31 March 2011

Press Here; Herve Tullet

Press HerePress Here by Herve Tullet
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's been a while since I've looked at picture books, and even longer since I looked at books on the "Pat the Bunny" level but there are more out there like this, I'm really missing out!

Copy provided by publisher.

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The Dark City; Catherine Fisher

The Dark City (Relic Master, #1)The Dark City by Catherine Fisher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you've read many sci-fi/quest books, this won't be anything new (unlike Incarceron) but in Fisher's hands readers won't mind. This is a thoroughly enjoyable start to a series - the twist here is that each episode will be release a month after the prior episode. And therein lies my biggest qualm: these won't be thin books, and I don't know if they'll have the "Harry Potter addict", where people dropped what they're doing immediately to read it all at once. Slower readers may give up because they'll feel they're being left behind... I hope they don't.

Like the world outside Incerceron, this world feels vaguely familiar. It's Earth... kind of. At one point there were Makers, who arrived from the stars and built a civilization. They left, and this magic-based Order keeps things running, telling the story of the Makers and tending to their Relics. Then there was an uprising, the Order fell and the Watch took over, hunting the Keepers and Relics and terrifying villages.

Galen and Raffi are a Keeper and a Keeper-in-training, sought by an outlaw who has been cheated out of his gold by a Sekoi (an indigenous race to the planet). After losing a Relic to this outlaw, they decide to seek the Sekoi in Tasceron, the former capital city - now in ruins and heavily guarded by the Watch. There's an ulterior motive, too, as Galen wants the Crow (a man? a myth? both?) to cure him, and the Crow is in Tasceron.

As I said above, their quest and adventures, let alone the world of Anara and Tasceron, will feel familiar to frequent readers of sci-fi/fantasy. Despite that, it was a fun read that made me want to read the following books, something increasingly rare for me in this overbloated world of series. And the ending? Let's just say that Ms. Fisher really knows how to keep a reader interested in the "what's next" part, rather than creating a cliffhanger that leaves you saying "that's a set-up".

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30 March 2011

State of Wonder; Ann Patchett

State of WonderState of Wonder by Ann Patchett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was very torn over this book - the writing is lovely, and I enjoyed the immersion in the world of the Amazon and the Lakisha tribe but at times the Big Pharma = Bad subtext got to me (although this was not a diatribe book, the way was) as did all the exposition.

Marina's emotional journey from being in love with Mr. Fox to something approaching dislike, and from being in awe of Dr. Swenson to being able to stand up to her was so well drawn: at times I wasn't sure she was able to change, but then she'd surprise me. Dr. Swenson was mostly a one-note character (in my head, I kept hearing Candace Bergen or Lindsey Crouse), as were the others in the book.

It's the setting and the culture that will keep readers going, as well as the mystery of the medical discoveries of Dr. Swenson and her team.

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28 March 2011

13 Curses; Michelle Harrison

13 Curses13 Curses by Michelle Harrison
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An sequel, but not quite, to 13 Treasures, which I enjoyed. The same characters appear, but this is more Red's story than Tanya's. Since I sense that there's another book coming, can I just ask for one from Fabian's point-of-view?

Red's time in the land of the fay is, of course, passing faster than time in the non-fay world. After being trapped by the Hedgewitch, she learns more about her brother's capture and meets Stitch, a human who decides to help her with her quest to plead for James at the Seelie court. Timing being everything, they arrive at the court on Samhain, when the Seelie gives over to the Unseelie. The two courts send Red on a Quest to retrieve the 13 charms on the charm bracelet; the task is relatively easy, but the charms aren't exactly "charmed" any longer.

As with many sequels, there's padding here. A lot. The whole back story to how James was taken could have been cut and wouldn't have been missed. The descriptive passages about the fox glamor, or the time in the Hedgewitch's dungeon could have been tightened, and while Nell was an interesting addition, she could have had less page time (and her parrot? lose him).

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Spoiled; Heather Cocks

SpoiledSpoiled by Heather Cocks
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While the plot might not be anything new ("orphan" finds that she has a father and half-sister, sibling rivalry, reconciliation) the writing is amusing enough to keep readers engaged.

Molly's life in LA, navigating the jealousy of Brooke and the meanness of Shelby while still mourning her mother, is set among an onslaught of brand names and Big Names. I suspect that will date the book rather quickly, which could have been avoided had the authors (who also run the blog Go Fug Yourself) made up brands and Names.

This is perfect for teen readers who like realistic fiction without heavy romance.

