Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Creekfinding: A True Story by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, illustrated by Claudia McGehee

Many years ago, a creek ran through the Iowan countryside. It teamed with fish and insects attracting local wildlife to the creek’s plentiful banks. All that changed when a farmer bought the acreage and bulldozed the creek away from its natural course. For years the land was farmed until a new owner, Mike, bought the property. Mike wanted to restore the parcel to its original wildness by bringing back the creek. Many thought Mike’s plans were foolish, but he moved forward confident in his vision. After much research, hard work, and help, Mike found and restored the creek to its original glory.

Creekfinding is a unique children’s story quaintly illustrating Mike Osterholm’s true-life undertaking. Though the narrative is simple, this story’s message is not naive. Martin takes on the massive debate of man verses the earth and effortlessly switches it to man working with the earth as she relates Osterholm’s tale. Using scratchboard, watercolor, and dyes, McGehee exhibits the colorful process of rediscovering and nurturing wildness. Similar to Henry Cole’s On Meadowview Street, Creekfinding will have young readers thinking how they can find and support their own wilderness in the places they live. A though-provoking yet fun non-fiction read for ages five and up.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

A Little Taste of Poison by R. J. Anderson

After failing to expose Eryx of murder, Isaveth and Esmond—aka Quiz—are living an uneasy existence away from each another. However, the owner of Glow-Mor changes everything when he gives Isaveth a scholarship to attend the socially elite Tarreton College. Soon after starting, Isaveth reunites with Esmond and they renew their search for clues against Eryx. Their leads show Eryx’s is keeping any incriminating documents inside his magically protected car. Under the cover of a masquerade ball at Eryx’s home, Isaveth and Esmond try to get to the evidence.

This sequel to A Pocket Full of Murder is another satisfying read full of suspense, sorcery, and scandal. But aside from the fiction, there are several real-life issues Anderson addresses: bullying, religious persecution, and economic class. Even though Isaveth can attend Tarreton College—something no person of her class or religion has ever done before—it doesn’t mean anyone there will automatically accept her. Once she arrives, Isaveth’s rich classmates immediately resent her intelligence and mock her religion and social status. In many cases, she is alone in facing this persecution because Esmond isn’t always around to protect her. However, a new friend, Eulalie, comes to Isaveth’s aid. Knowing she has loyal friends to support her, Isaveth courageously takes on all the bullies in her life, including Eryx.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Crown of Three: The Lost Realm by J. D. Rinehart

Escaping the zombie plagued Idilliam, Gulph finds a shaky sanctuary in the lost underground realm of Celestis. Meanwhile, the wizard, Melchior, arrives at the Trident camp and takes Tarlan on a journey to rejuvenate his wizarding powers. Once Tarlan leaves, Elodie’s adopted father, Lord Vicerin, attacks the Trident troops but Elodie pretends to turn on her soldiers to spare their lives. When Elodie returns with Vicerin, his true intentions are revealed.

More suspenseful adventures unfold as the royal Toronia triplets attempt to claim their prophesied birthright. But many insurmountable obstacles lie in their path to the throne: a zombie father, an undead army, a psychopathic adopted father, an unfeeling underground realm, and even more invading forces. However, as the problems get harder, the triplets’ inner powers get sharper. Gulph learns he can become invisible. Tarlan hones his skill to speak and gather animals. And Elodie’s gift of summoning ghosts may save her and her friends from Vicerin’s evil plans. What would have aided this series is a map showcasing the travels and locations of the triplets. This visual aid would have helped readers keep track of the triplets’ movements and better understand the distances they traveled while facing their different challenges.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Truth About Fragile Things by Regina Sirois

High school junior, Megan Riddick, thrives while acting on the stage, but shuns the attention of the real world. Her dislike for reality started when Bryon Exby lost his life to save a two-year-old Megan. All Megan and her family want to do is bury this secret and move on. But life is blown apart when Charlotte, Bryon’s daughter, moves into town. Charlotte stalks Megan until the two finally meet. Noting that Megan is not a threat, Charlotte admits that Bryon left an unfinished bucket list and she needs help completing it. Megan agrees and she reluctantly enlists her nosy, best friend, Phillip.

The Truth About Fragile Things is an emotional story riding on the wishes of a dead hero. Megan doesn’t know whether she has been worthy enough to be saved by Bryon Exby. So she plays her part being a dedicated student, faithful friend, loving daughter, and close sister. Playing these roles can be exhausting, so she hides away from life’s stage to renew her “happy face” until she can deal with it again. When Charlotte comes around, Megan’s reality mask cracks for all the world to see. Megan hastily attempts to paste over these cracks by subduing Charlotte’s needs. But as the process to live out Bryon’s wishes continues, Megan finds her true, radiant self and the courage to show it. A thought-provoking teen read for ages thirteen and up.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Pyramid Hunters: The Iron Tomb by Peter Vegas

Sam Force is dreading his yearly Cairo vacation with his Egyptologist uncle, Jasper. Upon his arrival, Sam learns Jasper is wanted by the police. Escaping the authorities himself, Sam uses his wits and three new mysterious friends to search for Jasper. Following coded clues left by Jasper, Sam learns about the Panehesy: a buried merchant ship that carried an ancient-Egyptian treasure. All along his way, Sam is threatened by a “Short-Haired Man” who also wants Jasper.

