Wednesday, September 19, 2018

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds, Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds

This story is taken straight from the headlines about police brutality in the black community. An innocent black boy in the neighborhood convenience story kneels to get something out of his gym bag, which by the way contains his ROTC uniform. A white lady trips over him. A white cop grabs the boy, accuses him of shoplifting, handcuffs him and throws him on the pavement in front of the store and starts punching him. And of course, there is cell phone video. If not intense enough Rashad the boy who was accused and beaten, Quinn who happened to be on the street outside the store and saw everything and Guzzo whose older brother is the cop beating up Rashad all play for the same high school basketball team and live in the same neighborhood. This is a powerful exploration of this issue.

Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper

Melody was born with cerebral palsy that has left her trapped in her body unable to walk, talk or feed herself. She has a photographic memory, is extremely bright and is unable to tell anyone. She gives us a good look at how we treat those we consider ‘special needs’ and points out how we all have special needs. In the fifth grade, she gets a Stephen Hawking’s style talking board and can show them she is bright. They don’t believe her. When she actually proves it they still mistreat her saying she is an embarrassment. It is a powerful and painful look at us and others. 

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Awake by Natasha Preston, The Ranger’s Apprentice, Book One The Ruins of Gorlan

Awake by Natasha Preston

The truth is we believe to the fullest what we believe up until the moment we don’t. If that truth is something everyone around us believes and the truth we have been told our whole lives how do we wake up to the fact that not only is it not true, it is actually wrong. That is the question throughout Awake. Beautiful Noah is sent from his family group to win the trust of Scarlett so she can be brought home to her true and right birth parents. And then to fulfill her destiny she will be sacrificed. Talk about a really bad boyfriend. The question reaches beyond the set-up of the book to ask me what beliefs have I been brought up with that need reexamined. Are there truths about my family, my faith, and my country that really aren’t true. The story is told from the point of view of Scarlett and of Noah.

The Ranger’s Apprentice, Book One The Ruins of Gorlan

I only had the Ranger’s Apprentice as the title of this book, so in looking it up I was thinking, Yellow Stone Park. Instead, I am traveling in the Kingdom of Araluen, primarily from the Castle Redmont where Will is to go from a ward of the Castle to become the Ranger’s Apprentice. Think Strider in Lord of the Rings. The author does a great job of using a brief Prologue to avoid weighing us down in backstory or kingdom knowledge. However, the whole book seems to primarily a setting and character development for the following set of 11 more books in the series. It was a good read and looks like a good series. 

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Solo by Kwame Alexander and The Big Field by Mike Lupica

Solo by Kwame Alexander

Solo is written
As non-rhyming poetry
With rarely more than three to five words
To a line.
After reading for a while
I found myself
Thinking in this way.
It is the story of the confused
Son of an aging rock star.
And maybe both in different ways
Have lost their mojo.
Their music.
Oh by the way son
We forgot to tell you
You’re adopted.
So the quest begins in search
Of birth mom.
Sprinkled throughout are reference
Rock and roll songs and rock and roll history.
Once I connected with the rhythm of the story I enjoyed the read.

The Big Field by Mike Lupica

You won’t be surprised if I tell you this is a baseball story. A lot of people around me love baseball. To me it’s okay.  This is the story of a team in a high school league in Florida. There is a lot of play by play reporting on the games and I found myself enjoying it. There is tension with Dad who was a High School Baseball star but has no interest in his sons rising baseball fame. And of course the story concludes with a three game championship series. It’s the one time his dad gives him batting advice with a signal from the stands. And that signal is to bunt. Really. The story raises questions about the difficulties children and parents often have when it comes to talking to each other.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Refugee, Along for the Ride, and Uglies

Refugee By Alan Gratz

This is the story of three refugee families fleeing their strife and the threats of their homeland. Each story is told through the eyes of their young teenage child. They are fleeing Germany in 1939, Cuba in 1995 and Syria in 2015. The chapters rotate between the three stories, I thought this might be hard to follow but the chapters are short and makes keeping track of the three different stories easy. I think the stories clearly show the risk of the flight of refugees and the challenge of trusting strangers some who are honest and others who are not. I think the stories raises several important questions. When is it too dangerous to stay? When is it worth facing the life-threatening risk to leave? Doesn’t one have an obligation to stay and fight for their country? How should the outside world respond to the plight of refugees? The stories are based on facts which are illuminated at the end of the book. I think this might be the place to start so the reader understands how the author uses fiction to tell historic facts. This is a Scholastic book and is a fairly easy read.

