Thursday, December 15, 2016

Snakes & Stones by Lisa Fowler

Snakes and StonesMy name is Chestnut, and my Daddy stole us kids from our Mama. We been traveling around the country for two years now, and I'm gettin' tired of lyin' for him. We live out of a horse-drawn wagon, and he's cheatin' people by selling them his amazin' elixir. Heck, it's just a bottle of water and grass, and Daddy's been beaten by angry mobs when they find out. I don't know why he took us from Mama, but I know things'll be okay if I can find her. Daddy'd be plenty angry if he knew I been hangin' posters around towns we been in, but I know Mama will see'm and find us. I already know he don't love me, and he don't need any more reason to get mad at me. But we just met Abraham, a colored man from Daddy's past, and he sayin' things about Daddy that don't make any sense. He sayin' Daddy's a kind man who gives money to orphans, but that ain't right, is it?

This book told a nice story of a young girl who wanted nothing more than to be reunited with her mother. She was obsessed with it but didn't really understand the whole situation. Her father was a con man, and she didn't feel much love for him. He always provided for Chestnut and her siblings, but she didn't feel any closeness to him. The introduction of Abraham created new issues for her, as he described her father as a kind and generous man. The color of Abraham's skin also opened her eyes to injustices in society, as she saw how people treated him. In the end, it was pretty clear that Chestnut's plans to reunite her family was going to backfire. The only question was how bad would things get?

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

A Blind Guide to Normal by Beth Vrabel

A Blind Guide to NormalMy name is Ryder, and I have my eye on you, ha ha! My right eye is fake, and some people freak when I pop it out (like my homeroom teacher!) I'm starting eighth grade at a new school, I'm living with my wacky grandfather, and my worst handicap might be myself. Things I'm thinking sometimes jump out of my mouth. On the plus side, Jocelyn, the girl next door, is gorgeous, but her boyfriend, Max, is the most popular, perfect kid at school. That doesn't stop me from hating him. I don't know why I feel so angry all the time, but my great sense of humor covers it up, right? I now know how Jocelyn's brother died and why Max is always protecting her. My grandpa thinks taking karate lessons from Max's dad will be great for me, but I'm not so sure. I'm enjoying the lessons, but my feelings are even more mixed up seeing Jocelyn and Max there too.

I didn't read the first book, but A Blind Guide to Normal was fantastic! Ryder has a wacky sense of humor (he calls his fake eye Artie), but I enjoyed how he tried to work through his issues. Middle school kids, actually everyone else too, have issues and feelings that confuse them. Ryder doesn't understand why he's so angry, but he realizes Jocelyn has problems too. Even grandpa has problems he's been dealing with since Ryder's dad was born, and Max reveals his own demons at the end. Ryder's not sure how to deal with his feelings for Jocelyn. He hates seeing her with Max, but Ryder isn't sure what to do when she turns some kindness his way. The whole story is about Ryder, and his character's personality carries all of the entertainment in the plot. I highly recommend you check out this book, literally and figuratively!

Monday, September 26, 2016

Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli

Maniac MageeMy name is Jeffrey, although people on the streets call me Maniac. I first met Amanda in the East End and stayed at her parent's house after they discovered I didn't have a home. People in the neighborhood call me Maniac for catching footballs against high school kids, running on the train rails, untying the legendary Cobble's Knot, and other heroic feats. However, other people think I should go back and live with the "whities", so I ran away and was staying with Earl in a storage room. Now Earl was pretty old, but he told great stories about being a minor league pitcher. We really cared about each other, but now he's dead. I had to run away again, and I'm back on the West End, face-to-face with an old bully "friend".

I read this Newbery-winning book years ago but just realized it wasn't on my blog. Maniac is a wonderful character. He has the confidence to move across the city as the need arises, and he has an innocence to accept people as they are (except for his aunt and uncle). Even though he doesn't understand the racial tensions he encounters, he becomes aware enough to do something about it. His acceptance of others, his kindness, and his sense of humanity allow others to take a liking to him. Even bullies and bigots end up on his side. His "heroic feats" are entertaining and amusing and help to make him an endearing character. His need to run wherever he goes is a unique quirk that adds to "maniacness". The entire plot can be seen as several separate stories, as the settings change between "homes" and cultures. It all comes together in the end, as Maniac finally finds a home.

the Island of Beyond by Elzabeth Atkinson

The Island of BeyondMy name is Martin, and my parents are ruining my life! My dad insists I spend the month of July with my Aunt Lenore on some remote island in Maine. I've just met the old woman, and she's forgetful and nutty. There's no television up here, no internet, and my cellphone burned up when I tried to charge it. What am I going to do all month? Then, I met a boy named Solo roaming around the woods and property, and we've become good friends. My dad has made me feel like I can never do anything right, but Solo has helped me change. I've learned to fish, row a canoe, climb trees, but I still can't swim.  The strange thing is, it looks like everyone up here has secrets; Solo, Uncle Ned, and even my dad are hiding something. And, it seems as though my aunt may not be as crazy as I thought.

I don't normally read books like this one, but it was still pretty good. (I read more fantasy and adventure books). Martin is learning to find himself, as he needs to gain confidence and escape from his father's put-downs. He is characterized as a kid who is almost helpless without technology and familiar surroundings. His life was a routine of video games and hanging around the house, so the wilderness presents a fearsome obstacle. Solo represents freedom, as he comes and goes as he pleases and is able to take care of himself. However, Solo is putting on an act, and Martin offers something his life is missing. I was happy to see how Martin changed in the end, and it would be interesting to see what his life would look like in another year or two. The secrets in the plot aren't super compelling, but they keep the story interesting. Uncle Ned's secret was probably the biggest one, although I might have missed clues along the way that foreshadow it. This book presents a nice coming-of-age story.

Friday, September 2, 2016

All Four Stars #3: Stars so Sweet by Tara Dairman

Stars So Sweet (All Four Stars, #3)My name is Gladys, and I've gotten myself into a situation. I guess I'm pretty good at writing about food and restaurants, because I've been hired by the New York Standard newspaper to create a few reviews under the name G. Gatsby. However, they still don't know I'm just starting the seventh grade, and now they want to hire G. Gatsby as a full-time restaurant critic! I don't know how to fit in at my middle school, the editor of the school paper hates me, and I need to tell my parents the truth about the newspaper. How can I be honest with them now after I've been lying to them for the past six months?

This book is the third in the series, and I somehow missed reading the second one. I don't think you NEED to read the others, but I recommend you at least read the first one. This book will appeal to readers who enjoy cooking and food, but non-foodies may not be able to sink their teeth into it. Like many middle school students, Gladys' love for food is definitely uncommon at this age, but it's the passion that gets her through her days. Everyone needs a passion. Her friend Sandy adds humor to the plot, as he tries to become known at his school for eating the grossest foods. The Peruvian dish called Coy, an animal similar to a guinea pig, even made Gladys feel ill. Gladys' middle school issues just provided more opportunities to introduce cooking. She became the organizer of every bake sale to support the various clubs and sports teams. A favorite hangout was the local food store and all its unusual foods. As I already said, foodies will love this series!

