30. January 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction

The Madman of Piney Woods by Christopher Paul Curtis, 384 pages, read by Angie, on 01/29/2015

This is a companion book to Elijah of Buxton and takes place several years after the events of that book. Red and Benji are two boys who live around Buxton. Red is an Irish lad who lives with his father and grandmother. Father is a judge and grandmother is a irritable racist who hates pretty much everyone and everything. Benji is a black boy who wants to be a newspaper man. He writes headlines for the big events in his life and even gets an apprenticeship at a newspaper. The two independently meet the Madman of Piney Woods who is a hermit living in the woods. Benji and Red meet about half-way through the book and become friends despite the differences in their backgrounds.

It took me a long time to read this book. It was pretty slow going and I just didn’t find it that interesting. I wanted to like it more. I enjoyed Benji and Red, but found their just wasn’t enough going on in the book to keep me reading. For being the title of the book the Madman didn’t play nearly as big a role as I thought he would. I also wasn’t sure how this tied to Elijah of Buxton except the setting until the very end when Elijah was introduced again. There is a lot of good historical information in this book and as always Curtis’ writing is wonderful. I just wasn’t feeling this book however.

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley.

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

The Last Wild by Piers Torday, 336 pages, read by Angie, on 01/28/2015

Oh how I hate a cliffhanger! Mainly because I don’t have the next book on hand to immediately start reading. I have wanted to read The Last Wild ever since I heard about it and it did not disappoint.

Kester is a boy who has been taken from his home and imprisoned in Spectrum Hall. He is unable to speak ever since his mom died several years ago. He hasn’t heard from his dad in the six years he has been in Spectrum Hall. Kester’s world is one in which there was a plague that destroyed all the animals and the food of the world. The people of the island where he lives are confined into four cities and the island is controlled by the powerful Factorium. One ordinary day in Spectrum Hall Kester discovers he can hear animals. First it is a cockroach and then pigeons. They break Kester out and take him to the last wild. There he meets the last stag and many other animals that have survived the plague. Unfortunately, they are in danger because the plague has reached the last wild. Their only hope is Kester and finding a cure. Kester sets off with the stag, cockroach, pigeons and a courageous wolf-pup to the city to find his father and a cure. Along the way he is joined by other animals and Polly, who has lived in the quarantine zone with her parents until they disappeared. They are chased by the evil henchmen of the Factorium who wants to destroy all animals no matter if they are sick or not. Kester has to find his courage and his voice in order to succeed.

It isn’t often that you read a book where the main character cannot talk. While Kester can talk to the animals, he is unable to communicate with the people he meets. This leads to some pretty interesting situations. As much as I liked Kester and Polly, it was really the animals who were the stars of this story. There is the only white pigeon who repeats everything the gray pigeons say only in a different order and often with completely different and hilarious meanings. There is the brave wolf-pup who is super courageous and let’s everyone know about his bravery. There is the cockroach named “General” who seems to sleep more than most put still claims to be the leader. There is the mouse who has a dance for every occasion. And finally the majestic stag who saves them time and again. The book is a mix of fantasy and dystopian and road novel mixed with coming of age. I loved every page of it!

29. January 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Eric, Fiction · Tags:

A Nest for Celeste by Henry Cole, 342 pages, read by Eric, on 01/27/2015

The year is 1821, and Celeste is a mouse living a harrowing life at Oakley Plantation in Louisiana. John James Audubon is staying at the home, as well, using it as a base and studio as he hunts and poses birds for his life study paintings. Accompanying the artist is a teenage helper, Joseph. He also is a budding artist, but one with a far gentler approach. Celeste’s growing friendship with the boy provides her with opportunities to explore the world around the plantation, and the chance to meet other animals living there.

Celeste is a gentle, loving protagonist with a skill for weaving baskets. Her  adventures are quite short, but seem just about right for the intended middle reader audience. The novel is heavily illustrated with beautiful pencil sketches by the author, and combine well with the narrative. Audubon’s flawed methods are shown for what they are, yet Cole doesn’t diminish the importance of the works of art to the study of birds. Enjoyable.

