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.

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

Romeo Blue by Phoebe Stone, read by Angie, on 04/21/2014

Flissy lives with her American relatives in Maine. She has been shipped off from Britain because of WWII. Her parents, Winny and Danny, are both spies and missing in France. Flissy lives with the Gram, aunt Miami, Uncle Gideon who is actually her father and Derek who has been unofficially adopted by the family. All of the Bathburns seem to be in some type of spy/government work. Gideon is getting ready to head to France and try and rescue his brother Danny and Winny his first love. Miami is being courted by the mailman who is also being shipped off. Derek has decided to try and find his father, but is the man claiming to be his dad really his dad? Flissy loves Derek but does he love her back? Will Winnie and Danny ever make it home?

I haven’t read The Romeo and Juliet Code so I wasn’t up on this story. I don’t think it hurt this book however since the past was rehashed fairly well. This was a slower read and one I am not sure kids will stick with. There is a TON of 1940s slang throughout the dialog which makes it a little more difficult to understand what exactly is going on. I do like the story of Flissy and her family, but I am not sure how kid friendly it is.

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

Sunny Sweet Is So Not Sorry by Jennifer Ann Mann, read by Angie, on 04/21/2014

Masha wakes up one morning with plastic flowers stuck to her head. Turns out her little sister glued them on during the night. Sunny is a genius and thought the flowers would help Masha make friends. After repeated attempts at home (washing, peanut butter, freezing) to remove the flowers mom gives up. Masha is allowed to stay home from school until they figure something out. Soon after mom and Sunny leave, Masha hears a racket and finds her neighbor collapsed in the street. She calls an ambulance which takes Mrs. Song, Masha and a newly arrived Sunny to the hospital. A comedy of errors then takes place as Masha and Sunny might have caught whooping cough, Masha gets a cast on her arm in a case of mistaken identity, and various hospital personnel try to remove Masha’s flowers all the while calling her Marsha. Genius sunny becomes a mini-doctor during their stay in the hospital, always offering Masha advice and annoying her to no end. 

I found this book charming and fun. I really enjoyed the relationship between Masha and Sunny. You could feel the sisterness of it. They love each other, but they really can’t stand each other at times. Having two sisters myself I knew exactly what was happening. Masha’s experience was a bit extreme, but it made for a good story. I especially enjoyed the ending when their true feelings for each other came out. I think this is a fun book that kids will enjoy.

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

Treasure Hunters by James Patterson, Chris Grabenstein (Co-author), Mark Shulman (Contributor), Juliana Neufeld , read by Angie, on 04/18/2014

Tommy, Storm, Beck and Bick are the four Kidd children. Their mother has disappeared in Cyprus and their father disappeared off their boat, The Lost, during a storm. This is a family of treasure hunters and the kids continue the hunt for the next treasure just like their dad had planned. They are beset by shady dealers, pirates, surfer pirates, sneaky girls, a shady uncle and a whole gaggle of other dangers. They have to figure out the clues their dad left them and get to the treasure before someone else does. 

This book was a chore to get through. The writing isn’t that great and it is just too unbelievable in every aspect. Then there were the “twin tirades”. Beck and Bick are twins and they like to have twin tirades; they even keep track of how many they have had. The twin tirade is basically them yelling at each other and saying mean things for about a minute and then making peace. The first one was sort of entertaining, the sixth one was sort of annoying and by the twelfth I was ready to skip it entirely. I think some kids will enjoy this story and the ones that follow (because of course it is a series), but it was definitely not for me. 

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

In Search of Goliathus Hercules by Jennifer Angus, read by Angie, on 04/18/2014

Henri Bell has been sent to America to live with his Great Aunt Georgie. His father has disappeared in British Malay and his mother has gone to look for him. While staying with his aunt Henri discovers that he can communicate with insects. He suspects Georgie can too. Georgie’s neighbor is the sinister Mrs. Black who takes a peculiar interest in Henri. Henri runs away with the circus and starts working with the flea circus. He decides that he wants to travel to Malay to find his father and to capture Goliathus Hercules, a giant beetle of legend. On this journey Henri starts a metamorphosis of his own…he is turning more and more insect like. He is pursued always by Mrs. Black in one guise or another.

I really enjoyed the first part of this book where Henri learns about his new skills with insects and works with the flea circus. I loved the other characters he met at the circus: Tony, Billy and Robin. I thought it was really interesting how he kept enhancing the show with more varieties of insects with different abilities. Where I thought this story fell apart a bit was the end where they get to Malay and start looking for Goliathus Hercules. First there is Henri’s transformation which is never fully explained. The mystery of his father is cleared up, but we have no idea why the insect communication gift has seemed to occur differently with the members of the family. Then there is the evil Mrs. Black. Her desire for Goliathus Hercules and her pursuit of Henri are never explained at all and we are left wondering what it was all about. Jennifer Angus is a new author and I think she has some really interesting ideas; she just needs to work out the details a little better.

