Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos
Jack Gantos has a whole summer planned full of baseball, history books, and war movies when suddenly, caught in the middle of his quarreling parents, he becomes “grounded for life,” ruining everything. Even though he lives in the dying town of Norvelt (originally founded by Eleanor Roosevelt to help poor families) and there’s not much to do, when his mom volunteers him to help an aging neighbor type up the town’s obituaries, he’s less than thrilled. Soon, though, Jack finds himself absorbed in the town’s history and the “original” Norvelters, as his spunky neighbor calls them, and he’ll do anything to get out of house arrest and over to help her in her task. Soon he’s involved not only with the obituaries but in a feud with an old man who ride’s a trike, play-acting the Grim Reaper, distributing Girl Scout cookies, digging a fake bomb shelter, and a near-constant nose bleed, not to mention a potential murder. Suddenly his summer is anything but dull!
Described as “melding the entirely true and the wildly fictional,” Dead End in Norvelt is a most-times funny and sometimes heart-breaking story of a boy coming of age in an old town past its prime full of wacky yet believable characters. Both darker and lighter themes blend with Gantos’ humor as Jack finds himself imbedded in nearly everything going on in town. The relationships between Jack’s parents and himself are enough to fill a book, but author Gantos has woven an entire town’s worth of personalities and interactions together seamlessly. Continue reading History Turns Into Itself in This Newbery Winner
The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan
Really? you must be asking yourselves. Rick Riordan? Hasn’t the whole world pretty much reviewed his books, like, years ago?
But hey, I loved the books! (Also, I’d rather review The Son of Neptune than clean my room.)
On the off chance that nobody here has read (or heard of) the Percy Jackson series, here’s a brief overview: ancient Greek gods and goddesses are real, and they never disappeared–they’ve followed the rise of Western culture and currently reside on Mt. Olympus over the Empire State Building. Percy Jackson–main character, obviously–discovers he’s a “hero” or Greek “demigod”, a half-mortal, and his father is Poseidon, which turns out to be problematic. After a brief time at Camp Half Blood, he and his new friends are off on a quest full of mythical beasts, minor deities, and worldwide catastrophe. It’s rollicking good fun, incredibly smart, and impressively accurate on the ancient history/mythology level. Alas, after five books, the series was done.
But wait! There’s more! Continue reading Oh my Zeus! Is that a Greek god in that book?!
The Future of Us by Jay Asher & Carolyn Mackler
(This review based on Advanced Reader Copy.)
When former best friends Emma, 17, and Josh, 16, discover they can look into their futures via Emma’s computer, dealing with their findings will strengthen or sever their relationship forever.
If you could uncover facets of your life fifteen years in the future would you? Two high school students may have stumbled upon a way to do just that. It’s 1996 and thanks to the AOL CD-ROM Josh gave her, Emma’s internet connection mysteriously links her to her 2011 Facebook page. After exploring the future, she sets out to change her prospects, a cheating spouse and possible depression, while Josh welcomes the possibility of his future marriage to the high school “it girl”.
Small actions have big effects and anything is possible in this seamlessly co-written tale. The authors alternate points of view. Asher tells Josh’s story and Mackler Emma’s, but the narrative flows effortlessly. The characters and their ideas are relatable for teens today as well as those who lived through their adolescence before the digital age. While Josh and Emma explore who they are and what they really want, they question what friendship really means, and if destiny exists. Quirky characters and entertaining twists will keep the pages turning until the satisfactory ending.
The book will be released on November 21st, 2011.
Also available as an eBook.
Image from www.goodreads.com
A while back Ruby and I had the amazing opportunity to read an advanced copy of Aliens on Vacation and then have dinner with the author, Clete Barrett Smith. We loved his book and pestered him with tons of questions, but of course we didn’t have our notepads handy. That was months ago, but we’ve kept in touch, and for some reason he’s still willing to talk to us despite our annoying e-mails. We’re proud to finally share our interview with such a great, fun author! Enjoy!
Aliens on Vacation is about a 13-year-old boy, Scrub, who is sent to spend the whole summer with his hippy grandma at her Intergalactic Bed & Breakfast (which turns out to be a vacation hot spot for aliens). How did you come up with the big idea?
I’ve always loved alien-visitation stories, but it seemed like everything that I saw at the time was really dark and violent; the aliens were coming here to enslave us, or eat us, or steal our resources or whatever. The spark of the idea was: “Wait a minute . . . what if they are just coming here to hang out?” I thought that would be a fun way to do an alien story with a lot of humor mixed in with the action.