28. January 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Fiction, Kira, Paranormal · Tags:

Over my Dead Body by Kate Klise, 116 pages, read by Kira, on 01/15/2015

klise dead This is the sequel to Dying to Meet You.  An evil idiot, Dick Tater, throws Seymour into an orphanage, I.B.Grumpy into an insane asylum, when he finds that Seymour is being raised without his parents, and that I. B. Grumpy believes in ghosts.  He also bans Halloween and has people burn books about ghosts.  Maybe, the initial charm has worn off a bit.  I liked th
is 2nd book, but Not as much as the first.

27. January 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction

The End of the Line by Sharon McKay, 119 pages, read by Angie, on 01/27/2015

Beatrix is left on a tram in Amsterdam when her mother is pulled off by the Nazis. She is taken in by older brothers Hans and Lars who operate the tram. They claim she is their niece and take her into their home. Together with their elderly neighbor Mrs. Vos they risk their lives to protect the little girl. Another neighbor Lieve helps teach Beatrix catechism so she can pass as Catholic. Hans and Lars do their best to make Beatrix a part of their family and love her dearly. The new family survives the deprivations and starvation of the war until they are finally liberated.

There is something about holocaust stories that always tug at my heart. This is a wonderful little story about two brothers who saved a young girl. I loved the humor of the two old bachelors trying to figure out how to handle having a little girl in their midst. Mrs. Vos was an awesome character as well, full of take-charge attitude and good sense. This book would serve as a good introduction to the deprivations suffered during war. The horrible things that happened are hinted at but not explicitly shown. War is horrible and that comes through loud and clear without a lot of terrible details that might scare young readers.

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley.

27. January 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Horror

The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier, 350 pages, read by Angie, on 01/26/2015

Molly and Kip are headed to their deaths. At least that is what everyone keeps telling them. They have taken a job at the Windsor estate in the “sour woods”. It is a place the locals refuse to enter and has a bad history. But Molly and Kip are desperate. They had to flee Ireland because of the potato famine and their parents are no longer with them. They are not prepared for what the find at Windsor. It is an island with a big creepy house with a dark tree growing beside and into it. The Windsor family looks worn down and everything in the house has a sickly air about it. Soon they discover the reason. The mysterious Night Gardener, who cares for the tree, enters the house every night and visits the sleepers. He collects their nightmares to feed to the tree. It also turns out the tree has the power to grant your heart’s desire. The payment is only a little bit of your soul. Molly soon becomes bound to the tree as much as the Windsors. Her heart’s desire? Letters from her parents. Seems Molly hasn’t told Kip the truth about what happened to them and doesn’t want to accept the truth herself. She has been making up stories about their travels and the letters help her continue the deception. Before too long they realize that more than their health and souls are in danger from the Night Gardener. It seems he eventually needs more to feed the tree. They have to find a way to escape his clutches and perhaps save the Windsor family too.

This book was super creepy. So creepy I wanted to turn away from it at times, but really couldn’t put it down. I love the concept of the Night Gardener who collects the sweat of your nightmares to water the tree that gives you your heart’s desire. The question of whether what you wish for is really what you need is an interesting one and plays out so very well. I also loved the whole bit about the difference between stories and lies. Molly is a wonderful storyteller and the kids meet the local storyteller Hester on their travels to the estate. The conclusion they come to is that stories give you the courage to face things whereas lies help you hide from them. There is so much to love about this book and I can’t recommend it more. I loved it!

26. January 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fantasy, Fiction

Dragons at Crumbling Castle: And Other Tales by Terry Pratchett, 352 pages, read by Angie, on 01/23/2015

Dragons at Crumbling Castle is a collection of short stories from Terry Pratchett’s youth. In them you can see the beginnings of Pratchett’s signature snarky style and irreverent humor. These fourteen tales are fun and funny and slightly silly. Fans of Pratchett will certainly enjoy this peak into his early work.