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Friendship Experiment by Erin Teagan

The Friendship ExperimentMy name is Maddie, and I don't have any friends. My "best friend" said I'm sometimes hard to get along with and later showed up with another girl from her new school. I kind of got mad and told her we should forget we were ever friends. Grandpa was a great scientist, and it looks like science is the only thing I'm good at. Why am I so mean when he was so nice? I still can't believe he died, and my parents want to give his things to a thrift store!  I keep a notebook of SOP's (standard operating procedures) like he did, but mine has subjects like how to survive lunch with misfit know-it-alls and how to spot a liar. I accidentally left the notebook at the liar's house, but I don't think she'll read the mean things in it, right? I think my sister's bleeding disorder is getting more serious, but she's lying to our parents. What if she dies like our grandmother?

Much of the plot was kind of depressing, as Maddie struggled with her issues. She wasn't dealing well with no friends at a new school, she was missing her grandfather terribly, and symptoms of the family illness were getting worse for the two girls. Maddie isolated herself for most of the book, and she screwed things up when she finally took a chance on a new friend. The second half of the book was much more compelling, as she finally started to face her problems. Middle grade students often feel a loneliness, as they become very self-conscious,so they may be able to identify with Maddie's struggles in handling the world. While probably not as popular with young readers, I liked Maddie's obsession with science too. Overall, Teagan wrote an engaging story of a young girl battling with the complications of life. The real issues of death, friendship, and illness formed the basis of it. I can recommend this book as a good read!

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Travels With Gannon and Wyatt: Hawaii by Patti Wheeler and Keith Hemstreet

Travels with Gannon and Wyatt: HawaiiMy name is Wyatt. My brother and I came to Hawaii to learn about its culture, but we now find ourselves drawn into an adventure concerning King Kamehameha the Great. He ruled the islands in the early 1800's, but his sacred burial site has been hidden since he died. Our adventure started when my brother jumped off the rocks into the churning Pacific waves to save a drowning man. Before being taken to the hospital in critical condition, he gave us an old map and said there was danger. We think the map may lead us to King Kamehameha's remains, but what is the danger? We suspect the man in the ocean may have been pushed, and some strange things have been happening. Gannon thinks we're being cursed by spirits, but we need to help protect King Kamehameha from land developers. However, we may be in over our heads.

The plot is pretty straight-forward as I describe above. While enjoyable, this kind of book is not my cup of tea. I like adventures, and I like learning about new places. However, combining the two doesn't always work for me. This book teaches many interesting facts about Hawaii and its culture, but they're sometimes in your face. It's like the plot momentarily pauses, so information can be shared. I prefer to have the information blended more with the events. With that being said, there are many positive aspects to the book. It can be easily read, it includes excitement and suspense, and it takes place in Hawaii. I assume the rest of the series has a similar format, just different locations. This book will appeal to readers who enjoy a bit of mystery and learning about other cultures. Hey, it's Hawaii! 

Monday, August 15, 2016

Isabella for Real by Margie Palatini

Isabella for RealMy name is Isabella, and my life is out of control. It's all my cousin's fault. All I did was agree to let him make a video of me being myself. How bad could that be? I didn't expect him to post the videos on YouTube, and I certainly never expected them to get eleven million views! I now find myself hiding from reporters and cameramen all around my house. And what am I going to do when school starts again next week? I kind of let my friends believe my mom is Italian royalty, and the school elections are next week. I know I should have told the truth in the first place, but I just couldn't find a way to change their minds. Now, with the real me all over YouTube, what am I going to do?

The beginning of the plot started a bit slowly for me, but the whole book was less than one-hundred pages. I guess the "slow" start was just the result of vague events. Isabella was hiding out, hinted at her problems, but didn't clearly share why the reporters were lurking outside her house. The plot skipped around a bit as it mixed the present problem with the paparazzi with flashbacks to how the video and school problems started. Actually, the whole book could really happen to someone. Home videos posted on YouTube that become viral sensations? Potential friends at a new school with misinformation about the new kid? The new kid wants to be accepted, so she keeps quiet? Far-fetched series of events, but it's all possible. Overall, it was a fun story based on today's technology. Young readers should be able to identify with the problems and should enjoy the whole story.

Sherlock, Lupin & Me #4: The Cathedral of Fear by Irene Adler

The Cathedral of Fear (Sherlock, Lupin, and Me)My name is Irene, and I've discovered a piece of a map. I don't know what it's about, but two men attacked me trying to get their hands on it. I wrote letters to my good friends in London, Arsene Lupin and Sherlock Holmes, and they've both arrived here in France to help. Sherlock is the one who figured out the map is of an area of Paris, and we now find ourselves there searching for clues. We've discovered the man behind the thieves is called the Grand Master of Paris, but we have no idea of his true identity. Our search for the truth will take us into the countryside, to Paris itself, and even under the city.

This book is a young reader's version of the classic Sherlock Holmes mysteries, and it's the fourth one in a series. The author provided clues to help readers solve the problem, but the resolution still included surprises. It was nice to see a female protagonist being assisted by two talented boys. The kids formed a tight-knit "family". The boys provided brains and "muscle", but Irene was the leader. Each character contributed unique abilities, and Irene didn't fit the stereotype of a young girl. She was inquisitive, rebellious, and took chances. Maybe even stretched the truth a bit. Overall, an entertaining book that will appeal to young lovers of mysteries.

Monday, July 4, 2016

5 Times Revenge by Lindsay Eland

Five Times RevengeMy name is Perk, and I must get my revenge. The school principal and his son are bullies, taking advantage of students, teachers, and Tommy, my brother with special needs. Adam and I are famous for our pranks, but this one must be epic. Adam really wants to put the principals's Shelby Cobra on the school roof, but we'll need help with whatever we do. The principal's son got Ray kicked off the wrestling team, gives Dutch wedgies and steals his homework, and treated Pearl, his ex-girlfriend, very rudely. They'll be motivated to help us. Tommy means the world to me, and I won't let anyone get away with embarrassing him. I'm sure Adam will come up with an amazing plan that fits our two main rules: No one and nothing get hurt or damaged, and we don't get caught!

