Book Review: Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick

drums-girls-dangerous-pieDrums, Girls + Dangerous Pie
Jordan Sonnenblick
Scholastic, Inc., May 2014
ISBN 978-0-545-72286-5
Trade Paperback

Inexplicably unique, Steven’s story sucked me in, seeped into my soul and stole my heart.  Mr. Sonnenblick aptly captures and conveys the perplexities of a 13-year-old boy—the obvious, an abundant use of “like” in his dialogue, but also the subtle, self-sacrificing inner voice rarely credited to teens.  This outwardly awkward adolescent is more than a pounding prodigy on a drum kit and all-around funny guy; he’s an older brother.

Even at a blush, he is kind, tolerant and indulgent with the feisty five-year-old boy who gleefully dismisses his elder sibling’s ‘rules’.  When said spunky boy slips from the kitchen stool and is rushed to the emergency room, Steven simply sighs, “So Jeffrey was getting me in trouble again, as usual.”  How could he know then, that the tumble terminated ‘as usual’?   Steven’s little brother has cancer.

A terrifyingly tough topic, tackled brilliantly.  Financial strain, even with good insurance and steady income; parents putting life on hold, sick siblings sent away for safety….but also….life goes on.  That struggle seems insurmountable yet it’s unavoidable.  A viscous diagnosis, grim parade of prodding and poking, a family flung in different directions would wreak havoc on anyone; the impact it has on a teen is unimaginable.

Was.

Was unimaginable. Not now.  Mr. Sonnenblick wrote this book in 12 short weeks.  It wasn’t planned, hadn’t stewed somewhere in his head for years.  It was impulsive and imperative.  While teaching 8th grade, he discovered that one of his students was going through something even more challenging than middle school.  Her younger sibling had cancer.  Needing to help and knowing that a good book could; he searched for just the right one to share; did not find it.  There was no choice.  He wrote it.  And it is everything. All of the best things, defiantly in spite of almost-the-worst-thing, Steven and Jeffrey’s should be shared.

Reviewed by jv poore, June 2016.

Book Review: Spirit Animals: Hunted by Maggie Stiefvater

Spirit Animals HuntedSpirit Animals
Book 2: Hunted
Maggie Stiefvater
Scholastic, Inc., January 2014
ISBN 978-0-545-52244-1
Hardcover

The orphaned, scruffy, wise-cracking Rollan; the painted, oft expressionless warrior Meilin; and Conor, the shepherd boy, had been tossed together without a choice. The small group was wary, at best. Abeke, with her bizarre elephant hair bracelet; had been “tricked” into aligning with the power-hungry Conquerors, and was not a welcome addition to the trio.

The four youngsters had only one thing in common, but it was paramount. Having recently come of age, sipped the sweet Nectar Ninani, each bonded with, not just any spirit animal, but one of the Four Fallen. There is but one tiny task. To save the world.

The success of the mission hinges on the cohesiveness of the team. The multi-faceted concept of trust is brilliantly displayed as Abeke must earn the trust of the group; Rollan must learn to trust, and Meilin must choose whether to trust her spirit animal or her own intuition.

This action-packed, mystery-filled adventure is completely captivating with colorful characters and carefully hidden life lessons. Ms. Stiefvater’s delightful descriptions of the determinedly cheerful Lord of Glengavin paints the picture of a red-bearded giant whole-heartedly, enthusiastically and unabashedly, displaying his wide range of emotions from toddler-like temper tantrums to giddy joy.

Hope springs eternal as feisty Dawson, young sibling of the horrible Devin, craftily displays whose side he is truly on. His abrupt, almost apologetic, kindness is endearing and serves to soften the utter rottenness of his fellow Conquerors.

The mysterious, heavily tattooed Finn is the honey on this November-Cake of a novel. The burden of scouting for the quarreling new Greencloaks doesn’t seem to rattle him. He patiently teaches them how to code; sending messages by pigeon. Gradually and quietly, his story is revealed. Subtle mentoring moments threaded throughout the adventure tie perfectly together at the story’s end.