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley.

26. January 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Fantasy, Fiction, Lisa

Talking to Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede, Peter de Sève (Illustrator), 255 pages, read by Lisa, on 01/23/2015

Daystar never thought he’d be walking through the Enchanted Forest with a magic sword, a fire-witch, and a baby dragon. He never dreamed his mother, Cimorene, would tell him to leave their home and not to return until his task was complete. Or that he alone held the power to release King Mendanbar and the Enchanted Forest from the wizards’ evil spell. He doesn’t even know who King Mendanbar is.

But Daystar learns quickly — and that’s good, because he’s about to encounter magic and wizards and dragons. Quite a deadly combination.

Description from Goodreads.com

23. January 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fantasy, Fiction

The Thickety: A Path Begins by J.A. White , 496 pages, read by Angie, on 01/22/2015

Kara Westfall was five when her mother was killed for being a witch. Her mother allegedly killed her best friend before being caught. Even Kara’s father denounces her as an evil witch. They live on an island in the middle of the ocean and follow the Path of Timoth Clen who helped rid the world of witches. They are a secluded group cut off from the world. The island is also home to the Thickety, a magically impenetrable forest that the villagers must fight to keep clear of their land. When Kara is twelve she discovers a book that she believes is her mother’s grimoire. She starts casting spells and realizes the danger that the use of magic creates. Everyone’s favorite girl Grace (who is actually horrible) discovers Kara’s magic and finds that she too is a witch. Grace wants the power magic holds however and soon Kara is doing everything she can to survive and ensure the survival of her family.

I really enjoy this type of book with magic and fantastical creatures and interesting worlds. I do wish we would have learned more about the world outside the island. Is it like our world? Is it filled with magic and fantastical creatures as well? Kara is one of those spunky heroines that you just can’t help cheering for. She makes mistakes but has the good of the village in her heart. I wish there was more dimension to Grace’s character. She is just your typical mean girl on a power trip for the most part. However, the action is good and the story will keep you turning the pages.

22. January 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction

My Cousin's Keeper by Simon French, 240 pages, read by Angie, on 01/21/2015

Kiernan wants to fit in with the cool kids at school and he does just barely. That could all change when his strange cousin Bon comes to town. Bon has long, girly hair, wears old, raggedy clothes and likes to draw. He and his mom Renee have moved around a lot and the family has barely seen them. Bon gets bullied at school by Kiernan and his friends. Bon’s only friend is the other new kid Julia who seems to be attending school for the first time and has a secret past. As Bon becomes more a permanent part of Kiernan’s family he has to come to terms with his feelings and decide if he is going to do right by Bon.

This story has a lot going on. Bon is bullied, Kiernan is a bully. Renee seems to have some kind of mental health issue and there is the issue of child neglect regarding Bon. Julie has been kidnapped by her mother from her father who has custody. It is pretty heavy stuff and sometimes handled a bit heavy-handed in the book. I thought the message of the book was great. It is all about being who you are and accepting people for who they are. The only problem was that it came across very messagey and seemed to read like an after school special.

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

The Witch's Boy by Kelly Barnhill, 384 pages, read by Angie, on 01/17/2015

Ned is the “wrong boy”; he lived when his twin brother Tam did not. His mother, Sister Witch, could not bear to lose both her boys at the same time so she sewed Tam’s soul into Ned thus saving his life but causing him difficulties. Ned is never able to speak without stuttering or read any words after the accident. The townspeople believe the wrong boy was saved and treat him badly. His father can barely look at him. Sister Witch is the keeper of magic in their village. The magic has been passed down through the generations and they are charged with helping others and keeping the magic good. The magic has a mind of its own however and takes a toll on the wielder. Aine lives with her father in the forest. They used to live by the sea but then her mother died and her father’s heart was broken. He hid them away in the forbidden forest and became the bandit king. He too has magic and the magic has warped and changed him into something Aine has difficulty recognizing. The Bandit King learns about Sister Witch’s magic and is determined to get it for himself. This sets up a series of events where Ned takes the magic into himself and gets lost in the forest. Aine and Ned team up with a wolf in order to return the magic to Sister Witch. Of course things don’t go as planned. Ned’s country is cut off from the world and governed by a strong queen. The neighboring king is a spoiled brat who wants what he doesn’t have and is determined to invade the country and harness the magic for himself. There are also nine standing stones who were once people and it is their magic free in the world. All these things collide in the conclusion of The Witch’s Boy.

