02. April 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Eric, Fantasy, Fiction

The Unwanteds: Island of Silence by Lisa McMann, 406 pages, read by Eric, on 03/21/2015

The second book in the Unwanteds series deals with the aftermath of conflict between Quill and Artime, as life without the magical barrier between them brings twins Alex and Aaron Stone ever closer to a confrontation which will threaten the existence of Artime, and magic itself.

This is a darker novel than the original, with suitably-grave consequences.  Protagonists are put to the test, with a bleak, cliffhanger of an ending. Exploration of a neighboring island opens the world nicely, promising further trials and adventures ahead. I may not have enjoyed it as much as The Unwanteds, but as a setup for things to come, it is effective.

01. April 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Mystery

Beth's Story, 1914 by Adele Whitby, 148 pages, read by Angie, on 03/31/2015

Beth can’t wait for her 12th birthday. On that day she will finally get the famed “Elizabeth” necklace that has been passed down to every Elizabeth in her family for generations. She is also excited because her French cousins, the Troufants, are coming for her party. Her excitement changes when they arrive however. Her cousin Gabby is a snot with very little time for Beth. Beth has also had to deal with her lady’s maid leaving unexpectedly. She promoted Shannon, one of the housemaids, even though there were other maids with more experience. Then Gabby’s necklace goes missing and Shannon is accused of stealing it. Beth is determined to find out what really happened before Shannon is dismissed.

So little girls and fans of Downtown Abbey might enjoy this book, but it was a bit too simple for me and it seemed very historically inaccurate. First the mystery of the stolen necklace. I had it figured out immediately and actually couldn’t believe it took Beth as long as it did to figure out. Then there is a mystery that keeps being alluded too. Great-grandma Cicely keeps confusing the twins who started the family (Elizabeth and Katherine). It seems obvious that the two probably switched places before Elizabeth married and Katherine went to America. As for the historical inaccuracies, they made me cringe. First you have the butler basically ordering Beth around. Even I know that wouldn’t not have been done in 1914. She is the heir to the house and will one day be her boss so there is no way he would have gotten away with treating her the way he does in the book. The other things are quibbles like Shannon dressing up her uniform and the other maids sabotaging her. Plus you have the behavior of Gabby’s maid Helena, who was just horrible. I knew we were in for an interesting ride when she started giving orders to the housekeeper in front of the family. Stuff like that was just not done. I made it hard to take the book seriously and to continue reading. I think Whitby should have done a bit more research before she started writing this book. I am positive there are lots of books out there that talk about how servants behaved at the beginning of the 20th century.

31. March 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction

The Watcher by Joan Hiatt Harlow, 304 pages, read by Angie, on 03/29/2015

Wendy has been kidnapped from America by her mother Adrie and taken to Nazi Germany in 1942. Wendy has to quickly become acclimated to life in Germany and with Adrie. Adrie is not only German but a Nazi spy as well. She is devoted to the Fuhrer and firmly believes the Nazi propaganda. Wendy is not so sure and her experiences don’t bring her any closer to Adrie’s beliefs. Wendy rescues a German Shepherd puppy from being killed for not being a mean enough police dog. She also volunteers at a Lebansborn house where children are taken to become the future of the Aryan state. At the Lebansborn, Wendy meets Johanna who is being reeducated for not giving up her religious beliefs. Wendy also becomes friends with a blind boy named Barrett whose grandfather Opa knew Wendy’s father. When Wendy decides she has to leave Germany, Opa is the one to get her out.

This was a different take than most WWII historical fiction books for kids in that it shows the German side of the war. Wendy has a tough time acclimating because she is not used to the restrictions on thought and speech that the Nazis required of the people. Part of me wishes Wendy had been Germany and come to the realization that she couldn’t live with what the Nazis were doing. I think that would have been even more powerful. As it was this was a really good book about life inside Nazi Germany.

31. March 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Multicultural Fiction

Saving Kabul Corner by N.H. Senzai, 288 pages, read by Angie, on 03/29/2015

This is a companion novel to Shooting Kabul, but you don’t have to read that book to enjoy this one. Ariana’s family owns Kabul Corner, the Afghanistan grocery store in Wong Plaza. They are crushed when a rival store opens across the plaza. Not only is Pamir Market a new store, but it is run by a rival family from Afghanistan. When both stores are vandalized, Ariana and her friends realize neither of the families did it. So Ariana, her cousin Laila, friend Miriam and frenemy Wali investigate and uncover who is really behind the sabotage.

