't like cooking, you probably won't care for it. Gladys starts to act out of character, and it creates some tension. Not overly suspenseful, but there's definitely a conflict. She created new friedships with the neighbor boy, and the snobbiest girl in the class. It was funny when the neighbor was terrified of Gladys, because he thought she'd try to cook his pet rabbits in one of her recipes. I wasn't sure how the plot would develop, but it came to a satisfying conclusion.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Alvin Ho: Allergic to the Great Lenore Look

Alvin Ho: Allergic to the Great Wall, the Forbidden Palace, and Other Tourist AttractionsThe actual title is Alvin Ho: Allergic to the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and Other Tourist Attractions. Alvin is afraid of pretty much everything, and his family is visiting relatives in China to celebrate Christmas. He's afraid of the security check, the plane flight, pilots falling asleep, bathrooms, eating strange food, and so on. He won't eat his aunt's breakfast, the Great Wall freaks him out, and the smog in Beijing has him terrified. This is all bad enough, but it's especially hard on everyone else. How can they enjoy the visit with Alvin going nuts?

This book may not appeal to many visitors of this blog, because it's directed more toward younger readers. As the first paragraph suggests, the plot describes how Alvin's fears disrupt himself and everyone around him. The big conflict in the book occurs when he accidentally loses his dad's passport. It's kind of hard to return to the United States without a passport! Alvin also must figure out some way to grant a little Chinese girl's Christmas wish for a new friend.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Key That Swallowed Joey Pigza by Jack Gantos

The Key That Swallowed Joey Pigza (Joey Pigza, #5)This 2014 release is the fifth one about Joey Pigza and his struggles to control his behavior. Joey's mom checks herself into the hospital, because she's afraid she might hurt his baby brother or herself. She pulls Joey out of school, so he can take care of his brother and protect him from his father. They haven't seen the father since his facial surgery was messed up, and Mom is afraid he'll kidnap the baby. Joey gets some unexpected help from his angry, blind girlfriend who's run away from her school. Joey isn't known for making good choices, that's why he wasn't allowed in school last year, so it will be an adventure to see if he can keep everyone safe.

I didn't read the last couple books in the series, so I missed out on many important events in the series. This book has a much more serious mood than the amusing antics in book one. Joey's interactions with his girlfriend have funny moments, but the issues with his parents are not humorous at all. I was a little surprised at how well he kept his act together, since that was a major problem in previous books, and the fact the school and child welfare didn't show up. The plot deals with real-world issues of mental illness, divorce, and hyperactivity.

Charlie Bumper vs. The Squeaking Skull by Bill Harley

Charlie Bumpers vs. the Squeaking SkullCharlie is in the fourth grade, and he's looking forward to Halloween. He wants to go trick-or-treating with his friends, but his little sister always wants to go with him. And this year, Charlie's invited to a sleepover with friends, in a really nice neighborhood, which means better candy. He really wants to ditch his sister and go to the party, although they'll be watching scary movies. Charlie is deathly afraid of them, and he doesn't want to embarrass himself. Charlie gets an idea for an awesome costume, and his older brother offers to help with the movies by scaring the fear out of him. Sounds like some interesting days are coming up.

The plot is not as mature as most of the books in my blog. It's a cute story and will appeal to younger readers who may be checking out my reviews.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Kinda Like Brothers by Coe Booth

Kinda Like BrothersJarrett's mom is a foster mother, and she's usually taking care of infants. However, this time, the new two-year-old girl has an older brother named Devon. Jarrett is forced to share his room, and his life, with this person, and there's no way to know when he'll be leaving. Jarrett is also taking summer school, struggling to pass the sixth grade test. Devon won't say much about his life, and Jarrett is wondering how the little sister got cut on her head. Jarrett is afraid to tell a girl how he feels, he ends up in the hospital with an asthma attack, and his mom's boyfriend is getting tired of sharing her with all the babies. Jarrett's life is full of issues, and he's not sure if Devon is the biggest issue or if he's actually a friend. Nevertheless, the two boys have problems, and they're taking them out on each other.

Many books deal with stepfamilies, but foster children are kind of like temporary stepfamilies. Devon is treated like a new brother, but Jarrett knows he could leave at any time. His mom seems to care more about the foster babies than anyone else, and it's hurting Jarrett. The author does a nice job of capturing his mixed emotions, and the plot bounces back and forth depending on Jarrett's mood. The book touches on the pains of growing up, conflicts with society, and family issues. It's a good read.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

A Million Ways Home by Dianna Dorisi Winget

A Million Ways HomePoppy's grandmother, and guardian, is recovering from a stroke, so Poppy sneaks away from the juvenile center to visit. She gets lost and stops at a convenience store. A few minutes later, the kind store clerk is shot and killed during a robbery, and Poppy is the only person who can identify the murderer. The detective allows her to stay with his mother for protection, because the killer may be looking for her. Poppy has a hard time dealing with her problems, as her grandmother's condition only worsens. With the help of a new friend and a German Shepherd scheduled to be put to sleep, Poppy starts to have more good days than bad. However, the emotions of her parents' deaths, her grandmother's strokes, and the danger of the gunman start to gang up on her. A couple of bad decisions may end up blindsiding her.

