Saturday, September 23, 2017

Baseball in April

Baseball in April and Other Stories
by Gary Soto

Genre: Juvenile Fiction, Short Stories

Synopsis: In this unique collection of short stories, the small events of daily life reveal big themes-love and friendship, youth and growing up, success and failure.  Calling on his own experiences of growing up in California's Central Valley, poet Gary Soto brings to life the joy and pain of young people everywhere.

The smart, tough, vulnerable kids in these stories are Latino, but their dreams and desires belong to all of us.
from the back of the book

Review: This book is made up of a collection of short stories about Latino kids in California.  The kids are mainly early teenagers which makes this book a hard one to figure out what is the appropriate age for the reader.  The reading level is not too complex but the characters are mature so I would recommend this book for junior high age kids.  None of the stories really grabbed me but as I've mentioned in other reviews, I'm not a fan of short stories.  The characters and language seemed a little dated which makes sense as this book is copyrighted in 1990.  I'm not sure that kids today would relate to the stories.  Some books are written in a way that make the book timeless but this one was not.

Rating: 2.5 stars

Since You've Been Gone

Since You've Been Gone
by Morgan Matson

Genre: Young Adult Fiction

Synopsis: It was Sloane who yanked Emily out of her shell and made life 100% interesting.  But right before what should have been the most epic summer, Sloane just...disappears.  All she leaves behind is a to-do list.

On it, thirteen Sloane-inspired tasks that Emily would normally never try.  But what if they could bring her best friend back?

Apple picking at night?  Okay, easy enough.

Dance until dawn?  Sure.  Why not?

Kiss a stranger?  Um...

Emily now has the unexpected summer, and the help of Frank Porter (totally unexpected), to check things off Sloane's list.  Who knows what she'll find?

Go skinny-dipping?  Wait...what?
from the book jacket

Review:  After rereading the synopsis of this book, I'm not sure what drew me to this book as it seems very teenager-y to me.  I have read young adult fiction books before and enjoyed them as some are able to span generations but this was one that I shouldn't have picked up.  It was just far too young for me.  Emily is a painfully shy main character who is so brokenhearted by her best friend Sloane's disappearance without any warning.  It was hard for me to relate to her.  Frank on the other hand seemed to be less of a teenager.  He was very mature and outgoing.  The secondary characters were more teenage like and immature.  I should have just abandoned this book but I needed to know if Emily found Sloane again and if anything happened between Emily and Frank.  I don't think this book was badly written, I just think I wasn't the right audience for it.

Rating: 3 stars

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Salsa Stories

Salsa Stories
by Lulu Delacre

Genre: Juvenile Fiction

Synopsis: Salsa music blares from the stereo.  One by one, friends and family, who come from all around Latin America, arrive at Carmen Teresa's house to cook, dance, gossip, and play dominoes.  And the New Year's Day celebration begins...

When a neighbor gives Carmen Teresa a blank notebook as a holiday present, she doesn't know how she will fill it.   The guests all have ideas of what she should do with her book.  They decide she should fill it with stories about their childhoods.  And everyone has a story to tell.  But Carmen Teresa, who loves to cook, surprises everyone with how she will use her beautiful new present.

With energy, sensitivity, and warmth, Lulu Delacre introduces readers to a symphony of colorful characters whose stories dance through a year of Latin American holidays and customs.  And readers will also be treated to recipes for the irresistible foods that appear in each story.
from the book jacket

Review:  This book is tied together by the introduction and final chapter about Carmen Teresa and her family together at a party.  The stories that are in between are about her grandparents and a few other people.  Most of the stories are about their childhoods growing up in various countries.  Perhaps short stories are not my cup of tea or I'm not the target audience but I did not find these stories particularly captivating.  I wanted more out of most of the stories.

Rating: 3 stars

Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes

Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes
by Eleanor Coerr
Illustrated by Ronald Himler

Genre: Juvenile Fiction

SynopsisHiroshima-born Sadako is lively and athletic--the star of her school's running team. And then the dizzy spells start. Soon gravely ill with leukemia, the "atom bomb disease," Sadako faces her future with spirit and bravery. Recalling a Japanese legend, Sadako sets to work folding paper cranes. For the legend holds that if a sick person folds one thousand cranes, the gods will grant her wish and make her healthy again. Based on a true story, Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes celebrates the extraordinary courage that made one young woman a heroine in Japan.
from GoodReads

Review:  I've read this book a couple times before, once when I was growing up and once as an adult.  This was my third read of the book but I still enjoyed it as much as I did the first two times.  This book tells the story of Sadako, who unfortunately gets leukemia as a result of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.  She is a healthy girl who is full of energy and life and then sadly gets sick.  This story allows kids to read about the effects of the bomb on the people of Japan and get a look into Japanese culture.  The book is very sad but eye opening.  One thing I really like about this book is that it is about a serious topic and about a 12 year old girl but written at a low level.  This makes a perfect book for older students who are reading at a lower level.

Rating: 4 stars

Riding Freedom

Riding Freedom
by Pam Muñoz Ryan
Illustrated by Brian Selznick

Genre: Juvenile Fiction

Synopsis: Charlotte Parkhurst never acted like most other girls.  She climbed trees and fought with boys and worked in a stable.  She had a way with horses that was like nothing folks had ever seen.

In the mid 1800s, some people didn't think it was proper for a girl to behave like Charlotte, and they tried to stop her.  But Charlotte was smart, and she came up with a plan that would let her live her life the way she wanted-a plan so clever and so secret that almost no one figured it out.