I really enjoy books about different cultures and I haven’t read much about Afghanistan. I liked the mix of people who had immigrated years before, people born in America and recent immigrants. It gives the reader a nice mix to the story’s of the characters. I also liked the fact that the families were a nice multi-generational mix. I thought the mystery was a bit far-fetched but maybe that was just the fact that the kids solved it without adult help. It did make me want to read the first book which is about Miriam however.

31. March 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fairy Tales and Folklore, Fiction

Of Sorcery and Snow by Shelby Bach, 336 pages, read by Angie, on 03/30/2015

Rory, Chase and Lena are students at Ever After School and known as the triumvirate. They are training to become characters in fairy tales. When a thousand kids disappear from Portland they know another tale has begun. The Pied Piper has stolen the children for the Snow Queen who has escaped her prison in the Glass Mountain. The triumvirate must travel to the arctic circle and free the kids without being taken by the Snow Queen. Along the way they meet old enemies and new friends. They must keep their wits about them and use what skills they have learned at Ever After School in order to survive.

I really enjoy fractured fairy tales and even though I started with book 3 of this series I can tell it is a fun one. It seems like there are several series with schools for fairy tale characters and it makes for a fun premise. We don’t get to spend a lot of time in the school, but I enjoyed the fact that Rumpelstiltskin was the librarian and Rapunzel was kind of the crazy seer. Rory, Chase and Lena are fun characters and their quest is full of adventure, danger and heroics. I might just have to go back and read the earlier books and of course the final book when it comes out.

31. March 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction

Cute as a Button by Chloe Taylor, Nancy Zhang (Illustrations), 176 pages, read by Angie, on 03/30/2015

Zoey is running out of her prize money and needs to think of a way to make more money so she can buy more fabric. When her Aunt Lulu drops off Draper the dog she has a brainstorm. She makes an adogable doggie outfit for Draper and decides to start a business selling it. Her brother and dad help her set up a funding project online and things go great. Zoey is also dealing with the fact that her dad has started dating and one of her friends is feeling left out. When Draper dies things seem awfully sad, but Lulu gets a new dog Buttons who everyone loves just like Draper.

This was a cute if not stellar book. Zoey goes through a lot of things that other kids her age have to deal with. Of course most middle schoolers don’t start their own businesses or win national contests. I liked the dog part of the story a lot, but the rest of it seemed to get a bit much for me; or maybe just not enough.

29. March 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fantasy, Fiction · Tags:

Apollo and the Battle of the Birds by Joan Holub , 128 pages, read by Angie, on 03/28/2015

This is the first book of this series I have read. It is a good beginning chapter book for the kids who want to read Rick Riordan but aren’t quite ready. It is a short adventure story with lots of action and interesting characters. In this book, the Olympians are headed off to fight for the aegis (a shield). The meet Ares along the way and invite him to join their group. Nice introduction to Greek mythology and a fun story.

29. March 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction

Win or Lose by Alex Morgan, 160 pages, read by Angie, on 03/28/2015

The Kicks are the middle school girls’s soccer team and they are headed for the championship. Devin is the seventh grade co-captain and new in town. Things get heated on the team when Devin is misquoted in the local paper. Suddenly it is is seventh graders against eighth graders and the team is not working together just when they really need to. I’m not a huge fan of sports stars writing books, mainly because the majority of them do not write well and it seems like they get published just because of their name. This book wasn’t terrible but it wasn’t anything spectacular either. There are some good lessons about friendship and teamwork in the book. There aren’t a lot of girls sports book so this does fill a need.

29. March 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Mystery

Absolutely Truly by Heather Vogel Frederick, 368 pages, read by Angie, on 03/28/2015

Truly Lovejoy comes from a long line of Lovejoys. When her father is injured in Afghanistan and loses his arm, the family picks up and moves to his hometown in New Hampshire. JT can’t be a pilot with only one arm and his injury has turned him into Silent Man. Truly misses her joking father and feels like she is invisible in her family of seven. It doesn’t help that her math grades are bad and she has to be tutored by her dad before he will let her join the swim team.

