11. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic Novel

The Lost Boy by Greg Ruth, read by Angie, on 02/10/2014

This is an eerie, spooky story about a boy who was lost and then found. The story starts when Nate moves into a new house and discovers tapes under the floor of his room. The tapes tell the story of Walt who lived and disappeared 50 years ago. Walt discovered a world outside of the normal world with talking animals and magical trees that act as gates to this other world. Nate starts seeing the same things Walt once did and with the help of new friend Tabitha sets out to figure out what is going on. They must travel into this other world and defeat the Vespertine and save the word.

This is a complicated story that might be more appropriate for upper elementary students instead of the younger ones. I think if readers stick with it they will find the magic and wonder of the story interesting, but some might get turned off by the complicated dual stories. I loved how this was illustrated in simple ink drawings. They really brought the action to life. You have to really pay attention to get all the details out of this one, but you will be rewarded if you do.

10. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction

Starring Jules: As Herself by Beth Levine Ain, Anne Keenan Higgins (Illustrator), read by Angie, on 02/09/2014

Jules is an entertaining young girl with Pizazz! She has a lot to deal with at school what with her former best friend coming back from a fancy vacation and not liking her anymore. Then there is the new girl Elinor of London who she hopes will be her new best friend. She also has her very first audition coming up. The only problem is that it is for orange mouthwash and Jules doesn’t do anything orange since the orange sherbert incident. It will take all the help of new and old friends as well as her grandma to get her ready for her debut.

This was a good beginning chapter book for girls. Jules is a fun character who likes to collect words and make lists. I enjoyed the fact that her family was pretty much normal with just a few entertaining quirks. Her little brother was awesome. I also liked the fact that even though she felt left out when Charlotte found new friends she learns that friendship goes both ways.

07. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Courtney, Fiction, Graphic Novel

Stickman Odyssey, Book 2: The Wrath of Zozimos by Christopher Ford, read by Courtney, on 08/25/2013

Greek tragedy has never been so funny

Zozimos’ journey to the kingdom of Sticatha has been anything but smooth. He’s survived enslavement, battled golems and a ravenous Cyclops, and generally served as plaything to gods and goddesses looking for a good laugh. All for the sake of reclaiming the Sticathan royal throne–stolen from him by an evil witch, aka his stepmother.

You’d think that a stickman would catch a break after all that, but you’d be wrong. Arriving home only brings crazy family members and a return trip to sea, where mercenary centaurs and giant boar gods keep Zozimos questing and readers laughing. It would all be an epic tragedy if it wasn’t so funny.

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

Tommysaurus Rex by Doug TenNapel, read by Angie, on 02/07/2014

Ely’s best friend is his dog Tommy. Sadly, Tommy gets hit by a car and Ely is devastated. He goes to his grandpa’s farm for the summer and finds a t-rex in a cave. Now Ely has a new best friend, one who destroys everything in his path. Ely and Grandpa have to teach the t-rex to obey. Once they do they start earning all kinds of money to pay for damages and helping the local politician. Ely has run-ins with the local bully who wants to destroy Ely’s good fortune. There is a story in here about friendship and bullying and making what you have good. The illustrations are fabulous and the story is one kids will enjoy.

07. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Eric, Fantasy, Fiction, Science Fiction

A Hero for WandLa by Tony DiTerlizzi, read by Eric, on 02/07/2014

A Hero for WandLa continues the adventures of Eva Nine, introduced in A Search for WandLa. Eva and her alien traveling companion, Rovender, journey to New Attica, the idyllic modern human city founded by Cadmus Pryde, the mind behind the Sanctuaries and test-tube breeding program of which Eva is a product. All is not what it seems, however, and soon Eva is on the run.

DiTerlizzi is both a wonderful author and illustrator, and this book is a great example of that talent. Even though the plot covers several science fiction tropes (paradise with a rotten core? Shocking!), the story is more satisfying than the first novel. The relationship between Eva and Rovender is genuinely touching, and the addition of a certain familiar face adds a nice twist. Unfortunately, this book also ends like the first- smack dab in the middle of great things, as if the author simply decided it was as good a point as any to break for the next installment. I know I will be reading it. Recommended.

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

Chickenhare by Chris Grine, read by Angie, on 02/07/2014

Chickenhare and his friend Abe the turtle are sold to Mr. Klaus the taxidermist. They must escape his evil clutches along with their new friends the monkey and the elf girl. Mr. Klaus is determined to turn them all into stuffed animals because his beloved goat Mr. Buttons ran off 40 years ago. The escapees are helped by a tribe of Shrompf. There is a mighty battle between the good guys and Mr. Klaus and his evil henchmen. The heroes are aided by the dead Mr. Buttons and triumph in the end. Mr. Klaus and henchmen become dinner and all live happily ever after. I am not really sure what to think about this story. There are some fairly funny gags and the illustrations are good. But the story is gruesome and there is cannibalism. I am sure there are kids out there who will really enjoy this one, but as an adult I was not really a fan.

06. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Mystery

Playing with Fire by Bruce Hale, read by Angie, on 02/06/2014

Max is an orphan who has been shuttled around to seven different foster homes in the last six years. When his latest home burns down he is sent to The Merry Sunshine Orphanage. The orphanage run by Hanti Annie is more than a home for orphans though it is a spy school. Max receives coded messages that indicate his father is alive. A covert mission gives him the perfect chance to see if he can find and rescue his father from the evil LOTUS group. Max must decide if his only blood relative is his family or if the group at the orphanage has become his family. Loyalties will be tested.

This book was a little over the top even though it is about orphans being trained as spies. I didn’t feel like we go to know any of the characters enough to really care about them one way or the other. I also thought the storyline with Max’s father was fairly predictable and not nearly as inventive as the plot suggested. I liked the fact that there was a very multicultural cast of characters though I thought it was a missed opportunity to have Hanti Annie speak pidgin and not understand English that well when she was an accomplished spy who spoke seven languages. I think some kids will enjoy this book, but there are better spy stories out there.

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

The Saturday Boy by David Fleming, read by Angie, on 02/04/2014

Derek’s father has been deployed to Afghanistan for months. Derek’s only communication with him is through letters. He keeps all of his dad’s letters in a Knight Rider lunchbox and reads them whenever he needs his dad. Derek is also having a tough time at school. His friend Budgie is only nice to him when they are alone. At school he makes fun of Derek and is very mean to him. Derek lives a lonely life filled with superhero comics and cartoons. Then one day he finds out that his father’s helicopter has been shot down and he did not survive. Derek’s world turns upside down and he and his mom have to figure out how to cope.

I really enjoyed this story. II thought it was touching and sad and funny and all the things you would want from this type of book. However, it wasn’t perfect. Derek seems to be a bit immature for his age (5th grade). He still believes in Santa Claus and is obsessed with his favorite cartoons. Derek also seems to have some behavioral problems where he acts out without thought. I thought the bullying from Budgie was well done and showed just how insecure kids are at this age. It is the time where they are growing out of being a child and becoming young adults. This is the period when they become more aware of what others think of them and how they are perceived. Budgie isn’t a bad kid, but he doesn’t have a lot going for him. So he bullies Derek and others to make it seem like he is more secure than he is. Derek tries to deflect the bullying, but can only take so much. This is a story about a boy trying to become a man without his father around, but it is also the story of a boy just trying to be himself. Great message and a great read.

04. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Fairy Tales and Folklore, NonFiction, Pamela

Favorite Fairy Tales Told in Scotland by Virginia Haviland, read by Pamela, on 02/02/2014

scotlandSix traditional fairy tales from Scotland. . .The Page Boy and the Silver Goblet, The Wee Bannock, Peerifool, The Brownie o’ Ferne-Den, The Good Housewife and Her Night Labors, and Assipattle and the Giant Sea Serpent.

03. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Graphic Novel, Historical Fiction

Bluffton by Matt Phelan, read by Angie, on 02/03/2014

I really enjoy Matt Phelan’s books. I think they are wonderful slices of life. I appreciate the minimal text and lovely illustrations. Bluffton is the story of Henry and his summers spent with Buster Keaton. It seems Keaton and other vaudeville acts summer at Bluffton and fictional Henry was able to get to know them a bit. Henry wasn’t happy working in his dad’s store and really wanted to do more with his life. Unfortunately, Buster never shows him any tricks and just wants to hang out and play baseball. The book takes place over several years as Buster and family returns to Bluffton each summer. While I enjoyed this book, I am not sure it will find a wide audience with kids. I would guess very few kids have heard of or know of Buster Keaton or even vaudeville. Also, they might not be interested in a book that really doesn’t have a lot to say or a very exciting story. This is a sleepy little book that is a fast read and great for fans of Phelan. But we don’t really learn a whole lot about the historical characters and I am not sure we learn enough about Henry to really care that much. Beautiful as always with a Matt Phelan book, but limited appeal.

03. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Science Fiction

The Water Castle by Megan Frazer Blakemore, read by Angie, on 02/01/2014

Ephraim’s father has had a stroke and his mom decides to move the family to Maine to help in his recovery. They move into the old family house,
The Water Castle. The house isn’t like a normal house, it is full of strange rooms that seem impossible and secret tunnels. The Appledore family has lived in the Water Castle for generations. They came to Crystal Springs, ME to find the Fountain of Youth and built a hotel and spa and water bottling operation on the spot.

