Thursday, August 14, 2014

Book Review: The Fourteenth Goldfish

The Fourteenth Goldfish
By Jennifer L. Holm
Random House Books for Young Readers, 2014
Reviewed from NetGalley
Audience: Grades 4 to 8
ISBN:  9780375870644
Expected Publication Date:  August 26, 2014

Ellie's life is certainly different now that she is in 5th grade and attending middle school.  Her best friend is only concerned about the volleyball team and Ellie is struggling to fit in without her.  To make matters worse, her grandfather recently discovered a way to make himself decades younger, so now she is attending classes with her 76, going on 14,-year old grandfather, Melvin, in tow.  Melvin is trying to figure out how he can break into his old lab to save this ground-breaking discovery, and trying to get along with his theatre-loving daughter, Ellie's mother, all while inspiring a love of science in Ellie.  With the help of goth-boy Raj, this trio makes some breakthroughs, both scientifically and ethically, that will surprise and delight readers.  A great book that mixes science and heart.

I really hope that I don't have to tell the Caudill committee that this book is excellent.  They love Jennifer Holm, so I hope they pick up on this one all by themselves.  In some ways, The Fourteenth Goldfish reminded me a lot of Frank Einstein.  It uses real scientific facts in fiction as a way to get readers thinking more about the sciences, but it does it in a way that is fun, not too forced.  Melvin regularly referenced other famous scientists like Sauk and Oppenheimer, and made their stories seem so interesting that I bet some readers at least Google them.  Plus, the whole ethical debt about de-aging and the atomic bomb was very interesting.  I love how Holm was able to question the ethics of science in a simple way.

But aside from the science, this is a book about growing pains.  Ellie misses her friend, and she's excited to make a new friend in Raj.  Ellie has great instincts about relationships, which she can relate back to science.  And the adolescent Melvin is pretty funny, and I'm sure a few readers will wish that their own grandfathers could becomes teens for a day just to get the same experience.  

This book is getting quite a bit of well-deserved buzz and I hope that all readers find it lives up to the hype.

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Book Review: Greenglass House

Greenglass House
By Kate Milford
Clarion Books, 2014
Reviewed from Netgalley
Audience: Grades 4 to 8
ISBN:  9780544052703
Publication Date:  August 26, 2014

Milo lives in the Greenglass Inn, an inn for smugglers, and since smuggling tends to be a more fair weather trade, it's usually empty in the winter, but not today.  Five mysterious guests show up just days before Christmas and can't say exactly when they'll leave or why they are there.  Making up the five guests are a professor, a wealthy woman, two spry young women, and a dark stranger.  Milo's parents call in extra help in the form of a cook and baker, and a young girl comes with them.  Milo and the girl Meddy strike up a friendship and begin a role playing game to find out why everyone is here.  In the game they are Negret and Sirin, two characters that are much more than themselves, but still very much the same people.  As items start going missing, and even more guests show up, the mystery grows, until finally, Milo asks everyone to tell a story for entertainment and legends of the smuggler Doc Holystone start to collide with myths of the roamers and many other odd tales until, at last, everyone's motivations are revealed and Milo, or Negret, must find a way to save them all.

I'd seen advertisements for this book here and there, but it wasn't until I read a review on A Fuse #8 Production that I really took notice.  Elizabeth Bird likened it to The Westing Game.  I personally love The Westing Game, and I've heard of several mystery books before that it's like The Westing Game, but all fall short, until now.  Greenglass House is a mystery in the vein of TWG, and so much more.

Milo is a great character.  He's shy and anxious and really needs to be the brave and daring Negret.  He learns so much about himself as Negret, and lets himself explore his familial heritage while he's playing Negret without guilt.  See, Milo is adopted, he's Chinese and his parents are Caucasian, so it's obvious that he's adopted, and while he loves his parents, he can't help but wonder about his birth family.  As Negret, he builds a rich backstory without feeling like he's betraying his parents.  And he gains confidence by playing this role.  

Aside from the main plot of so many guests, so little information, there are rich myths woven within the story.  I am a big sucker for the story within a story and Milford does this masterfully.  It's much like Where the Mountain Meets the Moon in that all of the stories seem random at first, but the reader starts seeing connections and I was getting really excited to see just where they would all connect.  

SPOILER ALERT BELOW!!  Please if you plan on reading this book, skip the next paragraph.

The one thing that bothered me was the ghost.  I caught on pretty quick about the ghost and it made me so angry.  It felt like a really trite plot device.  I don't consider myself the most savvy reader, after all, I was floored by the ending to We Were Liars and after finishing that book, I felt silly for not seeing the ending sooner.  No, I felt like this ghost was too simply drawn and it bothered me.  I wasn't supposed to catch on this quickly!  I was mad for maybe 100 pages, then the story became too good and I let it slide, and in the end, I understood and appreciated why it was done that way, although I still say that it good have been a little more vague.


I received this book from NetGalley, but not as a Kindle download that will stay with me until my Amazon account dies.  Nope, I had to download this on my computer, and those downloads only last 55 days-random I know.  Smart move publisher.  I feel so in love with this book and everything about it that I must own it.  That's how good it is.  I've read it, but I want to read it again, and again, and listen to the audiobook just for fun.  Just like The Westing Game.

For a great mystery with twists, turns, legends, and heart, Greenglass House is complete perfection.

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Book Review: Sisters

By Raina Telgemeier
Scholastic, 2014
Reviewed from NetGalley
Audience: Grades 5 to 8
ISBN:  9780545540605
Publication Date:  August 26, 2014

In this companion book to Smile, the dynamics of Raina's family are tested as the family goes on a week long road trip to Colorado from San Francisco.  Anyone that remembers traveling in the 90's with no air conditioning will feel the narrators pain.  Mostly, it's a story about Raina and her sister, Amara and their contentious relationship.  At first, Raina is excited to have a sister, but the screaming baby that her parents bring home does not exactly fit the bill.  And it doesn't help that Amara turns out to be extremely headstrong with a love for reptiles.  While the two seem like they are vastly different, they are actually quite similar, the curse of all sisters!  The story is told through the main plot of the road trip and flashbacks to the past to fill in some of the story.  Fans of Smile will certainly love Sisters.

As a sister, the younger sister, I could strongly relate to this book.  Plus, Raina is about my age, so there's something rather nostalgic in these pages for me.  I would recommend that 30-somethings read this book for fun because you will inevitably see yourself in the pages.  

Like Smile, Sisters seems to be as much about family life as it is about humor.  I think that is part of the appeal for readers.  It's not just a story, it was someone's life, but since it's presented as fiction, and presented as a graphic novel, it makes all of life's funny little stories that much more interesting.  I think that this type of story works so well as a graphic novel because the author is able to use the illustrations to make everything more over the top and really express how the characters are feeling and acting.  

I pulled this book from NetGalley, so I was reading an unfinished, mostly black and white digital edition.  I can only imagine from the few full color illustrations how amazing this book is going to be in its finished state.  I highly recommend this book for all fans of Smile and Drama, and for any adult that needs a little taste of the past. 

Happy Reading!