Posts tagged ‘200-249 pages’

The Dumbest Idea Ever

Dumbest Idea EverTitle: The Dumbest Idea Ever
Author: Jimmy Gownley
ISBN: 9780545453462
Pages: 236 pages
Publisher/Date: Graphix, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., c2014.

“I have tons of notebooks filled with drawings…
… but nothing I do looks right.
I wish this dumb town has a place where I could take art lessons. Or an art store where I could get decent supplies. Or at least had…
… I don’t know…
… at least something.
The truth is, Girardville is just a slate-gray scramble of row houses and rocks plopped in the middle of Pennsylvania’s coal region. It’s home to six churches…
… seventeen bars…
…zero libraries…
… and me. (10-12)

Author of the Amelia Rules graphic novels presents an autobiographical account of his coming of age and becoming an artist. Jimmy Gownley is on the top of the world, attending school with his friends, and scoring points both in the classroom and on the basketball court as their high scorer. After spending weeks out of school and missing his championship basketball game (his team loses in the final minute) due to first chicken pox and then pneumonia, Jimmy’s grades start slipping. But Jimmy is more concerned working for months on his first effort as a comic book writer and illustrator. When he shows it to his friend though, he realizes that his piece of art is a piece of junk. Will he ever get anything right again?

At the local elementary school where I work, each student has a yearlong assignment to read a set number of books of different genres. While some teachers leave biographies as a vague category, others specify one must be an autobiography, which is one of the hardest genres for that age level because so many autobiographies cover the entire life of the subject. Ben Carson’s Gifted Hands , John Scieszka’s Knuckleheads, Miley Cyrus’s Miles to Go and Anne Frank’s Diary of a Girl are the ones that immediately come to mind, and after that we have to do some real digging. So this is a must buy in my opinion for public libraries because it adds another title to the autobiography list, it is less serious in tone, and it meets that ever elusive over 100 pages criteria that is usually implemented for book reports.

If you are at all familiar with the Amelia Rules series, you’ll recognize the artwork and color scheme, but author Gownley adds something to it. When character Jimmy is sick, the illustrations turn gray and washed out, and they don’t turn bright and bold again until he enters the comic book shop for the first time, resulting in a Oz like page turn when the curtain is pulled back in a colorful landscape of possibilities. During a visit to a museum, the characters interact with famous paintings that are imitated really well. A flashback sequence featuring a childhood friend is rendered like the old Archie comics, with beige-yellow backgrounds interacting with the present day scenes. It’s done really well.

Jimmy is relatable to just about everyone. His teachers misunderstand him and he struggles with his first crush. He has one best friend who is honest with him and he also has several friends that he interacts with that rotate in and out of his life. There’s homework that doesn’t get done and class discussions that get heated. Towards the end of the novel, Jimmy and his friend are having a conversation about his comic that struck me as great advice.
“You’re not trying to get rich! There’s no way that’s why you’re doing this.”
“Well, no… of course not.”
“Then don’t pretend like it is.” (233)
If you’re doing what you love doing, isn’t it enough? As people are pursuing their life goals and ambitions, they should think about why they are doing something and try to accomplish that, not try to accomplish something they know won’t result from those efforts.

The only complaint is that while the characters noticeably age and grow, the actual amount of time passing is a little foggy. The story starts in what appears to be eighth grade, they move into high school. There are at least two summers that get glazed over pretty quickly as working vacations that Jimmy spends crafting his comic strip. Then suddenly Jimmy is attending the prom, but he’s still asking his dad for a ride to the comic book store over an hour away. Other than that though, it’s a fast read that encourages kids to follow their dreams, regardless of how many times they have to restart.

nonfiction mondayA portion of this review was cross-posted at the Nonfiction Monday blog. Take a look at what everyone else is reading in nonfiction this week.

Revolver

I listened to this audiobook way back in February of 2011. How this review got buried so far down that it hasn’t seen the light of day before now the world may never know. I have been recommending this to patrons ever since to rave reviews, and I hope you take the time to enjoy it too.

Title: Revolver
Author: Marcus Sedgwick
Narrator: Peter Berkrot
ISBN: 9781596435926
Pages: 204 pages
Discs: 3 CDs, 3 hours 35 minutes
Publisher/Date: Roaring Brook Press (Brilliance Audio), c2009.

