08. November 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction

Jungle of Bones by Ben Mikaelsen, 224 pages, read by Angie, on 11/06/2014

Dylan steals a car and ruins a farmer’s field because he is mad at his mother. He is also mad that his father went to Darfur and was killed. His mom packs him off with his uncle Todd for the summer. Todd is an ex-marine and doesn’t take any of Dylan’s crap. He is taking Dylan on a trip to Papua New Guinea (PNG) for the summer. They are going to be looking for a WWII bomber that was shot down in the jungle. Todd’s father and Dylan’s grandfather was the only survivor. Dylan bucks authority at every turn even when it is in his best interests like taking malaria pills or learning how to survive in the jungle. Once they get to PNG, Dylan still keeps blaming others and being stupid. He compounds his stupidity by getting separated from the group and getting lost in the jungle. He does everything wrong and almost ends up losing a leg. Yet he still doesn’t take responsibility for his actions. It is not until he is on his way home that he grows up a little bit.

I thought this book was interesting. I really enjoyed the WWII story and the search for the plane. Unfortunately that is interrupted by Dylan’s trip into stupidity. He is one of the least likable characters I have read in a long time. Even at the end I didn’t really believe his transformation because he was just so unlikable throughout the book. I was actually wishing he lost his leg at one point. I think some kids will enjoy this story of survival and growing up, but I fear some may be completely turned off by how horrible Dylan is.

08. November 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Poetry

Another Day as Emily by Eileen Spinelli, 240 pages, read by Angie, on 11/07/2014

Suzy’s little brother becomes a hero when he calls 911 for a neighbor. Suddenly Suzy is second fiddle in the family and Parker is getting all the attention. Suzy’s and her best friend Alison are taking part in Tween Time at the library during the summer and learning about the 1800s. Suzy is also friends with Gilbert, a young man who does odd jobs around the neighborhood. Gilbert is accused of stealing from one of the neighbors, but Suzy is sure he didn’t do it. When Suzy learns about Emily Dickinson at the library she decides that maybe it is time to give up being Suzy and start being Emily. She wears white dresses and becomes a recluse. However, being a recluse is hard work and Emily misses some of the things she did as Suzy.

I enjoy novels in verse and this one was fairly well done. I liked the family dynamic of Suzy’s family, but I felt like most parents would not have put up with the recluse nonsense. I did think it was pretty realistic how Parker got more attention than Suzy and she got jealous. That is something a lot of kids have to work through. I am not sure how familiar kids today would be with Emily Dickinson and her poetry.

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

Seven Wild Sisters: A Modern Fairy Tale by Charles de Lint, Charles Vess (Illustrator), 272 pages, read by Angie, on 11/07/2014

Sarah Jane is the middle child of seven red-haired sisters. She has become friends with Aunt Lillian who lives in the mountains above her family’s farm. Aunt Lillian tells Sarah Jane stories about the Apple Tree Man and the King of the Cats and the fairies. Sarah Jane is drawn to Aunt Lillian’s simpler way of life. One day when she is collecting ‘sang (ginseng) she discovers a sangman badly injured. Not wanting to get involved in a fairy conflict but not wanting to let the little man die. She brings the man back to Lillian’s but doesn’t realize the chain of events she has started. She has interfered in a war between the bee fairies and the sang fairies. Soon all six of her sisters has been pulled in and Sarah Jane must figure out how to return the injured sangman and save her sisters.

This is the first Charles de Lint book I have read, but I have heard a lot of good things about his books. I enjoyed Sarah Jane’s story a lot and thought she was very well thought out. However, I kept getting her sisters confused and was never as sure about them as I was about Sarah Jane. I also wished there was more to the fairy story. I know this is a companion to The Cats of Tanglewood Forest which tells Lillian’s story and I kind of wish I had read that one first. I think it would have filled in some of the details I was missing in this one.

08. November 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction

Charlie Bumpers vs. the Squeaking Skull by Bill Harley, 160 pages, read by Angie, on 11/07/2014

It is Halloween and Charlie is determined to have an epic holiday. He doesn’t want to take his younger sister trick-or-treating like he does every year. He wants to go to his friend Alex’s house in a wealthy neighborhood. he thinks big houses equals big candy. He also wants to have an epic costume but his mom is really busy. Charlie enlists the help of his art teacher to make his bat costume. Now the only thing he has to worry about is the fact that Alex plans to show scary movies at his house. Charlie doesn’t like scary movies at all. His brother Matt helps him out by de-scarifying him and telling him scary stories. This is another hit for the Charlie Bumpers series. I think Bill Harley does a great job of writing about things that all kids worry about and making the stories relatable.

