19. May 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Historical Fiction

Seeing Red by Kathryn Erskine, read by Angie, on 05/19/2014

Red Porter comes from a long line of Porters. He is proud of his family heritage and his place in the world and his community. Then his daddy dies and suddenly mom is talking about moving them from Virginia to Ohio. Red doesn’t want to leave his home or the shop and store his daddy owned. He tries everything he can think of to stop his mom from selling even if that includes enlisting the help of Darryl Dunlop. The Dunlops have been the Porter’s neighbors for a hundred years and there has always been bad blood between. The Dunlops and Porters couldn’t be more different. The Porters are pillars of the community whereas the Dunlops beat their kids and cause trouble. 

Red is also having trouble reconciling the racism he sees in his community with his own beliefs. Red is learning that just because it is the 1970s that doesn’t mean racism is gone. There are still people who want to put Blacks in their place and keep them separated from the whites. Red is friends with Ms. Georgia, an old Black lady who lives up the road from his family. Her grandpa was murdered 100 years ago on land he was buying from the Porters. Red decides to try and solve the mystery of where the Freedom Church was and what really happened the night George Freeman was murdered. This leads him to some hard truths about his family and the Dunlops. 

There is a lot going on in this book. It is a book that would spark a lot of discussions on civil rights, women rights and racism. It is also a good discussion book on grief and how different people deal with a loved ones death. Red wants to hold onto everything related to his father, but his mother can’t stand being around everything without his father. I liked the progression of the characters. Red grows up a lot during the course of the book. He learns to stand up for what he believes in and not to give in to the bigots and racists. His mother also changes. She is devastated with grief at the beginning, barely able to function, but by the end she is strong and more than what she was.

15. May 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Award Winner, Children's Books, Fiction, Mystery · Tags:

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin, read by Angie, on 05/15/2014

Sometimes I read a book and wonder what happened when I was a child that I missed reading it then. Maybe I was just too preoccupied by The Babysitters Club or Sweet Valley High and didn’t pay attention to books that might be considered quality. Maybe I only read things I could get through Scholastic Book Club. Whatever the case, I am glad I have the opportunity to read some of these as an adult and to introduce them to kids. 

The Westing Game is one of those books I never read as a kid but know I would have loved. It did when the Newbery when I was a pre-reader, but I am sure it was on every library shelf throughout my childhood. It is a wonderfully engaging mystery that reminded me a lot of the movie Clue (not an exact match I admit, but some elements were there). I liked that it is not a dumbed down mystery for kids, but one that made me think even as an adult. In the introduction, it states that Rankin never “wrote-down” to children, but instead wrote to the adult in children. I think this perfectly describes this book.

The story begins with the Sunset Towers and its new occupants. They are all carefully chosen, except for the mistake, and all are connected even though they do not realize it. Sunset Towers is in the shadow of the Westing House whose mysterious owner, Sam Westing, disappeared 20 years ago. Then Sam Westing is found dead in the house and the occupants of the Sunset Towers are notified that they are heirs to the Westing Fortune. The sixteen heirs are paired up and given clues to solve the mystery of who murdered Sam Westing. They winner of the Westing Game will receive the Westing fortune. Along the way we learn so much about each of the characters and their connections to each other and Sam Westing. In the end there is only one winner of the Westing Game, but everyone who plays benefits in some manner. 

07. May 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Kristy

The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child by Francisco Jiménez, read by Kristy, on 04/30/2014

These independent but intertwined stories follow a migrant family through their circuit, from picking cotton and strawberries to topping carrots – and back again – over a number of years. As it moves from one labor camp to the next, the little family of four grows into ten. Impermanence and poverty define their lives. But with faith, hope, and back-breaking work, the family endures.