Even the dead tell stories.
Sig looked across the cabin to where his father lay, waiting for him to speak, but his father said nothing, because he was dead. Einar Anderson lay on the table, his arms half raised above his head, his legs slightly bent at the knee, frozen in the position in which they’d found him; out on the lake, lying on the ice, with the dogs waiting patiently in harness. (1)

Fourteen-year-old Sig Anderson is waiting for his sister and step-mother to return from traveling across the frozen ice to the neighboring town. The same ice had, just a few hours earlier, killed his father when he fell through and froze to death in the Alaskan cold. While waiting for help to arrive, Sig gets a visitor of a different sort; a giant, gun-wielding man named Wolff, claiming that he has some unfinished business with Sig’s father. Sig hopes that help will arrive before the man makes good on his promise to harm Sig and his family. But when help does arrive, it’s Sig’s sister Anna, and she’s alone. How will these two survive?

First off, excellent narration on the audiobook by Peter Berkrot. He gives the book a Clint Eastwood, old-western “You feeling lucky, punk?” quality and his nitty-gritty tone and inflection sets the whole mood. I’ll admit that it a little slowly paced in the beginning, but that’s okay. Nothing is moving fast in this story, and it’s the palatable tension that readers will revel in.

Berkrot had great material to work with, as Marcus Sedgwick’s terse prose is as gripping as the performance. Wolff, the man who invades Sig’s little cabin in the snow, is a man of few words, and when he does say something, his tone makes them count. “The words hung in the air, drifted around the room. They seemed to paint themselves on the walls in letters two feet high. They seemed to be painted in blood.” (70) Shiver. Shortly after, this description got stuck in my brain the whole time I was finishing the book:
“Wolff dropped the words onto the floor like little spiders, which scuttled over to Sig and crawled up his legs, his back, his neck. He stopped grinding the coffee briefly but then determined that he would not let the man rile him.” (80) Now that is masterfully crafted writing, if I ever heard/saw it. You know exactly how Sig is feeling with Wolff being in the house. And there are other scenes that convey the same familiarity with the characters and their emotions.

The details are also there, and in an author’s note at the end Sedgwick explains how he did his research, traveling to the “sub-zero temperatures in Northern Sweden that I got a sense of the cold and the landscape and walked on frozen lakes.” (203) He also discussed revolvers with “Peter Smithurst of the Royal Armouries, the UK’s leading expert on Colts. He carefully explained his history and workings of the Colt, took a 44-40 to pieces for me to show how it works, and did it all with great enthusiasm. (203-204). I’m sure that interaction with an expert is where we get the description of how the gun works in chapter 18, which although I don’t have any experience with guns, I still found fascinating. A riveting read about choices.

Bluffton

Will Eisner Week 2014Did you know it’s Will Eisner Week this week, from March 1st through March 7th? Neither did I until I stumbled upon the announcement of the celebration in January. Will Eisner Week “is an annual celebration honoring the legacy of Will Eisner and promoting sequential art, graphic novel literacy, and free speech.” Looking for more information? Visit the website. In honor of Will Eisner Week, I’m going to take this opportunity to review graphic novels, which I’ll readily admit I don’t read enough of. My first featured book will be last year’s Bluffton, by Eisner Award nominee Matt Phelan.

Bluffton








Title: Bluffton
Author/Illustrator: Matt Phelan
ISBN: 9780763650797
Pages: 223 pages
Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press, c2013.
Publication Date: July 23, 2013

Henry Harrison realizes that the summer of 1908 is going to be different from every past summer when he sees an elephant stepping off train in his small Michigan town. That was the first summer the traveling vaudeville performers pay a visit and stay for their summer long vacation. Henry quickly meets Buster Keaton, a young slapstick comedian who travels and acts with his family. In other ways though, Buster is just like Henry who enjoys baseball, swimming, fishing, and playing elaborate practical jokes on people. Henry doesn’t know how he is going to survive the rest of the year while he waits for their return, which seems dull in comparison after their numerous adventures together.

I think “subtle” is the best way to describe this graphic novel. The mood of Matt Phelan’s story is portrayed primarily in the watercolor illustrations. Summer skies are bright blue over green grass and it feels like the sunshine can pop from the page and warm you if you sat there long enough with the book open on your lap. In contrast, the shorter winter sequences are painted with less color, and primarily blues and grays, with Henry’s shocking orange hair turning a muted mustard yellow in one school room scene.