JT and his sister True have taken over the family bookstore, Lovejoy’s Books, while their parents join the Peace Corp. Truly isn’t thrilled with leaving Texas or her best friend. In Pumpkin Falls, she tries to go into stealth mode, but being 6-feet tall and new in a small town she definitely stands out. She is soon friends with Lucas and Cha Cha and solving a 20-year-old mystery. While helping out in the shop she finds an unmailed letter in a first edition of Charlotte’s Web. The clues in the letter lead the friends allover Pumpkin Falls and introduces them to a lot of interesting characters around town.

I really enjoy small town books with quirky characters and Pumpkin Falls seems to have its share. There is the busybody postmistress, the bag lady who seems to carry kittens in every pocked and the helicopter mom who can’t seem to let Lucas grow up. Pumpkin Falls also has a winter festival and a required cotillion for the middle schoolers. Then there is the frozen waterfalls and the fact that the town was founded by a Lovejoy. It all adds up to an interesting story. I liked the fish-out-of-water aspect of Truly’s tale and the fact that her dad is a wounded warrior. I thought the mystery aspect wasn’t that interesting and didn’t really add much to the story; however, the rest of it was really entertaining and a fun read.

29. March 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fantasy, Fiction

Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede, 212 pages, read by Angie, on 03/27/2015

Princess Cimorene doesn’t want to be a proper princess, she wants to learn to fight with a sword and learn magic and learn to cook and everything else her parents forbid her to do. When they set her up to be married she decides to run away. She heads straight to the dragon caves and volunteers to be a dragon’s princess. Luckily she is accepted by Kazul and they get along wonderfully well. Cimorene starts organizing Kazul’s caves and learns a lot about living with dragons. She learns that not all dragons like princesses or have one and that not all princesses are happy being with dragons. She also has to devise ways to deal with the pesky knights who keep showing up to rescue her. Then she gets involved in dragon politics and has to save the dragons from terrible wizards.

I really enjoyed this book and look forward to reading the rest of the series. It was a great audiobook to listen to. I like my heroines to be a bit on the unusual side and Cimorene definitely fits the bill. She is independent and smart and a role-breaker. I liked the different takes on the role of dragons and princesses and knights. This is a bit older than a lot of the fantasy books popular right now but fits right in with Jessica Day George’s dragon series and others.

29. March 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction

Fly Away by Patricia MacLachlan, 108 pages, read by Angie, on 03/28/2015

Lucy and her family are heading to Aunt Frankie’s farm. It is flood time when the river rises and they are going to help her aunt. Lucy is the odd duck in her musical family. She is the only one who can’t sing. Even her little brother Teddy who doesn’t talk can hum in perfect tune. Lucy wants to be a poet. She likes writing poetry, but doesn’t know if she is good enough and hides her poems from her family. She also hides the fact that Teddy sings to her every night. He doesn’t talk or sing to anyone but her. On Frankie’s farm Teddy starts speaking more and more starting when he says cow. As the river rises the family learns each other’s secrets and works together.

I wasn’t expecting to like this book as much as I did. It is a perfect beginning chapter book: short, simple language and a powerful story. I really enjoyed Lucy and her family, especially her relationship with Teddy. I like stories with close families and good relationships. My one quibble might be that the kids are all a bit too perfect. Teddy is two but says big words and sings in perfect tune. Middle sister Gracie draws really well. And of course Lucy writes wonderful poetry. I think it would have been just as powerful a story if the kids weren’t quite as special.

29. March 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction

The Map Trap by Andrew Clements, 144 pages, read by Angie, on 03/28/2015

Alton has loved maps since he was a baby. He draws maps, collects maps, wears maps and does geocaching. One day he takes his folder of secret maps to school to impress Quint. Big mistake. The folder of maps disappears and Alton starts getting ransom notes. He has to figure out who has his maps before they get all over school. His secret maps are like regular maps; they map things like Ms. Wheeling’s mind and the heights of the sixth grade and the smells of the school. If they get out people’s feelings could get hurt. This is a nice, short book for those readers who like a little gentle mystery. I really appreciated the creativity of Alton’s maps, but I got a bit irritated by Quint’s slang (it was a bit much). Good teacher interactions as well.

27. March 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction · Tags:

The Chicken Squad: The First Misadventure by Doreen Cronin, Kevin Cornell (Illustrations), 112 pages, read by Angie, on 03/26/2015

This is a really cute beginning chapter book. It is the tale of a dog who is in charge of keeping the chickens in his yard safe. Of course, he has to keep them safe from themselves. The four chicks take up with a squirrel who convinces them there is a UFO in the yard out to kidnap the chicks. Turns out it is a barbeque and the dog has to save everything. Very cute and appropriate for beginning chapter book readers. A good recommendation for fans of Mercy Watson.

