These reviews are from the volunteers at the Juneau Public Library (in Alaska). during May 2014.
Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood written by Varsha Bajaj
With the subtitle, “The Exciting Story of How I Met My Father” and a pink cover, this looks as if it would be a good read on a rainy day and the book met my expectation. Abby is coping with knowing just a little (her father was from India) when growing up and life events lead to discoveries, including that he is a leading actor in Bollywood films. With contact established after thirteen years, he flies her to India to meet her grandmother and attend his movie preview. The story has some bits of excitement, but there is no real danger of a less than happy ending. It was fun to read about the American girl discovering India, adjusting to new family stories and enjoying glamorous times.
Alliance (The Paladin Prophecy) written by Mark Frost
In this second book of the Paladin Prophecy, Will West finds himself in an exclusive school in Wisconsin with four roommates who are all genetically modified—as he is—to have very unique skills both mental and physical. The roommates discover that many of the powerful and frightening people they encounter are frightening and powerful. They are all connected to an ancient organization called the Knights of Charlemagne which has had designs on world control for centuries.
This story is very intense and rich although it sometimes gets slowed down by very lengthy but necessary explanations. Mature fantasy fans will love all the layers of story.
Benny Goodman & Teddy Wilson: Taking the Stage as the First Black-and-White Jazz Band in History written by Lesa Cline-Ransome
As an introductory text in American history and as a picture book, this was disappointing. The watercolor paintings have a subdued palette, so that complexions are made very similar in tone. While this may serve a purpose in the illustration of the first performance, on most pages, it just makes most of the men look the same color.
I disliked the poetic style with no punctuation. The boyhoods are described together. Some of the parallels seemed forced, especially as the story shifted to Goodman’s point of view at the climax. Historically I am not comfortable with the “first.” This book itself shows jamming and recording together. We know that on Broadway in 1932, white actress Tess Gardella played the role of Queenie in her customary blackface opposite the black actor Paul Robeson. The very insistence that this performance was a noted first ignores the way musicians have learned from each other for millennia.
Dear Life You Suck in All Departments written by Scott Blagen
I was surprised by how much profanity is in this book and the grammar is really bad. But once I got used to that I thought it was good. It’s funny and has lots of personality.
Every Day After written by Laura Golden
A young Lizzie must keep her catatonic mother safe and secret in her home away from the bank and herself out of the orphanage after her father abandons them during the depression. I found this story rather depressing in the author’s attempt to contrast the hopeful ending when Lizzie learns she can trust others to help her and she is not alone in her troubles as her daddy always thought. Find it at the Valley Library.
Foul Trouble written by John Feinstein
This book was good, especially for basketball junkies like me. It is an awesome story of a basketball team which goes from exceptional to great—one of the best in the country. I recommend this book to anyone who loves sports. It isn’t only about sports either. There is a background story which goes with the plot. To anyone who thinks reading is boring, this book will change your mind.
Grasshopper Magic written by Lynne Jonell
This fantasy is predictable. If you eat grasshoppers, you may gain powers that you need to learn to use. The boy does well with this problem and discovers that he is as brave as he needs to be. This may be appealing for the newly independent reader or someone who had read the other books in this series.
Harriet the Spy written by Louise Fitzhugh
I can see why some people were confused by this book. You wait for a big revelation and for her to make an apology but she doesn’t change.
A Hundred Horses by Sarah Lean
This novel reminds us of the power of human spirit when people consider their dreams. Nell is unhappy with the busy life her divorced mom had created for her and sure that two weeks in the country will be terrible. She finds joy with younger cousins, in wandering through the countryside, and by forging a friendship with a mysterious, prickly local girl. The story is a gentle coming of age story with sensible adults guiding this girl to a resolution of grief and an acceptance of her own responsibilities. Yes, there are horses, heirlooms, hard choices, and tough life issues. The story is a paean to country life and strong girls who treasure family. Girls who like to read will find this a charming book.
The Here and Now Written by Ann Brashares
Brashares’ dystopian novel is a good read but does not feel entirely original—maybe because there are so many others and dystopia is dystopia after all. We have the required romance between the girl from the future, Prenna, and the “time native,” Ethan. What makes this story a bit different is that the story takes place during the present time and the future is dystopic. Time traveling gives the characters a shot at hope, a chance to create changes that may derail the grim future. The Message that people from the future—a future with plagues and fires and little food—are stunned that people from the past (our present) knew what was coming and did nothing to create a chance to stop the apocalypse, is a good one for teens. As with most dystopia novels the message is a bit in your face, but perhaps that is appropriate.