Dialogue drives the action and provides conflicting views of the vaudeville lifestyle. Henry of course is jealous of Buster, who can do flips, is nationally admired, can travel the world, and doesn’t have to go to school. But readers also witness the flip side of a coin, as Phelan includes controversies about Buster’s age and accusations of child abuse, with hints of possible alcoholism. Buster was essentially forced into the family business, whereas Henry’s father, who owns a hardware store, alleviates his son’s fears of that same fate. “I never expected you to take over the store, Henry. Unless that’s what you wanted. [...] You’ll have lots of choices to make, Henry. Don’t worry so much about what you are going to do, Henry. Concentrate on who you are going to be.” (191-194)

Following that exchange is a poignant scene where Henry simply leans against his father in silence, soaking in the support. You have to wonder if Buster gets the same kind of support from his father. In an earlier spread, you do get the sense that Buster enjoys his life, taking opportunities away from his father to engage in his signature style of comedy. But long looks towards more traditional families lead readers to think more deeply about his desires. A quiet book that packs a punch with the range of subjects covered, it gives a glimpse of a time long past.

Two Boys Kissing

Two Boys KissingTitle: Two Boys Kissing
Author: David Levithan
ISBN: 978030793190
Pages: 200 pages
Publisher/Date: Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, c2013.
Publication Date: August 27, 2013

A lot of thought has gone into the location of Craig and Harry’s kiss.
If convenience had been the deciding factor, the obvious choice would have been to do it in Harry’s house, or in his backyard. The Ramirezes would have been more okay with this, and would have made all the arrangements that needed to be made. But Craig and Harry didn’t want to hide it away. The meaning of this kiss would come from sharing it with other people. [...]
Once they start kissing, they will have to keep kissing for at least thirty-two hours, twelve minutes, and ten seconds. That is one second longer than the current world record for the longest-recorded kiss.
The reason they are all here is to break that record.
And the reason they want to break that record started with something that happened to Tariq. (31, 33)

Avery and Ryan are just starting their relationship, after having met at a gay prom. Peter and Neil have been a couple for a year now, and are still trying to navigate their lives together. Harry and Craig used to date and have since broken up. That’s not stopping their public attempt at breaking the world record for longest kiss. They were inspired by Tariq, who suffered a painful event due to his sexuality. Tariq isn’t the only one suffering though, as Connor flees his home out of fear of his family and questions who he can turn to in his time of need. All six of these young men and their stories reflect what a slice of life is like, and the struggles they face. Who will triumph, who will need to reach out for support, and who will be pushed to their limit?

I was struck by the presentation of this book. The stories are tied together not by overlapping characters or plots (although some of them do at the end) but by the observations of what could be called the ghosts of gays gone-by. It’s a unique technique, and their narration provides prospective. I was a little thrown by it at first, but then it started to grow on me. This reflective tone made me stop and think, and I found myself marking passages and pages, which I don’t normally do when reading fiction. So, please forgive my extensive quoting, but these are just three of the passages that made me stop and reflect, and I hope the readers of my blog can do the same.

Avery wonders why Ryan is looking at him out of the corner of his eye, why Ryan would rather watch him than watch the road. Even when friends look at Avery, a small part of him still worries they are looking for flaws, irregularities. In this Avery isn’t all that different from anyone else. We all worry that looking at is really looking for.
Finally, Avery can’t stand it. The look. Then a knowing smile. Then another look.
“What?” he asks.
This only makes Ryan smile more. “I’m sorry,” he says. “I don’t usually like people. So when I do, part of me is really amused and the other part refuses to believe it’s happening.” (150)

It’s one of the secrets of strength: We’re so much more likely to find it in the service of others than we are to find it in service to ourselves. We have no idea why this is. It’s not just the mother who lifts the car to free her child, or the guy who shields his girlfriend when the gunman starts to fire. Those are extremes, brave extremes, which life rarely calls on us to offer. No, it is the less extreme strength-a strength that is not so much situational as it is constitutional-that we will find in order to give. [...] Some supposedly strong people in our lives showed that their strength was actually made of straw. But so many held us up in ways they would not have held themselves. They saw us through, even as their worlds crumbled through their fingers. They kept fighting, even after we were gone. Or especially because we were gone. They kept fighting for us. (153)

For the past year, Neil has assumed that love was like a liquid pouring into a vessel, and that the longer you loved, the more full the vessel became, until it was entirely full. The truth is that over time, the vessel expands as well. You grow. Your life widens. And you can’t expect your partner’s love alone to fill you. There will always be space for other things. And that space isn’t empty as much as it’s filled by another element. Even though the liquid is easier to see, you have to learn to appreciate the air. (181)

Another scene that really made me stop and examine how I viewed the world was when one of the characters was confronting his family about his sexuality. His mother said “I don’t have to tell you that you have black hair, do I? I don’t have to tell you that you’re a boy. Why should I have to tell you this? We know, [name removed]. Is that what you want to hear? We know.” (134) I’ll be honest, I’ve always felt the same way as that mother. What does it matter if someone is gay or straight or bi or asexual, and why is it so important to acknowledge it publicly? I don’t go around announcing to the world my sexuality, so why do you need to?