Once I started reading this book I really didn’t want to put it down. I loved the world that was created by Kelly Barnhill. Ned is a fantastic character hurt by the death of his brother and struggling as the survivor. He wants to be more and taking the magic into himself allows him to grown and discover just how strong he really was. Aine is such an interesting character as well. She is hard and cold but only because the world has made her that way. Inside she wants what everyone wants family and friends to love. She struggles with the fact that her father has been corrupted by the magic and despite her love for him knows he must be stopped. This is a wonderful story and one I would highly recommend.

17. January 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction · Tags:

Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky, 250 pages, read by Angie, on 01/16/2015

Grayson Sender is a sixth grade boy who doesn’t feel like his outside matches his inside. He has always felt like he was more of a girl than a boy. He looks in the mirror and tries to make his over-sized shirts and track pants into long dresses and skirts. He doesn’t fit in at school or have any real friends. When his favorite teacher announces tryouts for the spring play, The Myth of Persephone, Grayson is determined to tryout. He doesn’t want to tryout for any of the male roles however, he tries out for the role of Persephone. This sets off a firestorm throughout his home and school. He lives with his aunt and uncle since his parents died when he was a toddler. His uncle is supportive and wants Grayson to be who he is supposed to be. His aunt however is outraged that a teacher would cast him in a female role and is scared for Grayson’s safety. Grayson finds a home with the drama kids in the play however as they accept him for who he is. Some of the boys in his class are another story as they start teasing him and calling him Gracie. The bullying climaxes with Grayson being pushed down the stairs. He is determined to go on with the play no matter what though as that is the only time he feels like himself.

I was excited to read this book as it is on a topic I haven’t read in middle grade books before. Usually you don’t start getting into LGBT issues until teen novels. Grayson’s story is a wonderful one and one I would definitely recommend. It is handled very well and is presented at the correct level for the intended readers. I am not familiar with the journey transgender tweens/teens would take to become who they are meant to be but I found Grayson’s story to be realistic. I liked the fact that he was not just magically accepted by his peers and family but did receive negative reactions. This made the story that much more realistic. I enjoyed the interactions Grayson experienced with the other kids in the play; I always knew drama kids were inclusive and this just proved me right. I also thought the plot with the teacher was handled really well. There was bound to be consequences for his actions and they seemed appropriate. This is not a book for everyone but it is a book that should be read by everyone. It is more than a book about a transgender tween; it is a a book about being yourself and accepting people for who they are.

17. January 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Mystery, Paranormal

Secret of the Mountain Dog by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel, 208 pages, read by Angie, on 01/16/2015

Jax lives at the bottom of a mountain in the Catskills. She loves exploring the mountains, but ever since her younger sister Kizzy almost drowned her mother hasn’t let her have the freedom she once enjoyed. Then one day a giant dog appears and adopts Jax. That same night she sees lights in the old building up the mountain. When she goes to explore she discovers Yeshi and Rinpoche, two Buddhist monks who are going to reopen the monastery. First they have to find a missing statue. The statue is a protector demon that was stolen from a monastery in Tibet. A mysterious man is also looking for the statue, but he doesn’t want to return it to Tibet. Jax ends up defying her mother and heading up the mountain in a storm to warn the monks about the mysterious man. Jax and Yeshi have to decipher the prophecy about the statue and find it before the man does and before he unleashes the demon.