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Dark Parties; Sara Grant

Dark PartiesDark Parties by Sara Grant
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Society living under/in a bubble? Check. Supplies limited? Check. Jobs determined by the government? Check. Something caused the government to create a protected zone? Check. Citizens kept in the dark about the truth? Check.

Unfortunately, Dark Parties reads like a dystopian novel that chose plot elements from a Chinese menu. The life that Neva leads is much like the life Cassia led in Matched, in a space that feels like a cross between Ember and what's left of the US in Delirium. There's nothing there that's new, nothing that made me say "oh, interesting." I found it particularly disturbing that most of the male characters can't be trusted. However, if you love dystopias and strong female characters...

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27 March 2011

Bitter End; Jennifer Brown

Bitter EndBitter End by Jennifer Brown
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wanted so much to love this book the way I loved The Hate List but, well... it's so much about the message that it just gets lost there. What I mean is, there are other books (like Cut or Wintergirls) where I felt that the author had a character who, as she developed, had a problem, but in this one I felt that the author had a problem she tried to fit characters around.

Alex's relationship with Zach and Bethany is so close that they're the Terrible Three, in and out of each other's homes all the time. Then, senior year, Cole transfers and things change. He doesn't like Alex hanging around with Zach, and he's not fond of Bethany either. As he and Alex get more involved, he starts isolating her from her friends... and then he starts being violent. Of course Alex believes him when he says that he's sorry, and that it will never happen again.

The problem isn't that this is an issue that teens should be aware of (just think about all those Team Edward fans) but that, as I said, the book doesn't feel organic to me. Cole never hits the obsessive calling every few minutes stage until the very end, and while we hear he's stalking, it seems very low key. Also, how did the news about him not spread from high school to high school? That seems very odd - particularly if he played sports, someone should have spilled the beans.

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Huntress; Melinda Lo

HuntressHuntress by Malinda Lo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Huntress is to Ash as Fire is to Graceling - set in the same world, but in a different time and with a different cast of characters. While Ash is clearly a Cinderella story, this new book is more of a quest story (with strong hints of Narnia).

Something (or someone) has created an imbalance in the earth's energies, with extended winters and bad summer harvests. The King has been invited by the Fairy Queen to the city of Tanlili, but sends his son Con along with two Academy students, Kaede and Taisin, and three guards instead. Many dangers later, they reach the city only to be told that they have yet another quest: to an ice island to slay Elowen, the half-fay half-human who is killing both lands.

Does it work? Yes, for the most part. Our sense of the Academy is fuzzy, but the trek to the Xi is much clearer, with the fear and difficulties more clearly defined. Kaede's emotional journey is also described well (more so than any other characters), and one really gets a sense of who this person is. The others have moments of that clarity for the reader, and it's obvious that Taisin is supposed to be equally well-defined but I didn't feel that. The romance between Taisin and Kaede was a bit of a diversion and didn't need to be as spelled out as it was (unless the author is setting up a sequel in which that will play a major role).

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26 March 2011

The Magnoila League; Katie Crouch

The Magnolia LeagueThe Magnolia League by Katie Crouch
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Even though the book doesn't come out and say it, the ending left me with a definite "there's gonna be a sequel" feeling. Which is too bad, because as a one-off this would have been an interesting addition to the whole paranormal genre.

Alex's life is one of hippie freedom on the commune where she lives with her mother; after her mother's death however, things change. At first, it's good - there's Reggie - but then her grandmother sends her minion to bring Alex back to Savannah. Once there, Alex's confidence in her wardrobe, hair and general Alex-ness are shaken by the "girls" of the Magnolia League, founded by her grandmother many years earlier. At first she rebels, even going so far as to run back to the commune.

However, once there she discovers that all the things she thought were true about the farm, the "community" have changed, and heading back to Miss Lee and the other is her only option. She settles in, allowing them to bring her directly into the fold with hoodoo beauty treatments and love potions. It's only at the end that she decides to do what's right... we think.

The relationship between the Magnolias and the Buzzard clan is dribbled out, and only at the end do you get the sense that it's not quite what the Buzzard's want. Ditto Alex's decision to not run away but to stay and change things. My guess is that the ending is confused because there'll be a sequel, but better editing and no sequel would be far better.

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She Loves You, She Loves You Not; Julie Anne Peters

She Loves You, She Loves You Not...She Loves You, She Loves You Not... by Julie Anne Peters
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The biggest recommendation for this book is that it's perfect for GLBTQ collections, but as a teen romance it doesn't quite cut it. The level of angst, the drawing out (interminably) of the Big Incident that causes Alyssa's father to disown her intercut with her judgmental attitude towards her mother all lead to "just another misunderstood teen" novel.