06. May 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Graphic Novel

Explorer: The Lost Islands by Kazu Kibuishi, read by Angie, on 05/05/2014

This is a collection of seven short graphic stories. They all center around tales on islands. There is Rabbit Island where the rabbits become to reliant on a robot. The Mask Dance is a scary story about a girl who sails to another island and dances all night with ghostly masked figures. Carapace tells the story of a young man lost on an island and his ghostly companion. Desert Island Playlist is an unusual story about a young girl who washes up on a beach and meets a baby and an old woman. Loah is a tale of fish who escape their exploding island. Radio Adrift is about a young mage-in-training who enlists the help of a DJ to hatch her pixie. The Fisherman tells the story of a group of fisherman who discover a mysterious island. I enjoyed the variety of these stories and the wonderful illustrations.

06. May 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Lisa, Mystery

Twelve Minutes to Midnight by Christopher Edge, read by Lisa, on 04/30/2014

Penelope Tredwell is the feisty thirteen-year-old orphan heiress of the bestselling magazine. The Penny Dreadful. Her masterly tales of the macabre are gripping Victorian Britain. even if no one knows shes the real author. One day a letter she receives from the governor of the notorious Bedlam madhouse plunges her into an adventure more terrifying than anything she ever imagined – A thriller with a fast-paced cinematic style. Twelve Minutes to Midnight is an electrifying story from an exciting new author.

06. May 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Fiction, Lisa, Mystery

The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing by Sheila Turnage, read by Lisa, on 04/20/2014

The eagerly anticipated followup to the Newbery honor winner and New York Times bestseller, Three Times Lucky

Small towns have rules. One is, you got to stay who you are — no matter how many murders you solve.

When Miss Lana makes an Accidental Bid at the Tupelo auction and winds up the mortified owner of an old inn, she doesn’t realize there’s a ghost in the fine print. Naturally, Desperado Detective Agency (aka Mo and Dale) opens a paranormal division to solve the mystery of the ghost’s identity. They’ve got to figure out who the ghost is so they can interview it for their history assignment (extra credit). But Mo and Dale start to realize that the Inn isn’t the only haunted place in Tupelo Landing. People can also be haunted by their own past. As Mo and Dale handily track down the truth about the ghost (with some help from the new kid in town), they discover the truth about a great many other people, too.

A laugh out loud, ghostly, Southern mystery that can be enjoyed by readers visiting Tupelo Landing for the first time, as well as those who are old friends of Mo and Dale.

06. May 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Fantasy, Fiction, Lisa

Fortunately, The Milk by Neil Gaiman, Skottie Young (Illustrator), read by Lisa, on 04/15/2014

“I bought the milk,” said my father. “I walked out of the corner shop, and heard a noise like this: T h u m m t h u m m. I looked up and saw a huge silver disc hovering in the air above Marshall Road.”

“Hullo,” I said to myself. “That’s not something you see every day. And then something odd happened.”

Find out just how odd things get in this hilarious story of time travel and breakfast cereal, expertly told by Newbery Medalist and bestselling author Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Skottie Young.

06. May 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Fiction, Graphic Novel, Historical Fiction, Lisa

Hidden: A Child's Story of the Holocaust by Loïc Dauvillier, Marc Lizano (Illustrations), Greg Salsedo (Ink), Alexis Siegel (Translator), read by Lisa, on 04/07/2014

In this gentle, poetic young graphic novel, Dounia, a grandmother, tells her granddaughter the story even her son has never heard: how, as a young Jewish girl in Paris, she was hidden away from the Nazis by a series of neighbors and friends who risked their lives to keep her alive when her parents had been taken to concentration camps.

Hidden ends on a tender note, with Dounia and her mother rediscovering each other as World War II ends . . . and a young girl in present-day France becoming closer to her grandmother, who can finally, after all those years, tell her story. With words by Loïc Dauvillier and art by Marc Lizano and Greg Salsedo, this picture book-style comic for young readers is a touching read.

06. May 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Cats, Children's Books, Fiction, Leslie · Tags:

The Five Lives of our Cat Zook by Joanne Rocklin, read by Leslie, on 04/12/2014

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As ten-year-old Oona and her younger brother conspire to break their sick cat Zook out of the veterinary clinic, Oona tells the story of Zook’s previous lives.