JFK written by Jonah Winter
This illustrated biography is appealing, with clear and dramatic paintings. The text is written in clear conversational tones. The author has a personal story to begin with and concludes with an appeal to idealism. The book is general, as when the Kennedy family is shown on the beach and the text in the following pages mentions only Joe Jr., John, and Robert by name. Family, war, Profiles in Courage, Cuban missile crisis, and civil rights are discussed. This book will be a good addition to an American History classroom.
School Library Journal marked this for PreS-Gr 2 and Booklist indicated grades K-3. My preference would be a read aloud in second grade and independent reading through fifth grade. The text is an exemplary essay, providing supporting evidence for a clearly stated thesis.
Loud Awake and Lost written by Adele Griffin
Ember drove her car off a bridge one icy night and spends the next 8 months in hospitals, being put back together. The story opens as she finally returns home and to school. But something is not right. There was a passenger in the car who died and she has no memory of him not of the 6 weeks leading up to the accident, during which her friends and family tell her, she was dressing and acting like a different person. She has stopped dancing and was hanging out with a new group. As she struggles with her traumatic brain injury and finding her way back into her life, we are taken on a long journey with Ember.
The problem with the journey is that it is very slow and Ember’s isolating herself brings even less action and interaction. As we are led to the inevitable discovery of her missing pieces of life, the twist of surprise feels a bit preposterous, leaving this reader with the feeling, “I read all for that just for this?” Find it at the Douglas library.
Love me written by Rachel Shukert
This is one of my favorite books right now. I loved the behind the scenes view of Hollywood and the unexpected ending. Some books have too much exposition but this was just right. The switches were effective. They were fun and not confusing.
The Living written by Matt de La Peña
I really liked this book. It has lots of good surprises. What I expected to happen is exactly what happened but in such a surprising way that it felt very satisfying.
The Midnight Dress written by Karen Foxlee
This is a novel for older teens. Rose is an outsider and a loner when she and her day land in a small Australian beach town. As Rose makes her way through the town, she makes a friend, learns dressmaking, and finds she wants to belong. Other characters, such as the bachelor bookstore clerk, other high schoolers, and parents are shown to have flawed characters. There are stories and mysteries throughout the book, which makes for an engrossing read. This is a literary novel that goes beyond the heroine’s coming of age. Find it at the Valley library.
Of Beauty and Beast written by Stacey Jay
Isra and Gem’s love story is a non-typical love story. It is of a girl, a somewhat normal girl who falls in love with a mutant beast. Normally I dislike love stories with intensity; however, I enjoyed this book because it truly was a non-typical love story and I would recommend it to anyone with an open mind and a like for fiction books.
Painting the Rainbow written by Amy Gordon
This story of girl cousins growing up during a summer at their grandparents place on a New Hampshire lake is historical fiction with nicely drawn characters. Holly and Ivy are thirteen years old and finding their strengths. This summer seems different because Holly’s parents are in California and Ivy’s parents are fighting. Still, the traditional hikes, boating, games, and playacting are fun. The list of campfire songs in 1965 is great.
With twenty-year-old Randy concerned with life choices during wartime, questions arise about Uncle Jesse who died in 1942. Several clues are found and questions asked but only the appearance of a stranger can unravel the secrets and heal the hurt.
The book has many characters and the mystery is well disguised. The unfamiliar history of conscientious objectors is intriguing. The loving descriptions of summers in the woods are marvelous. Readers will learn about American history and enjoy a good yarn. This is a great addition to books about the internment of Japanese and the Japanese Americans.
Park Scientist: Gila Monsters, Geysers and Grizzly Bears in America’s Own Backyard Written by Mary Kay Carson with photographer Tom Uhlman
This is a disappointing item in the “Scientists in the Field” series. The book covers quite a few scientists, with a couple of study subjects in each of three national parks. Thus it lacks the biographical detail and scientific practice detail of the previous books.
Many of the graphs and diagrams are a page or two away from the text that mentions the data. For instance, on page 24 which isn’t numbered, there is a reference to the graph on page 26. On that chart “Grizzly Menu,” there is no date or legend for the colors. The chart lists cutthroat trout though the text says the bears “no longer have fish to eat.” The text gives many inclusive statements which make for slow reading.