Vegas’s series is a modern “Indiana Jones” tale for middle-schoolers. Sam is an orphan who has lived most of his life at a boarding school. His only break are his trips to see Jasper. Unfortunately, these vacations are full of boring museums visits and long lectures about ancient Egypt. But when Jasper vanishes, Sam must recall the ancient Egyptian knowledge Jasper had been teaching him so he can decode Jasper’s messages. Of course, Sam can’t recall everything, but his new friend Mary becomes a valuable resource in more ways than one. The mythical basis of Vegas’s story is a little discombobulated and too hastily explained near end. However, Sam’s adventure of finding Jasper is very well crafted and incredibly suspenseful. The next book, called Pyramid Hunters: Bones of the Sun God, comes out in August.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

A Taste For Monsters by Matthew J. Kirby

Evelyn must escape the merciless London streets for her survival. Hiding her disfigured face and hungering for asylum, Evelyn seeks employment at the London Hospital. The hospital has a position working for someone else hiding from the world: Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man. Evelyn is scared by the hideous being, but she grows to love and respect the childlike man inside the malformed body. After a few months, she and Mr. Merrick are visited by several female ghosts, the recent victims of the new serial killer, Jack the Ripper. These visits sap Mr. Merrick’s strength and he begins to decline rapidly. If Evelyn doesn’t resolve the final wishes of these women, Mr. Merrick will die.

Kirby’s story is a supernaturally satisfying thriller certain to keep readers up through the night as they follow Evelyn’s misadventures. Life has not been kind to Evelyn. London’s brutal streets has cost Evelyn her family, her face, and her happiness. She comes to the London Hospital hoping to hide her own pain as she helps others to heal. When Evelyn is given the position as Mr. Merrick’s maid, it turns out that her own marred looks lead to a strong friendship with the misunderstood Mr. Merrick. He teaches Evelyn that there is still hope and beauty in the world, even if people reject or shun her. This sensitivity draws the wandering Ripper victims to Evelyn and Mr. Merrick. Mr. Merrick cannot physically handle their ghostly presence and he begins his own decent to death’s door. The thought of losing her friend spurs Evelyn on to face the unforgiving London streets again. This time she is armed with insight to know who the real monsters are in her world. A rich murder mystery for ages fourteen and up.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Crown of Three by J. D. Rinehart

A prophecy tells of royal triplets who will overthrow their evil father, King Brutan. After their birth, the newborns—Agulphus, Elodie, and Tarlan—are smuggled away to three faraway kingdoms. Thirteen years later, Agulphus is a contortionist scheduled to perform in Brutan’s court. Far away Elodie is kidnapped by rebels who want her to lead their army against Brutan. Meanwhile, Tarlan is flying with his tribe of giant eagles to find his siblings. Agulphus is arrested and put into a cell with King Brutan’s oldest child and Agulphus’s half-brother, Prince Nynus. Agulphus helps Nynus to escape and returns him to his mother, Queen Magritt. But the queen takes advantage of Agulphus and uses him to unknowingly kill Brutan.

Even though the characters are middle-grade age, this story is more appropriate for young adults because of the plot complexity and the graphic, bloody scenes throughout the story. Besides the more mature content, Rinehart’s series is totally engrossing as readers follow the deadly misadventures of Agulphus, Elodie, and Tarlan. When readers catch up to the teenage triplets, each one is well established in their separate lives. However, destiny has different plans for them. For this book, each sibling learns about and accepts their leading roles in defeating Brutan. But that role cannot be fully realized when their father becomes a zombie. Any fans of The Chronicles of Prydain, The Lord of the Rings, or The Inheritance Cycle will thoroughly enjoy this series.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel by Deborah Hopkinson

Eel’s life has improved since he escaped his abusive stepfather and stopped mudlarking. Eel now has food, shelter, and steady work all supplied by the owners of the Broad Street pub. However, his stability is taken away when a jealous coworker charges Eel with theft. When Eel is about to ask a neighboring tailor to prove his innocence, Eel finds that the tailor and most of his family are dying from a new outbreak of the Blue Death. With nowhere to go, Eel takes what jobs he can to secretly care for his younger brother. Dr. John Snow, who employed Eel in the past, hires Eel in proving that the Blue Death epidemic was spread by tainted water, not noxious air as most believe. Right when Eel uncovers proof of Dr. Snow’s theory, Eel is kidnapped by his stepfather and tortured to reveal the location of his younger brother.

Hopkinson’s book is a beautifully written story within the vein of Charles Dickens. Like Dickens, Hopkinson saw a need to write a novel not only revealing the destitution of London’s orphans, but also spotlighting an important historical figure few know about today: Dr. John Snow. Dr. Snow was not blinded by superstitions in treating the sick. He had to push past many boundaries to reveal the truth of how disease was spread. Eel is a similar thinker. Eel pushes past all that fate dealt him to find a happy, stable place even when the world was telling him he would never amount to anything more than a mudlark. But once Dr. Snow and Eel worked together, the two were unstoppable, even in the face of death. At the end of the book, Hopkinson highlights the true characters and places of her story. She even includes the map Snow created in recording the spread of the Blue Death. An enlightening historical-fiction read for ages 12 and up.