Of course the last sentence isn’t true. The author is Maggie Stiefvater. And Spirit Animals is a series. As Hunted answers some questions, many mysteries remain unsolved, new quandaries have appeared and…..well, let’s just say the reader will be ecstatic to know that Blood Ties (Spirit Animals #3) is available.

Reviewed by jv poore, February 2015.

Book Reviews: The Hit by Melvin Burgess and The Trigger by L.J. Sellers

The HitThe Hit
Melvin Burgess
Chicken House/Scholastic, March 2014
ISBN 978-0-545-55699-6
Hardcover

The Hit is a book that will make you think. Set in the near future, it puts us right into the conflicting world of haves and have nots, exploring the results of the worldwide financial crisis as the one-percenters have totally taken over. But that’s not all. A new drug—the drug culture having grown even more prevalent—is gaining popularity. One especially made for young people who don’t believe they have a future. Take the hit and the drug, called Death, will make the recipient euphoric and strong for seven days. Then you die.

Adam, one of the poverty-stricken ninety-nine percenters, doesn’t have much to live for. He and his parents can’t afford for him the education that would lift them out of comparative destitution. His girlfriend, Lizzie, is part of the upper-class. Adam, teenage hormones raging, lives to get laid; Lizzie can’t make up her mind. Then, when the pair attends a rock concert one evening, the star of the show dies on stage after taking the drug. The crowd goes wild! Riots pop up, the drug lords are pressing kids to take a hit, and Adam’s own brother is the chemist who invented the drug.

This is a large, convoluted plot. The concept is a bit scary actually, and is a book that seems a bit dark for the readership at which it’s aimed. Well-written, some of the characters come alive, leaping off the page with an energy equal to their years. Others seem like caricatures to me.

There were plenty of TSTL (to stupid to live) moments, plenty of bad decisions made, not a lot of hope for the world after this adventure.

True to life? God, I hope not.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, March 2014.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

 

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The TriggerThe Trigger
An Agent Dallas Thriller
L.J. Sellers
Spellbinder Press, August 2013
ISBN 978-0984008650
Trade Paperback

Agent Jamie Dallas, whose specialty in the FBI is working undercover, is called upon to investigate a potential kidnapping. The wife and child of the leader of a notorious doomsday prepper has disappeared, and murder is suspected. Is she the victim of a random abduction, or of something closer to home? It’s up to Dallas to find out.

Dallas, her undercover assignment a closely guarded secret, is backed by a team of local FBI agents. Unfortunately, her main contact is soon called away to work on yet another murder that only ties in with the main plot at the end of the novel. Dallas is soon stranded and in deep trouble when communications fail and the preppers discover her mission.

The Trigger is a ripped from the headlines style story with lots of twists and turns and an edge-of-your-seat ending. Hackers, preppers, and fanatics, as well as regular people caught up in an uncertain world are featured. Dallas is a great character, with all the foibles of the human condition. Agent McCullen partners well with her. I like that the villains are not over-the-top monsters, but very human with familial loyalties and mostly good intentions—or so they’ve convinced themselves.  At least until their plot to take over the worldwide monetary system and the Internet begins to go wrong.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, April 2014.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

 

Book Review: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

The Raven BoysThe Raven Boys
Raven Cycle #1

Maggie Stiefvater
Scholastic, Inc., September 2012
ISBN 978-0-545-42492-9
Hardcover

5 Reasons to Read The Raven Boys……..Right Now.

1. The Supernatural Element: I adore all things supernatural, and to have the opportunity to read about something I’ve never heard of, well that is the icing on the cake, and probably the top reason that I admire all of Ms. Stiefvater‘s works. No exception here. Ley lines, psychics, a potential witch…….oh, my!

2. The characters: so quirky and interesting, I couldn’t help developing feelings for them. Some of them I admire, while others seem……sneaky, with hidden agendas. I got to “know” them, but it is very clear that there are plenty of secrets still lurking. Even the adorable characters have real-life flaws: some of which are charming, some….not so much. I say this as a good thing. I don’t want to read about boring, perfect people.

