01. June 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fantasy, Fiction

The Forbidden Library by Django Wexler, read by Angie, on 05/31/2014

Alice is orphaned and sent to live with her uncle in the country. Uncle Geryon lives in The Library and has a fortress-like library filled with all manner of strange books. There are invisible servants and talking cats to add to the strange mix of the household. Alice discovers quite by accident that she is a Reader, a magician who can read herself into magic books. The books can be prisons for dangerous creatures or portals to other worlds. Alice tries to find out what happened to her father and what is happening to her. She doesn’t know who to trust and ends up working with Isaac, another young Reader who has snuck into the Library trying to locate a book. 

I love books like this that deal with books in a mysterious and dangerous way. Basically any book with Library in the title will get my attention, but it has to be quite enthralling to keep me reading. This one pushed all the right buttons. Alice is a spunky and smart girl who is not afraid of doing what’s right even when it hurts. She isn’t gullible or easily led, but thinks for herself and looks out for herself. I loved the idea of books as prisons and portals. I especially loved the cats. They are just as you would image magical cats to be full of attitude and mystery. This is the beginning of a series and leaves several questions unanswered, but I was ok with that. The main story is wrapped up nicely with just a few threads left dangling to keep your attention. Definitely a series to watch. 

01. June 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction

Best Kept Secret by Ann M. Martin, read by Angie, on 05/31/2014

This book tells the story of Francie as she grows up in the 1970s and 80s. She has to deal with her parents’ divorce, her disabled uncle moving in, new friends, new schools, family feuds and all the things that come with growing up. This is the third book in this series; the previous two followed Francie’s mom and grandma. A lot of time is covered in this short novel. It starts with Francie starting school and ends with her married with a baby on the way. Unfortunately, the span of years really cuts down on the storytelling. Each chapter is basically a different year in her life so very little is actual told about what happens to her on a daily basis. It is more like a collection of vignettes than a fully fleshed-out story. There are things like the feud between family members that is mentioned but never really explained. And there is an incident when Francie is young where she is almost kidnapped and another girl disappears. This is mentioned several times but really never goes anywhere. I think the book would have been better served to tell Francie’s story through childhood with more attention to detail than to try and tell her entire life story in 200 pages. 

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley. 

27. May 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Eric, Fiction

Escape From Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein, read by Eric, on 05/17/2014

Eccentric billionaire Luigi Lemoncello, creator of the most popular board games in the world, has designed the most amazing library in the world. 12-yr-old Kyle Keeley and eleven other fellow students have been chosen to be the first to experience the library during an overnight lock-in event. The thrills of that night are nothing compared to the challenge given by Lemoncello the following morning- the first tween able to discover a secret exit from the library will earn a very special prize.

I’m sure nearly everyone reviewing this book makes an instant connection between this adventure and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The influence is obvious, but not in a negative way. The library is a fantastical place which any fan of reading and puzzles would die to visit for a lifetime or two. The array of characters also are familiar, from the win-at-any-cost rich kid to the bookworm more interested in keeping her nose in a book than solving any sort of riddle. Kyle lands squarely in between, and has a small, likeable group of friends, as well. Several of the trivia challenges the author has the tweens solve are quite out of time for a younger generation, but they work as a whole, and keep the game hopping. References to popular (and slightly dated) books are peppered throughout the adventure. I’m not twelve anymore, but I would be happy to join these kids.  Time to build a library!

21. May 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Drama, Eric, Fiction

Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper, read by Eric, on 05/03/2014

Melody is a bright, confident 11-yr-old, blessed with a photographic memory and the ability to “taste” music. She also has cerebral palsy, is unable to speak, and has extremely limited movement. Nearly everyone in her life assumes she is “slow,” and the frustration of not being able to prove otherwise is overwhelming. When a device to help Melody communicate finally is available to her, her intelligence is obvious to everyone. But, will she finally gain acceptance?

I appreciate how Draper refuses to take the easy, expected path with Melody’s story. Melody knows she is one of the smartest girls in any room, and she’s not afraid to make that fact known. Children (and adults) can be cruel when faced with someone deemed “different,” and Draper doesn’t wrap everything in a neat bow of acceptance. Making your place in the world can be tough, and Melody shows she is exactly that. A worthy award-winner.

20. May 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fantasy, Fiction

The Carpet People by Terry Pratchett, read by Angie, on 05/19/2014

The Carpet People was first written by Terry Pratchett when he was 17 years old. He reworked it and reissued it a few years ago. You can see his progression as a writer and a satirist in this early work. It has the beginnings of the depth and humor as his early Discworld books. You get a good idea of where his leanings lie and what message he wants to send out into the world through his books. I would be interested in reading the original version of this book just to see how it was finessed for the reissue.

The Carpet People tells the tale of the land of the carpet. It is populated by different groups of people, animals, monsters, kings and emperors. The Munrungs are a simple people led by Glurk. They are part of the Dumii Kingdom, but only in the sense they are counted and pay taxes. When The Fray destroys their village they take off across the Carpet. Along the way they discover the monsterous Mouls are ravaging the land on their vicious snarls. They help free the Deftmene people and they meet a mysterious Wight who sees all possible futures. Together they all band together to free the land of the terrible Mouls and to come up with a better system than kings and emperors. This story is part adventure, part fantasy, part political satire and all fun. Fans of Terry Pratchett will not go wrong with reading this early work. 

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.