Along for the Ride by Sarah Dressen

This is the story of one summer in the life of numerous messed up people who are mostly related. Auden’s parents are divorced. Mom is a professor and regularly holds court in the dining room with her mostly male graduate students. Auden the narrator, central charater and daughter mostly stays in her room. She has passed through high school mostly choosing to miss out on the meaningless social interactions of her peers, after all they are all so shallow. Then she chooses to spend her senior summer with her father, his new younger wife, and their new baby at their home near the beach. She learns you can care about your jeans and your shoes and know about finance and literature. We are all more than we seem to be. She also with the help of a love interest starts working through a bucket list of high school experiences she missed out on. Of course there is a boy. He is wounded to the soul and they heal each other. Definitely YA in style but not in sex or language.

Uglies by Scott Westerfield

If you could be beautiful of course you would want to be, right. Well what if being beautiful also meant having a ‘go along get along’ change being put into your brain, that wouldn’t be too bad would it. The author seamlessly introduces us to a world where from the time at twelve when you start to turn ugly until sixteen you live in a dorm for uglies where you are schooled and psychologically prepped for the operation that will make you pretty and allow you to move to New Pretty Town where mostly you just party. Shay doesn’t want to turn pretty and she has found a place to run away to. She convinces Tally of the same but before Tally can go she is caught by the Special Circumstances team who want her to lead them to the camp of all the runaways. Themes include what is friendship, what is betrayal, and do we like who we are. There are four books in this series.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Thickety, Ready Player One, Listen, Rain Reign, Red Rising,and Team Yankee

I was away on vacation last week. I did a lot of reading but very little writing, so here are seven reviews.

Thickety By J. A. White

This is the story of a cult set in a premodern time. They are the followers of an ancient prophet who banned all magic and all witches. Unfortunately, magic is a very real part of their world and some have gifts for it. If they are discovered they are hung. Unfortunately, Kara’s mother was one of those who were hung. And unfortunately, Kara discovers her mother’s book of spells and her mother’s magic. The daughter of the man whose job it is to enforce the laws against magic also discovers the magic. At the heart of this story is the question of whether it is magic that is intrinsically good or bad or is its nature decided by the practitioner. It is at times a scary and intense story. It is the first in a series of four books.

Ready Player One by Ernest Kline

This is the story of a futuristic world that is a disaster. So those who can go to school, live, and work in a world of virtual reality. Keeping track of the characters in their real lives and in the life of their avatars who also have separate identities is at times a little confusing. This is a great story, but it is also a history of gaming and of the early development of the PC. If you want to recall the early days of Commodore 64 and Tandy with a little Pac-man and Atari you will love this book. Not being all that skilled in gaming I was not clear which games were real and which ones were created by the author for the story. Good read.

Listen by Stephanie S. Tolan

This is the story of Charley who prior to the beginning of the story has lost her mother to death, her best friend to friend issues and is recovering from a bad car accident. She lives with her father and a housekeeper in a small lakeside community. I mean so small you can walk around the lake easily. That is unless they had to put a rod in your leg and it hurts when you walk and you don’t have your strength back. The story takes place over the summer. It is a story of the healing of body and soul and of bringing a dog, who fears everyone, in from the cold.

Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin

This is the story of Rose (rows) who obsesses over homonyms, which she tells us are really homophones, and prime numbers. She has been told her mother left her and she lives with a father who has little patience with her. The kindest thing he ever does though is bringing her a dog, but then a year later during a storm he lets the dog out and the dog doesn’t come back. Their relationship takes a dark turn. Because of her dog and a few other events, Rose is finally able to be accepted and to bond with her classmates. She is in the fifth grade. This book makes me wonder why we are so hard to accept those who are different. Whether they choose to be different or they just are different, if it’s not hurting anyone why isn’t it okay.

Book of the Dead (TombQuest, Book 1) by Michael Northrop

What would you think if you had been sickly all your life and at a point that you were near death your mother used secret powers and a formula from the Egyptian Book of the Dead to heal you, but in doing so she unleashed amazing destructive powers? Well, you wouldn’t have time to think because worse things would be coming your way. This is the first in a five-book series.

