Posts tagged ‘twins’

2 The Point Tuesday Nick and Tesla’s series

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. This time around, I’m featuring the first three books in the new Nick and Tesla’s series. If you want to play along, just post a link in the comments and I’ll add them to the post.

NickTesla_9JTitle: Nick and Tesla’s High-Voltage Danger Lab
Author: “Science Bob” Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith
Illustrator: Scott Garrett
ISBN: 9781594746482
Pages: 237 pages
Publication/Date: Quirk Productions, Inc. c2013.

As Joe’s cab slowed to a stop out front, a lawn mower was going around and around in the yard. No one was going around and around behind it, though. It looked like a ghost was mowing the lawn.
Rope ran from the mower to a metal pole in the middle of the yard. The end of the rope was wrapped around the top of the pole in a coil. As the mower moved, the rope unraveled itself, slowly feeding more slack to the mower so it could go in bigger and bigger circles.
It was a self-mowing lawn.
“Cool,” said the girl.
“Uhh,” said the boy.
He pointed to the pole. The more the mower tugged on it, the more it tilted to the side.
“Oh,” said the girl.
The pole sagged, then fell over completely, and the mower rumbled off-course into a neighboring yard. It chewed through row after row of beautifully manicured flowers before rolling over a garden gnome, getting snagged, and — with a screech and a pop and a puff of black smoke–bursting into flames. (11-12)

Twin siblings Nick and Tesla Holt have been sent to live with their Uncle Newt while their scientist parents are off studying soy beans in the Middle East. Uncle Newt has been described as eccentric by polite people, and a fruitcake, flake, and crazy man by some not so polite neighbors who have had to put up with his malfunctioning experiments for years, most recently an exploding lawn mower. The twins are less than enthusiastic about their summer plans, until chasing after a misfired rocket reveals a mysterious girl in an abandoned house. Next thing they know, they’re being followed by a dark van and fleeing from vicious dogs. Who said a summer of science experiments would be boring? Try your hand at some of the experiments included in the book this summer, and see what adventures you discover in this first title of a new series.

NickTesla_9JTitle: Nick and Tesla’s Robot Army Rampage
Author: “Science Bob” Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith
Illustrator: Scott Garrett
ISBN: 97815947466499
Pages: 221 pages
Publisher/Date: Quirk Productions, Inc., c2014.

“I’m not ‘running off to play detective.’ I’m just trying to help a friend. If someone doesn’t get that comic book back, Silas’s family is going to lose their store. No store, no money. No money, no food. The Kuskies might have to become migrant field hands or move to Alaska to work on fishing boats or sell their kidneys to sick billionaires or something.” (70)

Two weeks after arriving at Uncle Newt’s house, Nick and Tesla have acquired a reputation around town. After rescuing a kidnapped girl, their new friend Silas recruits them to help find a rare comic book stolen from his dad’s store. That’s just the start of a rash of thefts. After bugging their prime suspect (quite literally), they are no closer to the truth and run the risk of being arrested themselves! To aid in their investigation efforts, the twins design robots and realize they aren’t the only ones with science on their side. Who will win the resulting robot battle?

Nick and Tesla's Secret Agent Gadget BattleTitle: Nick and Tesla’s Secret Agent Gadget Battle
Author: “Science Bob” Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith
Illustrator: Scott Garrett
ISBN: 9781594746765
Pages: 254 pages
Publisher/Date: Quirk Productions, Inc., c2014

“There you go! There you go!” he exploded once he and Tesla were in the backyard. “Is that enough suspects for you? One of those people has got to be spy. Or all of them, for all we know!”
It is weird how they all showed up the day after we got Mom’s message.”
“Weird? It’s not weird. It’s terrifying! Our uncle’s house is filled with spies and black widow spiders! Mom and Dad might as well have sent us to live with a family of cobras in a volcano.” (41-42)

After helping people around town over the last couple weeks, Nick and Tesla find themselves trusting no one and having no one they can ask for help. Their one communication from their overseas parents is a cryptic, cut-off message that gets mysteriously deleted. With the house being occupied by two maids, an exterminator, and a foreign exchange student their Uncle Newt doesn’t remember signing up for, the house is full of suspects when a prized possession goes missing. Has the danger threatening their parents finally caught up with the twins?