Ephraim meets two kids at school who seem to know more about his family history than he does. Will Wylie’s family has always hated the Appledores. They were hunting for the Fountain of Youth too and planned on selling the water. The Appledores beat them too it and they have been bitter ever since. Mallory is a member of the Darling family. The Darlings have worked for the Appledore’s forever and her father is the current caretaker. Ephraim, Will and Mallory start out as enemies, but soon come together to work on a school project and to find the truth about the water of Crystal Springs.

Interspersed throughout the book are journal entries of Nora Darling. She worked for Dr. Appledore in 1909 and the journal details their quest to find the water and her hopes of becoming an explorer someday. Of course there are Appledores and Wylies at that time as well and the entries show that things haven’t changed all that much in 100 years.

This book is a little hard to classify. The Fountain of Youth storyline makes it a little more science fiction, but those elements are not treated in a fantastical way. Blakemore really tries to make this more realistic than anything else with historical elements thrown in. I like the ambiguity of the genre. I thought the kids quest for the truth about the water was a really good mystery. I do wish there weren’t quite so many threads left hanging at the end though. We don’t know who really set the fire that burned down the bottling plant and hotel in 1909. We don’t know if the water actually gives the drinker immortality. We don’t know if Ephraim’s dad is really going to recover. We also are left wondering about Mallory’s mom and if she is who it is implied she is.

03. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Mystery

The Fantastic Family Whipple by Matthew Ward, read by Angie, on 01/31/2014

Arthur Whipple doesn’t fit in his family. Everyone else has the same birthday and breaks world records every day. Arthur was born a day early and has failed at every record he has attempted to break. Even the people who work for the Whipples are record holders. Arthur tries everything to make his family see and appreciate him but they never do. Then a mysterious dwarf and giant ruin the big birthday bash and a family from Mr. Whipple’s past comes back and beats the Whipples at everything. The family cook is blamed for all their troubles, but Arthur knows he isn’t the real culprit. He has to find out who is behind everything and convince the others of the truth.

Ugh! I almost didn’t get through this one. It had so much going for it, but really didn’t live up to its potential. For one thing it was WAY too long. 400 pages is a lot of story especially for a book as convoluted as this one. The world record stuff was interesting at first, but quickly became a crutch for the story. It was way too unbelievable and clunky a device. The last thing that really bothered me was the fact that there wasn’t really any conclusion or moral or lesson to be learned from this book. We don’t know who ruined the birthday party; we don’t know who really hired the dwarf and giant; we don’t know why the cook was blamed; we don’t know what is up with the Goldwins; and Arthur’s family never appreciates him. I really wanted more from this book and didn’t get it.

03. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction

EllRay Jakes and the Beanstalk by Sally Warner, Brian Biggs (Illustrations), read by Angie, on 01/30/2014

EllRay has to deal with bullies and skateboarding and friends trying new things in this book. EllRay really wants to learn to skateboard and thinks his cool, older neighbor Henry is just the one to teach him. Trouble maker and cool guy Fly is always hanging out at Henry’s and he doesn’t want little kids around. He is a bully and puts Alfie’s life in danger. EllRay is also dealing with one of his friends making friends with the kid who bullies him. On top of everything else EllRay has to compare himself to a fairytale for a class project.

This series is a good one for beginning readers. It deals with real issues that kids deal with. I like the fact that there is a lot going on in EllRay’s life; it makes him seem more real.

01. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Classics, Fantasy, Fiction, Literary Fiction, Rachel, Teen Books

The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis, read by Rachel, on 01/31/2014

On a desperate journey, two runaways meet and join forces. Though they are only looking to escape their harsh and narrow lives, they soon find themselves at the center of a terrible battle. It is a battle that will decide their fate and the fate of Narnia itself.

The Horse and His Boy is the third book in C. S. Lewis’s classic fantasy series, which has captivated readers of all ages with magical lands and unforgettable characters for over sixty years. This is a novel that stands on its own, but if you would like to journey back to Narnia, read Prince Caspian, the fourth book in The Chronicles of Narnia.

31. January 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Lisa

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan, read by Lisa, on 01/22/2014

In the tradition of Out of My MindWonder, and Mockingbird, this is an intensely moving middle grade novel about being an outsider, coping with loss, and discovering the true meaning of family.

Willow Chance is a twelve-year-old genius, obsessed with nature and diagnosing medical conditions, who finds it comforting to count by 7s. It has never been easy for her to connect with anyone other than her adoptive parents, but that hasn’t kept her from leading a quietly happy life… until now.

