Saturday, August 30, 2008

One Handed Catch by Mary Jane Auch

Summary: After losing his hand in an accident in his father's butcher shop in 1946, sixth-grader Norman uses hard work and humor to learn to live with his disability and to succeed at baseball, art, and other activities.

This story is based on the life of Herm Auch, husband of the author and the illustrator of many of her books. This is my favorite Bluebonnet book this year. It is a story of hope and great achievement in overcoming a tragedy. Norm loses his hand in an accident in his father's market but does not let his "handicap" keep him from any of his dreams. A great inspiration and entertaining read.

Tall Tales by Karen Day

Sixth-grader Meg Summers and her family move to a new state every few years as her alcoholic father tries to get a fresh start, but when they land in Indiana and Meg finally makes a real friend and begins to talk about her family's problems, they all find the strength to try to change their destiny

I was cheering for Meg throughout the book and hoping she would come to terms with her family's situation in a way that would be satisfactory for her as well as her entire family.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Leven Thumps and the Whispered Secret by Obert Skye

Main Character: Leven Thumps
Location: Foo, and the human world
Time period: Contemporary
Genre: J Fiction, Fantasy
Series: Leven Thumps #2

This book starts right where the last one left off. Again, I enjoy the use of language, and, again, I am not fond of the reliance on fate and coincidence.

Leven and his friends are separated when Jamoon, one of Sabine's minions, attacks them with a flock of rovens. Leven is torn between rescuing Winter and taking Geth to the turrets where he can reclaim his seat as leader of Foo. If they delay in reaching the turrets, Geth will die. There is an interesting image of a mountain made of rocks representing the sins and transgressions of the people of Foo. (Fooites? Foovians?) But the storyline that really held my interest was the one still on earth. Ezra, who was also formed from the tree that housed Geth's spirit in Oklahoma, holds the dark side of Geth's heart--all the anger and jealousy and bitterness and resentment. He finds a willing dupe in Dennis, a janitor who has been overlooked his entire life. Dennis is compelled to help Ezra return to Foo, but once in Berchtesgaden they encounter the remains of Sabine. At the same time, Tim, an old neighbor and friend of Winter, is searching for her and his path leads him to Dennis, Ezra and Sabine. I will be very interested in following their story.

This is turning out to be a series that has to be read in order, and this volume ends on a cliffhanger that demands that you read the next book, Leven Thumps and the Eyes of the Want.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Leven Thumps and the Gateway to Foo by Obert Skye

Main Character: Leven Thumps, a human boy with ties to the Land of Foo
Location: Oklahoma, Germany, Foo
Time period: Contemporary
Genre: J Fiction, Fantasy

I'm not one that necessarily notices the first sentence of a book, but this one jumped up and grabbed me. "It was at least forty degrees above warm." Maybe it's because I'm coming off of a long Texas summer where temperatures are routinely above 100 degrees, but I instantly knew what this sentence conveyed. There is a lot of lovely language in this book; very pretty turns of phrase that would just make me pause and savor them.

Leven Thumps is an orphan boy being raised, grudgingly, by his mother's step-sister and her husband in a trailer park in Oklahoma. Unbeknownst to him, he is watched over by Geth, a spirit trapped in a tree, and Clover, a sycophant. Meanwhile, Winter is not an orphan but might as well be one as her mother is one of the most selfish and lazy characters ever seen outside of a Roald Dahl story. Fate brings them together and they learn that they are the only ones who can save the land of Foo from the evil tyrant Sabine.

Fate plays a big role in this book; Geth is a lithen, a race that trusts completely in fate. That means that nothing is too coincidental or serendipitous to be believed--it's all just the workings of fate. This is a little frustrating to Leven, and I must admit that it’s a little frustrating for me, too. I became impatient with the story at times because of this dependence on coincidence, serendipity, and fate. However, I know that it has appealed to a number of my patrons, because they have told me how much they enjoyed it and urged me to read it.