I didn't expect to find a story about revenge that was also fun to read. The book wasn't amazingly written, but I found myself gently sucked into the plot. The pranks were creative and believable. From the cute girl, to the nerd, to the big lug everyone assumes is dumb, they combined their talents and stories to create an unlikely team. I guess I enjoy cheering for underdogs which really fit this situation. The author did a great job of making me detest the principal and his son, so that helped develop the emotional impact of the conflict. The love between Perk, Tommy, and Adam was evident. Emotions are powerful motivators for readers. I usually read fantasy/adventure books, so my enjoyment with reading this book should show its specialness. Give it a shot!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Pack of Dorks #2: Camp Dork by Beth Vrabel

Pack of Dorks: Camp DorkMy name is Lucy, and I'm proud to be a dork. I didn't really want to come to this caveman, fossil camp, but Sam dared me. However, he went off to a gymnastics camp, and my parents wouldn't let me back out. I thought things would still be okay with the rest of our pack going, but I've managed to mess everything up. My best friend, April, wants to hang out with snobby Kira, but I think she'd make a perfect girlfriend for Sheldon. I'm great at bringing people together, Sam told me so, but now everybody hates me. I've said mean things to April, lied to Jer, and people think I've stolen a bracelet, necklace, and laptop. What am I doing? Why can't April act like she used to? Everything is all mixed up. I've got to make things right, but what if it all blows up in my face? Again!

This book addresses the difficulties of friendship and growing up. The first book created the pack of dorks to help outcast kids support each other, but even dorks must change! The problems faced by Lucy are normal, but she learns there are some things beyond our control. Most readers can identify with her feelings of abandonment and wanting things to stay the same. Hopefully, readers will learn a lesson along with Lucy. The book includes a snooty girl with free insults for Lucy, although Lucy later learns that things aren't what they see. The innocence of the characters is a nice change from many of the books I normally read. The kids aren't geniuses with amazing talents or maturity. They're typical new-to-be fifth graders. I still enjoy Lucy's free-spirited grandmother who provides support and advice for Lucy. She's not afraid to speak her mind or do what makes her happy. Overall, I can recommend both books in the series to any fourth or fifth graders.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Still a Work in Progress by Jo Knowles

Still a Work in ProgressMy name is Noah, and my life used to be normal. I went to school with my best friends, and we talked about which girls might like us and stupid stuff too. But I have bigger problems. I really love my sister Emma, and I appreciate her advice about kids and school. I mean, she even taught Sam how to slow dance! I can't believe he's the first one in our group to get a date. But, I'm sick of Emma's obsession with vegan food. It's disgusting, and as a matter of fact, she doesn't eat much of it herself. My parents are careful about what they say around her, and I know they're terrified that "thing" will happen again. She says everything is okay, but what if it's not? What am I supposed to do?

This book evokes many deep emotions, and it's not light reading. Noah's middle school issues are pretty common, but his sister's problems take them a notch higher. Eating disorders have been the topics of many novels, but this situation is told from the brother's point of view. The last third of the book really spans Noah's range of feelings. He's concerned, scared, angry, and confused about what's going on. How is he supposed to feel about his sister, and shouldn't everyone else be just as miserable? How can they go on with their lives? Noah's interactions with his two best friends will sound familiar with other middle school boys. They talk about the puzzling world of girls, teachers, school, and family. And is it just me, or does the plot include an unusual number of references to farts and bad smells? I guess the focus of middle school boys can be hard to explain. This book will touch a myriad of emotions for readers, especially boys, and it will make them think. I recommend you give it shot.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Sisters of the Sword by Maya Snow

Sisters of the Sword (Sisters of the Sword, #1)My name is Kimi. My father, the Jito, was visciously murdered by his brother. My uncle then killed my brothers, so my sister and I had to find somewhere safe to hide. We've disguised ourselves as boys and are now working as servants at a dojo. We learned samurai skills from our father, but we hope to improve them enough to rise up and get revenge against our uncle. Keeping our identities a secret has become harder, since our cousin is also at the dojo. He's become a bully, and I suspect the path to our uncle will pass through my cousin.

Children vowing to kill an adult is pretty uncommon for middle grade fiction, and using female characters to do it is even rarer. It's unbelievable to think the young girls will become skilled enough to kill an experienced, ruthless samurai, but the plot is still entertaining. The first part of the book started quickly with the father's murder, but the middle portion of the plot slowed down. I was surprised with the conclusion of the book and don't understand how the conflict merits a sequel. There must be big changes in store.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson

Fever 1793My name is Matilda. Yellow Fever is spreading throughout Philadelphia, and many of our neighbors are fleeing the city. Catching the fever will most certainly result in death. My mother, grandfather, and I are doing our best to keep the coffee house going, but fear of the fever makes people crazy. My mother orders me out of the city after she falls ill. My grandfather and I are left stranded, and the next thing I know, I wake up in a hospital with the fever, waiting to see if it will kill me too. 

Books like this are attractive, because they're based on actual people and events. The author captures the paranoia that goes with a deadly disease spreading across Philadelphia. The cause is unknown, so the medical treatments are pure guesswork. I was happy to see Maddie finally realizing blood-letting actually harms the patients! Her character displays great courage and determination against overwhelming physical and emotional obstacles. The plot has little action, but the epidemic creates a compelling problem. Lovers of historical fiction will savor this book.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

One Crazy Summer (Gaither Sisters, #1)My name is Delphine. Papa is sending my sisters and I to Oakland to spend a month with Cecile, our mama, for the next month. But Cecilie left us when Fern was just a baby, and she don't want us around. She says she never asked for us to come and won't even let us go in the kitchen for a glass of water! She sends us to Ming's for Chinese food cause she won't cook, and we have to walk to the Center every morning for breakfast. The Black Panthers run the Center, Cecilie prints posters for them too, and I'm scared we might get hurt. The Panthers protest against the police for the rights of us colored people, and we color posters for them after eating breakfast. The police don't like the Panthers, and I heard about a boy, only a couple years older than me, who was shot down right in the middle of the street! I have a bad feeling about the rally in two weeks, but I'll never forget what happens there.

This story takes place in the early sixties during the civil rights movement. It shares the frustrations and anger of minorities during that time, and it shares the frustrations and anger of daughters trying to understand a mother who abandoned them. The author describes the mother's lack of emotions toward her kids, and the resolution doesn't satisfy my frustrations toward her. I enjoyed the closeness of the girls and how they stuck up for each other. I was surprised and amused by Fern's poem at the rally. Who would have thought this little girl could steal the show at a civil rights demonstration?

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Case of the Missing Marquess by Nancy Springer

This book is the first in a series, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Enola Holmes is the much younger sister of Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes. Enola's mother disappears, and no one is sure if she is alive or dead. Enola's mother has left her some clues and some money, so she decides to run away and search for her mother. She doesn't want her brothers, especially Sherlock Holmes, knowing where she's gone. During her adventures, Enola reads in the newspaper about a missing boy and finds herself in the middle of the problem. The conflict and plot center around Enola's search for her mother and also the missing marquess.

The beginning of the book seemed to drag on a bit, but it became more interesting once Enola's brothers entered the story. The action picked up even more once Enola ran away and was on her own. I enjoyed how Enola tried to out-think Sherlock Holmes, so he wouldn't be able to find her. She was very creative and had great deductive thinking skills, just like her famous brother. She was also able to solve the mystery of the missing boy before him.

The series continues in book two as Enola continues the search for her mother. I assume the beginning of the second book will be better, because the author won't need to go into much detail to describe Enola's situation.

