Friday, May 29, 2020

Apollo's Outcasts by Allen Steele

Apollo's OutcastsMy name is Jamey, and Lina Shapar, the new president, is arresting anyone who's ever spoken against her, like my father. My sister and I fled to the moon, to the Apollo settlement where I was born, along with the former president's daughter Hannah. She announced to the world that her father died of natural causes and was not assassinated as Shapar claimed. Shapar seems intent on gaining unlimited power, and her actions may be leading to war with an Asian alliance. Apollo is an international settlement that has been supplying resources for nuclear powerplants on Earth. However, Shapar has other ideas about the current arrangements that may directly affect our lives on the Moon. Her decisions are making me seriously consider joining the Rangers. 

The essence of the conflict was an out-of-control "democratic" leader. Abuse of power was at the center of the problem, as the new president ignored restrictions found in the Constitution and censored or arrested anyone trying to share the truth. Opponents were steamrolled, as her actions escalated tensions on Earth and the Moon. Jamey's character was forced to deal with the legend of his deceased mother, and he overcame a lunar-related disability. His mother sacrificed her life while he was still an infant on the Moon, and his bones were weakened while he grew up on Earth. An additional subplot involves Jamey's budding relationship with the former president's daughter. It's mostly innocent flirting, but it has a moment of mounting passion. It doesn't serve any purpose in the context of the whole story. Overall, this book greatly contrasted with another book I chose not to finish. Both of them concerned world issues, but Apollo's Outcasts actually had an interesting main conflict and a realistic/creative look at a possible future. It viewed the moon as a vital source of resources rather than a lump of rock orbiting Earth. It's a great book to check out if you're looking for an entertaining science fiction. 

Monday, May 25, 2020

Sisters Grimm: The Fairy-Tale Detectives by Michael Buckley

The Fairy-Tale Detectives (The Sisters Grimm, #1)My name is Sabrina, and my little sister Daphne and I were sent to live with our "grandmother". I knew the orphanage just dumped us with another stranger, although Daphne believed the wacky woman was our relative. I should have listened to her. Our family has been solving mysteries involving Everafters for centuries, and now Daphne and I must solve a big one. A giant has been tormenting the town, and it just snatched up Reida Grimm, our grandmother, and her strange companion. I didn't believe her claims about fairy tales, but I must believe my eyes. It's up to Daphne and me to solve this problem and discover who's behind it all.

Here's a book where the main characters discover they're descendants of the Brothers Grimm. Fairy tales are simply case file stories of mysteries their relatives solved over the centuries. Sabrina opens the book with a defiant attitude, unwilling to consider the possibility Reida Grimm is her grandmother. This attitude creates additional problems but also helps to introduce other characters, all of them from very familiar fairy tales. Prince Charming is the mayor, the three little pigs make up the police force, and Reida's companion has a predicable alter ego. Daphne is the level-headed sibling even though she's several years younger than her sister. This fact surprised me, since she behaved more as a partner than a less-mature little sister. Daphne doesn't overreact to her emotions and is more trusting than Sabrina. The main conflict centers on the capture of Reida Grimm, but an underlying conspiracy emerges. The antagonist is under orders from someone else, and the author makes it tricky to figure which characters are good or bad. Overall, I've enjoyed to book, and I'm looking forward to reading the sequel. I notice there are nine books in the series, so be prepared for a lot of reading.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Whittington by Alan Armstrong

WhittingtonMy name is Lady, and I rule all the animals living in the barn. A ratter named Whittington arrived one day, and he's changed the atmosphere around here. The rats used to steal grain and the hen's eggs, but the cat has forced them into a truce. All of us look forward to his stories about a relative from centuries before and how its owner became very wealthy and respected. Ben and Abby, the barn owner's grandchildren, visit every day. Whittington's previous boy had reading difficulties, and the cat has some ideas on how to help Ben with his own learning problems. We don't understand how the markings on paper have meaning, but it's fascinating to watch the young boy slowly change.

An interesting book. Many of the chapters share anecdotes of the animals' experiences around the barn, but the two major plots concern a young boy's struggles with reading and Whittington's family's beginnings as ratters. Ben is dyslexic and treats reading as an enemy. It makes him angry and embarrassed, and he tries to avoid it at all costs. It's nice to see the story addressing the mental and emotional toll of the learning disability without making it the obvious focus of the whole book. Ridicule from his classmates is an especially powerful fear for Ben. Lady hopes Whittington's story of his ancestor will motivate Ben, while all of the barn animals just enjoy listening. The anecdotes about the various animals cover a wide range of events ranging from the mundane to the heroic. They offer entertaining distractions from Ben's issues, while creating personalities for the horses, rooster, goose, cat, and others. Overall, the book was a huge contrast from the other middle grade novels I've recently read, but it still kept me engaged. It was a Newbery Medal Nominee in 2006, so it has that recommendation too. Give it a shot. 

Guest: A Changeling Tale by Mary Downing Hahn

Guest: A Changeling Tale
My name is Mollie, and a silver necklace and harsh words were supposed to protect my baby brother Thomas from the Kinde Folke. But I was the one who said kind things about him and lifted the chain from his neck. Now, a changeling has taken his place, and the wretched creature has ruined our lives. Dadoe is gone, and Mam is in poor health. Maybe I can find the Kinde Folke and swap the changeling back for my brother. No one knows where they live, and I've been warned that the journey will be dangerous. However, my family's problems won't go away until we're rid of the changeling we've taken to calling Guest. A guest is only temporary, and it's time this one returns to where it belongs. 

I can always count on Mary Downing Hahn to come through with an entertaining book. She's a creative author and knows how to push the right buttons to create consistently spooky, engaging stories. The text isn't complicated, but the descriptions are able to evoke many emotions. The concept of the changeling isn't overly unique, but in this story he becomes a sympathetic character. I don't recall reading about a main character trying to return a changeling back to the creatures who had provided the replacement. The characters usually treat it as a nasty beast and try to get rid of it, and this book begins the same way. Guest starts the book, as a mean, demanding imp and maintains this behavior until Mollie changes how she treats him. Remember the Golden Rule saying "Do unto others, as they would do unto you?" Mollie is a dynamic character, and her transformation throughout the story is heart-warming and virtuous. At first, the changes require a lot of prompting from a mysterious traveler, but you will find yourself rooting for Mollie and Guest. Overall, the book is engaging and enjoyable, and I recommend you give it a shot.