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

The Misadventures of the Magician's Dog by Frances Sackett, read by Angie, on 04/14/2014

Peter is your typical army brat kid. He lives with his mom and sisters while his dad is deployed flying jets in Afghanistan. Peter is really worried about his dad and a little mad at him too. On his birthday the last thing Peter wants is a party or a big to do, so it is with a lot of surprise that he announces he wants a dog. Peter can’t figure out where the words came from because he is afraid of dogs. But he adopts The Dog from the shelter and takes him home. That is where the fun begins. The Dog is not your normal dog. The first thing you notice is that he talks, the second thing you notice is that he can do magic. Turns out The Dog is a magician’s dog and he needs Peter’s help to free his master. The magician has turned himself into a rock. Peter starts to learn to do magic with The Dog’s help but soon realizes he has to get angry to do it. The more magic he does the angrier he gets. He wonders if magic is worth the price he is going to have to pay.

I really enjoyed this book a lot more than I thought I would. Peter is a great character who seems really real. He is dealing with a lot of things that kids deal with today: absent parent, trying to be the man of the house, taking care of his younger sisters, not showing how scared and frustrated he is. I really enjoyed the struggle he went through when he was deciding about the magic. He had to come to a place where love was more important than anger. That is not a thing a lot of people can do and I thought it was a great lesson in the book. Plus there are dinosaurs. Who doesn’t love magic dinosaurs?

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

Hokey Pokey by Jerry Spinelli, read by Angie, on 04/12/2014

Jack lives in Hokey Pokey; a land inhabited by children and surrounded by places like Snuggler and Stuff and Socks and The Kid. Jack likes to hang with his amigos, giving Tarzan yells and riding his wild bike Scramjet. Then one day Scramjet is stolen by The Girl and Jack is different. He keeps hearing a whistle and the tattoo that every kid gets in Hokey Pokey is fading. His friends try to help him but there is nothing they can do. Things are suddenly different and they don’t know how to handle it.

This is a strange little book that I am not sure I completely understand and I am pretty sure kids will not. I can’t decided if Hokey Pokey is a metaphor for childhood or a dreamland or what exactly. It is definitely not the real world as we see the real world in the latter part of the book. I was not a fan.

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

Chomp by Carl Hiaasen, read by Angie, on 04/15/2014

Mickey Cray has been brought down by a frozen iguana. It has caused a concussion, headaches and double-vision. It also means he hasn’t been able to work as an animal wrangler. Bills are piling up so his wife has gone to China for a job, leaving Mickey and son Wahoo home alone. Then along comes Expedition Survivor and Derek Badger. He is a reality tv survivalist who believes his own hype and wants to film an Everglades episode; he is also a big fake. Mickey and Wahoo hire on to the show and start saving Derek from one animal after another. He is almost drowned by an alligator, bitten on the nose by a snapping turtle, bitten several times by a snake and attacked by a bat he is trying to eat. Mickey and Wahoo are joined on their expedition by Tuna, a girl in Wahoo’s class whose father hits her and who needs a safe place to hide out. The Expedition Survivor shoot is filled with chaos, mainly because of its star. Things get even worse when Tuna’s dad shows up and kidnaps Mickey.

This was a fun book. Carl Hiaasen obviously knows his animal info and is passionate about it. I thought he did a great job of passing along information about wildlife conservation and the plight of animals without shoving it down our throats. I liked how it was just a part of the story. I really enjoyed Mickey Cray, he is a fabulous character and one that was fun to read. His relationship with his son Wahoo was also really good. I liked how they were more partners than father and son, but Wahoo wasn’t the caretaker. I thought Derek Badger was hilarious and just how a reality tv star would be. Of course everything is fake and the star is a diva. The only part I didn’t think worked quite as well as Tuna’s dad. I thought his motivations were unclear and a little over the top. Other than that I really enjoyed it. The audiobook was great!

10. April 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fairy Tales and Folklore, Fiction

The Grimm Conclusion by Adam Gidwitz, read by Angie, on 04/09/2014

This is the story of Jorinda and Joringel, twins who were born to a dead father and an absent mother. They move throughout the fairy tales as the lead characters. And these are not your Disney fairy tales, these are the ghastly, repellent, and sinister Grimm tales. These tales will give you nightmares and make you sleep with the light on. Both children die repeatedly throughout the book and in gruesome ways. There is death and destruction and mutilation and monsters. Good doesn’t always triumph in the end. Some facts I learned: Cinderella or Ashputtle actually means toilet cleaner! The people who fell asleep with Sleeping Beauty aged as they slept. Satan lives with his grandma in Hell. I really found these gruesome stories just as awesome as the narrator said they would be and I am sure kids will really enjoy that aspect of it. The one negative I have is actually about the narrator. For the most part the interjections are funny and don’t take away from the story. However, there is a section of the book where Jorinda and Joringel meet the narrator in Brooklyn and he reads the other two books in this series to them. I thought that section really broke up the story and wasn’t necessary. The rest is awesome…especially Hell. I might have to go back and read the others in this series.