Regardless of what the author’s intentions were, I’ve come to the conclusion that some people might still be struggling with accepting themselves and are looking for that confirmation and validation that being who they know they are is okay. I found myself expanding on that hair color reference. There is no right or wrong with hair color, and there shouldn’t be a right or wrong sexuality either. Some people still tell blonde jokes and the Nazis still preferred the blonde-haired blue-eyed Aryans over other races. But for the majority of the population, it doesn’t matter if you are brunette, red, blonde, or black, because they know that you have no control over what your natural hair color is. But sexuality is not seen as “natural” but rather a choice by a vocal group of people, and so I think that lends people to assert their sexuality with more vigor and volume, in order to ensure they are recognized as “natural”. Right now, some people see sexual orientations outside of heterosexual as other, similar to a bright pink or neon green hair dye. This character saw his mom reluctance to say his orientation aloud as proof that she didn’t accept him, and the author portrayed it in that manner, with the character responding to her question with “But you don’t mind about the other things–that I have dark hair, that I’m a boy. You mind that I’m gay. Which is why I need you to say it.” (134) I also saw it as confusion that her words could have such an impact on his opinion of his situation. Even though she didn’t say it aloud, I could almost hear her thinking “You don’t need me to tell you that you have black hair, or this color eyes, or that you’re so many feet tall, because you know it just as strongly as you know you are gay. I don’t understand why you think this is any different.” Just because we don’t acknowledge how we are different doesn’t mean we mind it.

It’s because this character needed confirmation that his family saw it that same way. This character thinks people mind, and I think that might be why so many gay pride parades and speeches happen. Until they know that sexual orientation becomes another common place descriptor such as eye color, that doesn’t mean anything, then they have to keep confirming that their sexuality won’t make a difference in how people view them. They feel like they are hiding it, when really, I think a good half of the population just get tired of hearing about it.

It’s these and other thought-provoking passages that really drew me into the story and I realize I’ve barely touched upon the other parts of the book while I mulled introspectively over select scenes. I loved the different characters and the different types of relationships that we witness, many of whom were inspired by true events. An author’s note reveals he talked to one of the participants of the longest continuous kiss, which was gay couple back in 2010, and we get those details that everyone would probably be asking themselves if they thought about it, like musical motivation, exhaustion, dehydration, and bodily functions (I’d be afraid to sneeze!). The observers from generations past take some getting used to, but they provide great perspective to the multitude of emotions that are portrayed with each person. Levithan made a smart choice in presenting the stories over the course of a single weekend, because it kept the pacing and suspense tightly wound and contained. We can cheer on all the characters and hope for happy endings, but even with possibilities in tact, the book came to a satisfying conclusion. With one final quote, I’ll end this post the same way Levithan ended the book.

There is the sudden. There is the eventual.
And in between, there is the living.
We do not start as dust. We do not end as dust. We make more than dust.
That’s all we ask of you. Make more than dust. (196)

What We Saw at Night

What We Saw At NightTitle: What We Saw at Night
Author: Jacquelyn Mitchard
ISBN: 9781616951412
Pages: 243 pages
Publisher/Date: Soho Teen (an imprint of Soho Press), c2013.

All I could see was white. One massive room: white walls, white carpeting, white woodwork. Except . . . right in the middle of the floor, next to the sliding doors, a young woman with dark hair–probably not much older than we were–was on her back. She wore only a bra. A man with his back turned to us was leaning over her. He seemed to be kissing her, then slapping her, then trying to pull her up. [...]
I said, “That girl looked dead.”
“Dead drunk maybe,” Juliet dismissed, drying her camera with her shirt.
“He was doing, like CPR, right?” I asked, mostly to myself.
“Good date gone bad,” Juliet replied. Her voice was flat. “It scared the hell out of me, though, when that light went on.”
The lightning crashed again. We heard a hollow boom–a tree or a light pole down. It happened all the time.
Then Rob said, “Who has a date in a room with no furniture?” (38-39)

