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.