Friday, October 30, 2020

When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller

My name is Lily, and my halmoni says tigers are evil creatures and can't be trusted. She stole stories from them when she was little, and the tigers now want the stories back. I don't fully understand how this is possible, but a giant, female tiger has been visiting me in the middle of the night. Halmoni has been getting sicker, and the tiger says it can help make her feel better. All I have to do is return the dangerous stories Halmoni stole. If tigers can't be trusted, should I do what it asks? But I don't want my halmoni to die. Time is running out, and I don't know what to do.

This book was nominated by a reader for a 2020 Cybils Award. It was based on Korean folklore and described a situation where fiction became reality for Lily. Or did it? The author did a great job of keeping the book mystical, as it was never clear if the tiger or Halmoni's stories were real. Halmoni was supposedly experiencing hallucinations, and her memories were inconsistent. Lily was sure of her own experiences, but then she had doubts. Were the tiger stories from Halmoni's past, or were they a metaphor for her life? The Korean culture was at the center of the plot, and the family members displayed conflicting attitudes toward it. Halmoni's behaviors were often traditional, but they were also seen as eccentric. The stolen stories described how decisions could lead to unexpected consequences, and there were different ways for things to be dangerous. Overall, the book was pretty cerebral and made me think about relationships and life. Give it a shot if folklore and Asian culture interest you. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Restart by Gordan Korman

My name is Shoshonna, and I can't believe Chase is actually back at school. The rumor is that he has amnesia and can't remember anything about his life before falling off his roof. That's convenient. He was a horrendous bully and tormented my twin brother right out of town and into a private school that he hates. The world would be better off if he'd never recovered from the fall. I must admit he seems to be different, but it's got to be an act. No one that despicable can become nice just by falling on their head. I haven't told my brother everything about Chase, especially that Chase has replaced him in the video club. I can't believe how the others think Chase is so great now, since they were all once victims of his torturing. He makes a great suggestion to help with my contest video, but how can I listen to him? I'd be a traitor to my brother.

Korman always adds humorous twists to common situations, so this book was a little different for him. I also think it was one of his best. Chase forgot about all of the awful things he'd done as the worst bully in school, but all of the other students, teachers, and adults remembered him quite well. Most people reflect on their past decisions, and this book presents an opportunity for a character to make up for terrible mistakes. However, these efforts were difficult even with good intentions. Korman did a great job of describing Chase's battles with his inner demons; the realization that he'd treated others so badly was eating him up inside. His former bully buddies didn't understand him, and his new friends didn't understand him. No one else could fully comprehend his issues, and his father unknowingly made things worse. Readers will easily feel empathy for Chase despite being burdened with his past behaviors. That was a different Chase. Overall, I really loved this book and highly recommend it for your reading pleasure. It will appeal to almost all middle grade students.


Skyhunter #1 by Marie Lu

My name is Talin, and most of the other Strikers doubted that a refugee like me belonged with this elite fighting force, especially when I was forced to kill my partner, my Shield. Injuries from a Federation attack when I was a child have left me unable to speak, and that only adds to my feeling of isolation. Later, I sensed a prisoner wanted to die while being questioned, and I dared to challenge our Firstblade in front of all the Strikers. As punishment, he embarrassed me by making the prisoner, Red, my new Shield! However, Red and I have mentally bonded and can communicate with our minds, and I've discovered secrets about him. This boy may be Mara's greatest weapon, but he could just as easily destroy us all. 

The audience for this book is a bit older than middle grade, although young teens can enjoy it. Kale and Red's relationship will clearly mature as the series moves along. Violence is a big part of the plot, as Talin's whole life is focused on protecting the country of Mara from the Ghosts and a Federation invasion. Ghosts are mutated humans and can only be killed by slitting their throats. This leads to some gross and bloody moments. Despite her heroic efforts, Talin's situation brings up the question of patriotism among immigrants. Can immigrants be as loyal as the country's natives? Why would an immigrant want to protect a country that doesn't treat her people as equals? As with most plots involving politics, this book has its share of conspiracies and power plays. Characters need to be cautious about who they befriend and who they offend. The Federation is a juggernaut that seemingly can't be stopped by the small forces guarding Mara, and the plot later reveals that there's something more important about this doomed city. Overall, the story is interesting, albeit violent, and the sequel should be even more compelling. The resolution reveals a series-changing decision made by Kale.

Monday, October 19, 2020

DragonKeeper Chronicles #1: Dragonspell by Donita K. Paul

My name is Kale, and my life as a slave girl has changed dramatically in the past few days. On my way to The Hall, I've learned of my ability to locate dragon eggs and have joined a quest with Dar and Leetu to locate a meech egg stolen by the evil wizard Risto. I'm not sure how much help I'll be, and I can't believe Paladin actually believes in me. However, the first egg I found has hatched, and I'm now able to help Gymn heal others. It’s still funny how the little dragon faints when he gets scared. My companions tell me Risto is jealous of my ability with dragons, so we're constantly on the lookout for his minions and creatures hiding in the wild. We've just entered The Bogs in our search for Fenworth. Dar says having this great wizard along will lead to disaster, but Leetu says it's best to wait and see. Maybe it's best if I leave and return to my journey toward The Hall.