Allie and her friends Rob and Juliet all suffer from a fatal allergy to sunlight called Xeroderma Pigmentosum, which relegates them to sleeping during the day and living in the night. Juliet, the more mysterious and adventurous of the three, discovers the sport Parkour and convinces the other two to begin practicing the free-wheeling jumps and leaps, utilizing their nightly sojourns as private practice in their urban playground. During their first attempt at something big, the three witness what appears to be a murder. While Rob and Juliet convince themselves otherwise, Allie pursues the deadly alternative that a murderer is loose in the city. Her investigation isolates her from her friends and also puts her in real danger as she plays detective at a time when most people are safely asleep in their beds. Sometimes the buddy system really is best, and as Juliet pulls further away the closer Allie gets to the truth, and Allie is forced to question who she can trust.

The best word I can use to describe this book is enigmatic. By the end of the book, you’ve followed Allie’s convoluted detective work and Juliet’s inability to answer a question to a suspect, but really no solution. I did not expect the ending, at all, which usually I’m praising because it surprises me. But then there’s a second curve ball after the first, and eventually the book and it’s questions only leaves my head spinning. The three friends seem to be really only friends because they are the only ones who can be friends with each other, due to their unique allergy to the sun. While I can understand that friendship lasting for a little while, I really question why Allie and Rob didn’t cut Juliet loose a long time ago due to frustration of her behavior. It exasperated me that we never got a straight answer of what happened, and by the end I didn’t really care about the characters all that much. They were underdeveloped and I had a hard time relating to their situation, even with all the information provided about their disease and situation.

The one thing that really did intrigue me was the portrayal of Parkour, which I’d heard of previously but never fully seen developed in a story until now. Unfortunately, it seemed like Allie and Rob only picked it up in order to keep their eye on unpredictable Juliet, and we never really find out what prompted Juliet to take up the sport. Besides referencing some Youtube videos, Mitchard does talk about what structures are used and portrays the characters building some core strength and exercising properly before attempting anything elaborate. It’s not a skill that can be gained overnight, and the dangers, illegality, and injuries of the sport are also portrayed realistically without getting preachy or didactic. Stories about mainstream sports abound, so this one peaks my interest and will probably stay with me because of its inclusion of Parkour. Otherwise, the too many questions and not enough answers story line leaves little for me to hold onto until the sequel arrives in December.

Sketchy

SketchyTitle: Sketchy
Series: The Bea Catcher Chronicles: Book 1
Author: Olivia Samms
ISBN: 9781477816509
Pages: 236 pages
Publisher/Date: Amazon Publishing, c2013

A light floods my rearview mirror, shining bright in my eyes. What the . . . ? I adjust the mirror and see a car behind me. The lights barrel toward me, pulling up close.
“Shit,” I say out loud. “What’s their hurry?”
I speed up, thinking I’m driving too slowly. But the car speeds up with me and is now tailgating me–dangerously close.
My street is coming up ahead, on the right. I wait until the last second, without turning my blinker on, and pull the steering wheel hard to the right. My tires screech and fishtail as they follow my order. The car behind me turns and screeches along with me, speeding up, getting even closer. The bright lights shine and flicker in my eyes.
“OH MY GOD! It’s going to hit me!”
I abruptly turn left, careening into my driveway. I slam on my brakes with both feet, and the menacing car speeds off into the darkness.
Holy shit. I try to collect my breath.
My cell rings in my purse. My heart won’t stop racing.
I take a deep breath and answer. “Hello.” The phone wobbles in my shaky hands.
A slurred voice. “Monday, before school at seven. The antique barn on Lilac Lane. Meet me–“
“Willa? Is that you? Was that you following me?”
She hangs up. (78-79)

Seventeen-year-old Bea Washington is starting over at a new high school near Ann Arbor, MI after getting kicked out of Athena Day School for Girls. Just coming out of rehab, no one trusts her and she’s struggling to make friends while fighting the call of drugs and alcohol. It doesn’t help when she discovers a secret that could ruin Willa, the perfect head cheerleader and newly crowned homecoming queen. Maybe Willa knows more than she is telling police about the man who killed two women and left Willa for dead. Bea’s mysterious artistic ability could aid in the investigation, so long as it doesn’t first draw the killer’s attention. Whoops, too late.