This was a nice, quick read. The story is fast-paced with a lot of action and intrigue. I really enjoyed the fact that Yeshi and Rinpoche were Buddhist monks, that is not something you see a lot in middle grade fiction. It gave a nice introduction to the Buddhist faith and philosophy without being too much. There is a bit of a supernatural element with the demon that added a spooky element to the story as well. I liked how the friendship between Jax and Yeshi seemed to develop naturally even though it turned out Yeshi had a higher calling.

15. January 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction · Tags:

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan, 380 pages, read by Angie, on 01/14/2015

Willow Chance is a special girl; she is interested in plants and medical diagnosis; she is an undiscovered genius. Willow has just started middle school when she aces a standardized test and is accused of cheating. This sends her to Dell Duke, incompetent counselor, and allows her to meet her only friend Mai, whose brother Quang-ha sees Dell as well. These are the people around her when her world is destroyed. Her adoptive parents are killed in a car crash. Suddenly Willow is alone in the world with no family and no place to go. Mai takes charge and convinces her mother to allow Willow to stay with them, pretending she is a family friend even though they have never met. Mai’s mother Pattie is from Vietnam and operates a nail salon. The family lives in a one room garage behind the salon, which would definitely not pass a social services inspection. So Pattie convinces Dell to let them pretend to live in his apartment. She takes charge and transforms it into a home. Before you know it Willow, Mai, Pattie, Quang-ha and Dell are like a real family. Willow slowly comes out of her grief as the family comes together, but will she be able to stay with her new family or will the state take her away and destroy all she has known again?

This is one of those books that will break your heart. Willow’s grief on losing her parents is real and visceral. You can feel and understand her pain as she shuts completely down. Willow is also very strange; her interests are strange; she doesn’t interact with people in what is considered a normal way; she doesn’t fit in. But she fits with this new group of people and she brings them together as a family.

After reading this book for the second time I am still torn about my feelings for it. On one hand I really love the how Willow is able to build a family after tragedy. On the other there are several things that really bothered me about the book. First is the fact that Willow is not forced to go to school for months. Her case worker, the school district, Pattie, Dell, none of them make her go to school. She tells them she isn’t ready and they drop it just like that. She is supposed to be homeschooling during this time, but no one checks on that either. Second is the fact that Dell is completely incompetent as a counselor and yet is given all the tough cases to deal with. He doesn’t even attempt to help these kids and who knows what becomes of all the others besides Willow and Quang-ha. Third is the fact that Willow is immediately suspected of cheating on the standardized test she aces even though she has tested as gifted in the past. There is no retesting or attempts to figure out if she is just truly genius. She is just labeled a cheater and sent to counseling. This seemed off to me. Fourth is the fact that Willow’s house and the parents’ estate is never mentioned. Just because someone dies doesn’t mean the bills stop. Who is taking care of that? At some point you assume the house will be sold, but surely Willow will be consulted. I just really wanted to know what happened to that house and the garden that Willow so loved. I thought it was wrong that she completely abandoned it even after she started coming out of her grief. The last thing is the ending…it is way too Disney-perfect. The entire time I was reading it I assumed Pattie would somehow get custody of Willow. There was no way the book was going to end with her losing her family again. However, at the end Pattie somehow ends up being rich; rich enough to buy an apartment building in California. Seems she was forcing her family to live in the garage so she could save up some cash. Really!!???! She always came across as a hard-working mom trying to build up her business and keep her family going. Plus she makes Dell pay for everything! The bonus of this is one is Pattie’s romance with Jairo which also seems to come out of left field. Suddenly there is a built-in wealthy family for Willow to become a part of. I still really like this book and will recommend it, but I wish the ending wouldn’t have been so perfect. Willow could have still been adopted by Pattie even if she wasn’t wealthy right?

