Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Island of Thieves by Josh Lacey

This one is another summer reading pick at my library. I was on the committee this year for choosing books for grades 6-8, and this was one that was recommended. I heard it described as James Bond meets Treasure Island, which sounded like fun to me.

The story begins as Tom's parents are about to embark on their first alone vacation in years - but after Tom pulls a knuckleheaded stunt, none of his friends' parents will allow him to stay with them. He gets shipped off to New York City to stay with his Uncle Harvey, a relative who, for some reason, doesn't get along very well with Tom's dad, but will do as a last resort.

Tom gets an inkling about why his father disapproves of Uncle Harvey when he learns a bit about how his uncle makes money. When Tom hears that his uncle may have discovered a map to a treasure in Peru, he blackmails him into letting him come along on what he hopes will be an adventure of a lifetime. He gets way, way more than he bargained for.

This is the perfect action-packed summer read, full of twists and turns against an exotic Peruvian backdrop. There isn't much character development to speak of, but readers will barely have time to care as the plot carries them along on a wild roller-coaster ride. This one is an easy sell to young readers at my library, particularly skeptical reluctant-reader boys.

Books in the Island of Thieves series:
1. Island of Thieves
2. The Sultan's Tigers

Island of Thieves (#1 in the Island of Thieves series) by Josh Lacey (Houghton Mifflin, 2012)

Monday, July 22, 2013

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

I'd been meaning to read this book for ages, but when my library system selected it as one of its summer reading picks for 6th grade and up, I bumped it up to the top of my book pile. And I'm glad I did! It's a science fictional tale inspired by the Cinderella story, but it departs from the usual storyline enough that it offered plenty of twists and surprises.

Cinder is a cyborg (and therefore a second-class citizen) living in the city of New Beijing. She is a gifted mechanic and lives with her horrible stepmother. When she encounters the handsome Prince Kai, who brings her a robot to fix, her life takes a sudden turn. Before she knows it, she's uncovered some secrets that reveal a sinister threat to the kingdom. This is much more than a Cinderella story - it's a gripping read featuring a refreshing, strong heroine in a well-crafted, fascinating world. The book ends on a bit of a cliff-hanger, but luckily the second book in the series is already available. Highly recommended.

Books in the Lunar Chronicles series:
1. Cinder
2. Scarlet
3. Cress (2014)

Cinder (#1 in the Lunar Chronicles series) by Marissa Meyer (Feiwel and Friends, 2012)

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Case of the Case of Mistaken Identity

Steve Brixton has a school project to do, and the students are picking slips of paper from a hat to determine their research topics. His best friend gets “detectives.”  This is upsetting, because Steve is obsessed with detectives. His favorite books are the Bailey Brothers mysteries. He practically knows them by heart – and he is planning on being a detective when he grows up. He draws from the hat for his project and gets "early American needlework." Life is so unfair!

He heads reluctantly for the library to start his research, asking the librarian for a reference book on early American needlework. Soon he finds himself with a gun to his head, and he discovers that librarians are actually highly trained crime-fighting intelligence agents – and they think that he is working for the mysterious Mr. E., who sells America's secrets to the highest bidder. Soon Steve is on the lam with everyone chasing him – and all he has is his Brixton Brothers Detective Handbook, his wits, and, luckily, his best friend. 

This one should appeal to kids who have read a few Hardy Boys books and are looking for something a little snappier, with some humor and over-the-top action. Much of the book is a silly parody of Hardy Boys and similar series, but there is enough going on that kids who haven't read many mysteries should still enjoy themselves. I found it a little too extreme for my personal reading taste - I'm willing to suspend my disbelief to a point, but after that it all becomes pretty ridiculous, with people behaving in unbelievable ways. But I doubt most kids will have my issues, and I frequently recommend the series to young readers at my library, who enjoy it.

The Case of the Case of Mistaken Identity (#1 in the Brixton Brothers mystery series) by Mac Barnett (Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2009)

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Speaking From Among the Bones: A Flavia de Luce mystery

11-year-old Flavia de Luce has got to be one of my favorite fictional characters of all time. She is a passionate amateur detective, not to mention a top-notch chemistry whiz. This is the fifth book in the series (which, despite the tender age of the protagonist, is definitely for adults).