Leven Thumps and the Gateway to Foo is on the 2007-2008 Texas Bluebonnet Award Nominee List.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Fullmetal Alchemist Vol. 16 by Hiromu Arakawa

Main Characters: Edward and Alphonse Elric
Location: Amestris, a country in an alternate world
Time period: roughly analogous to the late 1910s
Genre: YA Manga, Sci-Fi, Fantasy

After the extended flashback of Vol. 15, we jump back to the story. Edward and Alphonse search for May Chang, the little girl with the black-and-white cat (which I still think looks more like a miniature panda.) They want to learn the purification style of alchemy that she can do. Scar breaks Dr. Marcoh out of prison heads north with him--not because he has any love for Marcoh but because Scar thinks Marcoh might still prove useful. May catches up with them and travels with them. Kimblee is released to lead the manhunt for Scar; they encounter each other on a train and Kimblee is left rather the worse for it.

Major Armstrong tells Edward and Alphonse to head to the north and gives them a letter of introduction. When they arrive at the fortress that guards to border between Amestris and Drachma they encounter Major General Armstrong--the Major's sister! (She is nothing like she was in the brief glimpse we saw of her in the anime series!) Edward discovers that the climate is too cold for his auto-mail and can cause damage to the connective tissue--ewww! Edward and Alphonse are put to work knocking down icicles where the encounter 2nd Lieutenant Falman. A loud rumbling sound can be heard; a new homunculus makes his appearance. "I feel like I'm going to die, but dying is too much work." Could this be Sloth?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Fullmetal Alchemist Vol. 15 by Hiromu Arakawa

Main Characters: Edward and Alphonse Elric
Location: Amestris, a country in an alternate world
Time period: roughly analogous to the late 1910s
Genre: YA Manga, Sci-Fi, Fantasy

On the recommendation of the kids in my Manga Book Club, Fullmetal Alchemist was the first anime that I watched. I was captivated immediately. I also love the manga series. One of the things I'm enjoying about it is the differences between the two formats. It's almost like an alternate alternate reality which allows me to still have that sense of anticipation and surprise.

This entire volume is an extended flashback to the Ishbalan Massacre. We get to know more about the relationship between Hawkeye and Roy Mustang, Marcoh's experiments in creating the philosopher's stone, Scar's brother's studying of alchemy from other countries, and Kimblee's murder of Scar's brother. We get a different but no less shocking look at the fate of Winry's parents. I was personally delighted to see Maes Hughes again. Mostly we watch Mustang as he is changed by the war and he arrives at his understanding that the only way he will ever be able to make the world better is to rise through the ranks and become president.

Two very brief moments had an impact on me. The first comes when Hughes goes into one of his trademark raptures upon receiving a letter from Gracia. Mustang tells him to stop it: "Soldiers who go on and on about their family and loved ones have a high probability of getting killed." Is this why Mustang has no one waiting for him at home? Why his loved ones are his fellow soldiers?

Then, in what I think may be the most significant line in the book, Scar's brother is surrounded by books, charts, and scrolls. Something catches his attention and he realizes "There's something strange about this country's alchemy!!" Is this somehow referring to how the homunculi are influencing alchemy in Amestris?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Hot Lunch by Alex Bradley

Main Characters: High school sophomore Mollie Ollinger
Location: Undefined
Time period: Contemporary
Genre: YA Fiction, School, Humor

Blue-haired Mollie Ollinger is a bad-tempered brat. She has no friends and does not try to make any. She wears her oversized headphones every moment she possibly can in order to shut everyone out. When a teacher assigns a teamwork assignment and pairs Mollie with blond, perky Cassie, Mollie refuses to work on the assignment or even to talk to her. Bad feelings escalate between the two and after they have a food fight in the cafeteria, their punishment is to work in the cafeteria helping to prepare the school lunches. That doesn't stop their sniping at each other and before they know it, the cook quits and they are left totally in charge.

Mollie is really unlikeable at first, but not irredeemable. Slowly, she recognizes her own faults and begins to learn to open up and trust others. As one of her classmates tells her, she has been using her meanness as a shield to keep from being hurt. Once she begins to let her shield down she finds that she is much happier.

Interspersed in the story are some simple recipes to try--I'm looking forward to trying the tomato soup, but I'm not sure about the cream puffs.

Fruits Basket Vol. 20 by Natsuki Takaya

Main Character: High School student Tohru Honda and all her friends
Location: Japan
Time period: Contemporary
Genre: YA Manga, Fantasy

We get some more of Akito's backstory in this book, and I am beginning to be swayed. Yes, Akito's jealous treatment of the Sohma family is causing all sorts of unhappiness, but the trail of unhappiness stretches back generations. After all, his mother was jealous of him and his relationship with his father; she never even acknowledged him. Even now, all she wants from him is his father's box, and she doesn't care who gets in her way. This inevitably leads to tragedy, and one of the saddest images I have seen in this series.