When I was ten years old I was sent from my little hometown to spend the weekend with my grandpa in the big city of Seattle. My grandpa was a great guy and real character . . . but not always the best babysitter. On Friday morning, he said, “I have to work all day, here’s $20. I’ll see you at 6:00 and we’ll have dinner.” I was pretty nervous in downtown Seattle, so I walked to the nearest movie theater to buy a ticket to anything so I’d have a safe place to hang out. The only PG offering was a brand-new movie premiering that day that I had never heard of: E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. Continue reading Author Spotlight: Interview with Clete Barrett Smith
Cheesie Mack is Not a Genius or Anything by Steve Cotler; illustrated by Adam McCauley
You would think that graduating from the 5th grade would be a piece of cake after the school year itself, but Cheesie Mack’s life is anything but boring. When Cheesie and his best friend Georgie find an old envelope with mysterious contents, they decide to track down the owner. When it turns out that the things they found are valuable, they must make a decision between doing the right thing and having the coolest summer ever. On top of that, “Goon” (Cheesie’s yucky older sister) is always trying to make him look dumb, his best friend Georgie can’t afford to go to their annual summer camp, and the mystery they’re trying to solve involves a haunted house. Things are getting complicated!
Cheesie is a curious kid and a great character, always looking to learn something new about the world and ready to share his information, whether it’s a list of the differences between frogs and toads, illustrations of pennies and secret hideouts, efficient breathing techniques for winning bike races, or ways to gross out your sister. (Feel free to check out his website to help add to his archive of facts: www.cheesiemack.com!) Full of funny comments from a young, probing mind, Cheesie Mack is a fun romp through fact and fiction, and author Steve Cotler won me over with the believability of his characters. The book’s narrative is paired with Cheesie’s own illustrations to help the story along (maps, caricatures, instruction guides, etc.), and together they bring you into the mindset of a regular, inquisitive boy. Continue reading Curious Kids and Summer Adventures
Huber Hill and the Dead Man’s Treasure by B. K. Bostick
(Digital ARC received from Cedar Fort Publishers.)
Huber Hill is having a rough time. At home his parents are always fighting, and at school he has no real friends and gets picked on daily by Scott, a bully whose life mission seems to be to destroy Huber. To top it all off, Huber’s twin sister, Hannah, is seemingly perfect, an athlete with good grades and tons of friends. The only time Huber feels truly happy is when he and Hannah visit Grandpa Nick, who tells them stories of his youthful adventure days and the hunt for Spanish treasure buried in mines in the mountains. When Grandpa Nick suddenly passes away, he leaves the twins a secret gift: a box with an old journal, a centuries-old map, and a single gold coin. The treasure is real!
In the meantime, a school conflict unexpectedly brings Huber and Scott together, and they start to build a strong friendship. When Huber’s parents announce a temporary separation, all three kids agree that it’s time to get away–time to search for buried treasure!
Unbeknownst to their parents, the three kids hike into the mountains on a camping trip to start the search, trying to decipher faded Spanish notes with the help of Grandpa Nick’s journal and slowly working their way closer to Tesoro de los Muertos. But no good adventure story would be complete without a bad guy: meet Salazar, a scarred, creepy, and blood-thirsty Spaniard who traveled across the world to claim the treasure for himself. Continue reading Hidden Treasure and Exciting Adventure
Aliens on Vacation by Clete Barrett Smith (The Intergalactic Bed & Breakfast series, Book One)
My name is Jenny, and I have a problem: I read too many books.