13. January 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fantasy, Fiction

The Last Changeling by Jane Yolen, 304 pages, read by Angie, on 01/12/2015

Prince Aspen and midwife Snail are on the run from both the Seelie and Unseelie armies. They have unintentionally started a war between the two courts. On the road they meet up with Professor Odds and his band of misfit players. Together with a new mother troll and her baby, they hit the road to evade the armies. Professor Odds is not what he seems however, and has ulterior motives for recruiting Snail. Turns out she is a changeling, a human child stolen into the faery world. Professor Odds is recruiting changelings to take on whichever army wins the war. Prince Aspen just wants to stop the war however he can, but at this point it is pretty inevitable.

So I didn’t read the first book of the series but this one does a nice job of summing up the events. There is a lot of humor with the dwarves and the dog/carpet thing and the troll. There is a nice cast of characters taken straight out of faery lore, though I do wish some of them had been more explained. I know what a red cap is, but young readers probably do not. This book sets up the final book in the trilogy very nicely and I am sure fans will be eagerly awaiting the conclusion.

13. January 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction

The Magic Trap by Jacqueline Davies, 272 pages, read by Angie, on 01/12/2015

Jessie and Evan Treski are over a year apart in age but in the same class at school. Jessie is smart and skipped a grade. They live with their mom in a big, old house that seems to always need something fixed. Mom is getting ready to go on a trip when dad suddenly shows up. Dad has been out of their lives for a while. He is a war reporter and always gone. Since the divorce he might pop in for a day every once in a while but never stays long. When their babysitter has an accident and can’t stay with them, dad decides he can handle the kids for a week while mom is gone. The only problem is dad is not real good with parenting. He is always on the phone and does a lot of things mom would not approve of.

Evan has become obsessed with magic and wants to put on a magic show. He needs a big finally however to make the show great. Dad actually helps out when he gets Evan a bunny and a magic box. Jessie volunteers to be the assistant and they prepare for the magic show in the backyard. Only problem is a hurricane is heading up the east coast right for them. Dad needs to catch a plane before the airport closes so he takes off unexpectedly leaving the kids by themselves. Mom’s flight home is cancelled because of the hurricane. The kids are left on their own to endure the hurricane and the damage it causes.

I haven’t read the rest of this series but I don’t think you have to in order to enjoy this book. I liked how resourceful and intelligent Jessie and Evan were. They were fine on their own in incredible circumstances. I thought the dad was a bit over the top. I’m not sure even the worst parent would leave two kids home alone with a hurricane approaching, but you never know. I liked how Evan really worked with Jessie when she got over-excited. I am assuming she is somewhere on the autism spectrum even though it was never stated. I thought it was good that it was portrayed as just a part of their everyday life. Evan knew how to calm her and get her back on track.

13. January 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Science Fiction

Game Over, Pete Watson by Joe Schreiber, Andy Rash (Illustrations), 224 pages, read by Angie, on 01/12/2015

Pete Watson has been saving up to buy the newest version of his favorite video game. One the day it goes on sale he finds an IOU from his mom and is $20 short. So he decides to have an impromptu garage sale where he sells his dad’s old gaming console to a bug guy. When he goes to buy his new game he sees his dad kidnapped and learns from his neighbor that dad was really a CIA analyst and the game console has all the CIA secrets on it. Pete enlists the help of his friend Wesley and Wesley’s sister to stop the bad guys and rescue his dad. At this point dad has been digitized and downloaded into the console. Pete goes in after him and together they have to save the world.

So this is definitely a book that will appeal to middle grade boys. It has a lot of action and humor and is about video games. As an adult reader I thought it was pretty silly. It is a mix of War Games, Scooby Doo and a spy caper. I really liked the chapter headings — they are hilarious — and the illustrations. The story takes a lot of suspension of belief to read without rolling your eyes, but I am sure the intended audience will eat it up.

12. January 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction

The Perfect Place by Teresa E. Harris, 272 pages, read by Angie, on 01/09/2015

Treasure is heart-broken when her dad takes off and doesn’t come back. He has left before but never for this long. He has itchy feet and can’t seem to stay in one place for very long. Treasure’s mom decides she is going to go look for him. She takes Treasure and her sister Tiffany to great aunt Grace’s house. Grace is an old, cranky woman whose house is full of dust and cigarette smoke, which aggravates Treasure’s asthma. She runs a candy store where she makes Treasure and Tiffany work while they are staying with her. Treasure is sure their father is just looking for the perfect place for them to finally settle down for good. She holds onto that dream until she can no longer overlook the obvious.