Red Rising by Pierce Brown

One of the challenges in writing a story set in an alternate world is how to inform your reader of the setting, while also getting the story moving. The first 20% of this book is spent creating the setting and introducing us to Darrow the main character. Next, we move into a Pygmalion phase. (Click on Pygmalion and it will take you to the Wikipedia page that explains it.) The thing is we are not just teaching Darrow how to speak and how to act, we are also painfully and carefully remaking his body so that even though he was born the lowest of the Reds he will now pass as an elite Gold. Then we have maybe a chapter of Harry Potter as the 100 candidates are sorted into 12 different houses, not by a hat, but by a draft. Then the story really gets going as we play the hunger games as tribes rather than individuals.  However, Darrow, like Catness, does not only have issues with the other teams he also wants to take on the referee/sponsors who don’t seem to be playing fair. This is the first in a five-book series.

Team Yankee A novel of World War III by Harold Coyle

I have to admit that before I saw the subtitle I thought this would be a book about baseball. Instead, it is a book about tank warfare set in 1985 as world war III breaks out. Our battles are set in Eastern Europe. One of the interesting things about writing about the near future is the world can change faster than we expect. The battle lines for the book begin along the national divide between East and West Germany. East and West Germany reunited in 1990. I am told that young men who love football or maybe any sport imagine themselves as the star player. Sometimes replaying real games in their heads except because of their exceptional ability they save the day. I am told as they get older they finally hang up their cleats or their skates or their shorts or their bats and imagine themselves as the coach. This story has a lot of strategic tank movements and battle deployments. It was to me as if a first lieutenant dreamed of how the war would have been won if they had been the battalion commander. 

Monday, August 13, 2018

Vampire Girl By Karpow Kenrade

Vampire Girl by Karpow Kenrade

This is much more a YA book. It is written in first person present tense. The voice is that of Arianna, Ari, who has just turned eighteen. Most people won’t remember Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. It was a ridiculous musical. Well, this is one bride to be choosing from seven brothers who happen to be the seven princes of hell. It seems at two she almost died and her mother made a contract with the then king of hell in order to save her life. Well in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers the guys need and get some schooling about how to behave around women. Well, these seven need some schooling because they each rule over a sub-kingdom named for one of the seven deadly sins; greed, envy, war, vanity, lust, gluttony, and sloth. Ari, the women, is definitely the one to school them, but believe me, they don’t all play nice. But who is surprised, they are the princes of hell. There is quite a twist at the end and book one ends without her having chosen a mate.  There seem to be at least six books in the series. 

Friday, August 10, 2018

The Kindling, The Selection, Genius: The Game

The Kindling by Braden Bell

This is book one of I think seven. It is written in third person past tense. It is the story of three teens in whom there awakens the unexpected powers of the ‘Magi.’ The Magi are a secret force engaged in a battle between good and evil. I love that not all three are sold on embracing their powers and joining the battle. It is an intense battle and well written. I loved the idea of super powers when I was a teen and still wouldn’t mind having a few to help in special circumstances.

The Selection by Kiera Cass

It is the first in a series. It is written in third person past tense. The plot is the bachelor meets the hunger games. Set in the post-world war IV kingdom of Illea. The kingdom is made up of 35 regions. From each region, a candidate will be selected to go live in the palace. From one of these 35 women, Prince Maxon will pick his wife. There is a lot of worries and turmoil over ‘Will he like me?’ ‘Do I like him?’ ‘I’m homesick and want to go home?’ And then there are those pesky rebels who keep attacking and ruining the party. Oh, and the old boyfriend shows up at the palace. And spoiler alert book one ends without us finding out who the Prince chooses.

Genius: The Game by Leopold Gout

This book is told in three different first-person voices. All three are teens who are computer and technology prodigies. These three teens end up at the Game, which is being held by an international businessman. While on the surface all seems on the up and up these teens know there is a very nefarious plot running beneath the surface. Oh, and by the way they aren’t shy about breaking a few laws and rules themselves. There is a lot of computer and code talk that may turn on some but also did not slow the story down for the less geeky me. You’re left at the end with a cliffhanger. There are two additional books in the series.