The author did a wonderful job of capturing Poppy's feelings and frustrations. All she wanted to do was take care of her grandmother, and she still blamed her parents for getting killed and not being around to care for her. It was heart-warming to see the changes in Lizzie's character as she learned to support Poppy. The detective and his mother displayed great kindness, but the murderer on the loose kept constant danger a part of the plot.

Nerd Camp 2.0 by Elissa Brent Weissman

Nerd Camp 2.0Gable and Zach are stepbrothers, and they couldn't be more different. Gabe loves to learn, likes to do science experiments, and collects element cards from the periodic table. Zach...doesn't. He's sloppy, plays sports, and collects baseball cards. Gabe is returning to his summer camp for smart kids, and he helps Zach convince his mom to let him go to a nearby camp. Everything seems great until a forest fire damages Zach's camp, and they're forced to share the camp for gifted enrichment. This situation doesn't go over well, and it becomes a war between the nerds and the new intruders. Each side uses pranks to "attack" their foes, but the antics get worse. Gabe and Zach slowly become leaders of the two sides, but they're not comfortable with the anger growing among the campers. Will their friendship survive?

This book is the sequel to Nerd Camp, and I recommend it too. You don't need to read it first to enjoy this book. As a former middle school teacher, I appreciate the conflicts faced by some students who like to learn. Some kids are uncomfortable being smart and try to hide it. The main characters capture the internal conflicts faced by these students and the students who don't enjoy school. Zach's character goes through some changes that even surprise himself. The climax of the plot involves cytoplasm and ghost peppers, some of the hottest peppers in the world.

Friday, August 29, 2014

How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes are Untied by Jess Keating

How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes Are UntiedHow cool would it be to have parents who work at a zoo and travel the world working with animals? Not very cool when you're named after a snake, and you're just trying to survive the seventh grade. Ana's best friend moves to New Zealand, and she's left alone to deal with teasing from the snobby girls and other classmates. She's flunking math, she's unprepared for her speech, and she has no idea what to for an art project that represents her own self. She wants to avoid everyone's attention for a few weeks and make it to summer break. Easier said than done. Her world-famous grandfather shows up and wants to put the family in a movie. There's no way Ana is brave enough to make it.

Although the setting is a bit unusual, the author captures the fears and frustrations of middle school girls. Actually, middle school boys have many of the same problems. The secondary characters offer wonderful personalities, and Ana finds support from some unlikely sources. The book offers a lesson on overcoming your fears and becoming the person you want to be.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Also Known as Elvis by James Howe

Also Known as ElvisThis book is a 2014 release, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Skeezie is thirteen, and he's living with his mom and two little sisters. His mom is working two jobs, so he gets a job at the Candy Kitchen to help pay the bills. Skeezie seems to constantly argue with his mom, and he envies his friends and their family time. Then, his father shows up with a couple of major announcements that will affect Skeezie's life. He tries to talk to his co-worker, his friend, and a popular girl (girlfriend?), and it's all so confusing. He's not sure what to do, but his life will certainly never be the same.

The plot is typical for many books, but it's unusual to be told from a boy's point of view. I haven't read many books that focus on boys' feelings about girls, family, and divorce. Skeezie is upset about being responsible for his sisters, helping to pay bills, and missing his father. He wants to have a normal family life, but it's not that simple. I enjoyed reading about his anger, sadness, and kindness. Action is not found in this plot, but it has very strong character relationships and emotions. The climax and resolution were a little surprising, although I kind of expected them in the back of my mind.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Gollywhopper Games: The New Champion by Jody Feldman

The Gollywhopper Games: The New ChampionThis book is the first in a new series, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Cameron wins a chance to compete for one million dollars. It's like the golden ticket in the Willy Wonka story, but there are 900,000 contestants, including Cameron's brother. Each round of the contest requires Cameron to solve puzzles and riddles, and it's all caught on camera. He makes some friends along the way, but some other competitors make things difficult and uncomfortable. Slowly, other kids are sent home, and Cameron gets closer to the  life-changing prize. As a twist, there is a spy who is poisoning the contest.

This book is made for puzzle lovers. Every part of the plot allows readers to see the clues along with the characters and to try coming up with the correct answers. The characters' bonding and conflicts keeps things interesting. The climax was a little surprising, and the resolution was very unexpected.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Battle of Darcy Lane by Tara Altebrando

The Battle of Darcy LaneThis book is a 2014 release, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Julia's plans for a wonderful summer with her best friend, Taylor, are dramatically changed when a new girl, Alyssa, moves in across the street. Taylor is mean and stuck-up. She puts down Julia whenever she can, challenges Julia to a game called Russia, and Julia's friendship with Taylor is suffering. Then, Julia is confused about her relationship with the boy living behind her home, and her parents are being secretive about why they won't let her move into the extra bedroom. Julia's mom signs her up for two weeks of band camp, the cicadas are coming, and Julia must figure out some way to save her summer.

