Monday, October 30, 2017

The Playbook

This is a quick read with rules for success on the court and in real life interspersed with a handful of stories about athletes who have overcome challenges.

The advice is all good, and kids will love the graphic layouts, but this isn't really anything new.  Sports as a metaphor for success?  Heard it about a million times, but kids will pick it up because they enjoyed Kwame Alexander's other books and because of the sports angle.

This could be a good one for discussion, especially since there isn't much elaboration in the book, but if it makes a few kids stop and think, I won't complain!

Plus, Kwame is so stinking cute.  I just want to be friends with him in real life.


Nikki Tate's father has been on death row for the last five years after being convicted of the murder of one of his best friends.  New evidence has come to light which exonerates him, and now he's coming home.

Nikki and her mom should be happy, and they are, but a lot has changed in five years.  Her mom has never been good at business, so Nikki has been shouldering much of the burden for running the family's failing casino/hotel, Andromeda's Palace.

But she has a plan to get out of Vegas, she's been using the poker skills her dad taught her to run and win illegal games in the basement of the casino.  She's saving for college tuition in Virginia, as far away from Vegas as she can get.

But her father can't seem to settle into life as a free man and is gone from the hotel most nights.  Then his body is found in the alley behind the hotel, killed the same way as the victim in the case that landed him in prison.  Nikki is devastated and becomes obsessed with solving the case.

She won't stop no matter what even when she is warned away.  To make matters worse, she's been dating a boy whose father owns another hotel/casino, and she's beginning to wonder if the rumors about mafia connections are true.  Does Davis's father have something to do with her father's murder?

Lamar Giles's murder mystery set in the Las Vegas underbelly is grittier than I expected.  It's a good mystery but a little unbelievable that Nikki could go into so many dangerous situations and always emerge unscathed.  It reminded me a little of Veronica Mars, but Veronica always knew not to go up against a motorcycle gang without backup.

How to Avoid Extinction

Leo's number one job these days is finding his grandmother.  She likes to wander off which isn't too big of a problem because she generally ends up in one of a few places, including the donut shop where his cousin Abbey works. 

Before his grandfather died, he and Gram planned a road trip to Utah to see the dinosaurs, and now Gram has decided it's time to go.  Abbey readily agrees, but Leo is a harder sell.  The three of them, along with Kermit, Abbey's old but loyal dog, set off in Gram's ancient yellow Buick.  By the way, they neglected to mention this trip to Leo's mom. 

Along the way, they will find dinosaurs, the breathtaking beauty of America, and new friends, but things don't all go according to plan, and Abbey and Leo are left wondering if this trip was a huge mistake. 

Gram just wants to prove she is still in charge of her own life, and Leo clings a little too tightly to the rules.  If they survive this trip, maybe it will be just what everyone needs.

Paul Acampora's newest book is a touching and hilarious road trip across America with quick dialogue and wonderful characters.  Highly recommended!

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Ghost in the H.A.T.B.O.X.

Hatter Madigan has been living at the Millinery Academy since his parents died, but he's finally old enough to be a cadet himself.  After years of sneaking around in hidden corridors, he's hoping he will be a Spade, the spies of the kingdom, and finally get out of his older brother's shadow.

Things seem to be going well at first when Hatter, because of his parents' former positions, is welcomed into a group of the social elite.  When he ends up in permanent detention for something that wasn't even his fault, he begins to question his new friends.  In detention, he spends more time with the social outcasts of the Academy and discovers he actually likes them better.

But the ghostly image of a boy covered in tattoos keeps haunting him, and he isn't sure if the boy is real or if he's going crazy.

When the new class of cadets begins acting strangely robot, Hatter and his friends begin to investigate.  What does the ghost boy have to do with all of this, and how can a group of outcasts save the Kingdom of Hearts?

Frank Beddor's new prequel to his Looking Glass Wars series ends with a bang, but it takes a lot of slogging to get there.  I really struggled to get through this one.  Fans of The Looking Glass Wars and Alice in Wonderland will likely enjoy this, but it read a bit like a slower paced Harry Potter where Harry chose Malfoy instead of Hermione and Ron.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Girl in Between

She lives with her ma in an old abandoned mill.  She has to be invisible, so the authorities can't get her.  They used to live with her grandmother, and she was much happier then.  She always had food to eat and a safe place to sleep, but now it's just her and ma.  Ma promised to always come back, and the girl promised to never leave. 

Ma promised she wouldn't drink anymore, but sometimes she slips up.

The girl calls the mill a castle because it's so much better than any other place they've lived.  They've been there for a year and eight months, but the nearby construction is creeping closer and closer.

The girl would be happy to stay in the castle forever, but it doesn't seem like that will be possible. 

Sarah Carroll's new book is a heartbreaking look at homelessness and the devastating consequences of mental illness and addiction especially for the children of those who suffer.  The author is successful at portraying events in a way that keeps the story appropriate for middle school readers while more mature readers will grasp the nuances of the situation.  Recommended.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Goldfish Boy

Matthew has OCD.  He stopped going to school weeks ago, and he washes his hands until they are cracked and bleeding.  It's the germs.  They're everywhere carrying the potential for disease and death.

Because he never leaves the house, Matthew watches his neighbors from his window.  He knows their comings and goings better than anyone which makes him the perfect person to solve the crime when a kidnapping happens next door.

Mr. Charles's grandchildren are staying with him while their mother is out of town.  One minute, the little boy, Teddy, is playing outside, and the next he's gone.

Who could've done it?  Could it have been Mr. Charles who isn't too happy to have little kids messing up his life?  What about Old Nina, the recluse who's been acting strange lately?  What about Jake, Matthew's former friend, and current neighborhood bully?  Of course, there is also Teddy's older sister who isn't exactly a sweetheart.  Somebody took Teddy and Matthew is going to figure out who.

Lisa Thompson's debut novel is a solid middle school retelling of Rear Window, one of my favorite movies.  Fans of the movie will see plenty of nods to little plot elements, but a knowledge of the movie isn't necessary to enjoy the story.  This is also a great book to let readers into the mind and world of someone who suffers from OCD.  Highly recommended!

Monday, October 23, 2017

The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora

Arturo Zamora is third generation Cuban American and third generation La Cocina de la Isla.  His grandmother started the restaurant 19 years ago, and it has become a staple of the community.  Abuela is the heart of the family and the restaurant, but everyone is worried about her failing health.

Arturo's mother's closest friend has recently died, and her widow and daughter have come to stay with the Zamoras for the summer.  Arturo hasn't seen Carmen in a couple of years, and now he feels awkward and nervous around her.  But she's practically related, right?  You can't like someone you're related to!

When rich developer Wilfrido Pipo sweeps in to try to change the neighborhood with an exclusive high rise some people are excited about the new opportunities Pipo Place will bring, but others are worried these changes will make the neighborhood into a place they don't recognize.

Carmen and Arturo discover that Pipo wants to knock down La Cocina to make room for his highrise, and they set out to galvanize the Zamora family and the community to fight back.  It's time for Arturo to learn when something is important, you have to risk epic failure.

This lovely story by Pablo Cartaya reminded me at times of Neal Shusterman's Antsy Bonano.  It has the same combination of humor and tenderness.  Cartaya's story is rich in details and community if the villain is completely one dimensional.  Highly recommended.