Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff

Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff -- LaVaughn has high aspirations: she wants to go to college, something that people in her neighborhood rarely do. To make money for college, she takes a job babysitting Jeremy and Jilly, the two children of a girl only a few years older than LaVaughn herself. Can LaVaughn work and keep up with her studies, or will she get pulled into the drama of the struggling family she's working for?

This verse novel is a quick, thought-provoking read as LaVaughn searches for balance. I enjoyed it, but probably will not bother with the sequels.

(Reviewed from my personally purchased copy.)

The Bears on Hemlock Mountain by Alice Dalgliesh

The Bears on Hemlock Mountain by Alice Dalgliesh -- Jonathan's mother sends him over the mountain to borrow a stew pot from his aunt . . . but what if there are bears? This very short story has a similar feel to the Little House books. I think beginning readers just making the jump to chapter books would still enjoy it. Older readers will find it too simplistic.

(Reviewed from my personally purchased copy.)

Monday, May 30, 2016

The Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith

The Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith -- I've loved the Disney movie based on this book for a long time (even as a small child, anything featuring dogs was a sure winner with me). But somehow I missed out on reading the book until now. I'm sorry not to have read it as a child, because I would have loved it, too. Disney didn't stray too far from the main story in this case, though a few details were altered and a couple of characters were conflated -- for example, in the book Pongo's wife and Perdita are two different dogs! A few bits of the story feel rather dated, particularly the parts featuring Pongo's wife, who's very much the 1950's ideal little woman in canine form, but it's not enough to put me off of the book. If you're a fan of the movie, or of dog stories with happy endings (I think is not too much of a spoiler to say, 101+ dogs and none of them die!), this is a pleasant little read.

(Reviewed from my personally purchased copy.)

Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry

Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry -- Paul and Maureen Beebe live with their grandparents, who gentle wild Chincoteague ponies for a living, but training up ponies for sale is not the same as having one of your very own. The brother and sister have their hearts set on buying a pony on the next pony-penning day -- and not just any pony, but the Phantom, who has resisted capture for two years running. This year, the Phantom is captured for a surprising reason: she has a foal. Will Paul and Maureen have enough money to buy both?

Confession: I never read this book as a child, though I was recommended it more than once. I had a childish aversion to it, and I was not pony crazy. So now, as an adult, I decided to read it and see what I missed. It's a nice enough story, with some action and suspense. The characters are fairly static, and the dialogue comes across as a bit old-fashioned, but I can see how the book would appeal to its target demographic. I'll definitely recommend it to horse lovers, but it's not going to become a favorite of mine.

(Reviewed from my personally purchased copy.)

Sunday, May 29, 2016

It Ain't So Awful, Falafel by Firoozeh Dumas

It Ain't So Awful, Falafel by Firoozeh Dumas -- It's the summer before sixth grade, and Zomorod Yousefzadeh's family is moving to Newport Beach, California. Zomorod decides that this is the perfect time to adopt a more American-sounding name, so she selects Cindy and sets off to brave the wilds of middle school. Little does she know that one of the defining events of her middle school years will be the revolution and hostage crisis in her family's home country, Iran.

I never would have guessed that I'd write the phrase, "a heartwarming middle-grade novel about the Iranian Hostage Crisis," but there you have it! This book is sweet and funny, and the characters are well-developed and true to life. The story is semi-autobiographical, and the author has clearly not forgotten how it feels to be a middle-schooler. Portions of the book did feel a bit didactic, but I feel that the author did a good job of incorporating a large amount of historical context, and it was necessary to the story, especially since these events are not likely to be familiar to much of the target audience. I know I learned a lot! Here's hoping this book finds the wide audience it so richly deserves.

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

Grayling's Song by Karen Cushman

Grayling's Song by Karen Cushman -- Grayling is the daughter of a hedge witch, but she has no magic of her own, or at least, only a few little things she has learned from helping her mother. But Grayling's life is about to change: she comes home one day to find the cottage burned down, her mother's grimoire stolen, and her mother half turned into a tree. Grayling must go on a quest to find the missing grimoire and any magical folk who have not succumbed to the same leafy fate as her mother. Along the way, Grayling gathers together a motley group of traveling companions, faces many dangers, and learns that she is capable of more than she could ever have imagined.