I love how Oona makes up stories to entertain her brother in the ways of the world, with themselves as the central characters.  She does this because her father did it with her and he has passed away, it’s a way to keep her father alive for both her brother and herself.  While she gets herself into trouble on occasion and says things occasionally she knows is hurtful, she comes through at the end, making things right and learning life lessons.  Girls will probably be drawn more to this book than the boys will, but I think it would suit any reader.

06. May 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Leslie · Tags:

Privateer's Apprentice by Susan Verrico, read by Leslie, on 04/08/2014

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From Charles Towne, Carolina Territory, in 1712, thirteen-year-old Jameson Cooper, orphaned and indigent, is abducted by privateers working for Queen Anne but proves himself worthy to be called a royal sailor through his writing and drawing skills, as well as his hard work and courage.

I find that this will be a book that appeals to boys, not really sure about the girls, however, as it really has no female characters to speak of.  I think that if the reader pays attention, they may get quite a life lesson from this book, to take pride in whatever work you find yourself doing.  Full of adventure, a little suspense, I did enjoy the story.

05. May 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Science Fiction, Steam-punk

The Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson, read by Angie, on 05/04/2014

Piper is a scrapper in a scrap town on the fringes of society. Scrappers pick through the bits that come into their world from the meteor showers. These meteor showers deposit things from other worlds. Piper works to fix the things up and make them work again. One day she chases a friend into the dangerous meteor shower and discovers a destroyed caravan with a girl inside. She brings the injured girl back home with her. Soon Piper and Anna are running for their lives as they are chased by a mysterious man who claims to be Anna’s father. Anna has no memories. The only thing she has a is a dragonfly tattoo which marks her has protected by the king of the Dragonfly territory. Anna and Piper make their escape onto the 401, a train headed to the Dragonfly capital. Along the way they become friends with the 401′s crew: Jeyne, Trimble and Gee. There is danger, adventure and new insights into who exactly Anna is. 

This was a fun steampunk story for middle grades. I really enjoyed learning about Piper and Anna’s backgrounds and abilities. I think kids will really enjoy the adventure of this story; however, it is a bit on the long side which might turn off some readers. I think my complaint is that it started out one way and ended up another. I was fascinated by the meteor showers and the debris from other worlds at the beginning of this book. However, that pretty much got dropped once they boarded the train. I think I would have liked for the two parts to tie together a little bit more. I still really enjoyed reading it though and the ending does leave the story open for further adventures.

30. April 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction

The Surprise Attack of Jabba the Puppett by Tom Angleberger, read by Angie, on 04/28/2014

This is the fourth book in the Origami Yoda series. I will admit that I only read the first one before this one so I know I have missed some things in the other books. That being said I am not sure I would have liked this book any better if I had read the entire series. The book is all about the kids taking on the school. It seems the school has fallen below passing on the state exams and in order to get the scores up they have decided to cancel all electives and extra curriculars and have “fun time” classes. These classes are dreadfully boring and the kids all hate them. The kids band together to find a way to get rid of fun time. Of course Origami Yoda leads the charge and all the other kids adopt an origami Star Wars character as well. There wasn’t anything horribly wrong with the story about fighting fun time. The kids actually come up with some pretty ingenious ways to defeat it. However, I think the whole origami Star Wars thing is a bit strange. For most of the kids they are playing a role, but it seems Dwight (Origami Yoda) truly believes he is his character. Seems like the kid could use some professional help. I also don’t buy that many kids being into Star Wars. Sorry…as much as I love the movies I don’t think it is a love that crosses all barriers and warms all hearts. This is just a really silly story that I am sure fans of the series will enjoy but most won’t. Plus there is the fact that it ends on a cliff-hanger! Seriously, what is up with that?

30. April 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fantasy, Fiction, Historical Fiction

The Mouse with the Question Mark Tail by Richard Peck, read by Angie, on 04/28/2014

This is a story about a little mouse with no name who lives under the Mews at Buckingham Palace. Everyone is getting ready for Queen Victoria’s Jubilee including the mice. Of course our little mouse gets into a bit of trouble and finds his way out of the Mews and into a bunch of adventures. By the end he has discovered who he is and where he belongs in mouse society. I really don’t enjoy animal books that much and I found this one incredibly slow and predictable. There just wasn’t anything exciting or unique about the story. While I did enjoy the set up of the different mice societies throughout Buckingham Palace I thought the rest was a bit dull and predictable.