Amazon has entered the publishing business. I guess it was only a matter of time before the retail giant started producing its own products. Big name author James Patterson provides a glowing recommendation on the cover, and is thanked in the acknowledgements (along with two other people) for “reading my pages, encouraging me to continue, and slipping them onto [agent] Lisa’s desk.” Maybe here are some previous connections at work, but a blurb from a big name is impressive for anyone’s first book. To be honest, I didn’t expect quality, suspense, or high-interest writing from what I though of initially as a self-publishing enterprise. I was happy to be proven wrong.

Bea is a likeable, flawed character who is desperately trying to get her life back on track. It was interesting to see a character attempting to recover from an addiction as opposed to spiraling into the habit. While we saw little of the rehab portion of Bea’s recovery, that wasn’t the focus of the book, and we do see symptoms such as taking up another habit (in this case smoking) to replace the drug and alcohol use, being tempted to relapse, and the use of AA meetings and incentives to stay clean and sober. The chapter headings are an account of how many months, days, and hours Bea has been sober. She faces temptation head on, tracking a suspect into a bar and almost giving it all up for a drink with a cute guy. But another very realistic aspect of recovery is finding out who your friends are, and Bea definitely finds a kindred spirit in Chris, who recognizes Bea from an art camp they both attended. Chris is supportive of Bea’s efforts to stay clean, isn’t freaked out by her unique ability, and is a purely plutonic friend due to his homosexual orientation. Oh, if we could all have a friend like Chris.

The mystery isn’t really a mystery like I would think of one, although Bea does have to track down the suspect and the identity of the killer is unknown. It’s a surprisingly light mystery, with the suspense coming towards the end of the book and the crimes taking place primarily “off stage” and Bea learning about them afterwards. Bea is aided in the end by a surprisingly competent police force and caring parents who are not overbearing or apathetic, but care about her well-being and are struggling just like her to navigate the position and situation they’ve found themselves in. I’d like to read more books featuring Bea, and I would like to see further development of the sweet crush that is hinted at by the end of the book. Overall, a really well-written debut novel that proves me wrong about self-publications.

2 The Point Tuesdays Zebra Forest

Each month for my job, I write a maximum 150 word review of a new book that came into the library during the month. I’ll be expanding that idea to the blog in a new feature I’m calling To the Point Tuesdays. If you want to play along, just post a link in the comments and I’ll add them to the post.

Zebra ForestTitle: Zebra Forest
Author: Adina Rishe Gewirtz
ISBN: 9780763660413
Pages: 200 pages
Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press, c2013
Publication Date: April 9, 2013

“Just stay quiet and I won’t hurt anybody,” he said. “I’ll stay only as long as I need. Just stay quiet and you’ll be fine.”
I couldn’t think what he meant. But Rew, always quick, understood immediately. Behind me, I heard him dash into the front room and grab the phone.
The man was quicker. He shoved past me, rushed at Rew, and knocked the phone from his hands. [...]
Rew turned and ran for the front door. He fumbled with the lock, his hands shaking. I darted forward to help him, but the man grabbed at me as I passed, catching me by the hair. He jerked me back so hard, I lost my footing and fell against him, my head slamming against his ribs. Then his heavy arm came round my throat, and with his free hand he grabbed my arms and held me tight to his chest as I struggled to pull away. I kicked back as hard as I could, but his arm squeezed my throat and I held still, gagging.
“Stop!” he yelled at Rew, who had nearly gotten the front door open. “Go anywhere or call anyone and I’ll hurt her! You see? I will!” (31-32)

Annie and her brother Rew have lived with their grandmother for as long as they can remember. Their grandmother doesn’t talk much and has trouble caring for them. Knowing only that their dad was killed in a fight, they make up stories about how their dad could have been a pirate, pilot, or secret agent. But it’s hard to maintain their fantasy stories after an escapee from the local prison arrives at their doorstep and holds Annie, Rew, and their grandmother hostage. With no help coming to their secluded home any time soon, Annie and Rew need to come up with a course of action before something happens that tears the family apart forever.

More of a psychological question than an action packed thriller, I could see this sparking interesting discussions in middle grade reading groups.

Spirit Fighter

Spirit FighterTitle: Spirit Fighter
Series: Son of Angels: Jonah Stone #1
Author: Jerel Law
ISBN: 9781400318438
Pages: 243 pages
Publisher/Date: Thomas Nelson, Inc. c2011.