Kagura encounters Tohru and challenges her to declare her true feelings for Kyo--and to decide whether she truly loves him or just pities him. Tohru draws up her courage and tries to tell Kyo, but he won't listen. Instead he tells Tohru more about the day that her mother was killed, and he expects her to hate him when she learns the truth.

On one of the few happy notes, Momiji breaks his curse, and I think the circumstances give a clue as to how it can happen for the others as well.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Misadventures of Maude March, or Trouble Rides a Fast Horse by Audrey Couloumbis

Main Characters: 11-year-old Sallie March and her 15-year-old sister Maude
Location: Iowa and Missouri
Time period: 1869
Genre: J Fiction, Historical Fiction, Western

This is a rollicking adventure that owes a lot to the dime novels that it gently pokes fun at. Sallie and Maude March are orphans being raised by their stern but loving Aunt Kate. Then comes the day when, leaving the general store, Aunt Kate is killed by a errant bullet fired in a drunken contest. The girls are taken in by the minister and his wife, who take advantage of the girls' willingness to work and of Aunt Kate's full pantry. But when they try to practically force Maude into a marriage with a much older man, Maude and Sallie decide to run away and try to find an uncle who was last heard of in Independence. Along the way, they have a series of adventures which get twisted out of recognition in the newspapers, which make Maude out to be a horse thief, a bank robber, and a murderer.

Sallie has long been a fan of dime novels, potboilers that were short on literary quality or accuracy but long on crowd-pleasing adventure. When they meet up with the dime novel hero, Joe Harden, she soon finds that he's not like his stories but he still is experienced riding rough and teaches them a lot that they need to survive. He also reveals that his name isn't really Joe, it's Marion--a nod to John Wayne, perhaps?

The Misadventures of Maude March was on the 2007-2008 Texas Bluebonnet Award list; there is a sequel, Maude March on the Run.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Girl Overboard by Justina Chen Headley

Main Character: 15-year-old Syrah Cheng, Chinese-American daughter of a multi-billionaire cell phone mogul
Location: Washington State
Time period: Contemporary
Genre: YA Fiction, Sports--Snowboarding

Syrah Cheng is a poor little rich girl--or so she thinks. Her father is too busy being a captain of industry to pay any attention to her. Her mother is too busy shopping for antiques to pay any attention to her except to complain about her weight (not that she's overweight--she's just more sturdy than her beautiful and tiny mother.) Her half-siblings hate her because her mother broke up their parents' marriage and they think she's a spoiled brat. She has a hard time making friends because most people just see her as a stepping stone to get to her father, just like Jared, her first so-called boyfriend. And now, the one thing she loves--skateboarding--is taken away from her because she has injured her knee and her father now decrees that it's too dangerous.

With her life seemingly in shambles, Syrah has to re-think things, learn to take a chance on people, and, most of all, trust her own judgement. It's not easy, but she learns to combine her love of snowboarding with her family's philanthropic endeavors and along the way comes to understand her mother and her half-sister, Grace.

I liked this book, and I like Syrah--she's a mopey and petulant teen at first, but like the grape that she's named for, she's a survivor.

Justina Chen Headley is one of the authors behind readergirlz, a great place to find YA books for girls.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Vampire Knight Vol. 3 by Matsuri Hino

Main Character: Yuki Cross, school guardian at Cross Academy
Location: undefined
Time period: Contemporary
Genre: YA Manga, Fantasy, Vampires

We get a lot of back-story in this volume. I was surprised to learn that the Night Class has been included at Cross Academy for only about 2 or 3 years--I had assumed that it was a long-standing tradition. Kaname was the one who brought Yuki to the Headmaster when he saved her from the vampire that night in the snow 10 years ago. After that, he visited her every year. Since she could not remember anything about her life before that night, the anniversary became the day when they would celebrate her birthday.

A new student arrives to join the Night Class. Yuki is assigned to show her around and she seems very friendly, but there is something very off about her. Could she be somehow connected to the woman who destroyed Zero's family?