Not the most memorable of series, it’s selling feature is the inclusion of gadget, gizmos, and other creations that can be made with common house-hold items and simple, illustrated, easy to follow instructions. We book talked this series for Summer Reading 2014’s “Fizz, Boom, Read” science theme because the slapstick humor adds to the appeal as the cast of characters remind me of the Scooby Doo gang living with the inventor from Back to the Future series, just minus the lovable talking dog. Dangers, death, and disaster are alluded to but never really come to fruition, making this a good choice for sensitive readers who aren’t prepared for more scary mysteries. Coming in October 2014 Nick and Tesla’s Super-Cyborg Gadget Glove: A Mystery with a Blinking, Beeping, Voice-Recording Gadget Glove You Can Build Yourself

The Originals

OriginalsTitle: The Originals
Author: Cat Patrick
ISBN: 9780316219433
Pages: 296 pages
Publisher/Date: Little, Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc. c2013.

“But if today is any indication, our current setup isn’t working,” she continues. “We’re not even three weeks in and already it’s clear that to remain on this path could draw attention to us, and therefore threaten everything. Because of this,” Mom says, shifting like she’s bracing for a triple teen outburst, “I am switching junior year assignments.”
I feel myself stiffen; Ella sucks in her breath.
“Are you serious?” Betsey asks. Mom nods.
“Ella will take the first half,” she says authoritatively, but not meeting Ella’s eyes, probably because she knows how disappointed Ella’s going to be to miss out on cheer practice. “Lizzie will take second half. Betsey, you’ll stay with evenings.” (14)

Lizzie, Ella, and Betsey Best are identical, but they are not triplets. Instead, they are clones, in hiding with their scientist mother from companies and the government who would want to prove their existence and study them. Taking turns going to school and sharing one life as Elizabeth Best, they have never really complained about their situation due to the knowledge that they could be found out and taken away at any moment. But as senior year progresses, the three girls start to question who they really are and what sort of life they are really living. Lizzie starts to fall for Sean Kelly, who opens her eyes to possibilities that she knows she can never fully partake in with their current agreement. Looking for answers and their independence, Lizzie and her “sisters” realize that their mother might not have been as truthful as they originally thought, and the lies might spell trouble for their seemingly happy family.

It says in the back jacket author’s biography that author Cat Patrick is the mother of twin daughters, very likely serving as inspiration for this book. Rather than narrating the story solely from Lizzie’s perspective, I wish the girls had taken turns narrating so that all three would have received the same amount of focus and distinction from one another. Lizzie’s voice was well-developed, but her sisters were unfortunately interchangeable throughout the story. Poor Betsey seemed to have very few opinions of her own, and I feel sorry that she got the short end of the stick being locked in the house all day long and then working in the evenings for spending money that all three girls used.

The story requires some suspension of belief that the three “sisters” willingly went along with this plan for so many years without complaint, interest in friendship or relationships, or any confusion. I liked the thought that was put into having one girl do a third of the day, as opposed to each girl doing every third day, but there are still missing links in the chain. It sounds like they’ve been living there for a while, and no one has seemingly caught on or made attempts at friendship until now. The changing of identities back and forth is originally portrayed as a “you’ve got to be joking” unbelievable suggestion, but then it’s later revealed that they’ve done this before in the instances of illness or injury. I would think physical activities like the cheerleading team would be out of the question, number one due to unavoidable differences in physical abilities and number two due to the possibility of an injury taking place in front of someone else and then the other two having to fake it.

The romance aspect develops slowly, but like Lizzie’s sisters Sean is never really fully developed and seems more a contrived impetus for Lizzie’s sudden rebellion as opposed to his own person. Readers are never fully enlightened as to why Sean is able to recognize that there is a difference between Lizzie and Ella and what sparks his interest in her. And the betrayal at the end involving someone Lizzie knows seems equally contrived and unexplainable.