“Investigators?” Jonah repeated. “Like. . . police? Dad, what’s wrong?”
Benjamin glanced at the woman, who nodded. He sighed loudly, pulling the glasses off his face. “Mom’s been taken. Someone’s kidnapped her.”
Jonah froze, trying to understand the words his father had just said.
“What do you mean, kidnapped?” he said, and then crossed his arms. “How do you know?”
[...]
Jonah stared at the two strangers. “Who are you? Are you really police? Where’s your patrol car? If it’s true, shouldn’t there be a dozen cops scouring this place by now? Where are they?” [...] “You aren’t police, are you?” (65)

Seventh-grader Jonah has no idea what is happening to him when he acquires abilities like super-strength and speed. But instead of finding out he’s a superhero in disguise his parents explain that he is one-quarter angel. His grandfather (who no one has seen for years) was one of the fallen angels that revolted against God all those years ago. When he comes home from school to discover his mother has been kidnapped by those same evil angels, it’s up to Jonah and his sister Eliza to rescue her due to their unique position between the two worlds. Relying on evolving powers, their guardian angel, and a lot of prayer, Jonah and Eliza search New York City. Will their faith be strong enough to rescue their mother before she’s turned to the wrong side?

I didn’t realize that this was Christian fantasy until this book came in for me from another library. I honestly don’t read a lot of explicitly Christian fiction, although I do occasionally read some “gentler” books that might appeal to moms trying to avoid the “drama” that fiction sometimes contains. So I’ll be the first to admit that I’m probably not the “target audience”. Upon reading this though, I immediately thought of a patron from my previous library whose parents were very guarded about what she could or couldn’t read, and considering her favorite genre was fantasy but it couldn’t have magic in almost any form (witches, spells, etc.), it placed a lot of limitations on what she could check out of the library. This would more than likely have pleased her parents, so if you’re looking for that kind of thing, this would be a good starting point. That being said, it’s not perfect.

The book’s description on the back cover states that it is based on the book of Genesis. That’s not the only thing that gets quoted though, as each part is introduced with a Biblical passage. The kids spout scripture like they are in a seminary, along with just about every other character in the story. Any time they are in a tight spot, or need extra assistance, they pray to God (or Elohim as he’s called in the book) and they receive help. Yes, I understand that’s one of the very obvious morals to the story that Jerel Law makes very apparent over and over again, and yes Jonah and Eliza’s father is a Methodist pastor, but it still struck me as unrealistic. I wish the kids could have struggled a little bit more to solve their own problems, instead of relying so heavily on the assistance of others. Weren’t they sent on this quest for a reason?

Because the morals are laid down so heavily, the dialogue and action comes across as stilted. While it was a fast read, the plot didn’t make sense to me. For some reason, the fallen angels wait all this time to capture Jonah’s mom and others like her in order to essentially brain wash them for their cause. Why wait all this time? Why not recruit them to the cause when they were younger and more easily influenced by their fallen angel parent? And why make Jonah and Eliza “quarterlings,” or one-quarter angel? It would have led more urgency to the plot if they were the half angels (called nephilims) and their younger brother had been captured instead of their adult mother. If the author hadn’t wanted an evil parent situation, then maybe the mother defected from the group upon having kids, and they’ve been in hiding ever since. That would have lent to some intrigue and suspense, and also character development to the story. In terms of super powers, I think Eliza drew the short end of the stick since she doesn’t have nearly as many as Jonah (although hers is still cool).

This being the first in a projected series, I’m assuming we haven’t seen the last of these angels, but there doesn’t seem to be a way to get rid of them that will aid Jonah and Eliza in their continuing conflict. So if you like to get beat over the head with how prayer is powerful and faith in God will guide you, this fantasy will do it for you. Otherwise, I’d pick up Chronicles of Narnia over this “Christian fantasy” any day.

The Spindlers

Title: The Spindlers
Author: Lauren Oliver
Illustrator: Iacopo Bruno
ISBN: 9780061978081
Pages: 246 pages
Publisher/Date: HarperCollins Children’s Books, a division of HarperCollins Publishers, c2012.

