Monday, December 28, 2015

Book review - Crystal Cadets

Title: Crystal Cadets
Author: Anne Toole and Katie O’Neil
Genre: graphic novel/fantasy
Similar books: Princeless by Jeremy Whitley
                     Amulet by Kazu Kibuishi

Nicely done but not really my style
Summary (provided by publisher): Cadets Go! Join this team of darkness-fighting, world-saving, power-packed teen girls from all over the world on their first adventure!
Zoe has always felt out of place; her foster parents are great and all, but she’s long felt like something was missing. That is, of course, until she discovers a mysterious gem left to her by her birth mother and her whole universe gets flipped around! When the crystal grants Zoe mysterious powers of light she becomes the Diamond Cadet, and she’s not the only one; suddenly she’s meeting new friends who shoot flames and glowing green arrows. It’s all fun at first, but when The Darkness possesses Zoe’s foster parents her only choice is to join this wild group of action-hero girls, traveling the globe to defeat The Darkness and find a cure!

My opinion: This book is solidly plotted and well drawn. I’m all for girl power and teamwork. It is perhaps more girly, froo-froo, clear good and evil, hugs and kisses, sunshine and rainbows than I prefer but it would make a solid choice for mid to upper elementary school girls. Nothing overly violent or objectionable and no romance either.
Advance Reader Copy provided by NetGalley

Friday, December 18, 2015

Book review - The Door by the Staircase

Title: The Door by the Staircase
Author: Katherine Marsh
Genre: retelling
Similar books: Baba Yaga’s Assistant by Marika McCoola
                     Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee

a nice change of pace
Summary (provided by publisher): Twelve-year-old Mary Hayes can't stand her orphanage for another night. But when an attempted escape through the stove pipe doesn't go quite as well as she'd hoped, Mary fears she'll be stuck in the Buffalo Asylum for Young Ladies forever.

The very next day, a mysterious woman named Madame Z appears at the orphanage requesting to adopt Mary, and the matron's all too happy to get the girl off her hands. Soon, Mary is fed a hearty meal, dressed in a clean, new nightgown and shown to a soft bed with blankets piled high. She can hardly believe she isn't dreaming!

But when Mary begins to explore the strange nearby town with the help of her new friend, Jacob, she learns a terrifying secret about Madame Z's true identity. If Mary's not careful, her new home might just turn into a nightmare.

Award-winning author Katherine Marsh draws from Russian fairytales in this darkly funny middle-grade fantasy novel

My opinion: Baba Yaga is truly an underappreciated folk character. Unlike European fairy tales, Baba Yaga is not all bad. Sure she’s a witch and she eats children. She also, occasionally, rescues them. She helps them out of desperate circumstances. In short, of all the fairy tales witches she is the most human. And that is the idea behind this novel. I suspected the true identity of Madame Z fairly early on but more in an anticipatory way than any real annoyance or impatience. Mary is a great character, a heroine with spirit and sturdiness yet with fears and weakness. Add in a town full of wonder in Iris and a delightful sense of atmosphere and this book is a joy to read. It is historical fiction but touches of magic will entice upper elementary readers. This is a great pick for kids who enjoy fairy tale retelling but are ready for something other than the standard princess tales.

More information: The Door by the Staircase releases January 5.

Advance Reader Copy provided by NetGalley

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Picture books for everyone

Mouse and Mole and the Christmas Walk by Doug Cushman

There is a lot to admire in this book. First of all, it encourages a holiday with a low ecological impact as Mouse and Mole make their own edible decorations which they put on a tree out in the forest (rather than cutting one down). It encourages experiences and the joys of sharing rather than the consumption. The illustrations are simple but charming. And the bottom of each page has brief, mostly scientific, facts about winter to sustain the interest of older readers.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Book review - The Runaways Gold

Title:  The Runaway’s Gold
Author: Emilie Christie Burack
Genre: historical fiction
Similar books:  Listen to the Moon by Michael Murpurgo
                      My Near Death Adventures by Alison DeCamp

Intriguing but perhaps overly convoluted
Summary (provided by publisher): In 1842, Christopher Robertson's family lives a difficult life as “crofters,” farmers and fishermen so in debt to the landowner that they have no hope of ever breaking free. To make matters worse, Christopher also lives under the thumb of his morally questionable father and devious brother. When his brother frames him for the theft of their father's secret bag of coins, Christopher must leave his home and embark on a journey across the island to return the coins and clear his name. It's a journey that takes twists and turns, including stops in prison, on a smuggler's ship, and at the house of a beautiful girl—and it ends with him escaping to a new life in America, which has dangers of its own.

