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.