Montmorency: Thief, Liar, Gentleman? by Eleanor Updale

This book is the first in series, and I gave it a rating of four out of five, although I'm not real sure how much it will appeal to my sixth graders. A criminal is seriously injured while committing a burglary, and a doctor uses experimental surgical procedures to make him healthy. Upon his release from prison, he takes on two identities. He becomes Scarper, the thief, and successfully robs many homes and businesses while using the London sewer system for his escapes. He uses the money from his thefts to become Montmorency, a respectable and cultured member of society. He has many close calls as he tries to elude the police and maintain the secrecy of his two identities.

The plot is unique, although it may not have enough action for my students. I'm also not sure if they'll be able to connect with Montmorency's character, since he's a member of high society. Scarper's character is less complex, and he's mostly a common thief. Both identities have internal conflicts as there is some remorse for his cellmate who is executed for Scarper's crimes. I wasn't sure where the plot would end, but Montmorency does some work for the government near the end of the book. I assume this will be the basis for the plots in the sequels.

Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer by John Grisham

This is the first book in a new series, and I gave it a rating of three out of five. Theo Boone is the 8th grade son of two lawyers and gets himself involved in the biggest murder trial in the town's history. A husband has killed his wife, but it looks like the prosecutor won't be able to present enough evidence to convict him. Theo discovers a secret witness with evidence that could convict the husband, but the witness wants to remain anonymous.
It was an interesting plot, and the author shares a lot of information about the workings of trials. Theo is an interesting character, and the side stories with all of his classmates offer a variety of small cases. Theo has a strong interest and knowledge about lawyers and trials, so others come to him for free legal advice. He helps them with an impounded dog, a drug-dealing brother, and an adult arrested for drunk driving.

Although the murder case provided a conflict, the description didn't really grab me. The discussions about the trial and the way the legal system works were a distraction for me. Adolescent readers might find it helpful to understand what's going on. My biggest complaint is that there was no resolution to the conflict. We don't know the result of the trial, Theo's friend is going through a custody trial between her parents, and it's implied that a private detective is going to do something to Theo. It's a unique novel, but I like my stories finished.

Westmark by Lloyd Alexander

This is the first book of a trilogy, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Theo apprentices as a printer's assistant back in medieval times, but his master is killed by the king's soldiers. Cabbarus, the chief minister for the king, is plotting to take over rule of the kingdom and controls all printing. Theo becomes a wanted "man" and flees the city. Along the way, he meets up with a con man and his dwarf, a homeless girl, as well a band of men preparing to stop Cabbarus and/or the king. Theo gets himself involved in the uprising and must decide in the rising action if he is able to kill in order to save the lives of others.

I enjoyed the plot, although I thought the climax might have been played up more. The climax may be surprising to some readers, but it's predictable when you look back at the clues. I like how the author ended the book and allows an opening for the sequel.

Death by Bikini by Linda Gerber

Death by Bikini (Death By Mysteries, #1)I decided to reread this mystery, so I could move on to the other books in the series. I gave it a rating of 4 out of 5. It's a classic who-done-it that keeps the reader guessing. Aphra's father runs a private resort on a remote island. A family using assumed names unexpectedly arrives, and they are clearly not typical guests. Then, the girlfriend of a rock star is strangled on the beach, but who did it? Could the killer be a member of the family? Is it the mysterious Mr. Watts? How about the botanist visiting the island? Is there someone else? The suspense builds when Aphra's father is poisoned and seems to by dying. And how is Aphra's mother, gone for the past four years, involved in this whole mess?

This is a great mystery for readers who are new to mysteries. It's easy to read, and the plot moves swiftly. Clues are given along the way to make the reader suspect different characters of the murder. The reader is continually making and revising predictions as new events develop. The author throws a bit of action in too as the novel reaches its climax. Even though I didn't give the book my top rating, I still think most readers will enjoy it. I'm anxious to read the next book in the series, Death by Latte.

Death by Latte by Linda Gerber

Death by Latte (Death By Mysteries, #2)I rated this second book in the series as a 4 out of 5. Aphra sneaks away to the state of Washington to find the mother she hasn't seen for four years. Her mother unofficially works for the CIA, and Aphra stumbles into the middle of the case her mother has been working on. There are spies working within the CIA, led by The Mole, and they are trying to kill Aphra's friend, Seth, and his family. It is also revealed that the ring Seth gave to Aphra in book one contains an important secret. Seth needs it back from her to save his father's life.

This book has much more action than the first book in the series, Death by Bikini. Bad guys are chasing Seth, Aphra, and her mother through the town and into the wilderness. Some of the events are a bit far-fetched, but who cares that five people survive a plane crash into a mountainous forest without wearing seat belts? One guy has two fingers blown off before getting on the plane but still manages to climb down the mountain, survive a kayak ride through the rapids, and remain perfectly coherent for the climax of the story. Just like the first book, the reader is left trying to figure out who are the good guys and who are the bad? This problem was resolved in a surprising way during the falling action. The author has also left the door wide open for the third book in the series, Death by Denim.

Death by Denim by Linda Gerber

Death by Denim (Death By Mysteries, #3)I rated this final book of the series a 4 out of 5. Just like Death by Latte, this book had much more action than Death by Bikini. Aphra and her mother were hiding out after escaping Seattle in book two, but The Mole discovered their new hiding place. He wants to use Aphra as bait to discover the location of Seth, her boyfried, and his family. The Mole has a psychotic need for revenge against people he feels have wronged him, and he hopes to kill all of them at one time. Aphra's adventures lead her through Paris, France, and into Italy where the series reaches its final climax.

This mystery keeps the reader guessing about which characters are good and which ones are bad. Aphra has the same problem and makes some bad decisions based on incorrrect assumptions. They get her into increasing trouble, but that's what builds the suspense and makes the story more exciting. I enjoyed how the author allowed Aphra to use her intelligence to solve problems, but she still made silly mistakes. It's nice to have an inexperienced "agent" making mistakes, unlike some other novels with teenage protagonists. It's unbelievable that kids can solve problems for government agencies, but it's even more incredible when they do it perfectly. Aphra makes a big mistake when she believes Ryan, an agent, is lying to her and ditches him in Italy. She realizes this is a big problem when she's headed to The Mole and has no idea what she'll do when she gets there.

This series is great for readers who enjoy mysteries. It's also great for readers just getting into mysteries, because it contains plenty of suspense but is not overly complicated.

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

This book is a former Newbery Award winner, and I gave it a rating of three out of five. Samuel Westing, the owner of a multi-million dollar company, is found dead in his home after being unseen for fifteen years. He leaves behind a will that indicates he may have been murdered by one of the sixteen heirs mentioned in his will. The will also describes a contest in which the heir who identifies Westing's killer first will inherit two hundred million dollars. Most of the heirs recently moved into a new apartment building that sits next to Westing's home, and the will pairs the heirs into teams to discover the killer. Each pair is given five different words that are clues to solving the mystery.