Alyssa is very comfortable being out among her friends, but can't come out to her family. That might resonate with readers, yet once she's sent to live with her mother in Colorado, her actions are more those of someone who shouldn't judge but does anyway. I guess that's to show that everyone has areas in which they feel they can take the moral high ground. There was also a lot of stuff off-stage that bothered me, like Carly's decision to take a round-the-world cruise after the fire, once again abandoning Alyssa (but Alyssa's ok with that?), or how Alyssa and Carly somehow come together without ever really having a mother/daughter talk.

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25 March 2011

The Time-Travelling Fashionista; Bianca Turetsky

The Time-Traveling FashionistaThe Time-Traveling Fashionista by Bianca Turetsky
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Once readers wade through the exposition in the beginning (and unfortunately, there probably needs to be more, as I'm not sure many teens will know the difference between a Balanciaga and a Givenchy) this tale of time-travel will appeal to those who like historical fiction. Louise's journey back in time to inhabit the body of her great-great Aunt Alice, survivor of the Titanic, might send readers to the movie version or to learn more about the fashions but not both. In that sense, the book is trying to do a little too much: by including both historical fiction and fashion history there's more going on than this slender a book deserves.

With luck, the second in the series will find a better balance and need less backstory.

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Sweetly; Jackson Pearce

SweetlySweetly by Jackson Pearce
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If it hadn't been for the introduction of the werewolfFenris plotline, this would have been a much better book. I loved the update of "Hansel & Gretel" and the book should have stuck with the story of Gretchen and Ansel, the disappearance of Gretchen's twin twelve years earlier, and their stay with a beautiful, lonely chocolatier Sophia without adding the Fenris as cause/villains.

Sophia's involvement with the disappearance of eight girls in two years and the mystery of her missing sister (or is that sisters?) could have been resolved by another means. The Fenris and their hunting take energy away from the creepy nature of the chocolate shop; their relationship to Sophia are rushed into the ending of the book. The pacing of the ending is also a little off, with the action moving much faster than anywhere else except the very beginning of the story.

Still, the paranormal elements will appeal to those for whom this genre is not yet played out.

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24 March 2011

The Tiger's Wife; Tea Obreht

The Tiger's WifeThe Tiger's Wife by Téa Obreht
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'd held off reading this until I had a chunk of uninterrupted reading time and I'm so glad I did - what a wonderful book!

Set in the relative present, we follow Natalia as she is on a humanitarian mission to inoculate some orphans on the "other side" of a Balkan border. While on her way, she learns that her beloved grandfather has died, having left their home claiming he is heading to help her - but she knew nothing about this and he didn't die in a town she's ever heard of. For her grandmother, the worst part is that his belongings and body won't have the traditional 40 days in which to keep his soul tied down.

In between this story, we hear flashbacks to Natalia's early life and to formative stories from her grandfather's life. The first is the story of the tiger's wife, a deaf-mute child bride of a wife batterer from his childhood village. The second is of his meeting with the deathless man. Are these people real? Are they just stories a grandfather tells his daughter?

The writing makes these stories come alive in ways that reminds me of Davies and Barnes and Tartt's Secret History- I'm really looking forward to the next book.

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22 March 2011

Beauty Queens; Libba Bray

Beauty QueensBeauty Queens by Libba Bray
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I loved the premise of this book, but the heavy-handedness of the satire got to me by the middle of chapter three.

The Miss Teen Dream pageant contestants' plane crashes and the survivors are forced to survive (or not) on an island they think is remote - yet findable. What they don't realize is that The Corporation has decided that they're expendable, and aren't really looking to save anyone. Their determination to not reenact Lord of the Flies leads to a whole lot of empowerment, and while the individuals never quite leave their stereotypical roles (the Black Contestant, the Lesbian Contestant, etc.) they do grow. Of course there's a whole mystery of who is (or is not) on the island, a visit by pirates, and practicing for the pageant to be done.

The various Corporation products, tv shows and pageant interviews are chuckle-worthy, and there's often even bigger chuckles in the banter between contestants. Still, if it had been dialed back just a little I would have enjoyed it more. YMMV.