I’m realizing as I wrap up this review that I’ve been talking about all the implausible plot points that stretch credulity and credibility. Don’t get me wrong, I devoured the book in only a few hours and readers might find themselves entertained as much as I was regardless of the various plot holes. As summer winds down, it might make a nice thing to stash in your beach bag for one last jaunt to soak up some sun, although the weather here has taken a decided and marked turn towards fall temperatures, so maybe you’ll instead be curling up in front of a fire. Lizzie at least is likeable, and you won’t regret spending the time to get to know her and her unique situation or her struggles to be seen as her own person.

The Unwanteds

Title: The Unwanteds
Author: Lisa McMann
ISBN: 9781442407688
Pages: 390 pages
Publisher/Date: Aladdin, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, c2011.

“I’m not sure we’re doing the right thing at all by holding him back.”
Claire sighed. “[…] Alex is spending all his free time alone–and frankly, I don’t blame him. Everyone’s angry with him, and he feels bad now that he’s the only one not in magical training. It’s only making matters worse.”
Mr. Today shook his head and sank back in his chair. “Oh, oh, oh,” he said quietly, “what to do? I am afraid that if Alex starts training, he will use his magic to find his brother. The powerful connection between twins . . . It’s a huge risk we don’t need right now, especially now that Aaron is in Justine’s good graces and under her watchful eye.” […]
“You must understand, my dear lady, that it is very different with twins. There’s a connection. A loyalty that exceeds all others.” […]
Octavia closed her lips over her teeth, folded several arms across her chest and frowned. “So it’s inevitable, you’re saying. The connection between twins is that strong that he’ll never give up?”
“That is what I believe.” (128-129)

Alex and Aaron are twins who are inseparable, until they turn 13. While Aaron is deemed Wanted and sent off to school, Alex was caught drawing in the dirt, which is an unforgivable infraction in the city of Quill. Alex and the rest of the kids who showed any sort of creativity are banished from the city and are convinced that they’re being sent the Death Farm to be tossed into the Great Lake of Boiling Oil by the Eliminators. Instead, they meet a magician named Mr. Today who has created a utopia for these cast offs. Their existence must remain a secret, but Alex can’t forget about the brother he left behind. When Alex learns about a threat to his brother, will he jeopardize everyone to try to save him?

The Kirkus review comparing this book to “The Hunger Games meets Harry Potter” was the main reason for me to pick up this book. Even without it though, I probably would have tracked it down considering Lisa McMann’s success with the Wake trilogy. But I can see why the Kirkus review compared it to those two books. It starts off like Hunger Games, where chosen kids are sent to what is supposed to be their death, only to usurp the existing government’s expectations. Like Harry Potter, the teens instead are sent away to this secret magical world which is hidden away from the uninitiated. What I really liked about the book was the action without the gladiator style violence and mature relationship of Hunger Games, which has made me leery of recommending it to younger tweens.

McMann provides some unique concepts for spells and magical capabilities. Each secondary character has their own affinity for a different creative outlet. One sings spells, while another’s strength is acting and a third person uses writing and story telling. These specializations provide readers with relatable characters, as most students have some sort of creativity outlet that they enjoy. Alex’s own strength is art, and the magic he creates with paper, pencil, and other mediums sounds really cool, especially his ability to paint himself invisible. It’s also the root of the threat towards Alex’s brother.

After finishing this book, I book talked it to a group of fifth and sixth graders, and they were intrigued by this concept of creativity being banned. I told them “Alex and Aaron live in a world where creativity is banned. No singing, no dancing, no drawing, no making up stories, nothing. If you’re caught doing any of these things, you could get kicked out of the city and sent to death, and your parents wouldn’t stop them.” They immediately started questioning what could or couldn’t get them in trouble, with one kid tapping out a beat with his fingers, another kid asking about humming, and a third wondering if sports were allowed. I came back and told another librarian that we might end up with a run on this title if they all followed through and checked it out. As a new author to the upper elementary and middle school scene, it might take a little bit of time for this to hit their radar, especially considering Wimpy Kid and Inheritance have just been published. Once kids catch on though, I’m sure this book will become popular.