This book is the first in a five-book series. I really enjoyed the story and was surprised the average score on Goodreads wasn't a little higher. There was a strong religious aspect to the book that apparently bothered some readers. Characters were constantly reminded to trust Wulder's plan and that he would know anything they did not. I'm not overly spiritual, and I didn't find the story preachy at all. It was nice to read a book full of characters with positive thoughts and a common purpose. The adventure included fighting and killing, but the author didn't dwell on details of the battles. The descriptions weren't gory and bloody. There was clearly something special about Kale that surpassed her ability to locate dragon eggs. Things happened during the story that were credited to her, even though she had no awareness of doing anything. This created a wonder about her true talents, and helped to keep my mind working. Overall, I recommend you give this book a shot, and I've already checked out its sequel DragonQuest. Lovers of dragons and adventures should enjoy it.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

The Gideon Trilogy #2: The Time Thief by Linda Buckley-Archer

The Time Thief (The Gideon Trilogy, #2)My name is Kate, and I had promised Peter that I would never leave him alone in 1763. Now, I find myself back to the future, without Peter, and the Tar Man roaming somewhere in London. Heaven help anyone who gets in the way of this vicious cutthroat. I can't believe my dad is seriously considering destroying the time machine and leaving Peter in the past. I can't accept that thinking even though I know Gideon is probably taking care of Peter. I need some help to carry out my plan, and there's only one person I can think of to ask. If I can get back to 1763, I can rescue Peter and keep the time machine safe too. However, my dad thinks there may be unforeseen consequences of time travel; what if he's right? I'll just have to take that chance to save my best friend. 

You should read the first book before reading this one. I'm often leery of reading about time travel due to the potential for paradoxes and the need to establish ground rules. What if a character goes back in time and causes the death of a parent so the character was never born? This book adds an interesting twist when the time-traveling characters blur at random times, causing them to appear ghostly to others. One character chalked up Kate's blurring to witchcraft. The uncertainty of side affects of time travel added unpredictable blips to the story. Did time travel actually create parallel universes? The interaction of unique personalities made for interesting conversations, although the ease with which characters accepted time travel was unrealistic. How many people would be willing to take a trip into the future or past only hours after hearing about the idea? The subplot followed  the Tar Man and his efforts to gain power through violence and intimidation. My biggest issue with the plots was that they didn't have a sense of urgency, so the tension never got very high. Problems occurred, but there wasn't really a deadline where the events built up to a climax. It felt like the events in this book just connected the happenings in books one and three. Overall, the book was good, but not great. You may enjoy it more than I, so give it a shot if it sounds interesting.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Mo & Dale Mysteries #1: Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage

My name is Mo, and I knew the town was in for trouble when the detective came to town. He said he was investigating a murder that happened in another town, but I didn't know why he came to Tupelo Landing. The Colonel lied to the detective about his new car, but I suppose it has something to do with not trusting the police or lawyers. However, the whole town was surprised when Jesse turned up dead, and I'm afraid the detective thinks my friend Dale did it. The Colonel always says the best defense is a good offense, so I figure Dale and I will need find the murderer ourselves.

The charm of this Newbery Honor Book comes from the down-home, rural setting where all of the citizens know each other's business. They distrust outsiders and bond together in times of need. A bank robbery from a decade earlier becomes the main focus of the story, and it has connections to the recent murder of Jesse. The author does a great job of presenting ambiguous clues to present a myriad of suspects. Who's the murderer? Who robbed the bank? Why is the Colonel acting weird and what is the truth about his past? Can the cops be trusted? Mo and Dale make a delightful pair of "detectives". Dale is timider, probably thanks to his abusive father, but he has moments where he speaks his mind. Mo is more assertive, probably due to the influence of living with the Colonel, and isn't afraid to get herself into sticky situations. She also dreams of finding her "upstream mother" after having floated into town as a baby. The author includes many subplots and manages to infuse subtle humor throughout the book. This includes Miss Lana, as she changes the theme of her restaurant every day and enjoys dressing in costume. Overall, this book begins a series set in Tupelo Landing, North Carolina, and I recommend you give it a shot.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Greystone Secrets #2: The Deceivers by Margaret Peterson Haddix


My name is Natalie, and Emma figured out a way to get us back to the alternate world to save her mother. She guessed we could use the lever again even though the old portal was gone, and she was right. However, we didn't know what to do once we arrived in the basement of my house in the alternate world. I came face-to-face with my Other-Mother, the Judge in charge of the trial for Emma's mother, but I was able to trick her into thinking I was home sick from school. I'm not sure what I'll do if the Other-Natalie actually shows up. We tried doing an internet search for Emma's mom, but nothing came up. That's impossible. Her trial was all over the news just a couple weeks ago. We've secretly spied on many people in this house, and we now know one of them is an ally. The question is, which one?

You must read Greystone Secrets #1 before reading this book. The plot gets a bit confusing, as there are duplicate forms of a few main characters. Even the characters themselves must be reminded of the identities of people with whom they are speaking. While each of the four kids perform their roles in the plot, Natalie comes to the forefront this time. Since much of the story takes place in the alternate-world version of her house, several family members are included, although the family dynamics are quite different. Secrets abound in the household. The overall theme in this world is distrust, with a couple of characters dreaming of a time when they might be able to assume other people spoke the truth. The emotions of family love and friendship are strong in the main characters, as they strive to save their parents. The uncertainty of characters' identities and motivations create tension and complicate the children's plans. Overall, like in the first book, I still felt the plot moved too slowly for me. The kids kept trying to move on but made little progress. It felt like they kept spinning their wheels. My post for the first book said I didn't intend to read the sequel, but I obviously did. Perhaps I'll be reading the third book in the series, The Messengers, sometime soon.