My opinion: Interesting. I have some fondness for tales of poverty and hidden treasure. This one is a little Dickensian, what with the plucky and virtuous young man in desperate circumstances, trying to find a way to clear his name and help his family in spite of dishonest rich men and greedy grasping acquaintances. Of the historical fiction I’ve read lately, though, this is the one I have the hardest time imagining recommending to young readers. Perhaps too complex for many. The focus of the novel switches back and forth between Christopher’s present, in New York, and the circumstances in Shetland that led him to run away. With situations that will have young readers crying out “unfair” and dialogue that leans heavily on Scottish terms and historical situations that are unfamiliar to the modern reader, this book is not likely to keep most readers engaged all the way to the end.

Advance Reader Copy provided by NetGalley

Friday, December 11, 2015

Book review - Terror at Bottle Creek

Title:  Terror at Bottle Creek
Author: Watt Key
Genre: realistic fiction

Similar books:  Zane and the Hurricane by Rodman Philbrick
                      Never Say Die by Will Hobbs
Summary (provided by publisher): In this gritty, realistic wilderness adventure, thirteen-year-old Cort is caught in a battle against a Gulf Coast hurricane. Cort's father is a local expert on hunting and swamp lore in lower Alabama who has been teaching his son everything he knows. But when a deadly Category 3 storm makes landfall, Cort must unexpectedly put his all skills-and bravery-to the test. One catastrophe seems to lead to another, leaving Cort and two neighbor girls to face the storm as best they can. Amid miles of storm-thrashed wetlands filled with dangerous, desperate wild animals, it's up to Cort to win-or lose-the fight for their lives. 

My opinion: I liked the information about swamp animals in this book. It gives a great deal of interesting facts without becoming overwhelming or too much like a text book. There is one passage where Cort and his father compare the nature of mammals and reptiles, how domesticated mammals can revert to a feral state without the influence of humans but no amount of human influence seems to fully domesticate a reptile. These are really cool concepts to consider. Apart from that its actually a fairly standard survival story. The parts about Cort’s issues with his parents are well integrated into the immediacy of the survival story. Over all, it is fairly well written and worth a read.

More information: Terror at Bottle Creek releases January 5.

Advance Reader Copy provided by NetGalley

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Books on screen: Holiday edition

Eloise at Christmastime
Let's be frank: the book and movie here bear little plot resemblance. The book chronicles the everyday doings of an excitable, mischievous child at Christmas. She eats treats, decorates, sings, and exchanges gifts. The made for tv movie adds two dramatic plots: the romance between Bill and Rachel Peabody and Mrs. Thornton's pending eviction. The original illustrations supply the inspiration for at least the second of these plots (Eloise includes a drawing of a sour-faced woman with a poodle scowling at Eloise and Skipperdee). Most importantly, though, the movie truly captures the spirit of Eloise. Sofia Vassilieva not only resembles Eloise, she mimics her facial expressions and postures. And Julie Andrews is delightful as Nanny. This movie is a great one to add to your holiday rotation.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Non-fiction book review - Susan B. Anderson's Kids Knitting Workshop

Susan B. Anderson’s Kids Knitting Workshop

For the most part, the instructions in this book are very clear. Anderson provides plenty of simple, clear steps. A kid could almost teach himself/herself to knit with this book alone. The single exception is the cast-on instructions which I, a somewhat experienced knitter, found needlessly complicated and terribly confusing . I struggled to make those instructions work. Once I moved beyond that point, though, I found the bulk of the instructions very helpful and I liked that most of the projects were useful, practical projects. With guidance from an experienced knitter, this is a very helpful guide for the young crafter.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Merry Christmas!

Wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas.

Book review - Shadows of Sherwood

Title: Shadows of Sherwood
Author: Kekla Magoon
Genre: retelling/sci-fi
Similar books: Valiant by Sarah McGuire
                     Jack by Liesl Shurtliff

Fun, but not my favorite

Summary (provided by publisher): For fans of Percy Jackson comes a high-adventure retelling of the classic Robin Hood tale featuring a kick-butt heroine ... Robyn Hoodlum.