The Other Half of My Heart

Title: The Other Half of My Heart
Author: Sundee T. Frazier
ISBN: 9780385734400
Pages: 296 pages
Publisher/Date: Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc., c2010.

The location of their birth got them on the evening news all across the country, but what got just as much attention, if not more, was something else.
Something they’d been told all their lives didn’t really mean anything.
Same Mama and Daddy. Born seven minutes apart in the back of their daddy’s plane.
But Keira, with her dark curly hair and cinnamon-brown skin, was black, like their mama, while Minni, with her reddish blond hair and milky pale skin, was white, like their daddy. At least that was what the articles on the Internet said.
One-in-a-million twins. […]
She asked Mama once, “Am I just white? Or am I black, too?” because when she looked at her pale skin next to her sister’s nad Mama’s rich brown, it sure was hard to see how she could be called black.
“Of course you are,” Mama said, not really answering her question. (6-7)

It’s hard to believe that Minerva (also known as Minni) and Keira King are sisters, much less twin sisters. With a white father and an African-American mother, Minni takes after her father, while Keira takes after her mother. Although they don’t like the stares or questions they receive from strangers, they have come to accept their chessboard family. This peace is shattered when their Southern grandmother enrolls them in the Miss Black Pearl Preteen of America pageant. While the other contestants are questioning whether Minni is black enough to participate, Minni’s lighter skin is admired by her grandmother, which further ostracize the girls from each other. Minni’s left wondering if this is how Keira feels all the time in their primarily white neighborhood, while Keira maintains that Minni can’t possibly understand what it’s like. Can the girls come to grips with their own unique beauty?

The Other Half of my Heart by Sundee T. Frazier will warm both sides of your heart and make you question what it really means to say “beauty is only skin deep”. The emotions are palpable as Minni and Keira try to understand the other one’s position. That’s the amazing thing about this book, is that neither girl wants sympathy, they just want people to recognize and acknowledge that they might be feeling these emotions. Their inability to express themselves and accept the other’s empathy leads to misunderstandings that get patched up at the end, but I wonder if there were any lasting effects due to their realization of their differences. It’s surprising of their naivety regarding their differences before the pageant.

I’m a little concerned however, because the emphasis is so squarely placed on the girls identifying with their African-American culture/heritage/tradition. What about their white half? I can only imagine how the girls’ father must feel about the twins exclusively pursuing their blackness with such intent. Why must they choose black, instead of assuming a bi-racial identity? Maybe it’s just because I’m white, but I don’t say my family is only from one country. If someone asks what I am, I mention the countries that both sides of the family originated from. I thought bi-racial people would do the same. That’s really my one qualm about the book.

Wish

Title: Wish
Author: Alexandra Bullen
ISBN: 9780545130952
Pages: 323 pages
Publisher/Date: Point, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., c2010.

“Nobody skips town in the middle of the school year for no reason,” he continued, narrowing his eyes into little slits.
Olivia shrugged, crossing and uncrossing her ankles and staring at a patch of weeds pushing up between the crooked stone tiles.
“So what was it?” he demanded. “Messy divorce?”
Olivia shook her head and swallowed.
“Trouble with the law?” His voice was light and easy. A glimmer of a smile was twitching its way across his lips.
She swallowed again. This was the part she hated the most. The fact that no matter what she said, no matter how she said it, that smile would vanish in an instant. She would feel awkward. He would feel like an ass. And they’d finish what was left of their lunch in an uncomfortable silence. […]
Olivia steadied her shaking hands against the table. “My twin sister died.” (11)

Olivia has made the trip from Boston to San Francisco with her parents after her twin sister passes away in a swimming accident. It’s impossible for Olivia to forget her vibrant and outgoing sister Violet, who navigated their old high school and made enough friends for both of them to share. While Miles, her mother’s coworker’s son, tries hard to make her feel welcome, Olivia has her sights set on the popular and gorgeous Soren, who she’ll never have the guts to talk to because he is most definitely taken. That is, until a wish while wearing a mysterious dress brings the ghost of Violet back to the real world for only Olivia to hear and see. With Violet’s assistance, Olivia starts to come out of her shell, but is she really living her life, or an imitation of the one Violet can no longer live? And are Violet’s suggestions the best for Olivia and her grief-stricken family?