I'm still not feeling the love for this series, though I can see why it would appeal to some. The melodrama is just too heavy-handed for my tastes, and I'm not sure I will continue to read it.

Vampire Knight Vol. 2 by Matsuri Hino

Main Character: Yuki Cross, school guardian at Cross Academy
Location: undefined
Time period: Contemporary
Genre: YA Manga, Fantasy, Vampires

When Yuki and Zero are in town on errands, Yuki is attacked by an unknown vampire. Zero hesitates, and the vampire is killed by two of the Night Class students. Yuki doesn't understand why vampires would kill another vampire, so she and Zero are invited to Kaname's birthday party at the Moon Dorm at midnight. There they explain that there are different kinds of vampires--the purebloods, the aristocrats, the common vampires, and the former humans. The lowest of the low are the former humans who have become mindless beasts and who must be eliminated. Zero, as a human who is turning into a vampire will one day become one of these mindless beasts. We also learn that the blood tablets do not work for him. Unable to see him in such pain and distress, Yuki urges him to drink her own blood even though that is a forbidden act.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer

Main Character: Bella Swann Cullen
Location: Pacific Northwest
Time period: Contemporary
Genre: YA Fiction, Fantasy, Supernatural, Vampires
Series: Twilight, Vol. 4

Be warned--there are spoilers here. I tried to write an entry without spoilers, but it was basically "I read it; I liked it." To really discuss things, I do have to reveal a few things--I'll try to keep them to a minimum.

I have to admit, I really like Jacob. I kinda like Bella, though I find her a little annoying at times. Does she really have to get angry at everyone all the time? And Edward is pretty, but Edward is an enigma. I don't think we ever really get to know him. But Jacob--he wears his heart on his sleeve. And I'm a sucker for an underdog and an unrequited loved story. I'm not saying I wanted Bella to choose Jacob. What I really wanted from this book is a happy ending for Jacob--and I got it, to a certain extent.

There was a point when I thought the book was going in a certain direction. We had Bella's vampiric powers just amazing everyone--her self-control that kept her from going on a blood-lust rampage. We have a hint of why Edward has never been ever to hear Bella's thoughts. Then there was the child who has her own power and is unique in the world and binds everyone who meets her. I really thought we were going to find out that there was an ancient prophecy that they were fulfilling without even knowing it. Well, I was wrong. But there is still something there that could possibly lead to another story. I would love to see a Jacob-centric spinoff.

Of course, life cannot be all peaches and cream for Bella and Edward, and circumstances draw the attention of the Volturi, who have basically just been waiting for an excuse to knock off the Cullen family. Forces are gathered and soon we are on the verge of total annihilation. Some commenters have been disappointed that there wasn't an epic battle, but we did that in the last book. I really enjoyed this stand-off which had plenty of threat, anticipation, suspense--but it was a war of words, not swords. It made me think of a really good court-room drama--or maybe it was the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Really, the only thing I really did not like was the child's name--what an ugly, awkward name. No wonder everyone called her by her nickname.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Woolies and Worms by Stephen MacNeil

Main Character: Eleven-year-old Sarah Tufts, a governor's daughter
Location: A small, uncharted island
Time period: When pirates ruled the seas
Genre: J Fiction, Adventure, Humor

Sarah and her father are sailing from England to the colonies where her father will become governor. Along the way, they are attacked by pirates and Sarah is swept overboard. She washes up on a small island inhabited almost entirely by young children. They have been kidnapped by the pirates as babies and raised by the evil Mr. Grim who uses them to weave brightly colored woolen rugs which have become very popular all over the world. Now before you start thinking of sweat shops, let me tell you that their method of weaving these rugs is a cross between an exercise class and dancing around the maypole. The children are relatively happy with their life--mostly because it is all they have ever known. Then Sarah, with her knowledge of the outside world, grown-ups, and fathers, upsets the status quo on the island.

I found the word play in this book delightful. Sarah has picked up some of the pirates' colorful curses--alliterative phrases like "Hippos and haberdashers!" or "Chinchillas and chinaware." The children on the island, not having been taught the queen's English, have developed their own language--cheeks high or corners up for smile, the long blink for sleep.

Though there are incidents that could be fraught with danger--Sarah being swept into the ocean, the evil Mr. Grim threatening to lower children into shark-infested waters--the tone of the story is light-hearted and you are never in doubt that things will end happily.