Okay, so there’s no such thing as “too many books”, but I certainly read more than I’m able to review regularly. Aliens on Vacation became one of my many victims–a book I loved but did not write about, a book I read prior to its publication back in May. My apologies to Mr. Smith! With that said…
Aliens on Vacation by Clete Smith is a fun romp with science fiction, summer vacation, the Pacific Northwest, and a thirteen-year-old boy named Scrub who can’t believe he’ll be spending the summer with his grandmother. When Scrub arrives at his grandma’s Intergalactic Bed & Breakfast, an old house covered in brightly painted stars, spaceships, and planets, he thinks that his summer is doomed for boredom and geekiness. Meeting his hippy grandmother for the first time doesn’t help the feeling, and when he realizes there’s no internet, he knows it’s going to be a long vacation. Little does Scrub know, the B&B isn’t for Trekkies and science-fiction fanatics: it’s actually a vacation spot for alien visitors from across the galaxy! Soon Scrub finds himself helping Grandma costume aliens of every shape, size, and attitude (some are very cranky customers indeed!) so the aliens can enjoy their “primitive” surroundings in the local town and forests without being discovered. Continue reading Summer Vacation with Aliens & a Hippy Grandma
Acting Up by Ted Staunton
In this coming-of-age novel, Sam Foster is an eleventh-grade boy trying to face the ever-changing life in his small, Canadian hometown of Hope Springs. Maturity is the ever-important word as Sam tries to convince his parents that he can handle the responsibilities of a driver’s license and house-sitting, all the while trying to balance his spunky, anarchist girlfriend; his goofball buddies; school work; volunteer time at the library; and a coerced participation in the school play. At times funny (and can you say hilarious-but-awkward?), Staunton strikes a believable chord as the characters develop. The situations Sam finds himself in are realistic, hilarious, and embarrassing all at once, and even the adults in the book have are wacky enough keep the reader interested. Teenagers–guys especially!–will relate to Sam’s mishaps, crazy cohorts, and even crazier adult mentors as he struggles to find balance in the turmoil of becoming a so-called “grown up”.
Acting Up is the third in a trilogy focusing on Sam’s town and the people in it, a further development of Sam’s character as a growing teenager. Mostly comic with relate-able, embarrassing situations and a cast of characters trying to figure out what they want and how to communicate with one another, it also has a few deeper notes that lend some weight to the story. Though the theme of “maturity” is often overpowering and the outcomes of some plot points are a bit predictable, Staunton’s overall story and creative collection of teenage adventures and catastrophes makes it a good, solid read. Sam is every-guy in any-town (albeit Canadian), and his miscommunications, misunderstandings, and personal goals relate to the shared experience of teenage life. If you enjoy “real world” fiction, this will make a good summer read. Continue reading Sometimes Maturity Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up To Be
First Light by Rebecca Stead
Thea lives in Gracehope, a world cut deep into the ice sheet below Greenland. She is the last in a long line of daughters who created Gracehope, a peaceful haven of safe living where hunters from the past cannot track down her people for supposed witchcraft. Thea knows, though, that Gracehope must expand if her people are to continue successfully, and she yearns to see the forbidden surface of the Earth and experience the sun and stars for herself.
Peter lives in New York City but is on vacation in Greenland with his parents as they conduct research in the barren ice-lands. Peter’s dad, an expert on glaciers and the effects of global warming, and his mom, a microbiologist, claim to be taking data for a study and writing a book, respectively, but Peter can tell they’re looking for something more. Only when he discovers Thea and her life below the surface does he realize what that something is…
Together, two kids from completely separate–yet surprisingly connected–worlds join together in a struggle for survival and the truth. Stead writes a compelling story that will draw readers in as they root for the underdogs and experience the fantastic worlds and abilities of both Thea and Peter. In Peter’s world science is king, and Stead includes it readily and skillfully in her narrative. In Thea’s world it is history that reigns supreme, though she is quick to learn that history can be re-written by anyone with enough power and reserve. Continue reading A World Above and Below the Ice
The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale
I expected to like The Goose Girl. Instead, I loved it.
In this beautiful retelling of the Grimm brothers’ fairy tale, Hale takes a classic and makes it her own, weaving in countless details of two unknown kingdoms and the characters–both good and bad–who fill them.
Growing up, Ani has always known that she is not the Crown Princess her mother wishes her to be: she is not good at speaking with others and is not diplomatic or charming like her mother, who has the ability of “people-speaking”. Instead she feels more at home by the pond where her nursemary once taught her the language of the swans and the bluejays overhead; even her horse, Falada, shares her thoughts and feelings. Still, Ani does her best to grow into the queen she is destined to be, and with the help of her graceful maid-in-waiting, Selia, she struggles forth.
At the burial of her suddenly deceased father, though, her mother announces that another sibling will be crowned; feeling betrayed and bitter, Ani learns she has been betrothed to a prince in the kingdom across the mountains, Bayern, as a peace-offering to prevent war. On the months’ long journey through the forests and mountains, half of her riders revolt and Selia abandons her, claiming that she–who, like the queen, has the skill of charming speech, “people speaking”–deserves to be princess instead and will be a maid-in-waiting no more. Ani runs for her life, chased by the murderers who know she could ruin their plot, and finds herself alone and with Continue reading High Fantasy with a Fallen Princess