I always like a good mystery, and I liked trying to put the clues together before the solution was revealed in the end. The clues needed to solve the puzzle were present, and that's something I demand from my mysteries. I want to have a fair chance to predict the outcome, and this plot was very complicated and challenging. However, I didn't like the quick changes in points of view, and there were just too many characters and suspects. My brain constantly jumped from clue to clue and suspect to suspect as the plot unfolded. The point of view changed from paragraph to paragraph as the narrator was totally omniscient. It made the plot rather choppy and hard to follow.

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

This is a classic mystery featuring Hercule Poirot, and I gave it a rating of three out of five. Agatha Christie is one of the greatest mystery writers of all time, but I'm not sure that this novel has enough action for adolescent readers. Hercule Poirot is a Belgian detective on a train traveling through Europe. A rich man is murdered, and all of the suspects must be on the train. The man had asked f0r Poirot's protection earlier, because he suspected someone would try to kill him while on board the train. To complicate things a bit, the dead man was actually a criminal who had killed the baby of a famous American during a kidnapping. The man was not convicted of the crime, so there are many people who may have wanted to see him dead. Poirot's job is to examine the evidence, consider the testimony of witnesses, and to consider the psychology of the guests on the train and figure out the identify of the killer.

I liked this book, but the format of the novel may turn off some adolescent readers. Most of the chapters focus on the testimony of individual witnesses and collection of clues. It's very methodical, step-by-step. I usually enjoy this format, because the evidence is laid out before me and I have the chance to solve the crime. I fear that young readers may not have the patience and desire to analyze clues that is required to enjoy this book.

The Mytery of the Third Lucretia by Susan Runholt

The Mystery of the Third Lucretia (Kari + Lucas Mysteries, #1)This book is the first in a series, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Kari and Lucas (a girl) are teenagers who stumble upon an international art crime. They observe a man in a Minnesota art museum who is secretly painting on an easel in front of a Rembrandt display. They later observe the same man doing the same thing in London, England, but he's now wearing a different disguise. As time goes on, the girls start to wonder about the situation and find out that a new Rembrandt painting of the Third Lucretia has been discovered and sold for twenty million dollars. They realize that the new painting is fake and try to figure out a way to catch the criminal.

The story is written in a casual, first-person point of view. Kari tells the story to the reader as though they are sitting together and chatting. The style makes the mystery un-intimidating, and the reader is able to see the clues unfold. The reader must still try to figure out how the girls will convince anyone to believe them even after they discover the culprit. This mystery is good for readers who are new to the mystery genre, because there aren't many confusing twists to the crime. It probably appeals more to female readers, because it's from Kari's point of view. She makes some comments about cute boys, clothing styles, and female things, so boys may be turned off by them. The comments aren't too bad though.

Horton Halfpott by Tom Angleberger

This book is a humorous "mystery", and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Horton works as a dishwasher in the mansion of a wealthy family. The working conditions and pay are terrible, but Horton is always respectful and honest. Luther, the son of the family, is a brat who is dishonest and mistreats the servants. He hopes to meet Celia, the young lady visiting a neighbor's home, so he can marry into her family's money. Horton meets the young lady while delivering her invitation to a ball being held at the mansion, and he becomes smitten. Some items start disappearing in the mansion, so the family calls in a world-famous detective to find the thief. The servants, especially Horton, become the prime suspects.

This book is fun to read and isn't overly serious. For me, the plot comes across like Cinderella, only in reverse. The lowly, abused servant boy has no chance of attending the costume ball in order to meet with the girl everyone wants to marry. There's no glass slipper though. It's written in a conversational style with the narrator talking to the reader, similar to the Lemony Snicket books. The narrator tells the reader when he's skipping unnecessary descriptions and when he's discussing something important. The conflict has humorous twists which add to the entertainment of the plot. Random items disappear, such as an expensive wig, a small statue, and a monocle. It's nice to see Horton remain a good person despite his horrible situation. The theme of good triumphing over evil is evident in the plot.

Alibi Junior High by Greg Logsted

I found this book from my public library's recommended summer reading list, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Cody has traveled the world with his father since he was born and has helped him on many CIA missions. In this book, Cody moves in with his Aunt Jenny when his father's life is in danger. Cody has never been in a public school before and has no idea how to live a "normal" life. He knows martial arts and can speak five languages, but he doesn't understand how to handle the other students, teachers, and his classes. Who gets sent to the office four times on their first day of school! Cody slowly starts to adjust to his new situation (I won't say he fits in) when he awakens in the middle of the night to see a man in black quietly stalking around the house. Have his father's assassins found him? He may need to seek help from the neighbor, an Army Ranger recently back from Afghanistan. Cody still needs to survive gym class with Coach Dinatelli "... a fun vampire, sucking the fun out of everything", bullies, and his first crush on a girl.

Most of the book reads like a realistic fiction novel, but there's the underlying adventure of Cody's life with the CIA. Cody has lived most of his life like an agent, but the conflict mostly centers around his attempts to adjust to junior high. His awkward interactions with other students are funny; he tries to take back his "Hi" to another girl when she doesn't reply to him. He corrects the Spanish teacher, because she learned the language in college while he learned it in South America. Cody intentionally angers the gym teacher when the teacher picks on another student. The plot takes on a more serious tone when he spots the ninja-like spy sneaking around his home. Overall, the book has the typical problems of teenage life mixed with the adventures of the CIA sprinkled in.

The Case of the Case of Mistaken Identity by Mac Barnett

This book was on my public library's recommended summer reading list, and I gave it a rating of three out of five. Steve Brixton is a big fan of The Bailey Brothers Mysteries, and he likes to use hints from their handbook in his real life. His problems begin when he checks out a quilting handbook from the library and is captured by secret agent librarians. They mistake him for real detective and think he was hired by Mr. E to find out about the secret code in the book. He escapes and goes to the police, but the librarian agents inform the police that Steve has commited treason against the country and is a dangerous criminal. Steve decides that his only hope is to uncover the code and locate Mr. E so that he can clear his name. Steve uses a disguise to sneak into a bar, escapes capture again from a sinking boat, and finally leads the police to the missing quilt and the capture of Mr. E.

The plot is a little hokey, but it was kind of fun. It's funny to see Steve read the detective hints in his favorite books and then realize they don't always work in real life. You'll enjoy the book if you're looking for a simple mystery that's not overly serious. This book is kind of strange, since everyone assumes Steve is a world famous detective.

Change-up: Mystery at the World Series by John Feinstein

I gave this book a rating of three out of five, because I think it might only appeal to baseball fans. It's a mystery, but there are many references to people, athletes, and events related to baseball. Stevie Thomas and Susan Carol are teenage sports reporters who have covered many several major sporting events. They are now covering the Washington Nationals' first World Series appearance in almost eighty years. Stevie accidentally stumbles upon a story involving an aging pitcher who has finally made it to the major leagues. After only pitching in a couple of games, this man throws a one-hitter in the second game of the series. Stevie discovers that the man lied about the death of his wife twelve years ago and investigates the facts. He finds more lies and threats as he digs deeper into the story. Stevie must ultimately decide if the truth is better left hidden.

