30. October 2014 · Write a comment · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fantasy, Fiction

New Orleans! by Giada De Laurentiis, Francesca Gambatesa (Illustrations), read by Angie, on 10/29/2014

Alfie and Emilia are off to New Orleans in this adventure. They find themselves at the La Salle Royale restaurant and staying with the La Salle family. They get to experience New Orleans during the Jazz Fest and help the La Salles solve a mystery. This is again a nice offering from Giada. She really knows a lot about food and the places she writes about. It makes for interesting reading. It also makes me want to attempt to cook some of the dishes she describes.

30. October 2014 · Write a comment · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fantasy, Fiction

Hong Kong! by Giada De Laurentiis, Francesca Gambatesa (Illustrations), read by Angie, on 10/29/2014

Brother and sister Alfie and Emilia are always excited to see what Aunt Zia is going to cook up for them next. Her cooking is magic and able to transport the kids to a different place. This time they are sent to Hong Kong. They are mistaken for exchange students and stay with a family opening a new restaurant. They get to know Hong Kong and all the exciting things it has to offer all the while eating a lot of great food.

I haven’t read the first two books in this series but I don’t think you need to in order to understand it. It is a great book for fans of Magic Tree House. The kids are likable and Giada includes a lot of good information on the location and the foods available. It really isn’t a good series to read when you are hungry; you are going to be even hungrier after you are finished!

29. October 2014 · Write a comment · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fantasy, Fiction

The Nethergrim by Matthew Jobin , read by Angie, on 10/28/2014

Many years ago a band of 60 went into the mountains to battle the Nethergrim. Three returned: the wizard Vithric, the warrior Tristan and the local John Marshall. The kingdom has been relatively peaceful since then. Edmund’s family owns the local inn but he really wants to be a wizard. He hoards his collection of books and tries to teach himself spells. Katherine is John Marshall’s daughter. She loves training horses and learning swordplay from her father. Tom is a slave to a horrible master. His friendship with Edmund and Katherine is the only light spot in his very dark life. Their lives change when several children are taken from the village, including Edmund’s brother, by the monsters of the Nethergrim. John Marshall sets off to rescue them, but the children can’t wait at home. Edmund, Katherine and Tom take off for the mountains on a perilous journey. They will discover scary truths about the Nethergrim, its history and what it wants with the children.

This book reminded me a bit of the Lord of the Rings. There is an evil in the world and a band of heroes must find a way to defeat it. It is a pretty dense book for a middle grade novel and does get a bit slow in the middle. I wanted the kids to set off on their journey much quicker than they did. There is a lot of backstory and preparations to get through before they head for the mountains. The last quarter of the book is pretty exciting with some interesting revelations about the Nethergrim and what happened to the band of men years ago. This is the beginning of a series so the next books will hopefully pick up the pace a bit.

23. October 2014 · Write a comment · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fantasy, Fiction, Paranormal

Dreamwood by Heather Mackey, read by Angie, on 10/22/2014

Lucy has run away from boarding school and is off to find her father. Her father is a ghost clearer and has gone to the Pacific Northwest on a job. Once Lucy gets there she finds her father gone with no idea where to find him. She discovers that something is very wrong there. The trees that the economy depend on are dying from Rust. She believes it is related to the loss of the dreamwood trees. Many years ago dreamwood trees grew on the Devil’s Thumb in Lupine territory. But they were all cut down and the thumb has been deserted. Anyone who goes there never comes back. Lucy partners with Pete who wants to find dreamwood to save his family. She also got backing from Angus Murrain the local landowner. The thumb is treacherous and full of supernatural powers but Lucy is determined to find her father.

I liked Lucy as a strong female protagonist. She is smart and spunky but maybe just a bit too full of herself. I found myself rooting for Pete more than Lucy. I liked this alternative history version of America with First People Nations and belief in ghosts. I even liked the thought of the first dreamwood being a nature spirit on a warpath. I thought Murrain was pretty one-dimensional and his intentions easy to read I just wish Lucy would have seen him for what he was long before she did. She was so smart about a lot of things but completely blind when it came to Murrain. Overall this was an entertaining book that I sure young fans of fantasy will enjoy.

