Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Connect the Stars

Audrey has a gift (or maybe it's a curse).  She can tell when people are lying.  It wasn't so bad when she was a little kid.  Most people told the truth most of the time, but now that she's in middle school, people lie all the time.  She feels frustrated and hurt when people lie to her, so she's decided to always tell the truth even if it means she won't have friends.  When her best friend lies and Audrey suffers, it is the ultimate betrayal.

Aaron is really good at remembering things.  If he's read it, seen it, or heard, it's in his head.  This makes him a natural for the star position in his school's quiz bowl team, but when the final question is one of intuition rather than information, he fails miserably.

Both kids find themselves at a wilderness camp in the West Texas desert.  Their parents are hoping this experience will help them gain confidence and see the world in different ways.  Along with their teammates, they will learn to survive in the desert.  Kate is very sensitive and good at empathizing with others.  Louis is hypersensitive to any stimulation.  They will have to deal with a couple of bullies plus an overbearing guide, but el Viaje a la Confianza may be just what these kids need, especially when one of the kids runs away, and they have to race against the unforgiving desert to save her.

This new book by Marisa de los Santos and David Teague is engaging and enjoyable.  Parts of the story are a little far-fetched, but I think kids, especially sensitive kids will enjoy it.

The Magic Mirror

OK, first I have to say the cover art is not doing this book any favors.  It seems to be marketed toward the upper elementary crowd based on the cover, but I think it will appeal more to 7th-9th graders.  This is a mystery of the publishing world I will probably never understand.  I will just have to work harder to get my older kids to read this one because Susan Hill Long's medieval fantasy is definitely worth the effort!

Margaret is an orphan with a twisted leg.  The local bullies tease her mercilessly and sometimes call her Maggot.  One day she meets a peddler who saves her from the bullies and shows her a magic mirror.  Instead of her own face, Margaret sees a red-haired man working feverishly.  She feels this man has something to do with her destiny.  When her caretaker announces that Margaret will marry the local hunchback, Maggie decides to run away.

Thus begins her journey through the countryside and many adventures.  By the end of the book, Margaret will discover that there are no chance meetings or coincidences.  All the characters and events will meet together to tie up nicely in the end when Margaret learns the truth about her identity and her destiny.

I have to admit I'm a sucker for this kind of intricate plotting where everything is a clue, and everyone is important.  Hand this to fairy tale fans who enjoy a good mysterious plot.


Sierra's summer plans are put on hold when because her grandfather wants her to finish painting a mural on an abandoned building.  Sierra loves creating art, but she's never done anything this big before.

Then some creepy guy interrupts her date.  He looks strange, and his voice is even stranger.  He is a corpuscle, a dead body that's been reanimated to do someone else's will.  And that's just the beginning.

Sierra learns that her grandfather and his friends were once Shadowshaper.  They had the power to create art and send spirits into that art to make it come alive.  The only person who seems willing to help her is Robbie, a fellow artist who Sierra's had a crush on for a while.

As Sierra uncovers more about the Shadowshapers and the coming danger, she begins to understand why her bedridden grandfather was so desperate for her to finish the mural.  She has an enemy with far more experience, and he won't stop until the power of shadowshaping consumes him and everyone else who gets in the way.

This is a pitch-perfect urban fantasy from Daniel Jose Older.  The pacing and atmosphere are spot on--Cassandra Clare fans will love it!  Older's neighborhoods full of Haitian and Puerto Rican immigrants are colorful and lively, and the underlying messages about preserving culture and embracing your appearance and ancestry are wonderful.  This is what diversity should look like in literature!  Also, that cover...amazing!  Highly recommended for grades 8 and up!

Code of Honor

Kamran Smith's life is pretty good.  He's just been crowned homecoming king, he has a great girlfriend, he's a star football player, and he's all set to go to West Point after graduation.  He wants to follow in his older brother's footsteps.  Darius, a West Point graduate and Army Ranger, is Kamran's real life superhero.

Everything changes when a video of an al-Qaeda attack shows up online.  Darius is in the video--not fighting against al-Qaeda but fighting with them.  It's easy for people to believe the one time hero would turn enemy because Darius and Kamran are half Iranian.  They were born in America, but their mother is from Iran.  Kamran's friends quickly distance themselves from him, and reporters are camped out on the front lawn day and night.  Everyone believes Darius must have joined al-Qaeda, but Kamran knows it can't be true.  Darius would never betray his family and his home.

When it seems like no one is willing to listen, Kamran begins his own investigation and notices something strange about Darius's videos.  Could Darius be trying to send his brother a message?  When he is kidnapped by the federal government and interrogated for days on end, even Kamran begins to have doubts.  Is Darius really a terrorist?

