Gonzalez, Christina Diaz. Moving Target
August 25th 2015 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline
One minute, Cassandra Arroyo is contemplating having an unauthorized adventure in Rome and complaining that her teacher has it in for her, and the next her father has picked her up from school and is driving like a maniac to escape people who are shooting at them! He tries to explain why-- Cassie is marked, and if she finds the Spear of Destiny and bonds with it, she could be in grave danger from the Hastati, who want to control the spear themselves. Then her father is shot! Cassie gets him to a hospital, but he tells her to run and find Brother Gregorio... and to trust no one. She makes it to the abandoned monastery where Brother Gregorio lives, but also seeks out the help of her best friend, Simone. Gregorio tells her more of her story, and is disappointed that she left one of the journals her father gave her at Simone's. As long as she stays in the monastery and wears a ring she is given, the Hastati will not be able to get her, but if she leaves, she will have no protection. Of course, she and Simone decide that the best thing to do is to try to follow the clues they have and find the spear, so that they can use it as a bargaining tool. Asher, Gregorio's nephew, is assigned to protect the two, so when they sneak out of the monastery and want to hear out to look for the clues, he is there to drive them. They head to the small town of Civita based on written notes from Cassie's father, and find a clue that leads them to the Knights of Malta compound. The Knight and the Hastati have both fought for control of the spear, but when the three are there, they learn dark secrets about Cassie's background and Cassie finds the spear. She overhears a conversation that leads her to believe that her father is dying, so she touches the spear in order to reverse his fate. She lies to Simone and Asher about this, however, until (after several more adventures) they end up at the hospital with her father. According to Cassie's vision, he should be awake, but he's not. Instead, they find him comatose, and Cassie is betrayed by an unexpected source, people who also take the spear from her, setting up the premise for a second book.
Strengths: This has a great cover and starts off with a lot of action. Combine that with great descriptions of the Rome setting, and this will be an easy sell. I also appreciated that Cassie's father had come from Cuba, and she speaks some Spanish, but the book is not about her background. THIS is the sort of character we need for #WeNeedDiverseBooks! The legend of the Spear of Destiny is explained well enough, and the clues, supportive characters and twists all work well.
Weaknesses: This dragged a bit while the girls were at the monastery trying to figure out what to do, and I'm still not entirely sure what the Hastati are all about. There are a lot of questions to be answered in a second book!
What I really think: This reminded me a bit of Salerni's The Eighth Day-- a modern, action/adventure novel with a fresh new mythology behind the magic. Not exactly my thing, but I do have readers for it, so I'll definitely buy this one.
Koll, Hilary and Mills, Steve. Launch a Rocket into Space
June 1st 2015 by QEB Publishing
Copy received from Quarto Publishing
Finally! Science fiction space adventure has seen a resurgence lately, and it's been difficult to find nonfiction to pair it with. The third book in the new You Do The Math series is just the ticket!
Filled with interesting facts (like the ages and heights acceptable for astronauts, a timeline of rocket flights), this book walks you (the leader of a space mission) through the math necessary for select astronauts and planning various aspects of your mission into space. Graphs, charts, timelines and diagrams help the reader calculate things like the weight of something on the Earth and the Moon, the number of calories needed for the astronauts, and the angle of the rocket when it blasts off. When the mission returns, the reader can check their calculations with the answers at the end of the book.
I would have loved to have this sort of book when my children were younger. It's a great resource for keeping children interested in math by connecting the problems with a story. I'm very curious to see what our math teachers could do with these books (also Solve a Crime and Fly a Jet Fighter) in the classroom.
Liss, David. Randoms.
August 25th 2015 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline
Zeke's father, who wrote a science fiction television program, has been gone for several years, and his mother has recently been diagnosed with ALS, so when he is approached to be a delegate for Earth to the United Federation of Planets, he thinks it must be a joke. In order for Earth to get into the Federation, they must send a group of four children to be trained to work alongside children from other universes. In exchange for a year's mission, Zeke is told, his mother may be cured of her disease. Soon, Zeke is meeting Charles from Uganda, Park Mi Sun from South Korea, and Nayana Gehlawat from India, as well as a colorful array of alien beings. All three of his fellow Earthlings have exceptional skills, and Zeke finds out that he is a "random" choice. Hoping to score more points by ignoring him, his team excludes him, but Zeke finds companionship in the other randoms, including the lizard-like Steve and the catlike Tamret who seem to have criminal pasts. After the spaceship the group is using to get to headquarters runs afoul of a Phandric ship and is crippled, Zeke is the only one able to take over the controls and destroys the attacking ship with an excess of fire power. He doesn't get in trouble, since he was in an impossible situation, but the Phandrics still want him to pay. His team gives him even more grief, but he and the other "randoms" are able to level up their skills (a process involving practice as well as injected nanites that change their bodies and minds) and figure out what their real purpose in space is. They also figure out secrets about each others' pasts and eventually realize that their purpose is to save the selection committee from being held hostage. Will all of their knowledge, as well as their criminal skills, be enough to save them?
Strengths: Space adventure books used to be hard to find, but there has been a resurgence in them, which is great. Randoms had a diverse cast, a light romance, lots of cool sci fi gadgetry and a well-developed and clever backstory. The book is rife with post original Star Trek references that will delight hard core fans. (Even includes a passing mention to Douglas Adams' involvement with Dr. Who.)
Weaknesses: Very long (almost 500 pages), a bit slow to start, and has rather detailed discussions of Star Trek, Star Wars, and a few other science fiction movies and story lines. There are very few students now who are interested in Star Trek, but I do have a couple of James Blish books that I can't weed. I was bothered that Zeke wasn't kept updated on his mother's condition, and the resolution of her problems seemed tacked on.
What I really think: Think I'll buy this for the occasional super hard core sci fi fan, but every time the books mentioned Randoms, I thought of the British candy, and now I really want gummy bears!