I loved Treasure’s story. She is spunky and out-spoken and perfect. Great aunt Grace is a wonderful character as well. I loved how cranky she was with everyone even though she secretly has a pretty soft heart. I thought the story was pretty realistic with Treasure and Tiffany trying to fit into their new circumstances and come to terms with the new reality of their lives. Treasure has created a hard shell around herself because they move so often, so she doesn’t want to make friends or become attached. I thought the two bullying girls were handled really well. It is often the ones who look perfect on the outside that are the biggest bullies. I also liked that the other girl struggled with how mean they were being. Wonderful story that I highly recommend!

12. January 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Mystery

Eddie Red Undercover: Mystery on Museum Mile by Marcia Wells, 256 pages, read by Angie, on 01/09/2015

Edmund Lonnrot is a middle school student at a prestigious school in New York. He is in danger of going to public school after his dad loses his job. Edmund definitely doesn’t want that to happen. One afternoon while he and his dad are getting ice cream they become witnesses to an assault. Edmund’s photographic memory allows him to accurately draw a picture of the assailant. Turns out the guy is part of an art thief gang that the police are trying to catch. Suddenly, Edmund’s skills are in demand to help identify the gang members and catch them before they pull off their heist. Edmund becomes Eddie Red and starts spending a lot of time in museums. Eddie feels like the police are keeping information from him so he enlists the help of his friend Jonah to solve the case. Turns out the police are way off base so it is up to Eddie and Jonah to stop the thieves.

There was something a bit old-school about this caper that I really enjoyed. I liked that Eddie and Jonah had to be as smart as the thieves to figure out what was going on. I thought it was interesting how misguided and resistant the police were to Eddie’s help, but I guess I wouldn’t want a kid telling me how to do my job either. I appreciated the fact that Eddie’s parents were in the picture and actually interested in what he was doing. That was a nice change from so many middle grade books where the parents always seem to be either dead or absent. This book sets up the Eddie Red series nicely and I am sure fans will be eagerly awaiting the next installment.

12. January 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction

Screaming at the Ump by Audrey Vernick, 272 pages, read by Angie, on 01/10/2015

Casey Snowden loves baseball. His dad and granddad run the third best umpire school in the country (out of three). He likes nothing better than seeing the students come in, getting back together with the instructors and You Suck Ump Day. This year the ump school coincides with Casey starting middle school. Casey loves baseball but doesn’t want to play or be an ump, he wants to be a sports reporter. Now that he is in middle school he thinks he’ll get the chance to write for the school newspapers. His hopes are dashed when he is told that sixth graders don’t get to write. They have to pay their dues by selling ad space before they become reporters. Casey doesn’t want to give up his dreams and works hard to come up with the most amazing story ever to get in the paper. Things aren’t going so well at home either. Fewer students have signed up for umpire school this year, which means some of the instructors haven’t been rehired either. Casey has to plan You Suck Ump Day himself with the help of his best friend. Casey’s mom is also back in the picture. She left them for Bob the Baker and has been absent for a while. Casey is still mad at her and wants nothing to do with her, but his dad is forcing him to spend time with mom.

There is a lot going on in this book which makes it pretty heavy at times. Casey seems to go from one issue to the next: school problems, bullies, financial problems at home, mom issues, questions about whether dad is moving the school to Florida. All the issues fit into the story, but because there is so much going on it feels like nothing is ever truly developed well. Maybe with fewer issues, the ones remaining could have been truly fleshed out. I liked the uniqueness of the umpire school. I’ve never even heard of it or read anything with it as a subject. I really liked the relationship between Casey and his best friend. It added a lot of humor to the otherwise kind of heavy story.