27. March 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction · Tags:

More of Monkey & Robot by Peter Catalanotto, 64 pages, read by Angie, on 03/26/2015

The second book in the Monkey and Robot series. This is a good transition book for young readers who are ready to move on from easy readers but not quite ready for chapter books. The four chapters in the book are all independent stories that can be read together or separate. Funny stories that are sure to tickle kids.

26. March 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction

The Missing Pieces of Me by Jean Van Leeuwen, 226 pages, read by Angie, on 03/25/2015

Weezie’s momma says she is a bad kid. Nothing she does ever seems to come out right whether it is making her momma tea or cooking dinner or picking flowers. Momma dotes on Ruth Ann and Jackson, but has nothing good to say to Weezie. Momma also doesn’t talk about Weezie’s daddy. She won’t even say his name or tell Weezie anything about him other than that he was a bad guy. Weezie wonders if finding her daddy would make any difference in her life. She has very little to go on: just a photo with a first name. She enlists the help of her friends Calvin and Louella to help her figure it out.

Weezie’s story seems to be one of heartbreak and loss, but on closer inspection it is one of hope and determination. Weezie is beaten down at every turn, by her momma and by some of her classmates. She doesn’t let that drag her down though. She is positive in spite of everything. She is an artist with true talent and is recognized by her teacher if not by her momma. She is a good friend to Luella and Calvin even when her momma tries to stop her from being their friend. She is a good big sister to Ruth Ann and Jackson even though her momma never recognizes her efforts. And she is a good daughter despite her momma’s indifference. I appreciate the fact that while the ending is hopefully it is not necessarily a happy ending. It is realistic in that momma has not made a big change in her attitude and Weezie’s homelife is still very much the same as it was. Sure she knows who her daddy is, but that has not really changed her circumstances. The Missing Pieces of Me is a wonderful story that I highly recommend.

26. March 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction

Lulu's Mysterious Mission by Judith Viorst, Kevin Cornell (Illustrator), 185 pages, read by Angie, on 03/25/2015

Lulu’s parents are going on vacation without Lulu. She is NOT happy about it and is even more unhappy when she learns they are leaving her with a babysitter. She tries everything she can think of to get rid of Sonia Sofia Solinsky, including introducing cats to the highly allergic babysitter, sneaking out the window and blockading herself in her room. It doesn’t matter what she does, Solinsky is always one step ahead of her. After the blockade is destroyed Solinsky lets it slip that she is actually a spy. Of course, Lulu wants to be a spy as well and begs Solinsky to train her. Solinsky demands obedience and once Lulu is on board she has a much better time with her babysitter. The only problem is that her parents missed her so much they are determined to never leave her again. That will not do! Lulu then has to convince them to keep taking vacations so she can have Sonia Sofia Solinsky keep training her. I really enjoyed Lulu’s third outing. This series is very tongue-in-cheek funny. I really enjoy the interjections of the author, which didn’t seem quite as plentiful as they were in other books. However, I liked this story and how Solinsky tames Lulu. I think Lulu fans will enjoy this one as much as the others.

21. March 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Award Winner, Children's Books, Fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Mariah, Mystery, Thriller/Suspense

Doll Bones by Holly Black, 244 pages, read by Mariah, on 03/19/2015

Three friends, Zack, Alice, and Poppy, play an imaginary game that seems to have all the best elements of fantasy. Making their own rules and using action figures, they write adventures that span weeks, months, and years. However, when Zack’s fathers decides Zack is too old for games with girls and dolls, everything changes. Zack is so angry and hurt that he handles the matter by refusing to deal with it. He tells Alice and Poppy that he no longer wishes to play their pretend epics and shuts himself off. The girls are hurt and bewildered. Then, late one night, Poppy and Alice show up at Zack’s window. Poppy has been suffering from evil dreams in which one of the dolls visits her. The doll, known as the Queen, claims she was made from the bones of a murdered child, and she will not leave them in peace until they bury her body in the proper place. Not knowing whether they really believe, the children set off on a dangerous adventure.

Children’s horror is not an overly populated genre, but Holly Black enters it with style and skill. The tale picks up quickly and keeps pace throughout the book. Revelations regarding the nature of the children’s changing relationships are woven seamlessly throughout the drama of being terrorized by a ghost. Dealing with the changes of life and maturity can be almost as frightening as supernatural events. In the end, the book was never too scary, too ridiculous, or too boring. I would recommend it to an older child, probably around middle school, who enjoys horror.