Gorgeous cover alert. Gorgeous cover alert. I love the way the dress evaporates into the background, the title’s iridescent font, and how the shooting star dots the “i” in the title. Whoever was the graphic designer for this did a fantastic job on incorporating elements from the story into the cover art. Although, I kind of wish the author credit was incorporated a little more into the design, as it seems to jar with the rest. Overall though, really eye-catching and appealing.

I think I was instantly intrigued by Olivia because she is trying so hard to get over her grief for her twin. Although, I seem to be reading an awful lot of death stories lately… is that the trend now, to kill off the best friend/sibling before the story even starts? Are we harkening back to the Grimm fairy tale days when the mother is dead and the evil-stepmother has entered the picture?

Anyways, Olivia knows she’s supposed to move on, but is understandably having difficulty doing so because of her introverted nature. Violet was the outgoing twin, the one that Olivia deferred to when placed in uncomfortable, awkward, or new situations. As a new student at a new school, transitioning to an only child status and dealing with argumentative parents, she’s faced with multiple instances of all three of those situations. Add to it the fact that her sister’s ghost magically appears after a wish, and she’s handling things as best she can. Her uncertainty towards her friends and her love interest, especially with magic being in the mix, is reflected honestly.

Olivia is trying to find herself, just like most teenaged girls. And she does a remarkable job of accomplishing what she sets out to accomplish. It’s somewhat predictable in the way that she grows into her own skin and begins to rely on Violet less and less as the story progresses. But that’s why we’ve picked up this book in the first place, is to see a coming of age story of a shy girl who exits her cocoon a butterfly. And while I wish, I really wish that everyone paired up like a Shakespeare comedy at the end (one boy in particular deserves it), the story rings truer that there are some single people left over and they aren’t afraid of their status as “single.”

The back cover asks “If you could have anything, what would you wish for?” Readers though are left wondering if getting what you wish for is as satisfying if you don’t have to work to get it. And that’s an important lesson to remember in life, and one I find myself trying to remember throughout this past week.

What about you… If you had the opportunity to wish for anything, would you later question whether you could have gotten it without magical means?

Dangerous Neighbors

Title: Dangerous Neighbors
Author: Beth Kephart
ISBN: 9781606840801
Pages: 172 pages
Publisher/Date: Egmont USA, c2010
Reviewed from ARC furnished by We Love YA Books
Publication date Aug. 24, 2010

Since I realize ARCs (Advanced Reader Copy) are not the finalized book and can go through the editing process still, I figured I’d quote from GoodReads.com rather than the ARC itself. The cover image was also taken from GoodReads.com.

Could any two sisters be more tightly bound together than the twins, Katherine and Anna? Yet love and fate intervene to tear them apart. Katherine’s guilt and sense of betrayal leaves her longing for death, until a surprise encounter and another near catastrophe rescue her from a tragic end. Set against the magical kaleidoscope of the Philadelphia Centennial fair of 1876, National Book Award nominee Beth Kephart’s book conjures the sweep and scope of a moment in history in which the glowing future of a nation is on display to the disillusioned gaze of a girl who has determined that she no longer has a future. The tale is a pulse by pulse portrait of a young heroine’s crisis of faith and salvation in the face of unbearable loss.

I’ll be quite honest, the Goodreads description makes it sound more exciting than the story actually is. It’s narration is more contemplative than action packed, with the story being presented in mostly flashbacks as Katherine reflects on the last few months before her sister’s death. Told from Katherine’s perspective, I would have liked to have seen more of their relationship before the rift between them began. Quite honestly, neither twin was a sympathetic character, with both girls over-reacting to events and feelings. Both girls seemed highly emotional, although they never really showed it through their actions. The bad feelings continued to be burried until it was to late to bring them to the surface.