All of Karen Cushman's books are marked by careful research, keen insight, and gentle humor, and this book is no exception. All in all, I found it charming but not compelling: I sat it down for several days, read other things, and came back to it -- but I did come back. In fact, I'd like to hear more about Grayling, though I've never known Cushman to write a sequel. The ending is open enough to let readers gaze wistfully into Grayling's future, though all of the major plot threads are tied off. I'd recommend this book to fans of the author, as well as those who enjoy fantasy stories about common people in a medieval setting.

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

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Revenge of the Evil Librarian by Michelle Knudsen

Revenge of the Evil Librarian by Michelle Knudsen -- I know, it's really not nice to torment you all with a review of a book that isn't out until 2017, but I got an early e-galley from the publisher, and I just couldn't resist. In this sequel to Evil Librarian, Cyn and Ryan are at theatre camp, looking forward to a summer of acting and set design and a complete absence of demonic activity. Well, as you might expect, they get two out of three of those things. I'm not going to summarize more than that, for fear of spoilers -- but I will say that this book was just as much fun as its predecessor. Plenty of humor, plenty of action, plenty of drama, plus some great character development. Fans of the series, feel free to hate me for reading this one so early, but take comfort in knowing that my wait for the third book will be that much longer! Fortunately for all of us, the author has left an opening for a third book -- but not by means of a cliffhanger; this book's conclusion is satisfying.

(Reviewed from an e-galley, courtesy of the publisher.)

Evil Librarian by Michelle Knusen

Evil Librarian by Michelle Knudsen -- The hot new school librarian is not as human as he appears to be, and he's chosen Cynthia's best friend Annie to be his bride when he rules the underworld. Which he plans to do, but not until after the school's production of Sweeney Todd opens, because as everyone knows, demons love Sweeney Todd. Between her duties as technical director for the show and her desperate attempts to save Annie, Cyn has her hands full. Oh, and she also has a crush on a hot guy -- who ends up helping her with the whole demon problem.

I devoured this fantastically fun read in one evening. Librarianship and theatre: what else could I ask for? I love that Cyn is the tech director (and a talented one at that). Definitely recommended!

(Reviewed from an ebook borrowed through my library system.)

Friday, May 27, 2016

Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero

Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero -- Gabi has a lot on her plate for a high-school senior: one of her best friends is pregnant, the other just get kicked out of the house when he came out to his parents, Gabi's dad is on meth, her brother is getting into trouble, and her mom keeps reminding her that she could stand to lose a few pounds. Plus, she's got a crush on a guy, and she needs to find a way to pass Algebra II or she won't be able to get into Berkeley. Despite all this drama, Gabi retains her sense of humor and her zest for life as she navigates her senior year. This may sound like just another YA problem novel, but Gabi's distinctive and humorous voice keeps it from going too far over the edge. Readers will find themselves rooting for Gabi all the way -- I know I did!

(Reviewed from a finished copy, courtesy of the publisher.)

Kissing in America by Margo Rabb

Kissing in America by Margo Rabb -- A cross-country trip to see a boy turns into a voyage of self-discovery. I expected a typical YA romance, but this book ended up subverting my expectations with its surprising depths. It's less about the romance, more about friendship and grief and travel and loyalty and the complexities of the relationships between teenage daughters and their mothers. I listened to the audiobook, and this is a solid, though not outstanding, production. Recommended.
(Reviewed from an e-audiobook, borrowed through my library system.)

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo

Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo -- I finished this one some time ago, so the details are a little vague in my mind already. However, what remains is the sense of a sweet, satisfying read, well-crafted and evocative. Of all the DiCamillo I've read so far, this one comes closest to achieving the excellence of Because of Winn Dixie. Highly recommended, and I'm predicting that this one has a good chance at a shiny sticker next January.