In this installment, Flavia is beside herself with excitement because it is the 500th anniversary of Saint Tancred’s death, and the small English town of Bishop’s Lacey is going to open his tomb. She can’t wait to see the patron saint of her town, but the proceedings screech to a halt when the excavation at the church unexpectedly discovers the body of Mr. Collicutt, the church organist - and with a gas mask covering his face. Flavia doesn’t miss much, and as usual, she’s determined to discover the culprit before the police can figure it out.

This is another delightful book in the series, with Flavia’s usual unforgettable metaphors and similes, and as always, I listened to the audio version. It is read by Jayne Entwistle, who does a fantastic job with the narration. The only bad thing about the Flavia de Luce series is having to wait for the next one to be published!

Speaking From Among the Bones (#5 in the Flavia de Luce series) by Alan Bradley; narrated by Jayne Entwistle (Books on Tape, 2013)

Books in the Flavia deLuce series:
5. Speaking From Among the Bones

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Ready Player One

Wade Watts is a teenager growing up in a future America where the world has suffered a great recession, energy reserves have been depleted, and poverty is the norm. People increasingly spend time hooked up to OASIS, a massively multiplayer online simulation game, a version of life that is much more pleasant than 2044 reality and feels nearly as real. Years earlier, when Wade was a kid, the creator of OASIS had died without heirs, leaving a will that amounts to a contest – the first player to collect three keys and pass through the matching gates in OASIS will his fortune and a controlling stake in the company. The book opens years later, when no one has found any of the keys. Wade tells us up front that he found the first key, and he proceeds to tell us the story of how that happened, and what happened after that.

This book is first and foremost an homage to the 1980s, particularly the geekish things of the 80s that are clearly near and dear to the writer’s heart. It is a delightful blend of genres - a quest adventure, a futuristic dystopian, a mystery, a coming-of-age story, and a thriller with a dash of romance, and it is a rollicking fun ride all the way to the conclusion. There isn’t a whole lot of character development going on, but I couldn’t bring myself to care all that much because it was such a gripping, engaging story.

My library files this in the adult science fiction section, but I didn’t realize it till I had nearly finished the book because it has such a YA feel to it. I think teens and adults would enjoy this equally. It should pique younger readers’ curiosity about many of the 80s books, movies, and video games that are mentioned, and it is a heart-warming blast from the past for those of us who actually lived through them. The only thing that irritated me about the book was the author’s list of seminal 80s books, which had either no or maybe one female author included. There were plenty of fantastic women writing speculative fiction then! Still, I thoroughly enjoyed this one.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (Crown Publishers, 2011)

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Fool Moon

In this second installment of the Dresden Files, supernatural investigator Harry is called in to help the Chicago police department investigate a series of horrific murders. Enormous paw prints found at the crime scene, along with the fact that the crimes take place during the fullest phase of the moon, would appear to indicate the perpetrator is a werewolf. Could it be that simple? In Harry’s world, probably not.

I listened to the audio version of this one (as I did the first),and it is read by James Marsters, who does a great job with the hard-boiled first-person narration. I liked it, but I found my attention wandering a bit as I listened, partly due to the pacing, which seemed a bit uneven to me, but also due to the fact that I became impatient with Harry. He whines a lot about things, and he has a bad habit of withholding information for no good reason that I could see, which repeatedly erodes trust between him and Murphy, the police officer he works with (and secretly has the hots for). He seemed to get enough of a clue by the end of the book that I’ll probably continue with the series, because for the most part it’s a lot of fun. Customers at my library tell me that it gets better and better as it goes along, and I do like that in a series.

Books in The Dresden Files:
1. Storm Front
2. Fool Moon
3. Grave Peril
4. Summer Knight
5. Death Masks
6. Blood Rites
7. Dead Beat
8. Proven Guilty
9. White Night
10. Small Favor
11. Turn Coat
12. Changes
13. Ghost Story
14. Cold Days
Backup (A novella)
Side Jobs (a short story collection)
Love Hurts (an e-book short story)

Fool Moon  (#2 in the Dresden Files) by Jim Butcher; narrated by James Marsters (Buzzy Multimedia, 2003)