Alan Gratz's new book is a thrill ride with lots of action, suspense, and covert ops.  It is also a particularly timely story with its themes of racism and loyalty.  Readers will love this one!  Highly recommended.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Sticks and Stones

Elyse has a rare genetic disorder that makes the words and names people call her appear on her skin.  The bad ones are itchy, and the nice ones feel pleasant.  When she was little, her doctor would come to school and do a presentation about CAV.  At first, everyone thought it was cool, but then they would just forget about it and see Elyse.

Now that she's in middle school, she just wants to be normal, so instead of making a big deal about CAV, she wears long sleeve shirts and jeans.  There has been another development in her CAV.  It's not just the names other people call her aloud that appear on her skin.  Now, the words she thinks about herself are showing up, too.

Her greatest wish is to become the Explorer Leader for the annual 6th grade trip.  This person gets to be in charge of the planning, and everyone always says nice things about the Explorer Leader.  Elyse knows if she could get the job, all those nice words could keep her going for a long time.

But Elyse has not really made much of an impression in middle school.  She's been keeping to herself, and she hasn't really met any new people.  Her former best friend has been hanging out with the popular girls leaving Elyse on her own.  That's when she starts getting notes written on blue paper encouraging her make new friends and step out of her comfort zone.  Who is sending the mysterious notes?  Will the sender's advice help Elyse become Explorer Leader and get all those positive words?

This is Abby Cooper's first novel, and there is a lot to like here.  The cover art is great, very eye-catching, so kudos to the design team.  Also, I really like the concept of the book, and the fact that Elyse's self-talk is more important than what others say.  The book starts out great, but it gets a little preachy in the end.  Also, I really wanted someone to tell the mom to back off.  Her smothering is a big part of Elyse's issues.

Overall, I would recommend this book.  The message is important, and kids will like it.  Give this one to fans of Wonder.

23 Minutes

The bank robbery is a disaster.  The robber shoots the nicest guy in the bank right in front of Zoe.  His blood is everywhere.  She has the chance to change things, but should she do it?  Can she make things right?  Zoe crosses her arms and says, "Replay."

Zoe has a gift.  She can relive the last 23 minutes of her life up to ten times to try to get things right.  It usually doesn't help, but she can't just watch a man die and do nothing.

Each time she plays back her life, she learns more about what will and won't work and clues to the identity of the robber.  The problem is she's the only one who remembers.

She also learns that maybe seeing one man die in front of her isn't the worst possible outcome of the situation.

She only has ten chances to get right.

Vivian Vande Velde's new book is full of suspense, and the thoughtful reader will be trying to puzzle out a solution right along with Zoe.  This is a quick read perfect for mystery and sci-fi readers as well as reluctant readers.  Recommended for grades 7 and up for a few instances of mild profanity.

The Boys Who Challenged Hitler

When Denmark gave in to the German occupation with very little resistance in 1940, Knud Pedersen was furious.  Why didn't the Danish government fight back like Norway?  Knud, along with his brother and some of his friends quickly formed the RAF Club to sabotage the German army.

When the family moved to Aalborg, the brothers formed a new club with more members.  They called themselves the Churchill Club for the British Prime Minister.  The boys set continued their acts of sabotage and eventually moved on to stealing weapons.

This is an intense and thrilling adventure, but I have to admit it was difficult to read as an adult.  The boys acted with the reckless abandon of youth and stepped into extremely dangerous situations with little thought of getting caught.  It was thrilling and nerve-wracking!

I recommend Phillip Hoose's book to World War II aficionados and action adventure fans.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

This Kid Can Fly

Aaron Philip is a 14-year-old with cerebral palsy.  This book is the story about what he has accomplished despite having a severe disability.  He chronicles his family's struggles for money and the separation with one parent living in their native Antigua and one in the United States.  The struggles of the caregiver are evident in this book, and Aaron is quick to point out all the sacrifices people have made for him.

The book comes from a blog he started on Tumblr called The Aaronverse where he talks about what it's like to be a kid with CP. Readers will come away with empathy and understanding for Aaron's situation and maybe some empathy for those who are similar situations they may meet in real life.

I was expecting a focus more on Aaron's accomplishments, but the book often feels like a chronology.  For example, he mentions several times how important art is to him, but there are only three of his pieces in the book, and they are at the very end.  It definitely feels like a kid wrote this book (which is a good thing).  This is a good option for kids to try to understand what it's like to live in a world that isn't built for you.  Readers will also find that they have a lot in common with Aaron; he is just a normal kid who happens to have CP.