23. October 2014 · Write a comment · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction

Just Jake by Jake Marcionette, Victor Rivas Villa (Illustrations), read by Angie, on 10/22/2014

Jake has just moved with his family from Florida to Massachusetts and isn’t happy about it. In Florida he was the cool kid with tons of AWESOMENESS. However, his awesomeness doesn’t seem to have followed him north. He has problems making friends and his cool factor is near the bottom. His one saving grace is the kid cards he makes. They are trading cards of all the kids both in his old school and his new one. I didn’t realize this book was written by an actual 12-year-old until the end. It actually makes me feel a bit better about it. As I was reading it I thought the story was a bit unsubstantial and juvenile, which makes sense when you consider the author. However, I thought it was a great effort by young Marcionette. I think this book will appeal to fans of Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Patterson’s Middle School series.

22. October 2014 · Write a comment · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fantasy, Fiction

The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan, read by Angie, on 10/21/2014

So the Heroes of Olympus series is now over. I like the fact that this is a more mature series than the original Percy Jackson series. The kids are older, the dangers are more real, and the quests just seem a bit more epic. This book tells about the final battle with Gaea and all the gods and monsters she has gathered to her side. Our team of heroes is split with Nico, Rayna and Coach Hedge escorting the statue of Athena to Camp Half-Blood and Percy, Jason, Annabeth, Piper, Frank, Hazel and Leo on the Argo II heading to Athens. The battle is really one of two fronts with the monsters gathering in Athens to wake Gaea and the Romans gathering around Camp Half-Blood in New York to fight the Greeks. The gods themselves are no help at all because their Greek and Roman aspects are fighting each other so the kids are on their own. It is an epic journey requiring courage, sacrifice and smarts, which these kids all have in spades. I loved the end of this series. I loved the fact that the book is told through multiple points of view so we get a very thorough picture of what is going on. I loved the ending and how everything was wrapped up so nicely. But most of all? Most of all I loved the line after the book was over that said Riordan is now tackling a series on the Norse gods who are some of my faves!

21. October 2014 · Write a comment · Categories: Angie, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Teen Books · Tags:

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, read by Angie, on 10/20/2014

So I picked up this book because it was on a time travel list. So I was expecting time travel; I didn’t expect to have to wait until the very end of the book to get it. This is a story of two girls separated by hundreds of years but connected by their love and grief over two little boys. Donnelly does an excellent job of bringing their stories together and making them both very believable. What she didn’t do a great job of was making me care about the characters. Modern day Andi in particular was hard to like or connect with. I got that she was grieving over the death of her brother Truman and that she blamed herself for his death. What I couldn’t get past was how unlikeable she was. She was whiny, self-centered and horrible to those around her. French Revolution Alex was easier to like even if she was further away in time. However, at times she too didn’t seem that realistic. She seemed to innocent of what was going on around her while at the same time she was jaded by the events as well. It was a contradiction that was a bit hard to reconcile. I thought the time travel bit at the end was pretty much unnecessary even though I was expecting it. It was basically a way for Andi to work through her grief and come to terms with her life as it is. I wish she had been able to come to that point on her own, but thought the narrative twist worked in its way. The problem with dual storylines is that one is often a lot better than the other and I think that is where this book fell for me. I really wanted more of Alex’s story and the French Revolution and every time it went back to Andi I got bored.

21. October 2014 · Write a comment · Categories: Adult Books, Angie, Fiction, Science Fiction · Tags: ,

The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, read by Angie, on 10/20/2014

The Time Machine is a classic of science fiction and H.G. Wells is one of those writers everyone talks about being the father of this genre. As imaginative as I found this work I also thought Wells was definitely a product of his time. Some of his ideas and beliefs about the time he travels to definitely reflect his social and political beliefs of the 19th century. Reading it from a 21st century perspective makes the time traveler seem a bit pompous and full of himself. I enjoyed the story, but I really wanted more. I wanted more investigation and true facts about the Eloi/Morlock society instead of 19th century commentary. However, I think if I would have read this book 100 years ago I would probably have thought it pretty brilliant.

The story is a simple one and the book actually quite short. A scientist builds a time machine and travels 800,000 years into the future. There he encounters a race of small beings he calls the Eloi. These beings are very simple and seem to only eat, sleep and play. He also discovers an underground race called the Morlocks. These nearly blind spidery type people are the workers who keep the world running. They are also cannibals who feast on the innocent Eloi. The time traveler gets into a bit of trouble after his time machine is stolen, but he also begins a relationship with Weena an Eloi. In the end he is able to escape the Morlocks and continue traveling into the future. He travels 35 million years and sees the world dying as the sun dies. Then he comes back to the present and tells his friends all about his adventures. After that he and his time machine disappear once more.