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

Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea

Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea is the story of one fifth-grade classroom and their inspirational teacher, and what happens in the aftermath of a tragic accident. I can see why this book has achieved moderate popularity: it has the funny and heartwarming elements typical to this type of story, and with its school setting and balance of male and female point of view characters, it will work well in the classroom. I found it difficult to distinguish between some of the characters -- Jessica and Anna, for instance, have a very similar narrative voice. Still, it made for a pleasant read (well, listen, as I read it via audiobook) and I'll recommend it to readers looking for something a little bit like Wonder, as it has the same sort of setting and gentle moral tone.

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

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Haunting of Falcon House by Eugene Yelchin

The Haunting of Falcon House by Eugene Yelchin -- Young Prince Lev Lvov is finally going to take his place at the home of his ancestors. The last of a proud line, Lev dreams of noble stature and military glory. He's determined to emulate his grandfather, a true hero. However, life at Falcon House is not exactly what Lev expected: the house is dusty and most rooms are closed up, the servants are quirky, and the only other member of the family in the enormous house is his volatile aunt. Left for the night in his grandfather's study (believed by the servants to be haunted, but Lev is a true Lvov, not given to superstition!), Lev meets the only other child in the house, an odd boy named Vanyousha. In Vanyousha's company, Lev sets out to learn the secrets of Falcon House -- but what he discovers does not throw a positive light on his illustrious grandfather. Just who is Vanyousha? Why has Lev been brought to Falcon House? These are only a few of the questions that readers will uncover as they journey with Lev and Vanyousha through the dank and moldy halls of Falcon House.

Though at first it appears to be just a ghost story, this book has surprising depth as Lev learns the truth about his grandfather and decides what sort of man he is to be. Ah, Russians: even your ghost stories are more melancholy than scary! This book runs the gamut of emotions -- there are a few frightening moments, some sad ones, and a surprising amount of humor, too (I loved the scene where Lev and Vanyousha slid down the banister!) There are two twists at the ending, one of which I was expecting, and one of which surprised me. Recommended.

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

The Story of Diva and Flea by Mo Willems

The Story of Diva and Flea by Mo Willems -- This brief tale concerns a very large cat and a very small dog, who meet in Paris and help each other branch out and discover new ways to experience the world. It's a charming, if slight, book, less laugh-out-loud funny than one generally expects of Mo Willems, but containing some gentle humor. A good choice for young readers just making the foray into chapter books.

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

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A Most Magical Girl by Karen Foxlee

A Most Magical Girl by Karen Foxlee

Things Annabel Grey wants:
-A pair of emerald green ice skates
-A pink sprigged muslin day dress
-Her mother to come back and take care of her

Things Annabel Grey does not want:
-A broomstick
-Magical powers
-A quest to save all of London from an evil wizard

Needless to say, Annabel is not going to get much of what she wants, and she is going to get a great deal of what she doesn't want. Despite her proper upbringing, Annabel has magic in her veins, and her mother has sent her to live with her two great-aunts in order to learn witchcraft. Unfortunately for Annabel, she arrives on the eve of a crisis, when Mr. Angel, a practitioner of black magic, has perfected a machine that will allow him to raise an army of shadowlings and take over the world. The only thing that can stop him is the White Wand, also known as the Moreover Wand, which lies somewhere beneath London. Only the youngest member of the Good and Benevolent Magical Society can retrieve the wand -- and Annabel is the youngest member. Accompanied by a peculiar and wild girl named Kitty, Annabel must travel along an underground river, through the Singing Gate and into the Troll Kingdom, across the Lake of Tears and past the great Wyrm . . . and she must do so before moonrise, or Mr. Angel wins!

This is a lovely story. The interactions between the characters are simply perfect, the plot moves on apace, and the writing is enchanting. I very much enjoyed this book, and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good fantasy of manners or well-written juvenile fiction.

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

Sorry about the hiatus

It's been a while, hasn't it?  I've been reading and I've even been writing reviews -- they just haven't made it over here yet.  So, if you're still checking in with me, thanks!  I'm going to try and catch up my backlog over the next few days.