I enjoyed the plot, and it was fairly realistic. I'm not sure that teenage reporters would be trusted with this type of responsibility. The mystery centers around drunk driving and a possible police cover-up. The emotions of the characters are believable and create much of the conflict. Due to the numerous sports references and details about reporting news stories, I'm not sure if this book will appeal to everyone.

Woods Runner by Gary Paulsen

This book is historical fiction, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Samuel and his family live in the western part of Pennsylvania in 1776. Samuel loves his life in the wilderness, but his parents are taken prisoner by British soldiers while he is out hunting. He doesn't understand why his parents weren't killed and scalped like their neighbors. Samuel is able to track his parents' captors, but he has no plan to help them escape. He finds aid from Colonial rebels when an Indian hits him in the head with a tomahawk. He also "adopts" a young girl when her parents are murdered by Hessians, vicious soldiers who were hired by the British. Samuel must find a way to rescue his parents from the prison where they're being held. What chance does a boy with a single-shot rifle and a knife have against an army of thousands?

Historical fiction novels don't always have the adventure and action of traditional fiction, but this plot works. I appreciated Samuel's determination as he tracked his parents' captors and the spirit of American colonists as they fought the invading British army, Indians, and Hessians. The author included information about the Revolutionary War at the start of each chapter, but the information was normally related to what was happening in the story. He added a good amount of action throughout the plot to keep my interest.

Monday, February 22, 2016

The Kestrel by Lloyd Alexander

This is the sequel to Westmark, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Mickle becomes queen when her father dies, and traitors conspire with a neighboring force to take over the kingdom. Mickle leaves the castle and ends up leading her forces in battle. Theo also gets involved in the war movement, which creates a conflict because he wasn't able to make himself fire a gun in book one to save his friend, Justin. Theo becomes a battle officer and helps lead the forces against the enemy. Mickle comes up with a plan for peace, but it's side-tracked by a big battle in the story's climax.

I enjoyed the conflict and plot, and it created suspense when Mickle secretly left the castle to join the battle. There were many twists and turns to the plot, but I found the setting changes a little confusing at times. Maybe it was just me. I enjoyed the thoughts and actions of the two orphans. They shared a naive view of war and added some humor with their actions and dialogue. They were also important participants to ending the war.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Homelanders 1: The Last Thing I Remember by Andrew Klavan

This book is the first in a series, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Charlie West wakes up strapped to a chair in a room and has no idea why he's there. The last things he remembers are performing a karate routine at an assembly, asking a girl he likes on a date, and talking to his former best friend. Now, his captors want to kill him, and he doesn't know why. Charlie starts to piece together some comments he overheard with the news that the head of Homeland Security will be visiting the area soon. How can Charlie stop a terrorist attack when the police think he's an escaped murderer? What happened during the time that he lost his memory, and how much time has he lost? His problems seemed to be coming from a group called The Homelanders.

The conflict of this story is interesting, because the main character is in trouble and can't get help from the police. The secret group is trying to kill Charlie, and the police would like to put him back in prison unless they're forced to kill him first. He's earned a black belt in karate, so that gives him some physical skills to deal with his enemies. He doesn't know the truth about his life, so he starts to believe that his own memories may be lies. Charlie seems to be helpless and doesn't know whom to trust. The truth starts to unfold near the plot's climax, but it just leads into the sequel, The Long Way Home.

The Homelanders 2: The Long Way Home by Andrew Klavan.

This book is the second in a series, and I gave it a rating of five out of five. You'll need to read book one first. Charlie West is still on the run, and he returns to his hometown to figure out the memories he's forgotten over the past year. He knows he's been convicted of killing his former best friend, Alex, he escaped from prison, and the Homelanders are trying to kill him. The Homelanders is a terrorist group trying to stop American democracy. He doesn't remember anything between leaving Alex in the park and escaping from prison one year later. In this book, he's reunited with his group of friends and discovers that he actually started dating the girl of his dreams. She lets him know that they grew very close, but he still doesn't remember any of it. Charlie is afraid that his friends may be in danger as they help him, and he's right. The police almost capture him a couple of times, but the Homelanders just want him dead. In the end, Charlie discovers a great deal about the past year and finds out the identity of the person who actually killed Alex. However, the Homelanders aren't finished searching for Charlie.

This book has a lot of action. The book opens with several men trying to kill Charlie. There are many fight scenes against the Homelanders and many chase scenes involving the police. It was nice to see Charlie's friends become more involved in the plot. I was surprised at how much information was shared about Charlie's past. The author shared most of the details about Alex's murder and more facts about the Homelanders' plans. A secret member of the terrorist group was revealed, but it was a surprise only because it was so obvious.

The Homelanders 3: The Truth of the Matter by Andrew Klavan.

This book is the third in the series, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Charlie West is still being pursued by the Homelanders, a terrorist group out to overthrow democracy, and the police, who want him for escaping from prison. Charlie was convicted of murdering his former friend, Alex. Charlie finds Waterman in the first chapter, but he doesn't know if Waterman is good or bad. Charlie is taken to a remote, underground compound where he is given a serum to help him remember the past year of his life. It turns out Waterman is a good guy, but the Homesteaders overtake the compound, kill Waterman, and capture Charlie. Charlie eventually remembers how he got into this whole mess but realizes that his problems are far from over. He's on a top-secret mission, and there are only two people alive who know he's innocent of murder. Waterman, who is now dead, and Charlie can't remember the identity of the second person.

As in the first two books, there's a great deal of action for readers to enjoy. Charlie frequently gets captured by the Homelanders and then proceeds to escape. There are also several chase scenes involving the police. It's interesting how the author balances the action and violence with Charlie's religious beliefs and moral standards. He draws a great deal of strength from his karate teacher's lessons and his faith in God. It's a curious contrast to the shooting, explosions, and fight scenes in the plot.

The Homelanders 4: The Final Hour by Andrew Klavan.

This book is the last in the series, and I gave it a rating of five out of five. Charlie West finds himself back in prison, and chapter one has some Islamic terrorists trying to kill him in the prison yard. Other inmates and the guards themselves all present dangers to Charlie. When Charlie remembers that the Homelanders, a terrorist group, is planning to create some kind of disaster on New Year's Eve, he decides that his best option is to escape from prison. He joins up with some old friends to travel to Times Square where millions of people are in danger. As in the previous books in the series, Charlie is being hunted by the police and the terrorists all along the way.

The plot of this book brings the whole series to a nice conclusion. The author manages to create suspense with the upcoming disaster, and he offers a great deal of action. The cover photo shows a scene where terrorists kill the pilot of a small plane, and Charlie is forced to fly the damaged plane to safety. Charlie has some fight scenes in the prison, during the escape, and obviously at the climax when the terrorists are stopped. You'll need to read all of the books in the series to get the full of effect of the ongoing plot. Charlie was acting as an undercover spy in the terrorist organization, which explains why the police and terrorists are both after him.