16. October 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fairy Tales and Folklore, Fantasy, Fiction

Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff, read by Angie, on 10/15/2014

Poor Rump. His mother died before giving him his full name. He has always been stuck with half a name and no destiny. He lives with his grandma in The Village on the Mountain. The villagers look for gold in the mines to send to the King (King Barf!). All of their rations come through the fat, greedy miller Oswald. This is a land where names have power, magic exists and pixies and gnomes are everywhere. Rump discovers his mother’s old spinning wheel and discovers he can spin straw into gold. The magic comes at a price and soon he finds himself in the power of the miller. When the king comes looking for the new gold, the miller claims his daughter spun it knowing that Rump would help her. Rump goes to the Kingdom and does help Opal, but at a huge cost. Because of the magic Rump can not give the gold away, he has to receive something for it. He is unable to bargain, he must accept any trade offered to him. When Opal offers her first born child Rump despairs, but he has to accept. He runs away to Yonder to find his mother’s family and to hopefully break the bargain. Alas, it is not to be. Rump has to find his true name in order to overcome the magical curse and be free.

I love fractured fairy tales. There is just something so enchanting about taking a story we all know and turning it on its head. The tales of Rumpelstiltskin are really not that detailed in explaining why things happen. Liesl Shurtliff simply fills in Rump’s backstory for us. She explains his actions and those of the other characters in the story. The miller becomes the true villain in this tale and Rump is simply a boy who has to find his destiny. I loved all the fantastical characters like the pixies, who are attracted to gold, the gnomes, who are messengers, and the trolls who don’t eat people! I thought this was a thoroughly creative and imaginative story and I loved it.

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

The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky by Holly Schindler, read by Angie, on 10/15/2014

Auggie lives with her grandpa Gus who is a trash hauler. She and her friends who live on Serendipity Place love going with Gus to the junkyard and seeing what kinds of neat things they can find. They are all poor but proud. Auggie is starting a new school since her old school has been condemned. The school is bright and shiny and full of well-off kids, nothing like their old school. Mean girl Victoria starts tormenting Auggie on the first day and never lets up. She even steals Auggie’s best friend Lexie. Victoria’s father is on the House Beautification Committee and they come after Auggie’s neighborhood with a vengeance. Everyone tries to fix up their houses, but the committee just wants to condemn them all and build a community center. Auggie and Gus spend all the time working on their house. They find materials people no longer want and they turn them into art. Soon their yard is full of metal sculptures of all kinds. They have to figure out a way to stop the House Beautification Committee and save their neighborhood.

I really enjoyed this book a lot more than I thought I would. I loved Auggie and Gus’s relationship and the sense of community between the people who live on Serendipity Place. I didn’t quite understand the rationale for the story about Auggie’s mom, but it fit with the rest of the book. I did want the neighbors to figure out the committee’s plan a little bit sooner, but I really loved the end result. Victoria and her dad are pretty one-dimensional villains in this story, but then most villains are. I liked the lesson on how one person’s trash is another’s treasure.

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

The Miniature World of Marvin and James by Elise Broach, Kelly Murphy (Illustrations), read by Angie, on 10/15/2014

James is going on vacation and Marvin is sad that he won’t be able to see his friend for a week. While James is gone Marvin and his cousin discover the fun that can be had in a pencil sharpener. It’s fun until James’s dad starts sharpening pencils. When James gets home Marvin is glad to hear that he was missed. This is a nice beginning chapter book. Short, easy chapters with great illustrations.

15. October 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Science Fiction · Tags:

Anastasia Romanov: The Last Grand Duchess by Ann Hood, Denis Zilber (Illustrations), read by Angie, on 10/14/2014

Maisie and Felix are off for another adventure through time. This time they are headed to Imperial Russia and the Romanovs. Before they leave they befriend Alex Andropov who is Russian and has hemophilia. Alex smuggles himself along through time and once he gets there he doesn’t want to leave. The three kids spend months with the Romanovs in 1911 traveling from one palace to another. They need to give Anastasia a Faberge egg and get a piece of advice. Unfortunately when they arrived the egg ended up in the Czarina’s possession. Then Alex wanted to destroy the egg so he wouldn’t have to go back to the present time. Felix is also enjoying his time in Russia and bonding with Anastasia. Whereas Maisie is feeling jealous and left out and just wants to get the mission done. There is a lot to figure out.