I spoke with the author briefly at the YALSA conference, and I mentioned to her that I thought the best presentation of twin relationships that I remember reading was Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson (which I should probably re-read at some point in time). And although her writing is well paced and the symbolism is powerful, I didn’t feel a lasting connection. Oh there were some portions where I was able to relate, like when Katherine tells Anna “You’d be easy to hate if I didn’t love you.” (63) That line stuck with me, punched and made me pause, because there is always that one person in your life that can annoy you to no end and you know you could never abandon them or leave them. Unfortunately, the problem is that petulant Katherine doesn’t see Anna reciprocating those feelings of life-long familial committment.

I can also though see things from Anna’s point of view, which isn’t presented at all in the book. She meets a guy, and Katherine is jealous (whether she admits it or not). Katherine starts resenting Anna, and Anna senses that resentment, so she spends more and more time with said guy which causes Katherine more resentment. It’s a never ending spiral that neither one started and neither one is willing to approach or stop. It made me wonder if I’ve ever contributed to those types of feelings in others.

I don’t see this book as having much demand or appeal with teens because of the pacing and subject matter. I thought the cover photo was intriguing, but the title also misses the mark because it makes it sound like something sinister is going to happen, and instead it’s only tragic. I think it would have worked better if told from alternating viewpoints. It was a nice, fast read, just not what I was expecting.

The Alchemyst: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel

Alchemyst (Nicholas Flamel)Title: The Alchemyst: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel
Author: Michael Scott
Narrator: Denis O’Hare
ISBN: 9780739350324
Discs: 8 CDs / 10 hours 2 minutes
Pages: 375 pages
Publisher: Random House, Inc. c2007.

The skin on the man’s hand was moving. It was slowly flowing, shifting viscously down into his sleeve: it looked as if his fingers were melting. A glob of what appeared to be gray mud spattered onto the street.
“Golems,” Perry gasped. “My God, he’s created Golems.”
“Gollums?” Sophie asked, her mouth thick and dry, her tongue suddenly feeling far too large for her mouth. “Gollum, from Lord of the Rings?”
Perry was moving toward the door. “No: Golems,” she said absently, “Men of Clay.” (18)

Fifteen year old twins Josh and Sophie are enjoying their new lives in San Francisco while their parents are on an archeological dig overseas. However, things quickly change when Jon Dee enters the book shop that Josh works at and promptly wrecks havoc, stealing an ancient book of magical secrets. The book shop owner’s wife is also taken as a hostage. Josh and Sophie become involved in a centuries old battle over the book. Little do they know however, that they might be more involved in this fight then they realized. With an immortal and a vampire and several encounters with the Elders, Michael Scott forces his characters to question who they can really trust in The Alchemyst: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel.

I know, I know, I have read quite a bit of fantasy this year, and I feel absolutely horrible starting yet another series that I probably won’t finish any time soon, contributing to grave confusion on my part when I go to read the second or third book months/years later. That being said, this book amazed me. It stuck with me, even when I took a two week hiatus from it because I forgot to pack the discs on a long awaited and desired vacation. I picked it right back up because it was a unique, interesting, and captivating story.

Denis O’Hare does an amazing job narrating this eclectic and diverse range of characters, with accents ranging from Irish to French and otherworldly. The characters are delineated nicely, with the possible exception of the twins who sound very much alike and might have been done intentionally. Josh and Sophie’s dynamics are portrayed very well, and the jealousy, love, and support are all there, with family being a common theme. The detailed back story is nicely told, although some might consider it a little long winded, I feel it’s necessary, especially in the first book of the series. Descriptions in the book are excellent, in-depth, and transport readers to into the story. Scott’s mythology is drawn mostly from Irish mythology, which is refreshing change from the ever popular Greek mythology. Readers are left to find out themselves who the Morrigan, Scathach, and Hekate were in actual mythology. An author’s note specifies that Nicholas Flamel and John Dee were actual people, with events based on historical speculation and the Codex is based on fact as well. Fans of Harry Potter and Riordan’s The Lightening Thief series will probably fall in love with this series as well, which won’t be complete until 2012.

The books in the series are titled as follows:
The Alchemyst
The Magician
The Sorceress
The Necromancer (publish date May 25th 2010)
The Warlock (publish date 2011)
The Enchantress (publish date 2012)

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