19. March 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Award Winner, Children's Books, Dystopia, Fiction, Science Fiction · Tags:

The Giver by Lois Lowry, 179 pages, read by Angie, on 03/18/2015

It seems that utopian societies always have a dark side. The community in The Giver is no different; the perfect society is balanced by an absence of so many things – colors, feelings, choice. Jonas discovers this absence when he becomes the new Receiver of Memories. In this capacity he learns what really happens in his community and he finds that he can’t live with it. He has to make changes to his circumstances.

This is a really interesting book and a great book for discussions. There is the sameness of the community, the regimented lives of the citizens, the lack of choice in everything they do and the release of people from the community. I thought Jonas’s story was one many could relate to; he really grew up and into himself in the book. He learned to think and act for himself and as an adult.

I did find that when I finished the book I wanted to know more though. I wanted to know how they created the sameness — do they genetically engineer all the people to be color blind? The colors are still there obviously but the people just don’t see them. How did they get rid of the weather, the sun, the hills, the animals? I assume they have climate control, but they aren’t under a dome or anything so how does it work? How did the Receiver of Memories gather all the memories in the first place? They seem to be from many different people and places and times and at least one seemed to come from an animal (the elephant). How are they gathered and stored and tied to the community? Jonas looses them so they are obviously tied to a place. Lots of unanswered questions!

The ending is also very ambiguous and left a lot of questions. Was it real? Did he live or die? How will the community deal with the memories? Will the Giver be able to help them? Will the community change? And should the community change? Even with all the sameness and lack of choice was the community bad? Is release bad?

19. March 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction

The Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher by Jessica Lawson, 224 pages, read by Angie, on 03/15/2015

Becky Thatcher has just moved to St. Petersburg, MO. The family is grieving the death of her brother Jon. Mrs. Thatcher has withdrawn almost completely from her family and Judge Thatcher has thrown himself into work. Becky is determined to honor her promise to Jon and have as many adventures as possible. She becomes friends with Amy Lawrence and Sid Sawyer almost immediately. She also makes an enemy of Tom Sawyer when he tattles on her and gets her in trouble. Becky takes part in a bet the boys have about who can steal something from the Widow Douglas who everyone believes is a witch. Trouble starts when Widow Douglas is accused of grave robbing. Becky and Amy know it was actually the notorious Pritchard Brothers who did the grave robbing and Becky decides she has to find a way to clear Widow Douglas’s name.

This was an interesting alternative preview to Mark Twain’s books. Lawson takes a lot of aspects of the the Mark Twain and Huckleberry Finn stories and gives them a backstory. Sam Clemens himself is staying at the Widow Douglas’ house while his steamboat is being repaired. He collects the stories around him for his future books. I liked the fact that a lot of the adventures Tom Sawyer ends up having in Twain’s books are imagined as the adventures of Becky Thatcher. In this book, Tom Sawyer is a tattle tale and brown noser who has no friends whereas Becky is the adventurer who brings down the Pritchard Brothers. It was a nice twist.

18. March 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fantasy, Fiction, Historical Fiction

The Zoo at the Edge of the World by Eric Kahn Gale, 240 pages, read by Angie, on 03/14/2015

Marlin is a stutterer and has a lot of problems communicating with people. He has no problems talking to the animals in his father’s zoo however. Marlin’s dad is the famous adventurer Ronan Rackham and he created The Zoo at the Edge of the World in the Amazon jungle. The Zoo attracts wealthy tourists from Europe who come to see the amazing jungle animals and wild circus. Ronan’s latest capture is a jaguar the locals believe is a man-eater. Marlin is drawn to the jaguar and one evening while he is talking to it the jaguar talks back. Suddenly, Marlin can hear all the animals talking and they can understand him as well. This comes in handy when he has to save the zoo from his tyrannical, bullying brother, his crazy father and the scheming duke who is trying to encroach on the jungle.

I was intrigued by the premise of a zoo in the jungle during Victorian times. It is an interesting and plausible idea as the world was expanding for people during that time. Adventurers were discovering parts of the world never before seen by Europeans. I also liked the idea of a Marlin learning to deal with his communication problems and the fact that he is bullied by his brother. Talking animals I can do without, mainly because I thought it took away from the reality of the rest of the story.