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The Midnight Palace; Carlos Ruiz Zafon

The Midnight Palace (Mist, #2)The Midnight Palace by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is definitely in the horror/suspense genre, much more so that The Prince of the Mist. Having Calcutta as a setting is just perfect, as it's not a place many readers are familiar with and that difference adds to the eeriness.

One night a British Lieutenant is being chased by assassins; he manages to elude them long enough to get two orphaned babies to their grandmother's house before drawing the pursuit away and dying at their hands. Grandma takes one child and leaves him at a local orphanage... we're not sure what happened to the other child. There's definitely something wrong here, as she warns the orphanage's supervisor that this child is being hunted.

Sixteen years later, Ben is on the verge of leaving the orphanage. He and his best friends, aka the Chowbar Society, are off on a new adventure. That is, of course, until Jawahal - an evil man/spirit determined to destroy Ben and his sister - shows up. The ensuing next few days are filled with half-told tales, puzzles and true terror.

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21 March 2011

Belladonna; Mary Finn

BelladonnaBelladonna by Mary Finn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I know that most history teachers dislike historical fiction because it's often not true to the time period, and that inserting fictional characters into real events skews the history parts. While there are a few "real" people in Belladonna, they're not people readers in the target age group are likely to have heard of and the setting is not a big, known city but a rural village.

What I think will attract readers is that the main character, Thomas, has difficulty learning but has a good visual sense and can easily draw mouths saying different letters. Anyone who does not do well with rote memorization will sympathize and identify with him. Also, boys will love the grossness of his apprenticeship with Mr. Stubbs and the anatomical drawings of the dead horse.

Where the book has problems is in scope: too much is going on. There's Stubbs and the horses, there's Ling/Helene and her Lipizzaner, Belladonna, there's a press-gang incident, a nearly mute luthier, learning to read, class issues... see where I'm going? Sometimes I felt as though the author was so eager to put more 'reality' in the book that it got muddied.

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Demonglass; Rachel Hawkins

Demonglass (Hex Hall, #2)Demonglass by Rachel Hawkins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've said it before, and it bears repeating: a good series is one in which the latter books don't spend half their time explaining the "Previously on..." and create worlds in which you can easily feel comfortable. This is one of those series. I knew I'd missed not having read Book One, but got quickly engrossed - not lost - in Book Two.

Yes, this is paranormal and yes, it's romance, but the action/romance isn't nonstop and there are moments of real humor. It could also be seen as one of those school stories, as Hex Hall is where vampires, werewolves, faeries, witches (and warlocks) and a demon go to school. Most of the action takes place in England, setting up Book Three, in which the demons and the others will battle it out for... I'm not sure what exactly but I'm interested to find out.

So, why only three stars? Because there wasn't anything really new here - the portals, the school, the good v. bad, the romance, the missing-father, etc. were all familiar. That's not to say this is a bad book, but it was more of a comfort read than one that introduced something different.

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19 March 2011

Ruby Red; Kerstin Gier

Ruby RedRuby Red by Kerstin Gier
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Time-travel, with echoes of Dan Brown... and some romance. "Ruby" is the latest time-traveller, the culmination of the Twelve and the one who will open (or unlock) some secret sought by Count Saint-Germain and the Guardians. Charlotte has been raised since birth to be the Ruby, trained in foreign languages and dancing and old-fashioned pursuits. Problem is, it's her cousin Gwen who actually has the time-travel gene and is the Ruby in question.

So Gwenneth's travel is done without the extensive training and background knowledge she's supposed to have, nor does she have any real sense of what her role is in this centuries-old secret/mystery. Gideon, the Diamond (or Eleven), was raised in this tradition, and his pairing with Gwen has that flirting/bossing romantic motif to it. He's never met anyone like her, she's not interested in being the meek partner. She is more interested in telling her friend Lesley about all her adventures, as well as her conversations with the ghosts she sees all around her.

The Guardians have a place in the Temple, home to the Templers and other secret societies; Gwen's adventures in traveling (or elapsing) start there but end elsewhere. Why? Because the two previous travelers (Lucy and Paul) have disappeared into the past and are somehow trying to prevent the circle from being closed. You get the general picture.

This isn't paranormal in the sense we've been getting all too often recently, and my hope is that the trilogy is told from different points of view (yes, it's a trilogy). Also, my preferred Count Saint-Germain is Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's, which is wonderful historical fiction.

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17 March 2011

Carmen; Walter Dean Myers

CarmenCarmen by Walter Dean Myers
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Carmen is one of my favorite operas, and if this book gets more students to go see it (and from there, perhaps to other operas) then great. The author has changed very little other than the setting and some of the language: the names all remain the same, and some of the more famous songs are here in modern translations ("The Toreador Song" isn't, which makes sense as the setting has moved to el barrio). Walter Dean Myers is such a beloved author that I'm certain readers will read (and enjoy) this update.