A top-notch horse rider, a legendary stagecoach driver, the first woman to vote in the state of California and probably the United States, Charlotte Parkhurst, known as Charley, was a real person with a larger-than-life story.
from the book jacket

Review:  This historical fiction book gives readers a look at a character who most people would not know anything about.  The story starts with Charlotte growing up in an orphanage where she finds an outlet in caring for and riding horses.  She wants to be free from the unfair treatment at the orphanage so she decides to run away.  Charlotte turns into Charley and learns to drive a stagecoach.  Charlotte is portrayed as a very strong girl and woman who knows her own mind and follows her dreams.  I really enjoyed reading about her life and I wish that this book could have been longer so we would have known more about her!  This is definitely a great book for kids to read!

Rating: 4 stars

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Before We Were Yours

Before We Were Yours
by Lisa Wingate

Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction

Synopsis:  Memphis, 1939. Twelve-year-old Rill Foss and her four younger siblings live a magical life aboard their family’s Mississippi River shantyboat. But when their father must rush their mother to the hospital one stormy night, Rill is left in charge—until strangers arrive in force. Wrenched from all that is familiar and thrown into a Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage, the Foss children are assured that they will soon be returned to their parents—but they quickly realize that the truth is much darker. At the mercy of the facility’s cruel director, Rill fights to keep her sisters and brother together—in a world of danger and uncertainty.

Aiken, South Carolina, present day. Born into wealth and privilege, Avery Stafford seems to have it all: a successful career as a federal prosecutor, a handsome fiancé, and a lavish wedding on the horizon. But when Avery returns home to help her father weather a health crisis, a chance encounter leaves her with uncomfortable questions—and compels her to take a journey through her family's long-hidden history, on a path that will ultimately lead either to devastation . . . or redemption.

Based on one of America’s most notorious real-life scandals—in which Georgia Tann, director of a Memphis-based adoption organization, kidnapped and sold poor children to wealthy families all over the country—Wingate’s riveting, wrenching, and ultimately uplifting tale reminds us how, even though the paths we take can lead to many places, the heart never forgets where we belong.
from GoodReads

Review:  This book broke my heart so many times but yet I really enjoyed listening to it.  The story is told in alternating perspectives between Rill and Avery.  Rill, a twelve year old girl who grew up with her young parents on the Mississippi River, has such an emotional voice in this story.  Avery is a strong, confident woman who knows her duty to her family.  Rill's story of being torn away from her home and sent to live with her siblings in a horrible orphanage was so difficult to read but yet her love for her siblings shines through.  The fact that this story is based on real events was shocking as it unbearable to think about the treatment of children under Georgia Tann's direction.  My heart broke for all of the children who were victims of this so called adoption agency and the horrors that they endured.  There were many times that I was almost brought to tears thinking about these children.  There is not much that the author explicitly says as to what happened but the reader is left to infer what happens and that might even be worse!  Avery's story is not quite as interesting but she is the person who is trying to discover a connection between her family and a story she hears from a woman at a nursing home, May Crandall.  Avery is persistent in digging through her family's history as she discovers that she may not want what her family wants for her.  I feel that Avery's story was there as a means to end for the reader to figure out how her family is connected to Rill's story.  While my review may make this book sound too depressing or horrific, this book is not that!  This book is eye opening to something that happened in our history.  It's compelling and well written.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Harmony

Harmony
by Carolyn Parkhurst

Genre: Fiction

Synopsis: How far will a mother go to save her family? The Hammond family is living in DC, where everything seems to be going just fine, until it becomes clear that the oldest daughter, Tilly, is developing abnormally--a mix of off-the-charts genius and social incompetence. Once Tilly--whose condition is deemed undiagnosable--is kicked out of the last school in the area, her mother Alexandra is out of ideas. The family turns to Camp Harmony and the wisdom of child behavior guru Scott Bean for a solution. But what they discover in the woods of New Hampshire will push them to the very limit. Told from the alternating perspectives of both Alexandra and her younger daughter Iris (the book's Nick Carraway), this is a unputdownable story about the strength of love, the bonds of family, and how you survive the unthinkable. 
from GoodReads

Review: This book appealed to me because of Tilly and her "undiagnosable" condition. Right from the beginning you can tell that Tilly sees the world differently than other people.  Her language can be quite crude just to give you the head's up.  You see the family's world mainly from Iris's perspective who tells the story of the present day.  She is Tilly's younger sibling who is a more typical child.  You also get the perspective of the mother, Alexandria, but only as to what happened before the family decided to move to the family camp.  There are a few chapters from Tilly's perspective but her chapters don't tell the story of what was currently happening.  Her chapters are more about the future.  Generally I don't care for books that change first person perspectives because the voices generally aren't that different but I didn't care for the change from first person to second person perspective in this book.  The voices were totally different but all of Alexandria's chapters use the pronoun "you" which confused me.  It just didn't work.  As for the plot, I liked the premise of the story but Scott Bean creeped me out quite early on.  There was something off about him as we kept getting hints about him that showed he wasn't all sunshine and rainbows and we knew that something happened in the middle of the summer but we didn't know what.  My mind went a different direction that what actually happened (which actually is a good thing).  The climax was anything but.  I just didn't buy into what happened.  This was just not the right book for me.

Rating: 2 1/2 stars