Double Eagle by Sneed Collard III

This mystery is about Civil War treasure, and I gave it a rating of three out of five. Mike travels to Alabama to spend the summer with his father along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. He meets Kyle, and they notice a ship that is searching for sunken treasure. Their summer changes dramatically when the boys discover a gold coin that may have been created by the Confederate government. There have been rumors about these coins, but no one in the world has ever seen one. Mike and Kyle search for more of the rare coins, but they're in a race against the treasure hunters and a category five hurricane.

I enjoyed the historical mystery surrounding the plot, but some readers may not be interested in the search for rare coins. The book has adventure, not necessarily action, and I was curious to see if more coins actually existed. The conflict with the treasure hunters could have been played up to create a bit more suspense, but I enjoyed the book overall.

They Never Came Back by Caroline Cooney

I gave this mystery a rating of four out of five. Cathy Ferris is studying Latin during summer school when another boy, Tommy, approaches her and claims she is his cousin, Murielle Lyman. Five years earlier, Murielle's parents stole millions of dollars from investors and then fled the country. Cathy denies that she is Murielle and isn't sure what to do. Her summer classmates are very interested in the story and spend much of their time trying to collect information on the Internet and by questioning Cathy. The mother of one of her classmates spent two years in prison, and the student really wants the Lymans punished. The FBI and other law enforcement agencies hear about Cathy and show up with questions about the Lymans. Cathy seems to be the only person not interested in pursuing the story, but why?

The chapters of the book alternated between the present day plot and flashbacks to the days surrounding the disappearance of Murielle's parents. Murielle was supposed to leave the country with her parents, but she missed the plane and hasn't been seen for five years. I was kept wondering if Cathy was actually Murielle and if the Lymans would ever be caught by the police. The plot is not full of suspense, but it has plenty of mystery to keep it interesting.

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place:The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood

This book is the first in a series, and I gave it a rating of three out of five. What would it be like to teach three children raised by wolves? Penelope travels to Ashton Place to become the new nanny, and that is exactly her problem. The children were found on the grounds of the estate, but no one knows where they came from. The lady of the estate plans to host a Christmas party, and she expects the incorrigible children to attend. Some unexpected events occur in regards to the party, and the mystery carries over into a sequel.

I've read a couple of books about characters being raised by wild animals, but it was funny to see how Penelope treated these children. When she met them, the children were living naked in the barn, and they communicated by grunting and howling. Penelope thought she could soon teach them Latin, even though they couldn't speak English and had never even worn clothes. This book isn't a true mystery. I was left wondering about some comments made by the head of the estate, and someone seemed to have sabotaged the party. Other than that, it was a fun story about the "wild" children.

Fake ID by Walter Sorrells

This book was recommended by a student, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Chastity has no idea who she really is. Her current name was chosen randomly when she arrived to this town in Alabama with her mother. Then, Chastity's mother disappears, leaving her car and a pool of blood behind. Chastity discovers information about a murder in the town that happened thirty years ago. She also has people calling and threatening her for information about events that seem to involve her mother. Chastity doesn't know what they're talking about, but that won't stop them from killing her. What is the secret behind her mom's past, and what can Chastity do to save herself?

This book is a good mystery, and young readers will probably enjoy it. It was interesting to see how the murder from thirty years ago was still affecting lives today. It was a bit unrealistic how Chastity was able to manipulate some characters and solve the problem, but it worked within the plot.

Silverfin by Charlie Higson

This is the first book in the "Young Bond" series, and I gave it a rating of five out of five. James Bond attends school at Eton where he has a few run-ins with a bully named George Hellebore. James goes to his aunt's house for Easter break where he runs into George and his father, again. It turns out that Mr. Hellebore is doing some secret experiments in a nearby castle, and James breaks into the castle to find out what's going on. It turns out that Mr. Hellebore is hoping to combine eel hormones with humans to create a perfect soldier. He is ready to move on to human subjects, and James seems to be a perfect specimen after he's captured.

I grew up with the James Bond movies, so it took me a while to get over the anticipation of secret weapons and spy organizations. It's not that type of book, although it has quite a bit of adventure and intrigue. I enjoyed the multiple levels of conflict (bullies, a dying uncle, the crazy scientist), and the fact that James didn't possess any superpowers. He was an adventurous kid who stumbled onto a problem that might affect the whole world. Simple, right? The ongoing threat of killer eels was an unusual twist.

Double or Die by Charlie Higson

This is the third book in the Young James Bond series, and I gave it a rating of five out of five. As with the previous books, the setting is in England during the early 1900's. A teacher at Eton disappeared, and a friend of James receives a cryptic letter from him. Most of the book is spent trying to decode the seven hidden clues in order to find out what has happened to the professor. It is discovered that three men were working on a project to create a machine that thinks 1,000 times faster than any man (an early computer?), and it will be sold to the Russians. One of the men has been murdered, the professor is missing, and the third is unknown. James confronts two killers several times throughout the book and receives some unexpected help from a character in his past to defeat the bad guys. James must stop them and destroy the machine before the Russians get it out of England.

This book had the mysterious puzzles that I like and a great deal of action. James' struggles against the two killers added some suspense but also some humor. I enjoyed the creativity of the situations he was thrust into and unusual methods that were used to save him. I thought it was clever how the author blended characters from his previous books with new characters with this book. James needed help from all of them!

Blood Fever by Charlie Higson

This is the second book in the Young James Bond series, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. James visits his cousin on an island off the coast of Italy. While there, he disovers a man who is trying to resurrect the Roman Empire to control most of Europe. The man has a phobia about dirt and sometimes is angered to the point of killing people over it. James visits the man's giant fortress that is built in the mountains on the island. The huge dam that he's created ends up being his downfall.

I enjoyed the plot, but the book seemed to be lacking a little bit of something. I don't think it contained as much action or mystery as the first book in the series. The part of the rising action just before the climax was exciting, but I wish there had been more of that earlier in the plot. The change in the pirate's character was surprising, but enjoyable.

Cherub: The Recruit by Robert Muchamore

This book is the first in the Cherub series, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. James seems to always be getting into trouble, and he's surprised one day to wake up in a camp for young spy trainees. He is paired up with Kerry, and she helps him get through the three-month training program. The last four days of the training find the recruits traveling through the jungles of Malaysia. After gradutating, James is finally sent on his first mission to stop the assassination of the top oil executives in the world. The mission takes him into a rural compound of "hippies", but a few of the inhabitants are scary weird. James doesn't know how dangerous the terrorists can be, and he needs to discover this fact before it costs him his life. 

The name CHERUB may stand for something, but no one knows since the creator died. The exposition of the book is mostly about James' home life and all of the trouble he gets into. He doesn't look for trouble, but it seems to find him. The middle of the book deals with his training, and the last third of the book is the mission. I enjoyed the interaction of the characters, and girls will like how Kerry and Amy are able to kick James' butt. Amy is able to help James overcome his fear of water and actually learn to swim. Overall, it was a great book, and I assume the sequels will be able to jump right into the missions and action.

