Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Fly by Night by Frances Hardinge

At just the perfect moment, 12-year-old orphan Mosca finds her chance to escape when a traveling con artist needs a hand getting out of town posthaste. But she may have just walked into a whole new brand of trouble by hooking up with a spy.

This kids novel is set in a time and place much like 19th century England, but with a fictional political upheaval that has resulted in the banning and elimination of almost all written word. Mosca's father was a revolutionary who taught her to read - a skill that almost no one has.

There's lots of political espionage here, and a fair amount of behind-the-scenes machinations that add drama to the tale. Mosca's goose Saracen adds a bit of comedy relief, and Mosca's a plucky heroine who tries always to do the right thing.

I'd recommend it for the 9-12-year-old crowd looking for adventure and a bit of fantasy.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Smek for President by Adam Rex

Timed along with the release of Home (the animated movie made from The True Meaning of Smekday) this sequel continues the friendship of human 12-year-old Tip Tucci and Boov alien J.Lo (whose name was changed to Oh for the film) about a year-and-a-half after they saved the world.

Socially, J.Lo is in bad shape: He's viewed as a villain by his people, who consider him The Squealer because his message allowed their enemy the Gorg to find Earth. On the other hand, the humans view him angrily as one of the recently defeated earth invaders and all-around as a general nuisance.

So when J.Lo and Tip strike on the idea of a trip to see New Boovworld (formerly Saturn's moon Titan) and try to clear his name, what could possibly go wrong? Well, for starters, Mom says NO. And there's that bit about J.Lo being Public Enemy Number One.

It's not necessary to have read the first book to understand this one, but by all means READ THEM BOTH!! This has become one of my ultimate favorite series in the history of ever.

I cannot say enough about the AMAZING Bahni Turpin, who narrates these audiobooks. The noises, inflections, and personality she injects into the characters and story are fantastic - she has brought it all to life in such a wonderful way, that I'm actually afraid to see the movie with someone else's version of these characters.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

Growing up at the turn of the 20th century, precocious youngster Francie Nolan understands her family lives a mean, tough existence in poverty, but also sees the world as a place rich with experiences for a smart, thoughtful girl like herself.

This year our library's book discussion group has chosen to read a few classics, which I think will be fun - I had never read this book, and in reading recognize I would not have enjoyed it as a student, but very much enjoyed it in adulthood.

Through the lives of the Nolan family and Francie's mother's Rommely sisters, we get a look at the lives of the poor Irish in America. Frequently I found myself amazed that, although the book takes place 100 years ago, many of its struggles and strifes are not significantly different today.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

When teenaged daughter Lydia dies, the hairline fractures in the Lee family shatter into insurmountable caverns between them. How did this happen? How many secrets do they each carry, anyway?

American-born Chinese James wants popularity and "common" experiences for his family, not the unique apartness he always felt. Marilyn wants her daughter to do everything she didn't. Nathan wants to reinvent himself at college, away from his family. Lydia wants to be free of the crushing expectations of her parents. And Hannah just wants to be noticed.

All this want, and no one's any good at expressing it. But that's true of many families, isn't it?

A strong theme in the book is the burden of expectations: what parents expect for and of their children, how children believe they should act to make parents happy, what we expect of others based on our preconceived notions. Ultimately it's that weight that wrecks them all.

I loved this book! While the book takes place in the 1970s, it's still a modern story with current themes and problems. You feel for each of the characters and the boxes they're trapped in; how can they burst free to really live? It's a familiar challenge.

Friday, March 13, 2015

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

The Cooke family was irretrievably broken by something that happened years ago. And while Rosemary would like to tell you about what happened when she was five years old, she's going to have to come at it in her own way - from the middle out, and perhaps with the beginning at the end.

The story begins in the middle with Rosemary in college, the only child left in her family and anonymous at a school far from her hometown. She's proud that no one here knows about her sister or her brother, and she's decided to purposefully not speak about her family. See, the Cookes were a close-knit family until Fern left: but the FBI is hunting older brother Lowell as a domestic terrorist, dad drinks too much, and their mother's psyche is full of fissures. What happened to Fern?

Rosemary's memory is spotty (she was just a child), and we'll learn the story as she remembers it, one bit, one crisis, and one discomfort at a time.

I loved this book, and sometimes forgot it's fiction - it reads like the kind of pain-filled autobiography that is popular to press.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library

by Chris Grabenstein

Would you rather ... be locked in a library or be a playing piece in the live version of a board game?  In Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library, twelve children have the opportunity to do both.  These children have lived their entire lives without a public library in town.  At the end of the school year, the new one opens, and they are lucky enough to be the first people inside.  The new library was funded by the town's most famous person, Mr. Lemoncello, who creates board games.  Mr. Lemoncello is an imaginative sort, and his library is no different. 

This story is action-packed, hilarious, and ideal for voracious readers of children's literature.  The more kids' books you know, the funnier this story becomes.  The title's namesake is chock-full of book puns.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Sweetness #9 by Stephan Eirik Clark

Flavorist David Leveraux is a guy who makes the medicine go down, makes microwave popcorn taste so good, and makes diet soda sweet. And while that's a noble, necessary chemical trade ... he's also having moral pangs about the consequences of putting all these chemicals in our food.

No, this isn't the latest nonfiction food expose; it's a comic novel set in a slightly fictionalized modern day!

This is really a fun story with captivating characters. In his first job out of college, David was involved with product testing - and he's spent the rest of his career trying hard to forget about it. But when his daughter starts researching Sweetness #9 for a high school newspaper article and his red dye addicted son stops using verbs, David is forced to again consider that something's wrong with the way America eats.

There's plenty here to get you thinking, but it's put forth in a way that's funny and light with no black-and-white answers and lots of gray space. Even when David believes the junk is bad, it only takes a day or two for him to backslide into eating garbage again. His former-Nazi boss and mentor provides lots of history and a good many laughs, too. You'll learn about how food is produced, and also ponder a return to the fresh market.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Falling From Horses by Molly Gloss

Reminiscing, Bud Frazer tells us this story of his youth trying to break into cowboy stunt riding during Hollywood's Golden Era. The time elapsed allows him to foreshadow and ruminate a bit on the path of his life, giving the novel a multi-faceted feel despite the sole narrator.

Bud's story of fame-seeking isn't unusual: he's naive and broke, and this ranch boy is completely unprepared for the realities of a big city. But he gets a couple lucky breaks ... and then some unlucky breaks, which bring us to the story's climax.

I really liked this novel, and I'm not usually one for cowboy stories. Bud's a captivating character and a wonderful storyteller (thanks Molly Gloss!). His foreshadowing helps push you through the more mundane parts, wanting to know how he gets busted up and whatever happened to his sister.