Sunday, December 15, 2013

Bluefish Review


Book talk:  All Travis wanted was to survive the school year.  Not make any friends or pass his classes with flying colors: just survive.  The one thing he had learned was not to expect much from anyone.  His parents died long ago and his grandfather is barely there.  Even his dog disappeared before the move.  He knew that his life would be awful and he had almost even accepted it.  But this year life would surprise Travis.  This year Travis's secrets will be revealed, and for good or for bad it will change his life forever.

Rocks my socks:  I love the sparse narrative of Travis's chapters.  A lot is left unsaid but so much is communicated.  Travis's emotions and his voice feel very authentic and Schmatz deals with a lot of difficult issues without descending into the saccharine or the cynical, which is no easy feat.  I also adored the contrast of Velveeta's narratives with her distinct flair and strong personality.  I appreciated that the friends that Travis made among his peers helped him out a lot, and that there were also adults who really came through in the end.  Of course the fact that the main helpful adult figures were a librarian and a reading teacher appealed to me.

Rocks in my socks:  none

Every book its reader:  I'd give this to teens looking for a quick and touching read.  It's high interest and low reading level, but there's plenty for advanced readers to grapple with and enjoy as well.  I read it for a book club and it made for an excellent discussion.  Some of the issues explored get intense, so I'd save it for 6th grade and up.


Pat Schmatz has a website

There's a discussion guide for the book at Candlewick's website

There's a good video book talk for this from 60 second recap:

Source: copy provided as part of faculty & staff book club

Bluefish by Pat Schmatz: buy it or check it out today!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Midnight Palace Review

The Midnight Palace (Niebla, #2)

Book talk:  Ghosts stories tend to gather in areas filled with sadness and Calcutta has known more than its fair share of misery.  Perhaps that is why there are so many tales of the supernatural associated with the town. Siraj knows all of them.  He often researches them for the other members of the Chowbar society: Isobel the fearless actress, Roshan who grew on the harsh streets, Michael the quiet artist, Seth the scholar, Ben the mercurial leader of the group, and Ian the one destined to escape and tell the tale.  The group is bound together by misery, all residents of the local orphanage, and in the absence of family they swore to protect each other.  But they never imagined how much those loyalties would be tested or that one of Siraj's ghost stories would came to life and stalk them.

Rocks my socks:  I'm always fascinated by stories about close groups of friends.  The relationships between the various members of the Chowbar Society interested me far more than the supernatural elements.  Zafon, as always, has a wonderful way with words and does an excellent job creating a spooky atmosphere and establishing a good sense of place. The characters are each fascinating on their own as well, and I became deeply involved in their stories.  I appreciated how diverse the group was in many ways from personality to ethnicity, and it makes sense for a story set in Calcutta where so many cultures have converged.

Rocks in my socks:  My timing in reading this novel was not great.  I didn't realize when I picked this book up it was by the same person as The Shadow of the Wind, which I read recently.  I was quickly caught up by the story, but I was plagued by a sense of deja vu.  Zafon has a very distinct style and uses similar themes in both stories.  I could see where this book was headed from a mile away.

Every book its reader:  I'd give this to fans of Raven Boys or general fans of supernatural tales and books about group dynamics among friends.  The horror elements are rather strong at points, I'd save it for at least 7th grade and up.


Carlos Ruiz Zafon has a website with a page for the book.

There's an atmospheric book trailer from the publisher:

Source: school library

The Midnight Palace by Carlos Ruiz Zafon: buy it or check it out today!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Tokyo Heist Review

Tokyo Heist

Book talk:  What would you do if you found yourself living the kind of adventure you normally only find in a book?  Violet loves reading manga and has been working hard on making her own.  She thought her biggest problem this summer would be the fight she got in with her best friend.  Then she goes to stay with her father, an artist, and ends up in the middle of a high-stakes art theft case in Japan.  At first the unexpected trip to somewhere she's always longed to go is exciting, but as the yakuza get involved and her friends and family are threatened she starts to wonder if she should have stuck to making up stories and not living them.

Rocks my socks:  I love the premise that an average geeky girl obsessed with a certain type of media ends up in a situation very much like the ones she's always read about.  Her obsession with manga is a key part of the narrative from the way that she analyzes real-life people by imagining how they'd be represented in a manga to her knowledge of Japanese culture and customs that comes from reading it.  I don't like manga as much as Violet, but I know enough about it that I was able to appreciate the references (I particularly enjoyed Violet's friend's apt description of her relationship with the main love interest: "the two of you are like in episode seventy-eight of a manga series with no climax.")  It makes sense to me that Violet would find it helpful to storyboard ideas in manga form to help organize her thoughts about who might have committed the actual art heist.  It was also pretty meta, which I always like.

Rocks in my socks:  The book doesn't feel like a very authentic representation of Japanese culture to me, but then again it's not really claiming to be.  It's clearly about a manga-obsessed foreigner's view of the culture.  There are plenty of aspects of the plot that strain credulity, but if you can put that aside it's good, clean fun.

Every book its reader:  Despite the action-packed cover image I'd be hesitant to give this to the average heist fan.  There's a lot of quieter moments and manga plays such a big role in the narrative that if you don't know anything about it, it might be hard to appreciate the novel.  I'd be more likely to recommend it to manga or anime fans looking for something in novel form.  There will be plenty here for them to enjoy.  The romance and violence are relatively minimal for a thriller.  I'd say it's fine for 6th grade and up.


Diana Renn has a website with more information about her and her books.

There's an official book trailer:

Source:   school library

Tokyo Heist by Diana Renn: buy it or check it out today!