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Girl Wonder; Alexa Martin

Girl WonderGirl Wonder by Alexa Martin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Moving is difficult for any teen, and particularly difficult in your senior year. Making Charlotte's life worse is that she has a learning disability for math while her brother is a genius. Why Charlotte hasn't been given more tools with which to deal with her math issues is beyond me, but because of them she's not allowed to enter her new school's Gifted and Talented program. That the new school is a public school and not one of Seattle's many private schools is a huge disappointment to her father.

Something is clearly going on with Charlotte beyond normal teen angst, and her parents are too wrapped up in her father's new-found fame as an author (of a Lolita-esque book that creeps Charlotte out), his possible affair with his agent, and her mother's new job at Seattle University. Eventually she finds herself in the library (and that librarian? hated her!), which appears to be off limits to anyone except the GATE kids. There she meets Amanda, with neon-pink hair and a reputation for trouble, and falls under Amanda's spell. Through Amanda she meets Neil, school hottie and general BMOC... through both she starts on the debate team. Sex, drugs and little rock-and-roll happen, mostly under her parents oblivious eyes. That her younger brother appears the stablest of the family is problematic - but thanks to him Charlotte eventually finds her way to the end of senior year with a modicum of sanity and purpose.

While what Charlotte is going through isn't going to be new to anyone who felt sidelined in high school, there just seemed something slightly off about the book. Perhaps it was because at times the plot felt deliberate and forced, as though the author had a checklist of things she needed to go through or experience.

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The Family Fang; Kevin Wilson

The Family FangThe Family Fang by Kevin Wilson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Reading the ARC I had one fervent hope: that the author (or publisher) changes the name. Why? So many of my students are tired of the whole paranormal genre that the title alone will put them off (I know, I booktalked this to a couple of my most fervent readers). Problem is, this isn't about a paranormal family, it's about an extranormal family with not a whiff of vampires or wereanything.

The Fangs are a family living in the heartland of America, a mother, father and two siblings. What makes them so different than all the other families is that the parents, Caleb and Camille are performance artists, creating what used to be called "happenings". Example: all four traveling via plane as unrelated people - Caleb proposes to Camille, not knowing what her reaction will be - the two children react as they feel inspired. Annie and Buster are referred to as Child A and Child B, props and/or actors in the Fang Family Productions.

Eventually, of course, children grow up and leave the family home, and both Annie and Buster try to live relatively normal lives. Given their upbringing, it's not surprising that this isn't easy to do. Then Buster gets hit in the face with a potato shot from a "pneumatic artillery" piece and Annie's movie career implodes... and they return home. Especially in the Fang household, you can't go home again.

I really enjoyed the performance pieces (told in flashback) and Annie and Buster's desire for something less, well, different. Once readers get past the family name they'll find an interesting, quirky, slightly ooky family story.

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15 March 2011

The Ragged Edge of Silence; John Francis

The Ragged Edge of Silence: Finding Peace in a Noisy WorldThe Ragged Edge of Silence: Finding Peace in a Noisy World by John Francis Ph.D.
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

As a Quaker I was really interested in reading this exploration of silence, but the author's tone was, well, smug - something I would not have expected from a book of this nature. The author was more interested in telling us about his silence and his refusal to ride in cars than he was in really exploring silence as a means of communication for both him and others and how to find silence (or peace) in daily life.

The "exercises" weren't always connected to the content of each chapter, which would have seemed appropriate; sometimes they appeared to be haphazardly added because the chapter needed an exercise.

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13 March 2011

Minding Ben; Victoria Brown

Minding BenMinding Ben by Victoria Brown
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Because this was sent in the 1980s, it has a historical feel to it - but it's unclear to me why it was set then and not now. There are glancing references to those times (the World Trade Center is still standing, the riots in Crown Heights are starting) but nothing that really influences the action.

Grace is a 17-year-old Trinidadian who has come to the US to be the nanny for her cousin, only her cousin doesn't want or need her. After shuffling around a little, she finds herself living with another cousin, Sylvia, taking care of Sylvia's three children for no pay. Clearly that's not going to work for long, so Grace continues to look for real nanny positions and finally finds one in Manhattan. Sol and Miriam need help with Benjamin, their toddler; Miriam also needs someone to do all the housework and shopping and generally to be completely on call. Putting up with the indignity Miriam's demands should end in the payoff of being sponsored, Grace thinks, so she does it, despite missing home and her father (ill from what is hinted at being diabetes). Of course, it doesn't last and by the end of the book she's lost her job, Kath has returned home, and Sylvia's been moved out of her house while lead abatement is going on.

