Friday, October 30, 2015

Book review - The League of Unexceptional Children

Title: The League of Unexceptional Children
Author: Gitty Daneshvari
Genre: humor
Similar books: NERDS by Michael Buckley
                     The Double-Cross by Jackson Pearce

Silly fun
Summary (provided by publisher): Are you average? Normal? Forgettable? If so, the League of Unexceptional Children is for you! This first book in a hilarious new adventure series is for anyone who's struggled to be noticed in a sea of above-average overachievers.
What is the League of Unexceptional Children? I'm glad you asked. You didn't ask? Well, you would have eventually and I hate to waste time. The League of Unexceptional Children is a covert network that uses the nation's most average, normal, and utterly unexceptional children as spies. Why the average kids? Why not the brainiacs? Or the beauty queens? Or the jocks? It's simple: People remember them. But not the unexceptionals. They are the forgotten ones. Until now! 

My opinion: This book is going to connect with kids at two points: feeling invisible and the desire to be something fantastic. While the concept and execution of this book is rather ridiculous, it is somewhat rooted in reality. The ability to blend in is valuable for a spy. And that level of ridiculous is more fun and entertaining than annoying. It’s a cute read that is likely to entertain upper elementary readers.

Advance Reader Copy provided by NetGalley

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Graphic Novel Spotlight: El Deafo

El Deafo by Cece Bell

El Deafo is Bell's story of growing up deaf in a traditional public school. More than that, its a story of feeling fundamentally different at an age when one longs for nothing more than to belong. That makes it a universally relatable story. Plus, the illustrations are delightful, cartoony, and expressive. This is a great choice for fans of Raina Telgemeier's Smile.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Non-fiction book review - Be a Survivor

Be a Survivor by Chris Oxlade

Many kids go through a phase where they become fascinated with survival, usually around the fifth or sixth grades (often after reading a book like Hatchet or My Side of the Mountain) so it’s helpful to have good survival books available that are aimed at young readers. This book has a number of rather practical tips: making shelter, collecting water, making fire, and getting found. I do have some complaints:
1. After describing how to make a simple shelter with a tree it describes how to build an A-frame, should no appropriate tree be available. Just the A-frame, not how to use the frame to create a shelter. While one could perhaps figure it out given the previous instructions, I find explicit instructions far easier for kids to understand.
2. The section on igloos explains how to make snow bricks with a plastic box. While that is useful, I’d have liked to have seen a side note on making bricks when you don’t have such a box.
3. While a list of edible plants is helpful, this book provides no way to identify said plants. If I don’t know what a blueberry bush looks like, knowing that it is edible does me no good.
Most importantly:
4. The knife safety rules aren’t included until after the tips that use a knife. A kid isn’t likely  to flip ahead in a book to read safety tips before jumping into a project. Personally, I’d have preferred to see those safety rules right at the front of the book along with some fire safety rules.
This book does have good information. The section on collecting water, in particular, is surprisingly thorough. I wouldn’t give it to a kid without proper supervision, though. 

Advance Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Book review - Losers Take All

Title: Losers Take All
Author: David Klass
Genre: realistic fiction
Similar books: Fat Boy Vs the Cheerleaders by Geoff Herbach

                     Biggie by Derek E. Sullivan 
better than I expected
Summary (provided by publisher): At Jack Logan's sports-crazy New Jersey high school, the new rule is that all kids must play on a team. So Jack and a ragtag group of anti-athletic friends decide to get even. They are going to start a rebel JV soccer team whose mission is to avoid victory at any cost, setting out to secretly undermine the jock culture of the school. But as the team's losing formula becomes increasingly successful at attracting fans and attention, Jack and his teammates are winning in ways they never expected—and don't know how to handle. 

My opinion:  As Klass points out late in this novel, people love an underdog. That is part of the appeal of this novel. Our protagonists are poor athletes determined to stay as such. Most of the novel is rather humorous as the self proclaimed “losers” fumble through practices, games, and social interactions. It does take some serious turns and their efforts bring them at odds with not only their principal but most of the town. Klass takes a hard look at the oftentimes brutal culture of high school athletics. Rather than become an overly harsh spotlight, though, he then flips around and shows the positives, physical benefits, and sense of pride and loyalty sports can engender. Not only does he acknowledge that all issues have more than one side, he also points out how even a simple idea can quickly spiral out of control. While some of the side plots were a little unbelievable, it is an overall solid read which kept even this non-sports fan engaged.

Advance Reader Copy provided by NetGalley

Friday, October 23, 2015

Book review - These Shallow Graves

Title: These Shallow Graves
Author: Jennifer Donnelly
Genre: historical fiction/ mystery
Similar books: The Diviners by Libba Bray
                    The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry

very nice
Summary (provided by publisher):
Set in gilded age New York, These Shallow Graves follows the story of Josephine Montfort, an American aristocrat. Jo lives a life of old-money ease. Not much is expected of her other than to look good and marry well. But when her father dies due to an accidental gunshot, the gilding on Jo’s world starts to tarnish. With the help of a handsome and brash reporter, and a young medical student who moonlights in the city morgue, Jo uncovers the truth behind her father’s death and learns that if you’re going to bury the past, you’d better bury it deep.