Suddenly Willow’s world is tragically changed when her parents both die in a car crash, leaving her alone in a baffling world. The triumph of this book is that it is not a tragedy. This extraordinarily odd, but extraordinarily endearing, girl manages to push through her grief. Her journey to find a fascinatingly diverse and fully believable surrogate family is a joy and a revelation to read.

31. January 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Lisa

Rodzina by Karen Cushman, read by Lisa, on 01/17/2014

In 1881, 12-year-old Rodzina Clara Jadwiga Anastazya Brodski wishes she didn’t have to board the orphan train in Chicago. But she has no home, no family, and no choice. Rodzina doesn’t believe the orphans are on their way out West to be adopted by good families. She’s sure they will become slaves to strangers. Anyway, who would ever adopt a large, tough, stubborn girl of Polish origin? As the train heads west, all Rodzina has is a small suitcase and her family memories from the past. Will Rodzina ever step off the train to find the family that deep in her heart she’s searching for?

31. January 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Lisa

Listening for Lucca by Suzanne LaFleur, read by Lisa, on 01/10/2014

“I’m obsessed with abandoned things.” Siena’s obsession began a year and a half ago, around the time her two-year-old brother Lucca stopped talking. Now Mom and Dad are moving the family from Brooklyn to Maine hoping that it will mean a  whole new start for Lucca and Siena. She soon realizes that their wonderful old house on the beach holds secrets. When Siena writes in her diary with an old pen she found in her closet, the pen writes its own story, of Sarah and Joshua, a brother and sister who lived in the same house during World War II. As the two stories unfold, amazing parallels begin to appear, and Siena senses that Sarah and Joshua’s story might contain the key to unlocking Lucca’s voice.

31. January 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Fiction, Lisa, Mystery

Below by Meg McKinlay, read by Lisa, on 01/03/2014

Secrets have a way of floating to the surface. . . . Mystery, compelling characters, and an abandoned town beneath a lake make for a must-read adventure.

On the day Cassie was born, they drowned her town. The mayor flipped a lever and everyone cheered as Old Lower Grange was submerged beneath five thousand swimming pools’ worth of water. Now, twelve years later, Cassie feels drawn to the manmade lake and the mysteries it hides — and she’s not the only one. Her classmate Liam, who wears oversized swim trunks to cover the scars on his legs, joins Cassie in her daily swims across the off-limits side of the lake. As the summer heats up, the water drops lower and lower, offering them glimpses of the ghostly town and uncovering secrets one prominent town figure seems anxious to keep submerged. But like a swimmer who ventures too far from shore, Cassie realizes she can’t turn back. Can she bring their suspicions to light before it’s too late — and does she dare?

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

EllRay Jakes the Dragon Slayer by Sally Warner, read by Angie, on 01/30/2014

EllRay Jakes’s little sister Alfie has a problem. Suzette Monahan has been mean to Alfie and causing all the other girls to be mean as well. EllRay tries to get Alfie to stand up for herself, but that doesn’t work. So he decides to take matter into his own hands and teach bully Suzette a lesson. This is a pretty decent beginning chapter book about bullying. It shows both sides of the issue with Suzette’s bullying of Alfie and EllRay’s bullying of Suzette. There are also some other instances of kids picking on others which could also be construed as bullying. I liked the fact that EllRay and his family are African American since there aren’t a lot of beginning chapter books featuring non-white characters. I think it is important to show diversity in books so kids can identify with the characters they are reading about.

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

Jinx by Sage Blackwood, read by Angie, on 01/30/2014

Jinx goes to live with Wizard Simon after his stepfather tries to leave him in the Urwald. The Urwald is a forest filled with clearings where people live, the path that you must not stray from, and lots of forest filled with trolls and werewolves and witches and wizards. Even though Simon is a wizard, Jinx has plenty to eat and Simon takes care of him, he is even teaching him about magic. Jinx has magic of his own; he can see the emotions of others and hear the trees of the Urwald. Then one day Simon goes too far and does a spell that takes away Jinx’s magic. Jinx leaves Simon and wonders into the Urwald where he finds two other children with curses of their own. Reven can’t tell you anything about himself that would reveal who he really is. Elfwyn can’t tell a lie; if you ask her a question she must speak the truth. Together they set out across the Urwald and stumble upon the Bonemaster, an evil wizard who keeps them prisoner. They must figure out how to escape from him and to take away his source of power.

Jinx is one of the better middle grade fantasy novels I have read in a while. It takes parts of legends and fairytales and weaves it all together into a new story about a different land. What I enjoyed most was that it doesn’t explain everything or solve every problem. This leaves it open for more books in the series, but it in no way diminishes this story. It is creative and imaginative and just plain fun to read. More than anything this is a story about coming to terms with who you are and what you are or aren’t willing to do. It is a story about family and friendship and the magic that connects us.