09. April 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Award Winner, Children's Books, Fantasy, Fiction, Kristy

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, read by Kristy, on 03/15/2014

After the grisly murder of his entire family, a toddler wanders into a graveyard where the ghosts and other supernatural residents agree to raise him as one of their own.

Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a normal boy. He would be completely normal if he didn’t live in a sprawling graveyard, being raised and educated by ghosts, with a solitary guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor of the dead. There are dangers and adventures in the graveyard for a boy. But if Bod leaves the graveyard, then he will come under attack from the man Jack—who has already killed Bod’s family . . .

Beloved master storyteller Neil Gaiman returns with a luminous new novel for the audience that embraced his New York Times bestselling modern classic Coraline. Magical, terrifying, and filled with breathtaking adventures, The Graveyard Book is sure to enthrall readers of all ages.

09. April 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Award Winner, Children's Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Kristy, Poetry

Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse, read by Kristy, on 03/31/2014

When Billie Jo is just fourteen she must endure heart-wrenching ordeals that no child should have to face. The quiet strength she displays while dealing with unspeakable loss is as surprising as it is inspiring.

Written in free verse, this award-winning story is set in the heart of the Great Depression. It chronicles Oklahoma’s staggering dust storms, and the environmental–and emotional–turmoil they leave in their path. An unforgettable tribute to hope and inner strength.

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

Snap by Ellie Rollins, read by Angie, on 04/08/2014

Danya loves her pony Sancho. She takes him with her everywhere and he is her best friend. When she finds out her parents have sold Sancho she is determined to save him. Danya and her cousin Pia run away with Sancho to Florida. They are determined to find Danya’s grandmother Angie, Danya’s favorite author and who she has never met. They are on a hero’s quest like in Angie’s books. There are certain tasks they must complete in order to complete the quest. The three of them travel from Kentucky to Florida with the help of those they meet along the way. They wrestle alligators, join the circus, stow away on a cruise ship and spend the night in Graceland.

I thought this was a fun book, completely unbelievable, but fun. Somehow the girls get a pony to hide in a truck, ride in a motorcycle sidecar and stay in a cruise ship cabin. There is never any mention of the horse doing his business (which I am sure would be terribly messy wherever they were). There are times the group is recognized and chased by police or concerned citizens, but they always manage to outwit them and make their escape. I liked Danya and Pia and Sancho, but I couldn’t quite buy their story or stop questioning how they were able to do what they were doing.

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

Cal Ripken, Jr.'s All-Stars Wild Pitch by Cal Ripken Jr., Kevin Cowherd, read by Angie, on 04/08/2014

Last summer Robbie Hammond hit a kid in the head during a baseball game. Ever since then his pitching has been terrible. He can throw a huge fastball in practice, but anytime there is someone batting he just throws fouls and clunkers. His team is on a losing streak and Robbie’s pitching isn’t helping. Then he meets Ben, a kid who lost an arm but still has a great throw. With Ben and his friend Marty’s help, Robbie starts to deal with his phobia of hitting another kid.

This is a typical celebrity written book. It isn’t horrible, but it isn’t really good either. Ripken is writing what he knows in baseball, but the story doesn’t have a lot of depth. It is a little too after school special for my tastes. Very predictable story and not the best writing. Ripken should stick with what he knows…playing baseball…instead of writing about it.

07. April 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Courtney, Fantasy, Fiction

The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two by Catherynne M. Valente, read by Courtney, on 03/27/2014

September has now been to Fairyland twice. As the final book in the Fairyland trilogy begins, September is yearning to go back to her favorite magical place. She’s been stuck in Nebraska for over a year, helping her family and learning to drive a Model A. It’s all horribly dull in comparison to her beloved Fairyland. Finally, after months of waiting, September is whisked away to the moon by the impetuous Blue Wind. They arrive at a way station on the moon. September is given an occupation (criminal) and is given a task. The moon is being torn asunder by a giant Yeti and September will need all of her wits and her old pals, A-L and Saturday to save it and Fairyland.
The third of the Fairyland books does not disappoint. The Moon over Fairyland is as whimsical as Fairyland itself. The main difference this time is September herself. She is no longer the eager and uninhibited girl who was first whisked away. This September is a girl who is starting to grow up. She has matured emotionally since she left and now finds herself holding back. She is also now confronted with the consequences of her previous actions in Fairyland, which have far-reaching effects. This final book is very much a metaphor for the process of growing up and becoming a woman. Taken literally, however, it’s a delicious and detailed adventure story with a spunky young protagonist. Either way, it’s a satisfying addition to the Fairyland series.