My opinion:  Many books are written about girls who don’t fit into societal expectations, particularly in an historical context. This books is more than just one of the crowd. At face value, Jo is much like any historical heroine. She wants more than just the simple life her parents have planned for her. She wants to know about the world around her, to understand  the poverty she sees and to explore her city at greater depth. She doesn’t just fight against society, though. She wants to fit in. She’d like to do what is expected of her but finds conforming difficult. That burgeoning feminism at war with conformity makes Jo both relatable and historically realistic. Donnelly paints an excellent picture of Turn of the century New York City, both the high society and the cesspools, particularly when it comes to the treatment of women. Historical fiction can be kind of a hard sell but this book has both mystery and romance elements that will broaden the appeal.

More Information: These Shallow Graves releases October 27.
Advance Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Pick 6: horror

Who doesn't love a good scare in October? It's almost required to prepare for Halloween by scaring yourself silly. Here are six horror books published in the last six months.

6 new horror novels

1. Monster Motors by Brian Lynch

2. Sweet by Emmy Laybourne

3. Alive by Chandler Baker

4. The Suffering by Rin Chupeco

5. After Dark by James Leck

6. Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Picture books for everyone

Children Make Terrible Pets by Peter Brown

At heart, this is a pretty basic story: a little girl wants to keep an animal she found as a pet. Any number of books and television shows have told this same story. What gives this book extra appeal is its subversion of the character roles. Our main character, Lucy, is a bear. The animal that she finds and names, Squeaker, is a human child. It is terribly silly but a great deal of fun. Lucy's voice is fantastic and Brown's illustrations are incredibly expressive. The first time I read this book to a group of kids, they demanded and immediate reread.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Books on screen

The True Meaning of Smekday/Home
I suspected this movie would be a significant departure from the source material from the moment I read the description on the Netflix envelope (though I've read many a Netflix description that was a far cry from the movie's reality). I wasn't wrong. From the very beginning, the movie's entire focus is different than that of the book. Rex's original story focuses on Tip - her reactions, thoughts, feelings, and motivations. While these things have a role in the movie, they are more there as a lens for Oh (who is a far more bumbling, friendly, positive character in the movie). Even the plot is different. From the moment Oh fixes the car, the plot is a far cry from the book. They head to a different destination with an entirely different purpose. It's a nice movie, fun funny and well animated. Just a very different creation than the book was.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Book review - The Storm

Title: The Storm
Author: Virginia Bergin
Genre: post-apocalypse
Similar books: The Rule of Three by Eric Walters
                     How I Live Now by Meg Rosof
a decent read

Summary: A killer virus falls in the rain, wiping out most of the world's population. Ruby has been on her own for weeks, trying to keep herself alive and keep a tenuous grip on her sanity. When a girl she know from school, a girl she thought was safe in an army camp, shows up at her house Ruby sets out once more looking for help. Before long, she's caught up in government secrets that are increasingly horrifying. She just wants someone to take care of her. It might be time, though, for Ruby to make a stand.

My opinion: This is not the most thrilling book you'll ever read. In fact, it falls into a similar pattern to most dystopian/apocalyptic fiction: a girl trying to cope with an horrific situation and facing the truth about her government. One thing makes this one stand out: Ruby is just a typical teen. She has no special skills. She doesn't lead a rebellion. She's a regular girl who still wants her cell phone and cool clothes. She responds to trauma with sarcasm, gets annoyed with her parents, and is prone to hysterics. After dropping off a girl whose foot has been chopped off with an ax, Ruby is mortified to realize that her makeup is smeared all over her face. The drama is rather subdued in this one, but I feel like its a more realistic conclusion.

More information: The Storm is the sequel to H2O.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Book review - Orbiting Jupiter

Title: Orbiting Jupiter
Author: Gary D. Schmidt
Genre: realistic fiction
Similar books: Kinda Like Brothers by Coe Booth
                     Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson
Summary: 14 year old Joseph is not easy to live with. He comes to Jack's family as a foster child, having spent time in a juvenile facility for attempting to kill a teacher while high. He doesn't like physical contact and panics when approached from behind. All of his focus is on reuniting with his baby daughter, Jupiter. As Joseph begins to adjust to his new life on a Maine farm, his father reappears and makes his life difficult.

My opinion: Gary D. Schmidt remains one of my all-time favorite authors. He's yet to write a book that I did not enjoy. He has this amazing ability to draw the reader emotionally into a story. Orbiting Jupiter is only 180 pages long and in that brief length we come to care very deeply for Jack and Joseph. It is clear from his books that Schmidt cares about kids who haven't experienced much in the way of love. Whether their parents are emotionally distant or downright abusive, these characters learn to form relationships and attachments and live full lives. A brief warning: your best bet is to budget time to read this book all in one go. Once I got started, i didn't want to put this one down.

More information: Orbiting Jupiter releases October 6.
Advance Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Graphic Novel Spotlight: Alison Dare, Little Miss Adventures

Alison Dare: Little Miss Adventures by J. Torres

Alison Dare is a 12 year-old who has rejected the "normal" life her parents have planned for her in favor of danger and adventure. To be fair, her parents did not send her to a girls' school out of some antiquated notion of what a girl should be but rather for protection from the dangers she may face as a result of their careers (archaeologist/adventurer and superhero). While these adventures follow a more traditional comic book path, they're noteworthy since they feature such a strong young female character without making an issue out of it. They're like the feminine alternative to Tintin.