3. The relationships among the teenagers: Ms. Stiefvater truly captures the essence of teen-age friendships in that: they don’t always get along, they don’t always make the best decisions, but best of all, they tend to be amazingly accepting of someone, despite knowing nothing ‘about’ him (last name, family, classes). Ms. Stiefvater goes on to encapsulate the bonds that form at this age: comfort levels that aren’t obviously explicable; fighting one minute, jumping to defend the next; trust and loyalty; and discovering “brothers”, in spite of completely different backgrounds.

4. The relationships among the adults: While Blue Sargent’s household is anything but typical, it is indeed a family in every sense of the word. As one would expect in a house filled with women, there is sniping, but the admiration and support are very clear. I love the way the womens’
relationship with the “kids” evolves.

5. Genre: I appreciate Ms. Stiefvater‘s presentation of “Young Adult” material. Vocabulary is extensive, cursing is completely unnecessary, and real-life friendships and relationships are present. This is a book that, as a not-so-young-adult, I can thoroughly enjoy, as much as anything written by Nora Roberts or Dean Koontz; but the perk is, I can also share this with my 13 year old niece.

Reviewed by jv poore, September 2012.

Book Review: Movie for Dogs by Lois Duncan

Movie for DogsMovie for Dogs
Lois Duncan
Scholastic, June 2010
ISBN 0545108543
Hardcover

Movie for Dogs by Lois Duncan is a later installment in the popular “for Dogs” franchise.  Before getting to the review I need to note two things.  The first is that I haven’t read the previous books in the series or seen the movie (Hotel for Dogs).  The second comment is that I do enjoy juvenile fiction.  Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time is one of my favorite books.  I even enjoy an occasional offering by Dr. Seuss or a Little Golden book (The Pokey Little Puppy is seriously underappreciated as a work of literary fiction).  O.K. – on to the review.

In Movie for Dogs, Bruce and his sister, Andi, have entered a dog themed film contest.  Those who have read the previous books will not be surprised to hear that Jerry Gordon and his dog also make an appearance.  What I believe are the usual supporting characters – parents, aunts, etc. – are again present.  The not-quite-perfect children and the appropriate social messages present in the previous stories are here again, as well.  Plans are made, the villain tries to derail them and then … well, you know the rest of the story. In spite of my fondness for juvenile fiction, I can’t say that I enjoyed this book.  The plot is a bit too predictable and I didn’t fall in love with the characters.  Scholastic suggests that this book is appropriate for ages 8 to 12.  I think if you liked the previous offerings, you will be safe with this one.  I also think that if you have a young friend who likes dogs and is at the earlier end of that 8 to 12 age range, or even a bit younger, then this is an excellent choice.

Reviewed by Alva Hughes, May 2010.

Book Review: Malice by Chris Wooding

MaliceMalice
Chris Wooding
Dan Chernett, Illustrator
Scholastic, 2009
ISBN 054516043X
Hardcover

“Wow” was the first word out of my mouth when I opened the box containing Malice.

The book itself is impressive. The cover art is 3-D, raised. And, the book is heavy. You feel as though you are turning more than one page at a time as you’re reading. I haven’t seen paper like this in a book for a long time, the quality definitely reminds me of older classics. Scholastic literally pulled out all the stops for this edition and it’s well worth their efforts.  The tale within is part narrative and part graphic novel.

And, you’re definitely turning pages. Malice is the story of kids literally lost in a book. Well, a comic book or a graphic novel in the more politically-correct modern day parlance. Malice is a mythical comic series which has existed for three or four years. The mysterious creator of this comic allegedly uses the tales of missing children as the basis of his story-boards.
When Seth’s friend disappears into the world of Malice, he opts to follow and try to reclaim him. What he discovers is a whole society of lost boys and girls who ‘spelled’ themselves away from their lives by calling on Tall Jake, a character from the comics.

Malice is an excellent read for kids above the age of 12–and yes, this adult reader thoroughly enjoyed it, too. Author Chris Wooding’s created a world I’m going to be following for some time to come.

Reviewed by Rebecca Kyle, March 2010.