Thursday, October 25, 2018

Louisiana's Way Home by Kate DiCamillo

It’s 3:00 in the morning when Granny tells Louisiana to get in the car, because the day of reckoning has arrived. It’s time to break the curse that hangs over them. Shortly after crossing the state line from Florida to Georgia, Granny’s teeth begin to bother her so much that she can’t continue on. After some emergency dental surgery, Granny and Louisiana land at the Good Night, Sleep Tight Motel — and that’s just the beginning of Louisiana’s story. There will be tears and songs and cake and forgiveness before it’s all told, not to mention friendship and several bags of peanuts.

Sometimes I read a quirky Southern story with an obnoxiously folksy feel to it, and I wonder why I bother. But then I pick up a book by Kate DiCamillo. And when tears are rolling down my face as I turn the final page, I remember. Doggone it, Kate, you did it again.

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

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

The Long-Lost Home by Maryrose Wood

Plucky governess Penelope Lumley is exiled to Russia, while the Incorrigible children are back at Ashton Place, at the mercy of the enigmatic Edward Ashton. Moreover, the curse on the Ashton family seems to be coming to a head. Will all of the disparate elements come together in time?

This book does a good job of tying up all of the loose ends of the series. If you’ve enjoyed it up to this point, you should find this a satisfying read. It’s been a while since I read the last book, so some of the details were a little hazy — I recommend having the other books fresh in your memory, if possible.

Side note: The author dedicated the book to Katy, or Katherine Kellgren, audiobook narrator of the first five books in the series, who passed away earlier this year. There’s a touching author’s note at the end. It brought a tear to my eye, for sure.
(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson

Six students in a Brooklyn elementary school are given one hour a week to just talk together, with no adults present. As they share their stories, friendship and understanding develops among them.

I was skeptical of the premise at first — that it would be allowed, and that it would result in the deep discussion that happens in the book. Woodson sells me on that, at least with this group of characters. There’s not much plot to this book; it seems to be mostly focused on showing how many current events and concerns relate to kids on a personal level. As an adult reader, I thought the lessons being imparted were a little too obvious, but I’d be interested to see how kids react. The writing is strong, though the decision to represent dialogue with italics rather than quotation marks bugged me. Recommended to readers of realistic juvenile fiction, particularly teachers, as I can see this being useful in a classroom setting.

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

Monday, October 22, 2018

Unclaimed Baggage by Jen Doll

At first, teens Doris, Nell, and Grant seem to have nothing in common beyond their summer job at a thrift store that sells the contents of suitcases left at airports. As they get to know one another, a deep friendship develops, and they find that they can help each other through the difficulties they are currently facing.

This is a nice, feel-good story. There’s some romance, but the book is much more about friendship and dealing with one’s past. I found the writing a little pedantic in places, exhibiting a tendency toward unnecessary explanations (see what I did there?). And the chapters were written from the point of view of the three main characters, but I didn’t find their voices very distinctive; several times I had to look back and see who was talking now. (Also, I could have done without the chapters from the perspective of the suitcase — I found that a little too precious.) But despite some quibbles, I found it an enjoyable read, over all. I’d recommend it for younger teens.

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

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Hearts Unbroken by Cynthia Leitich Smith

When Louise's younger brother is cast as the Tin Man in their high school production of The Wizard of Oz, he's one of three minority students cast in major roles, and some members of the community are not happy about it. In her position as reporter for the school newspaper, Lou has a front-row seat to the rising tensions, and reflects on the many ways racism affects her life and the lives of those around her.

I love the premise of this book, with elements of theatre and journalism along with deep, important themes. However, I found the writing a little choppy, the dialogue a little stilted, and the characters not entirely relatable -- I never caught the emotion between the main character and her romantic partner, for instance. Perhaps because of those shortcomings, the book felt very message-y. I did learn some interesting (and unpleasant) stuff about L. Frank Baum, who was apparently racist in the extreme. We do need diverse books, and readers can learn a lot from this one -- I'm just hoping for better writing in future efforts along this line.

(Reviewed from an advance copy obtained through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.)

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor

I can’t even begin to summarize this sequel to Strange the Dreamer without spoiling some aspect of the previous book, so I’m not going to try. I’ll just say that this book is even more tightly written than the first. It’s a gripping, intense read, and it builds beautifully on the elements introduced in the first book. Of course, it’s essential to read the first book before trying this one, but I highly recommend both.

(Reviewed from my personally purchased copy.)

Monday, October 15, 2018

Castle Waiting, Volume I by Linda Medley

Picture Sleeping Beauty’s castle, just after the princess is awakened by True Love’s Kiss. When the prince and princess ride off into the sunset... what happens to the castle and the rest of its inhabitants? In Medley’s graphic novel, it becomes a sort of refuge for all kinds of quirky characters. Few of them get to share their full stories in this volume, and the narrative rambles all over the place, with the last seven chapters dedicated to a story within the story about an unconventional order of bearded nuns. It’s a charming world, and I wouldn’t mind spending more time there, but the peripatetic nature of the story meant that I felt no urgency to keep reading, and I put this book down several times in favor of more compelling reads. Still, if you like fantasy stories and graphic novels, you might want to give this a try.

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

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Amulet: The Stonekeeper by Kazu Kibuishi

 After a family tragedy Emily, Navin, and their mom move into an old house that used to belong to their great-grandfather, a self-made inventor. When Emily finds a mysterious amulet, the family is drawn into wild and dangerous adventures in a fantasy world.

I can see how this series has gained so much popularity with kids -- it's got plenty of action, good pacing, and a strong plot. Being a graphic novel, it's naturally a quick read (I read it over the course of a couple of lunch breaks). I probably won't continue with the series, but I'd recommend it to kids who love graphic novels, if there are still any out there who haven't found it yet.

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

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Matilda Bone by Karen Cushman

Matilda grew up in a manor house, where the only work expected of her was to assist Father Leufredus, the priest, in his studies. She knows Latin and some Greek, the names and stories of hundreds of saints, and how to be meek and obedient. None of this helps her much when Father Leufredus is called to London, and apprentices Matilda to a bone setter named Red Peg in a town halfway between London and Oxford. Peg is full of good humor and common sense, but all Matilda can see is how different she is from the priest and his teachings. Can Matilda look beyond her preconceptions and find a place in her new life?

I typically like Cushman’s historical fiction, but Matilda is a difficult character to love. She does soften up a bit by the end, but reading about her self-imposed misery for most of the book is not a lot of fun. And, while I liked some of the secondary characters, I had trouble keeping them straight. Recommended only to those who can’t get enough of Cushman’s writing.

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

Friday, October 12, 2018

Ruby on the Outside by Nora Raleigh Baskin

When Ruby was very young, her mother was arrested and sent to prison. Life with her aunt is Ruby's "normal," but she has a lot of big, complicated feelings about her mother, whom she visits weekly at the women's correctional facility near their home. Ruby doesn't like the other kids in her class to know about her mom, so she's never had a really close friend -- at least, not until she meets Margalit, a carefree girl of her own age who lives nearby. Over the summer, the two girls form a close bond -- but will Ruby's secret tear their friendship apart?

This book offers a perspective not often seen in children's literature, and it's valuable for that, to start. The emotion in the book is well-written, and that's the real heart of the story. I thought that both Ruby and Margalit seemed a little too perfect to be believed, Margalit in her honesty and forthrightness, and Ruby in her described behavior from the night of the arrest -- she seemed to behave in a much more mature fashion than one would expect from such a young child. But I think elementary school readers will relate to the story, and the resolution is reassuring but realistic. Recommended for readers who enjoy realistic works of juvenile fiction.

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