The night her parents disappear, twelve-year-old Robyn Loxley must learn to fend for herself. Her home, Nott City, has been taken over by a harsh governor, Ignomus Crown. After fleeing for her life, Robyn has no choice but to join a band of strangers-misfit kids, each with their own special talent for mischief. Setting out to right the wrongs of Crown's merciless government, they take their outlaw status in stride. But Robyn can't rest until she finds her parents. As she pieces together clues from the night they disappeared, Robyn learns that her destiny is tied to the future of Nott City in ways she never expected.

Kicking off a new series with an unforgettable heroine, readers will be treated to feats of courage and daring deeds as Robyn and her band find their way in this cruel, new world.

My opinion: On one hand, I liked the idea of this: a quasi modern gender bent Robin Hood. And I do mean quasi modern. They might have mopeds, holograms, and fully wireless tech, but the feel was more medieval. I kept expecting horses, armor, and cook fires. And while the base concept was sound, the execution has so much prophecy, near magic, and moon religion that it didn’t feel as much like Robin Hood. Clearly the first in series and not one I’d bother to continue reading.

Advance Reader Copy provided by NetGalley

Friday, December 4, 2015

Book Review - Not If I See You First

Title: Not If I See You First
Author: Eric Lindstrom
Genre: realistic fiction
Similar books:  Painless by S.A. Harazin
                      Song of Summer by Laura Lee Anderson
Summary (provided by publisher): Everyone has secrets. Everyone is a secret.
Parker Grant is a junior in high school who loves to run, has great friends, and isn't afraid to speak her mind--especially when it comes to how stupid some people can be around a blind person like her. The only topic to avoid is how Parker feels about the boy who broke her heart in eighth grade... who has just transferred to her school. And as long as she can keep giving herself gold stars for every day she hasn't cried since her dad's death three months ago, she'll be just fine. Right?
Combining a fiercely engaging voice with true heart, debut author Eric Lindstrom's Not If I See You First sheds light on the metaphorical blind spots that are a part of life, whether you're visually impaired or not. 

My opinion: Some Excellent stuff here. Seriously, excellent. So first of all we have Parker, a head-strong protagonist caught up in her grief and her own view of the world. We have the boy who wronged her and years of hurt between them. You have friends who keep secrets and are more than we or Parker suspect. The ending won’t suit everyone but it’s realistic and right up my alley. This is different than some of the teen fiction you’ll read this year but its certainly worth a look.

Advance Reader Copy provided by NetGalley

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Graphic Novel Spotlight - Brain Camp

Brain Camp by Susan Kim and Laurence Klavan

This is a very atmospheric book. The muted color palate suits the story’s tone, as does Faith Erin Hicks’ illustration style. Make no bones about it, this is an odd story, something along the lines of mild horror. It is a bit graphic in a few scenes with mild blood, but not terribly so. It’s solidly plotted and characterized with a nice, slightly open ending.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Book review - Doctor Who trio

Titles: Doctor Who System Wipe
          Doctor Who Death Riders
          Doctor Who Heart of Stone
Authors: Oli Smith
             Justin Richards
             Trevor Baxendale
Genre: sci-fi
Similar books: The Creeps by Chris Schweizer

                     Rust by Royden Lepp
a great choice for fans
Summaries (provided by publisher): System Wipe - The Eleventh Doctor finds himself trapped in the virtual world of Parallife. As he tries to save the inhabitants from being destroyed by a deadly virus, Amy and Rory must fight to keep the Doctor's body in the real world safe from the mysterious entity known as Legacy. 
Heart of Stone -  The Eleventh Doctor, Amy and Rory are surprised to discover lumps of moon rock scattered around a farm. But things get even stranger when they find out where the moon rock is coming from - a Rock Man is turning everything he touches to stone! Can the Doctor and his friends find out what the creature wants before it's too late? 
Death Riders -  The Galactic Fair has arrived on the mining asteroid of Stanalan and anticipation is building around the construction of the fair's most popular attraction - the Death Ride! But there is something sinister going on behind all the fun of the fair; people are mysteriously dying in the Off-Limits tunnels. Join the Eleventh Doctor, Amy and Rory as they investigate . . . 

My opinion: While these are separate stories by separate authors they are worth talking about together. I’ve read a number of novels that were extensions of tv shows over the years with varying degrees of entertainment value. These three are all solid choices for Whovians. Funny, clever, and just the right levels of tension and absurdity. All three books read like an episode of the show. System Wipe takes us into outer space for a technological adventures. Death Riders is a more standard alien adventure. Heart of Stone takes place on earth and is also a good choice for those less familiar with the show. Not something I’d give to just any sci-fi fan but a great choice for a Whovian.

Advance Reader Copy provided by NetGalley