Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Hitty: Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field

Hitty: Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field -- In the early 1800's, a peddler carves a doll for a little girl of his acquaintance out of a sturdy piece of mountain ash wood. The doll is painted and dressed and given the name Mehitabel -- Hitty, for short. Over the course of her life, Hitty travels around the world by boat, by train, and eventually by automobile in the hands of various little girls (and sometimes, briefly, boys, men, and women). A hundred years later, she ends up in an antique shop, from whence she tells her story -- but are her adventures through? Hitty doesn't think so!

I was surprised at how readable I found this book. Though Hitty's adventures are episodic, I found that the plot carried me right along, always wondering where Hitty would end up next and how she would get out of whatever scrape she found herself in. I think that, if I had read this as a child, I would have enjoyed it immensely. After all, who doesn't imagine that their toys and dolls secretly come to life when nobody is watching? However, due to several problematic depictions in the book ("red injuns," "heathen savages," and African-American families speaking in an unflattering dialect, among other things), I probably wouldn't recommend this to children today, at least, not unless they were reading it with a good deal of adult guidance.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

Monday, July 18, 2016

The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric Kelly

The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric P. Kelly -- In medieval Poland, a mysterious jewel is stolen, a family is displaced, and an alchemist seeks the secret of transmuting base metals to gold. This book won the Newbery back in 1929, and I do see some distinguished elements -- the writing is good, though a little more flowery than is common these days, and there's an interesting plot if you can get through all of the descriptive bits. The characters aren't particularly fleshed out (the alchemist, a secondary character, was probably the most interesting to me). I had a hard time staying engaged with the narrative, so it took me several days to get through this book. Would I recommend it to kids today? Probably only if I had one who was really fascinated with medieval stories.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Zoe in Wonderland by Brenda Woods

When Zoe is having problems with school or siblings, her go-to spot is the Wonderland, her father's exotic plant nursery. But when faced with a snippy older sister, a sneaky younger brother, a best friend leaving on an extended visit to another town, and mean girls at school, will even the Wonderland be enough? Plus, she hears her dad and mom talking about money problems. Will they have to sell Zoe's refuge?

Despite the title, this is realistic fiction. I found the writing strong, the characters interesting, and the plot and pacing steady. I'll definitely recommend this to young readers who enjoy this sort of story.

(Reviewed from an advance copy, courtesy of the publisher.)

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Audacity Jones to the rescue by Kirby Larson

Audacity Jones to the Rescue by Kirby Larson -- When feisty Audacity is chosen from among her fellow orphans for a special mission, she has dreams of making a difference in the world, but ends up entangled in a shady scheme. Can she foil the bad guys? Lucky for her, she won't have to do it alone.

A fun little historical adventure, one that will appeal to kids, but not necessarily to adult readers.

(Reviewed from an advance copy, courtesy of the publisher.)

Friday, June 24, 2016

Beastkeeper by Cat Hellisen

Beastkeeper by Cat Hellisen -- When Sarah's mother leaves, her father takes Sarah to the grandparents she never knew she had, where she learns that magic is real, and that her entire family is under a curse. Can Sarah break the curse before she, too, falls victim to it?

I liked the dark, atmospheric feel of this book, but I never really connected with the characters. Also, I'm not sure what I think of the ending -- it's a bit ambiguous, and some of the characters make decisions that don't make sense to me.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova

Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova -- On the first day of middle school, Peppi Torres tripped and dropped her books. When sweet, nerdy Jaime tried to help her, bullies started taunting both of them, and Peppi pushed Jaime away. She's regretted it ever since, but her attempts to apologize are complicated by the fact that she's a member of the art club and he's a member of the science club. Between the two clubs there is a fierce rivalry. Can Peppi and Jaime find a way to connect, before the competition between clubs leads to disaster?

This story is sure to appeal to fans of Raina Telgemeier's graphic novels -- I'm sure I will be recommending it to young readers often!

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

Monday, June 13, 2016

Summer Days and Summer Nights, edited by Stephanie Perkins

Summer Days and Summer Nights, edited by Stephanie Perkins -- These twelve stories of summer love are (almost) as delightful as the first twelve collected in My True Love Gave to Me (almost, because there is no Rainbow Rowell story in this collection). As with any short story collection, there are high points and low points: I enjoyed Perkins' follow-up to her winter story, could have done without Francesca Lia Block's tale, I don't think Jon Skovron actually knows any women based on how he writes them, but I loved Lev Grossman's story and found that it ended the collection on just the right note. Fans of YA, of romance, and of short stories will enjoy these seasonal offerings.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Summerlost by Ally Condie

Summerlost by Ally Condie -- Still grieving over the recent deaths of her father and brother, twelve-year-old Cedar takes a summer job selling programs at a Shakespeare festival, makes a new friend, and searches for the solution to an old mystery.

This book exhibits strong character development, particularly in how Cedar and her family handle their grief. I also liked the setting, which was basically a fictionalization of the Utah Shakespeare Festival. However, I'm always bemused at otherwise realistic stories in which children as young as twelve find actual, formal jobs. Maybe I should give this book the benefit of the doubt -- after all, I've never looked into Utah's child labor laws. But it's a pet peeve that takes me right out of the story.

Pet peeves aside, there's plenty to like about this book, and I found it a good read for the start of summer.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

Friday, June 3, 2016

The Hidden Oracle by Rick Riordan

The Trials of Apollo: The Hidden Oracle by Rick Riordan -- Zeus needs someone to blame for the war with the giants, and his eye falls on Apollo. How do you punish a god? You make him mortal, of course. Apollo the scrawny teenager falls to earth in a New York City back alley, and immediately is set upon by thugs, then falls in with a young demigod who has some secrets she's not telling. Apollo wants nothing more than to regain his godly status, but how? He's got a sinking suspicion that it has to do with the Oracle of Delphi, which has been retaken by an old enemy of his. And, speaking of old enemies, some shadowy figures from the distant past seem to be making a bid for world domination. In fact, they may have been behind all of the troubles the demigods have faced thus far...

Just when I think Riordan has pretty much run through his source material, he manages to twist in a different direction and set off on a new course. Apollo's perspective is a lot of fun to read, what with the overweening egotism and all -- Riordan does make him somewhat sympathetic by the end of the book. And I'm intrigued by the new bad guys.

I didn't think this book was quite as action-packed as Riordan's other stuff, but it was doing a lot of work to set up the series. It was nice to go back to Camp Halfblood for a bit, and to see some old friends. I wouldn't recommend this as a starting point for readers new to Riordan, but fans of Percy Jackson should certainly take notice.

(Reviewed from my personally purchased copy.)

Ms. Rapscott's Girls by Elise Primavera

Ms. Rapscott's Girls by Elise Primavera -- Five daughters of extremely busy parents are sent to a most unusual boarding school, but one gets lost along the way.

Eh, it was okay. It's written in a style reminiscent of Lemony Snicket -- is there a word for that style? It's common enough among children's books that there ought to be. Kind of whimsical, bordering on absurd? Anyhow, there were adventures and lessons, but nothing in the story felt particularly fresh to me. Young readers who are not as jaded as I might enjoy it more. I listened to the audiobook, but even Katherine Kellgren couldn't manage to save this one from mediocrity for me.

(Reviewed from an e-audiobook borrowed through my library system.)