Panic written by Lauren Oliver
I look forward to new books by Oliver. I know the story will be engaging with strong characters and emotion that while strong is not sentimental. Panic is not a disappointment. Moving away from her trilogy of dystopic stories, this one takes place in small town, USA where teens at the local high school create a game called Panic. All students contribute money and seniors compete for the huge prize, completing challenges that often result in injuries and even death.
As usual, the main character (Heather) is tough and strong and wants the prize money to save her little sister and herself from an abusive home life. Although romance occurs the other characters are mainly as solid and complicated as Heather. With characters we care about and nonstop action, Panic carries the reader along on a wire of tension and fear. Heather and her friends demonstrate courage and loyalty but this is mainly a great story—not a morality lesson.
Revel written by Maurissa Guibord
After the death of her mother and various unsuccessful foster homes, Delia finds her way to her grandmother who lives on Trespass Island (Note: name a bit obvious.) where outsiders are not welcome. This is a coming of age story as the island people prepare for “Revel,” a traditional ceremony of solstice where Delia realizes her true being and power as a mermaid.
Delia is spunky. I enjoyed her voice as a first-person storyteller. She uses her new powers in a positive way. This could be read by middle schoolers even though there is some sexuality with the girls being chosen by male mermaids for impregnation until Delia’s power halts this ceremony. Find this at the Douglas library.
Spirit’s Chosen (Princesses of Myth) written by Esther Friesner
Himiko, princess and shaman of her tribe, sets out on a mission to free her captured family. Along the way she meets other tribes and unites them against a common enemy.
Sugar Hill: Harlem’s Historic Neighborhood written by Carole Boston Weatherford, translated by R Gregory Christie
This picture book provides introductory history. The rhythm is wonderful and carries the allusions. The back material (Who’s Who) is helpful. There is not much information in the text so this isn’t a book to learn from. There isn’t enough story to interest young children. Still the book might work well as a read-aloud which mentions important Americans.
Super Schnoz and the Gates of Smell written by Gary Urey
Andy Whiffler has a huge nose, memorizes noxious smells and is the new kid in fifth grade. This humorous novel is good fun. Andy figures out how to make friends (using his nose to give warning of the principal’s approach.) He enjoys a Comic Book Club project starring a hero with a big nose. The story heats up considerably when the school has to be evacuated because of a horrible smell. The clean-up company is not what it appears, and then his new friends give him a super-hero costume. Andy can fly and so infiltrates the school to discover a nefarious plot. The action is fast paced as Super Schnoz, the Not-Right Brothers, and Vivian work to save the town (and summer vacation, because if the school can’t reopen soon, there will be classes in July!) The book is absurd, full of puns and gross jokes, with cartoon illustrations and an inspiring story of friendship.
Susan Marcus Bends the Rules written by Jane Cutler
For her first months in Missouri, Susan is the new girl in town—standing out with her New York City accent, looking for friends, and learning all sorts of things, including the existence of prejudice. The story of secrets, friendships and learning is full of historical details. The year is 1943, so World War II is going on (affecting all their lives.) and Jim Crow laws are in place. The story is realistic and Susan is an appealing ten year old learning about the world. She is bold in her thinking but stays out of serious trouble. The book is adequate but not one I would recommend highly.
The Tyrant’s Daughter written by J.C. Carlson
15 year old Laila has always lived a protected and privileged like in her home country where her father is king but then her father is killed by his brother. Laila, her mother and her brother, Bastien, must flee to the USA where they live on handouts from the CIA. Bastien is eight and only understands that he is king now that his father is dead. Laila is fortunately taken under the wing of Emmy, a pretty, outgoing classmate. However she is still very confused about what happened until she finds the facts on the Internet.
Laila’s mother is working with the rebels and the uncle who killed her father. She also has the support of the CIA who don’t know what her mother is doing. This story does not have a happy ending but it is a true one. Because the author was a CIA agent, all the complex elements of this story sound true. This could be white a shock for many teenaged readers.
Winter Sky written by Patricia Reilly Giff
This is not a book that helped me understand the main character. The action is carefully described and the plot of a fireman’s daughter who is finding evidence of arson is intriguing. But over and over, I wondered why Siria was changing her mind. The ending seemed too slick for the twisting plot. The city setting seemed curiously timeless; I might have put it anytime in the last hundred years. This was a disappointing book.