Bloody Jack by L.A. Meyer

Bloody Jack: Being an Account of the Curious Adventures of Mary "Jacky" Faber, Ship's Boy (Bloody Jack, #1)My name is Mary "Jack" Faber. I'm a ship's boy on the Dolphin. Wait, that's not really true, because I'm actually a girl. Nobody on board knows it, and I'm real careful about keeping it secret. But that's not true either. I had to tell Jaimy I'm a girl on account of he likes me and thought it was weird liking a boy. Becoming a ship's boy keeps me from living on the streets, but it's still pretty dangerous hunting down pirates for His Majesty's Navy. A sleazy crewman named Sloat used to terrorize me, until I killed him with my shiv. It's getting harder to hide my body from the rest of the crew as I get older. I've got to get off this ship, but I don't want to leave Jaimy. I may not have any choice if I wait much longer.

Imagine, a young coming of age on a ship full of sailors! Jacky's secret is the big conflict in the book. She does her best to be an excellent ship's boy, and she helps form the Brotherhood with the other new boys on board. Female readers can identify with her development issues and the confusion she feels throughout. Male readers can enjoy the description of men living aboard an old sailing warship, as they hunt down pirates. Although there are action scenes, the book is more about Jacky coming to terms with her own identity. She joined the crew for survival, tried to be the best ship's boy possible, but couldn't deny her own feminism in the end. This book is not the kind I normally read, but it was pretty good.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Twisted Summer by Willo Davis Roberts

This book was written by the author of Don't Hurt Laurie, but I gave it a rating of three out of five. Cici's family always looks forward to summer vacation at the lakeside cottage with grandparents and cousins. The family wasn't able to visit last summer, and they just found out that a girl was murdered by the lake. Brody, the brother of a boy that Cici likes, was convicted of the crime and is now in prison. Cici decides that the evidence doesn't make sense, so she plays detective to discover the real murderer. However, she is surprised by some of her discoveries, and the murderer may know what she's up to. That can be deadly!

The plot was interesting, but I never really felt the suspense of the mystery. It seemed like Cici's detective work arose out of curiosity, so I didn't feel the conflict as much. The climax offered some tension, but that was during the last fourth of the book. There was an unexpected twist during the resolution of the plot.

The Calder Game by Blue Balliett

This book was written by the same author as Chasing Vermeer, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Calder and his two friends enjoy finding adventure and looking for patterns in their lives. Calder was named after a famous artist, and many of the artist's sculptures start appearing all over the place. Calder and his father travel to England where they discover a new sculpture by the artist has recently been erected in a small village. Several days later, Calder and the large sculpture disappear. There are no clues as to what happened, and no one knows if the two disappearances are related. Calder's two friends are flown overseas to help the police find him. The more days that pass, the less chance there is that he will be found alive.

The plot was interesting, because Calder went from being the main character to the main conflict in the story. His disappearance is the main focus for the second half of the book. Readers will find themselves trying to figure out the location of the missing sculpture, and they will also start thinking like Calder to try to find him. The plot moved a little slowly for my liking, but having the main character disappear was unusual.

The lexile level from is 830.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Max Cassidy: Escape From Shadow Island by Paul Adam

I found this on a recommended summer reading list, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Max is the son of a world-famous escape artist, and he's following in his father's footsteps. However, two years earlier, his father turned up missing in Santo Domingo, and his mother was convicted of his murder. A mysterious man tells Max that his father is still alive, but the man turns up dead before Max can get more details. Max heads to Santo Domingo to find information about his father's disappearance, but the local police are corrupt and try to force him back to England. Max figures out that the secrets he needs must be found on Shadow Island, and he's not going to leave until he finds some answers.

This plot is similar to the Alex Rider and Young James Bond books. Max doesn't have any super powers or fancy inventions, but he has the escape skills of his father. I enjoyed how he used these skills to escape from the corrupt police force and other dangerous characters. The action moved along nicely, and the author did a nice job of making the conflict grow as Max got closer to the truth. He was threatened, arrested, imprisoned, and nearly died while trying to escape. You should be prepared to read a sequel to this book, because Max is left with more searching to do after the story's resolution.

The Stalker by Joan Lowery Nixon

The StalkerNixon is a classic mystery writer for teens, and I gave this book a rating of four out of five. The mother of Jennifer's best friend is murdered, and the police arrest her friend for the crime. Jennifer doesn't believe it, so she convinces a retired police officer to help her find out the truth. They uncover some secrets about Stella Trax, the deceased mother, and find a number of other people who might have wanted to kill her. However, the killer knows what Jennifer is up to and is ready to stop her.

An interesting style to this book concerns the point of view. The odd number chapters tell the plot of the story in third-person, limited omniscient. The even number chapters are written in first-person from the killers point of view. This allows the reader to know the murderer's thoughts as Jennifer collects information. It's evident that the killer becomes more worried and threatening as Jennifer and the retired detective get closer to the truth.

The Red Blazer Girls: The Ring of Rocamadour by Michael Beil

The Red Blazer Girls: The Ring of RocamadourThis book was suggested by one of my students and our school librarian, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Sophie, Margaret, and Rebecca are in school one day when Sophie notices a mysterious face looking at her from the building next door. It turns out the face belongs to an older woman with a mystery. Her father left her daughter scavenger-hunt clues to find a birthday gift, but he died before giving them to her. And that was about fifteen years ago. The husband was an archaeologist, and he said the gift would be a "treasure". The three girls follow the clues leading to the treasure, but they discover someone else is looking for it too. The treasure could be worth millions! The mysterious rival could be the ex-husband, the snoopy housekeeper, or someone else the kids don't suspect. To complicate things, a cute boy is involved which creates some conflict and distraction.

This book won't appeal to everyone. I found the clues interesting, because they seemed almost impossible to solve. I liked how the author made each clue related to a different school subject area. The setting was mostly in a school and the church next door, so that tended to decrease the suspense a bit. There were a couple of places where the author described the solution to the clues, almost like lessons in school. The climax was creative, and I liked how the author happily resolved all of the problems.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes Book Two by Catherine Sadler

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's the Adventures…This book is an adapted version for adolescent readers, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. The book contains several short mysteries, and the main character is the famous, fictional detective Sherlock Holmes. In the first story, a man wants to give a young woman half of a lost treasure, but his brother is killed and the treasure is lost. The second mystery concerns a stolen gem that turns up in the stomach of a goose, and the third mystery is about a girl who is murdered inside of a locked room.

Sherlock Holmes's strength is his ability to make inferences from his careful observations. Other characters see the same things, but he is able to make connections and deductions from them. For example, by looking at an old pocket watch, he was able to figure out that a man had inherited it from his father, had done well financially but had fallen on hard time, and had been a drunk. The story is narrated by Holmes's long-time assistant, Dr. Watson. This book is a nice bridge to the more sophisticated mysteries of Sherlock Holmes.