30. April 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Mystery

Hold Fast by Blue Balliett, read by Angie, on 04/28/2014

Dash, Summer, Early and Jubilation Pearl are a family of four. They may not have much, but they have each other. Until the night Dash disappears, then the family of four becomes a family of three and not quite so stable. The police don’t seem to be worried about Dash and think he is just another dead-beat dad. Summer, Early and Jubie know that is not the case. They wonder if his disappearance could be related to the mysterious book job he was doing on the side. No one at the Chicago Public Library (where Dash worked as a page) seems to know anything or want to help. Then the Pearl family is forced to leave their home and seek refuge in a shelter after someone breaks in and threatens the family and steals all their valuables. It is up to Early to try and figure out what happened to her dad and to find a way to save her family. 

I thought this book had some strong points but the story got a bit muddy. I really liked the idea of a book exploring what it is like to live in a shelter; however, everyone in the shelter seemed more like caricatures instead of real people. There is also a heavy reliance on the poems of Langston Hughes in telling the story. I don’t have anything against poetry or Langston Hughes, but I think this will turn some young readers off of this story. This is a story for people who like words and books and the meaning of words and how they come together. It isn’t a story for someone who wants to read a thrilling mystery about a disappearing dad. I think the combo of the shelter story and the missing dad mystery are what muddied things up. One or the other would have made a stronger story. 

28. April 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Children's Books, Fiction, Graphic Novel, Humor, Science Fiction, Tammy, Teen Books · Tags: , ,

Darth Vader and Son by Jeffrey Brown, read by Tammy, on 04/18/2014

darth vader and sonJeffrey Brown imagines what it might have been like for Darth Vader if he had taken an active role in raising Luke. In this sweet snapshots of Luke’s childhood, Vader is a dad like any other dad, except all of his staff are afraid of him. Luke appears oblivious to all the adult goings on. This was a fun and humorous book. Kid-friendly humor and illustrations. It could be book for a child, teen or adult, but adults and teens that are ardent fans of Star Wars will get references to the movies and quotes straight from the movies rewritten to fit a parenting scenario.

28. April 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Fiction, Graphic Novel, Science Fiction, Tammy · Tags: , ,

Star Wars: Jedi Academy by Jeffrey Brown, read by Tammy, on 04/20/2014

star wars jedi academyAuthor and illustrator Jeff Brown brings us the story of Roan and his first year at the Jedi Academy as a late-starter. He brings both the middle school experience and Jedi training to life. Told through drawings, comics, letters and diary entries we see Roan progress through his being the new kid at school to being proud to be a Jedi. Fun for the whole family and kid-friendly. Though some words throughout will be challenging for younger readers and will require a parent’s assistance. As an adult Star Wars fan I enjoyed the story as well.

28. April 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction

The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine, read by Angie, on 04/26/2014

In 1957, the Little Rock Nine integrated the Little Rock high schools. In 1958, all the high schools in Little Rock were closed to prevent further integration. Many of the white kids were sent off to attend schools elsewhere, but the black kids had no where to go and were forced to miss a year of school. Marlee is attending middle school so she is not affected by the closures, but her sister Judy is forced to go live with their grandmother to attend school. Marlee is now alone and silent; Marlee doesn’t speak. It isn’t that she can’t, but she is so shy she doesn’t speak hardly at all. Then she meets a new girl in school. Liz chooses Marlee to be her friend and slowly brings her out of her shell. But Liz disappears one day and it comes out that she was a black girl passing as white. This causes all kinds of issues in racists Little Rock. Marlee doesn’t want to give up her only friend and convinces Liz to keep getting together. Tensions arise and Liz and her family are targeted. Marlee starts helping out on a committee to reopen the schools and gets her mother, who was against integration, to help her. 