I still don’t really like this series. I find the kids pretty unlikeable and unrelatable. There are also instances where logic seems to be thrown out the window for no reason. For instance, why does Alex have to destroy the egg? To get back to the future he has to be touching either Maisie or Felix when they give the egg to Anastasia. So instead of trapping them in 1911 he could just not be around when they give her the egg. Seems pretty straight forward to me.

14. October 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Science Fiction · Tags:

Leonardo da Vinci: Renaissance Master by Ann Hood, Denis Zilber (Illustrations), read by Angie, on 10/13/2014

So everyone is now back from the Congo and Kansas respectively and ready for their next adventure. Well Maisie and Felix are the Ziff twins are not included in this one. This time they are heading back to the Renaissance to meet Leonardo da Vinci. They end up with Sandro Botticelli to start out with (neither of the kids have heard of him) before they meet Leonardo. Again they do not ask his name for a few days (seriously what is wrong with these kids!?!). They meet the Medici family and attend carnival before completing their mission. Again the logic of these books just leaves a bit to be desired. Maisie is even more unlikeable in this one than she was the previous book and Felix doesn’t make that much of an impression. The one thing I do appreciate about the books in this series is the backmatter. Ann Hood gives the reader a very nice biography of the famous person we met in the book.

14. October 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Science Fiction · Tags:

Amelia Earhart: Lady Lindy by Ann Hood, Denis Zilber (Illustrations), read by Angie, on 10/13/2014

Maisie, Felix and the Ziff twins are sent back through time to the Congo to find the missing Amy Pickworth. They get chased separated and Maisie and Felix end up chased by gorillas and stalked by lions. They escape leaving the Ziffs to their fate. They end up with Amelia Earhart as a young girl before she falls in love with airplanes. Of course they don’t realize she is Amelia Earhart because she goes by Meelie and the kids spend a month with the family without asking their names (I’m serious here!). Finally they realize who she is and complete their mission.

So I haven’t read any of the other Treasure Chest books and wasn’t really familiar with the stories or how the time travel works in this series. Apparently, the family has been amassing treasures throughout time and storing them in a room called the Treasure Chest. In order to time travel you have to be a twin and find an object that will take you to the time and place you want to go. Once there you have to give the object to the person you are seeking after getting a lesson in order to go home. Seems a bit complicated and it really is if you never ask a person their name. Not my favorite mainly because I didn’t find Maisie or Felix that likeable and they just seemed a little on the dim side (I really can’t get over the fact that they stayed with Earhart for a month and never found out who they were staying with).

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

Tell Me by Joan Bauer, read by Angie, on 10/12/2014

Anna is a twelve year old drama kid. She is currently starring as a dancing cranberry at the mall. Unfortunately, her parents are not getting along right now and need a little space. They decide to send Anna to Rosemont to stay with her grandma Mimi for a little while. Rosemont is getting ready for its famous flower festival which Mimi founded and runs. Anna jumps right in to life in Rosemont. She meets Taylor and Taylor’s horse Zoe and she gets a role as a dancing petunia at the local library. While at the library one day Anna notices a sad girl who seems to be in trouble. Anna can’t get the girl out of her mind and is determined to help her. She enlists the help of Mimi, the librarian, and the everyone she can think of including the librarian’s grandson Brad who works for Homeland Security. Anna spends her days helping with the festival, being a petunia at the library and trying to remember more details to help this mysterious girl.

Joan Bauer does a good job writing these types of books. They have strong female lead characters who kids can identify with. Anna is smart and determined and dedicated. Things don’t always work out for her but she does the best she can with what she has. Human trafficking is a pretty dark subject but it is handled with a gentle touch in this book. It is a good introduction of the subject to kids who have probably not heard about it before. I like the fact that the case wasn’t solved like magic but through investigation and determination. Tell Me is a good read and another winner for Bauer.

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

Twice As Nice by Lin Oliver, read by Angie, on 10/12/2014

Charlie’s friends aren’t talking to her ever since she told on two boys who started a fire. Her twin Sammie thinks this is for the best since mean-girl and leader of the pack Lauren isn’t nice at all. Charlie just wants to be part of the in-crowd though. When Lauren decided to form The Junior Waves club she needs Charlie to increase their chances of getting approved. Charlie is excited to be back in the group and will do pretty much anything even if it means going against what she knows is right.

This book was pretty cliched with no likable characters. I know it has a nice message about not giving in to peer pressure and bullying and being true to yourself but the delivery had the subtlety of a sledge hammer. Pretty much any cliche you can think of was in this book and you knew how the story was going to play out from the beginning. There are much better books out there that deal with these topics.