The problem for me is that the characters here are all so stereotypically depicted that it was hard for me to really believe in them. Grace was the exception, but since everyone she interacted with and every event seemed so cliched, it was difficult for me to enjoy the book.

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09 March 2011

Chime; Franny Billingsley

ChimeChime by Franny Billingsley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Yet another argument for a 4.5 rating!

Chime takes place during turn-of-the-last-century England in a town surrounded by the Swampsea and inhabited by Old Ones, including a Bogey Mun, Muckey Face, a Brownie, Dark Muses and other fantastic creatures. Many trials include participation by the Chime Child, someone born at midnight with a foot in both worlds, so that the Old Ones get legal representation and justice. Briony is a witch, holder of dark secrets and able to see these Old Ones. Rose, her twin sister, is a little... different. Their Reverend Father has left them along for the most part, particularly after their Stepmother dies. Suddenly he's interested in a more active role, especially when Eldric moves in to their house. Eldric's father represents the future, building a pumping station to drain the swamp and building a railroad connecting the town to London. Anyone that doesn't expect that to create problems, leave now.

As the book progresses, Briony's world changes more than that of the town. Her assumptions about her life, Rose's mental state and how things should be are often wrong; the addition of Edric to their world leads her out of innocent childhood mirrors his father's tying the town to the Big City, destroying the rural innocence.

The somewhat stilted way Rose and Briony speak, always "preferring to" or "preferring not to", reminded me of Bartleby and started to get a tiny bit annoying. The mystery surrounding Stepmother's death (fully explained by the end) had hints of We Have Always Lived in the Castle but with less creep factor. Those elements aside, this is a richly imagined world that will definitely appeal to readers who enjoy this variant on paranormal romance. Unfortunately, I had to really push the book because so many of my students are tired of paranormal books.

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04 March 2011

Amelia Lost; Candace Fleming

Amelia LostAmelia Lost by Candace Fleming

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Once again, I'm left wishing that I could give a book 4.5 stars.

Of course I've heard of Amelia Earhart (who hasn't?) but beyond her being the first female aviator to do a bunch of things and her getting lost, I didn't know much. Learning her backstory - growing up moving every few years, a period in which she lived with her grandmother, times of affluence and of poverty, and living with an alcoholic father - gave me a greater understanding of why she might have been so driven. The relationship she had (professionally and personally) with George Putnam, who helped finance and publicize her travels, didn't hurt.

It was also clear that she was a real daredevil, and didn't prepare terribly well. For example, early on she flew a plane without checking fuel levels! Her final voyage's ending might have been avoided had she learned to use the radio (apparently she had one hour's training because she was too busy to get more).

The design of the book will appeal to middle school readers: the story of the search for her plane (and her) is interspersed with the her story, and lots of photos and documents. More photos of the types of planes she flew would have been interesting, and a timeline helpful . It was also unclear why there wasn't more discussion of where she might have landed (just go online and there are many sites and stories about her bones being found, or possibly found). Additionally, one of the people who heard Amelia's final broadcasts apparently heard her give a latitude/longitude - why wasn't that explored further in the book as a final resting place? Hence my desire for a 4.5 rating.

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03 March 2011

Noah Barleycorn Runs Away; John Boyne

Noah Barleywater Runs AwayNoah Barleywater Runs Away by John Boyne
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a surprise this book was: when I first started, my thought was that Noah did not sound like an 8-year-old (unlike Jack in Room, who very much sounds like a 5-year-old). Then, as his journey continued I realized that this was a special journey, where the actual age of the character didn't matter quite as much.

Noah runs away for reasons that become clear by the end of the book, but that seem a little odd at first. As he sets out, like any journey, distances appear both farther and nearer than they are. He hasn't brought food, so by the time he reaches the first village, he's pretty hungry. And that's when things start being a little odd: the apple tree isn't like any normal apple tree. It moves. Things get weirder from there... newspapers that get written virtually instantaneously, trees that grow back overnight, towns with talking donkeys, and more.

Part Phantom Tollbooth, part Oz and Wonderland, Noah's visit to the Toy Shop and its toymaker will delight younger readers and amuse older ones.

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