We have all heard about the Little Rock Nine and many books have been written about them. However, I had no idea the high schools closed the next year to stop integration. I thought it was a very smart choice to tell the story of that year instead of the previous year. I could understand Marlee’s confusion and anxiety as the issue of integration caused problems in the town and in her family. Her father was clearly in support of integration whereas her mother was a segregationist. I imagine there were lots of families like this during this time period. I enjoyed Marlee’s determination to keep her friendship and help move things forward. This was an interesting book about a fascinating time in our history. 

24. April 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Mystery

When the Butterflies Came by Kimberley Griffiths Little, read by Angie, on 04/23/2014

Tara Doucet is devastated when her Grammy Claire is killed in a car accident. Then she starts receiving letters from Grammy Claire. The letters point to a mystery that has to be solved about the nipwisipwis (butterflies). Grammy Claire’s study of the butterflies had taken her from her home in Louisiana to an island in the Pacific. Tara and her sister Riley are taken in by Claire’s butler Reginald and whisked away first to her Louisiana home in the swamp and then to her tree house on the island. Tara continues to receive letters and clues and mysteries keys from Grammy Claire. She has to solve the clues, figure out what the keys open and find out who is trying to endanger the nipwisipwis. 

This is a fabulous mystery for kids. I think they will really enjoy following the clues along with Tara. I loved the relationship between Tara and Riley. Even though it is prickly it is still very sisterly and they do truly care for each other. I did find it a little strange that the girls just went off with Claire’s butler leaving their mother at home suffering from melancholy. I liked the fact that we are left guessing a little bit about the true power of the nipwisipwis. It made it a little more believable. There are many mysterious plants and animals in the world so who knows if butterflies could really have restorative properties.

23. April 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction

The Hypnotists by Gordon Korman, read by Angie, on 04/22/2014

Jackson Opus has strange eyes. They seem to change color depending on his mood. When they are purple strange things can happen; it is almost like he has a special power. Turns out he does; he has the power to hypnotize people. He is recruited by Dr. Mako at Sentia to learn more about and develop his power. Everyone believes Dr. Mako only wants to learn more about hypnotism, but is he truly good? Jax meets some people who don’t believe he has the world’s best interests in mind. Unfortunately, Jax doesn’t believe them until it is almost too late. 

I think the topic of this book was interesting, but the plot just went a bit over the top. Sure it will appeal to kids, but it doesn’t have a lot of crossover appeal. I wish the characters would have been a bit better. Jax is a contradiction; he is really smart but also super naive. His parents are dimwits and very one-dimensional. Dr. Mako is your typical bad guy out to rule the world. I thought the story of Jax being a descendant of two powerful mesmer families was a bit of a stretch. I like my characters to have a few flaws and Jax just seemed a little too perfect at times.

22. April 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction

Rogue by Lyn Miller-Lachmann, read by Angie, on 04/22/2014

Kiara is an 8th grade girl with a lot going on. She has been kicked out of school and is being homeschooled. It is just her and her dad at home since her mom moved to Montreal and her brothers are off at college. Kiara has Asperger’s and has problems in social situations and controlling her emotions. She has been called, freak, weirdo, and more and decides she is like Rogue of the X-Men. She never makes friends or keeps them because she is always doing something strange. When a new family moves in next door she tries to make friends with the two boys. Chad and Brandon have secrets of their own however. Soon they have become friends with Kiara, but Chad is drawing her into his family troubles. Chad likes doing BMX stunts and they are soon hanging out at bike trails with a bunch of older kids. Kiara for the first time has friends and she doesn’t want to give that up even if it means messing up her family or school life. 

I thoroughly enjoyed Rogue. I learned a lot about Asperger’s from Kiara and her approach to life. I thought Chad and Brandon’s home life was also a timely topic. Their parents are cooking meth and making the kids help on top of some abuse.  I thought the X-Men obsession would be weird, but it actually really worked with the story. In many ways, Kiara is a lot like Rogue. I found myself smiling at times when she was trying to convince Chad he was Gambit or Antonio he was Wolverine. This is a touching story about family and friends and learning to accept who you are. It is a story about trying to change your circumstances and who exactly becomes our families.