12. October 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Mystery

Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald , read by Angie, on 10/11/2014

Theodora Tenpenny is not having a good summer. Her grandfather Jack died in a freak accident and she is left caring for her reclusive mother and their aging house. When Jack was alive they were just scraping by with his salary from the Museum of Modern Art, but now they have no income and very little left to live on. She makes due with food from her garden and treasures she finds around New York. Jack was an artist and when he died told Theo to look for a treasure under the egg. Their is a painting of an egg in the house and Theo is obsessed with finding the treasure. One day she spills alcohol on the painting and finds another painting underneath. This painting looks old and probably stolen. Theo spends the rest of the summer trying to figure out if the painting is really a lost Raphael and how Jack ended up with it. She finds help throughout the city from a variety of people including the daughter of two actors, a priest, a fun librarian, and a guy selling nuts on the street. Turns out the painting has an amazing back story.

I have become kind of obsessed with the Nazi art looting of Europe and the Monuments Men story in the last year or so. This book really brought that obsession to life in a wonderful middle grade novel. I loved Theo and her determination and resilience. She is a fabulous character who is stuck at the beginning of the novel. Throughout the book she becomes more and more unstuck as she meets wonderful, helpful people around the city and realizes she is not alone. The thing I liked best about the book was the fact that the mystery of the painting was believable. So many mysteries for kids take a huge leap of faith on the part of the reader and this one did not. Sure there was a huge coincidence at the end, but the rest of it made sense. I highly recommend this one. Loved it!

12. October 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction

Sunny Sweet Is So Dead Meat by Jennifer Ann Mann, read by Angie, on 10/11/2014

Masha and Sunny are back in their second adventure. This time it is a trip to the science fair where it turns out Masha is Sunny’s project. The project involves red dye exploding all over Masha and observing how people treat her once she looks different. Masha of course is not happy about this at all. The day ends up with Masha sneaking through the school and meeting Batman and Robin, Masha and Sunny taking the wrong bus home and ending up at a graveyard, Masha getting lost in the graveyard and falling into an open grave, and of course Sunny winning the science fair. I really enjoy these stories. While you do have to suspend a bit of belief to believe a six-year-old could accomplish everything Sunny does the interaction between Masha and Sunny are very true to life. Little sisters can be annoying but you do love and support them…even if they spray you with red dye!

12. October 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Historical Fiction · Tags:

Susan Marcus Bends the Rules by Jane Cutler, read by Angie, on 10/11/2014

Susan Marcus is leaving New York and heading to St. Louis, Missouri. It is 1943 and the family is moving so her dad can start a new job. Living in St. Louis is much different than New York. Susan has a hard time accepting the Jim Crow laws of Missouri. She doesn’t like the fact that her new friend Loretta can’t go to the movies, the swimming pool or to restaurants just because she is black. Susan, Loretta and Marlene concoct a plan to fight Jim Crow when they realize that public transportation is not segregated.

I like the fact that this book is set in Missouri and it was interesting to read about the Jim Crow laws that affected this state. Most historical fiction dealing with this time period is set in the South not the Midwest so this is a new and different perspective. I think Susan’s confusion over the difference between New York and St. Louis came off completely realistic. I am sure there were a lot of kids who didn’t really see color if they didn’t grow up being told to notice it. It is a nice message for kids today. However, I did have a couple of issues with this book. There is a lot packed into this very short novel, yet strangely not enough. A lot of the book is taken up with the Jim Crow laws and the issues facing people who are not white. Very little is actually mentioned about the war and the rationing and how this affects every day life. There are a few instances, but you would have thought it would have more of an impact on the characters. I also truly hate the cover of this book and think it will turn kids off. I know you are not supposed to judge a book by its cover but we all do and this one looks too old fashioned for kids today.

12. October 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction · Tags:

Tales of Bunjitsu Bunny by John Himmelman, read by Angie, on 10/11/2014

This is a very nice beginning chapter book that teaches kids about Eastern philosophy without them even really knowing it. Isabel is the best bunjitsu bunny and each chapter of this little book teaches a different lesson. While each chapter is about Isabel they are all independent stories and don’t need to be read in order. Isabel is a wise bunny who shares many lessons she has learned through bunjitsu with the readers and the other characters in the book. It is a nice lesson on sharing and thinking of others and doing your best. Lots of white space and illustrations and short chapters so even the youngest readers can handle this one.