The author captures the confusing life of a twelve-year-old girl, as her life changes. Friendships are confusing. Am I popular? Does that boy like me? Why are they being mean to me? Will this embarrass me? The resolution of the plot is not 100% happy, but Julia learns some valuable life lessons in the end.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Charlie Bumpers vs. The Really Nice Gnome by Bill Harley

Charlie Bumpers vs. the Really Nice GnomeThis book is a 2014 release, and I gave it a rating of three out of five. Charlie's fourth-grade is putting on the annual play, and he is hoping to get the part of evil sorcerer. He doesn't get the part, and even worse, he must play the part of the nice gnome! It's a boring part, and he needs to be nice. He tries switching parts, changing lines, and even messing up, but nothing works. What else can he do to save himself from embarrassment?

Charlie's character is a normal fourth grader. He has a bossy older brother, a nosey little sister, and he's always trying to get out of walking the dog and picking up "the call of nature". The plot is easy to follow, moves along quickly, and should be enjoyable for younger readers.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Great Green Heist by Varian Johnson

The Great Greene HeistThis book is a 2014 release, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Gaby is running for school president, and she is unaware her main competition, Keith Sinclair, has bribed the principal to make sure he wins. Jackson, a classmate and complicated "friend", smells a rat and starts to secretly help Gaby.  Jackson has a reputation, rightfully earned, as a schemer and prankster. His Mid-Day PDA embarrassed Gaby a while back, and she hasn't spoken to him since. Jackson now sets plans in motion to help her, but Keith manages to stay one step ahead of him. How can Jackson outfox Keith and still stop the principal from rigging the election. Sounds like it's time for another scheme.

The plot was fun, but it was a bit unrealistic. A principal being bribed to fix a student election? The schemes were entertaining, and I liked Jackson's uncomfortable relationship with Gaby. You know they'll get back together in the end!

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

The CrossoverI found this book on the new releases shelf at my local library, and I gave it a rating of five out of five. Josh and his twin brother, JB, are the sons of a former professional basketball player, and they're the stars of their middle school team. They are tight and unstoppable...until a new girl comes to the school. Josh starts to feel abandoned, and the pressure builds when his father refuses to see a doctor about his health. Josh finally loses his cool and must now suffer the consequences.

The book is written in verse, which I don't usually like, but this works. The poetry clearly tells the story, but it allows the author to be more creative as he describes the boys' talents. The plot deals with family and school conflicts, and it focuses on Josh's struggles. His parents want the sons to become responsible young men, which makes the father's behavior ironic. I think all readers can enjoy this book; it doesn't read like a poem. It shares some powerful lessons about life.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Schwa Was Here by Neal Shusterman

The Schwa Was Here (Antsy Bonano, #1)This book was recommended by a friend, and I gave it a rating of  four out of five. Antsy Bonano meets a "new" friend named Calvin Schwa, although they've been sitting next to each other in Science all year. Most people have difficulty seeing the Schwa and don't even realize he's standing right next to them. The boys even start making money by using his ability to be virtually invisible. Then, the boys get caught breaking into the house of a mean, old man, and their lives are changed. Instead of having the boys arrested, he forces them to do jobs for him.

The Schwa's ability to be "invisible" makes the plot unique. The boys scientifically test this power, which leads to other antics. The plot changes as Calvin becomes depressed; he wants to find out the truth about his missing mother. This problem gives the book a theme. I don't really like the resolution of the plot, but I get it. Overall, it was a fun book to read.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Anubis Speaks by Vicky Alvear Shecter

Anubis Speaks! A Guide to the Afterlife by the Egyptian God of the DeadThis book is non-fiction, but it reads like a "normal" story. Anubis, Egyptian god of the dead, narrates a guide to the afterlife. He shares information about mummification, rituals, and a journey through the Underworld. You'll learn about the different gods and goddesses, why they used animals as symbols, and why they built the pyramids. But don't let the facts and information scare you; Anubis is a descriptive storyteller. He tells you that mummy wrappings were as long as five football fields, but he also lets you know that the hearts of the damned were chewed up by "Amut's razor-sharp teeth. There was a certain squishiness, a rubber-like smacking..." Their heads were "squeezed in a wine press until they popped like overripe grapes." Pretty detailed, huh!

If you have an interest in mummies, Egyptians, or their rituals, but you don't want to read a boring non-fiction book, check this book out. You'll be entertained by Anubis, Egyptian god of the dead, and you'll learn something along the way.