One night when Liza went to bed, Patrick was her chubby, stubby, candy-grubbing and pancake-loving younger brother, who irritated and amused her both, and the next morning, when she woke up, he was not.
She could not describe the difference. He looked the same, and was wearing the same pair of ratty space-alien pajamas, with the same fat toe sticking out of the hole in the left foot of his red socks, and he came down the stairs exactly the same way the real Patrick would have done: bump, bump, bump, sliding on his rump.
But he was not the same.
In fact, he was quite, quite different. (1-2)

Liza quickly realizes that Patrick’s soul had been taken by spindlers, spider-like creatures her babysitter warned them out. Spindlers steal children’s souls and lay their eggs in the hallowed out shell, where they will grow until they hatch and burst forth as the body finally crumbles to dust. Intent to rescue her brother’s soul and save him, even though he could be annoying sometimes, Liza ventures Below to find the spindlers. Armed only with a broom, and with the help of a very strangely dressed rat Mirabella, Liza is led through deadly traps and creatures. But while in the dark Below, things aren’t always what they appear to be, as Liza quickly discovers that she might have put herself in more danger than she first realized to rescue her brother.

I have to give props to Lauren Oliver for her creativity. She starts the story off strong with a creepy, creative creature.The spindlers aren’t the only odd-ball animals that occupy Below, as Liza is introduced to nocturni, nids, troglods, lumpen, scawgs (who remind me very much of Greek sirens mixed with Circe), and living forests, in addition to talking, fashionably dressed rat Mirabelle. The introduction of the human characters is also done very well, from loving Liza to possessed Patrick spelling out “I Hate You” with his cereal and even the distracted parents who don’t believe Liza’s story. I like how Liza’s information about the spindlers comes from a babysitter, which lends some credibility for readers who also believe what their babysitters say but still gives a glimmer that it might be made up. Until — of course — Liza literally drops into Below and begins her search.

It’s in that way that Oliver also has an eye for how kids see the world. They could be somewhat skeptical about the babysitters tale, or they could believe it whole heartedly. Another instance of this understanding is when Liza finds the marketplace Below and they are using scrap pieces of paper as currency. “Liza was going to point out that in her world people used real money, not just worthless slips of paper, but it occurred to her that she wasn’t actually certain of the difference, so she said nothing.” (47) Rereading it still makes me smile.

I found myself skipping ahead to see what other weird things came about. The climax is maybe a bit overdone with lots of things happening in the span of a few pages, but no one can say it isn’t action packed, that’s for certain. Overall it’s a good book, probably not a top ten of the year but I can easily see myself recommending it to others who might be looking for this type of thing. The best way I can describe it is a darker, modern day version of Alice in Wonderland.

2 The Point Tuesdays Flying the Dragon

For my new job, all the librarians write a maximum 150 word review of a new book that came into the library during the month. I’ll be adding my contribution to the blog in a new feature I’m calling To the Point Tuesdays. If you want to play along, just post a link in the comments and I’ll add them to the post.

Title: Flying the Dragon
Author: Natalie Dias Lorenzi
ISBN: 9781580894340
Pages: 233 pages
Publisher/Date: Charlesbridge Publishing, c2012.
Publication Date: July 1, 2012

Ever since she had translated something for Hiroshi that morning, Kevin wouldn’t leave her alone. “Ching chang wong wang!” He snickered, obviously pleased with himself.
“That doesn’t even mean anything.” Skye rolled her eyes, hoping no one else had heard him. As luck would have it, she had to peer around his big head to copy the reading homework from the board. But whenever she tried to look, he blocked her way.
She sighed. “Cut it out. I can’t see the board.”
“Why don’t you ask your Chinese boyfriend what it says when he gets back from ESL class?”
“He’s not my boyfriend; he’s my cousin. And he’s not Chinese, duh. He’s Japanese.”
“Whatever.”
Ignore him. Ignore him. Ignore him. (48)

Sorano (called Skye) was excited about finally securing a spot on this coming summer’s All-Star soccer team. Instead, she’ll attend Japanese classes due to her cousin Hiroshi and his family moving to the United States. Hiroshi’s just as surprised as Skye about the move, angrily missing his own summer goal of continuing the family tradition and competing in the annual kite battles. The conflict grows as Hiroshi closely guards the little time he has with his ailing grandfather and Skye is embarrassed by Hiroshi’s very Japanese manners. When Skye accidently damages the kite that Hiroshi and his grandfather built together and carefully transported from Japan, it looks like their friendship is over before it got off the ground. Peppered with Japanese phrases, words, and cultural tidbits, this debut novel realistically portrays a collision of cultures and emotions and how two very different people can help each other succeed and soar.

I’d say more about how much I loved this book and the cover, but since it’s To the Point Tuesday, you’ll have to satisfy yourself with following the links. Looking for more information? Literary Rambles has an interview with author Natalie Dias Lorenzi and the author has a whole host of links to reviews and interviews on her website.

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