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

Life of Zarf: The Trouble with Weasels by Rob Harrell, 288 pages, read by Angie, on 11/07/2014

Zarf is just your average troll. He is trying to survive middle school and everything that goes along with it. Zarf lives in a fairy tale world where Goldilocks is his favorite lunch lady, ogres are near the top of the social ladder and the biggest bully of all is Prince Roquefort. Zarf’s friends are Kevin Littlepig and Chester the Jester. Kevin is afraid of everything and Chester’s jokes all fall flat. Zarf has trouble controlling his troll blood anger and it really gets him in trouble one day when he is tormented by Roquefort. When good King Cheznott goes missing while hunting the terrible snuffweasels things go from bad to worse. Cheznott is a benevolent king who supported troll rights, but his son is entirely different. Roquefort is a bully and his first act is to imprison Zarf and deny rights to trolls. Zarf breaks out of the dungeon with the help of his friends and Goldilocks and frees John Knoble the Knight as well. Together they head off to rescue the king and restore order to the kingdom of Cotswin.

This was a fun take on the world of fairy tales. I love how everything you love about fairy tales was incorporated along with a lot of humor and zaniness. Zarf is a great character that will surely appeal to a lot of readers. The book has a lot of illustrations and popout texts that make it a dynamic read. This is a good book for fans of Diary of a Wimpy Kid and those types of books.

08. November 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction · Tags:

Cat In The City by Julie Salamon, 208 pages, read by Angie, on 11/07/2014

Pretty Boy is a stray cat who is found by a group of dogs and adopted by a Dee who runs a salon. Pretty Boy and the dogs have lots of adventures in New York City and he learns what family is. This is a nice story that is not really fantasy even though the animals talk to each other. It is more like a sneak peak into what animals might be thinking and communicating to others. I loved that Pretty Boy developed a love of music and helped the little boy do the same. A great animal story that I am sure kids will enjoy.

08. November 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction

Charlie Bumpers vs. the Really Nice Gnome by Bill Harley, 155 pages, read by Angie, on 11/07/2014

Charlie is back in his second adventure. This time his class is putting on a play. Charlie really wants to be the evil sorcerer, but Mrs. Burke assigns him the part of the nice gnome. The nice gnome actually has a lot of lines, but he is nice and that is not what Charlie wants. He tries a lot of different things to get out of the part from trading parts, changing the lines to be more funny and doing a horrible job during rehearsals. Nothing works and Mrs. Burke just becomes disappointed in Charlie. Charlie has to resign himself to being the nice gnome. At home he is rebelling against walking his dog even though that is his assigned job. He doesn’t think it is fair that he is the only one who has to walk the dog. Charlie is dealing with things a lot of kids have to deal with: school issues, chores, wanting to be cool. I think this is a really good series for younger readers. There is a lot about Charlie to like and identify with. He is not a bad kid he just doesn’t always make the best decisions.

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

Centaur Rising by Jane Yolen, 272 pages, read by Angie, on 11/06/2014

Arianne and her family live on a horse farm in the 1960s. Arianne’s rock star father abandoned them after her little brother Robbie was born. Robbie is a thalidomide baby with physical disabilities. One night the family goes out to the field to watch the Pleiades and Arianne witnesses a white light jumping in among the horses. Then their old pony Agora becomes pregnant and gives birth to a centaur. The little pony boy, who they name Kai after Chiron, becomes the focus of the family, the stable manager Martha and the vet Dr. Herks. They all pull together to keep Kai safe and away from prying eyes even if it means they lose some of their riders and boarders. Kai is a typical centaur with a horse body and a boy torso and head. He becomes one of the family as he grows at an astonishing rate. Of course no secret this big can stay a secret forever. It is up to the family to figure out how to keep control of the story and to keep Kai safe.

This was an interesting mix of historical fiction and fantasy. I thought it was really smart to set the story in the past because there is no way they would have been been able to keep the secret in the world of today’s technology. I thought it was a great story about a family and the unconditional love they felt for each other. I don’t think I have ever read a children’s book with a thalidomide baby character so this was also a nice piece of history that kids are probably not familiar with. However, I will admit that I was a bit bored by the story. There was nothing wrong with it, but it just seemed very slow story with a lot of repetition.

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

The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm, 208 pages, read by Angie, on 11/04/2014

One day Ellie’s mom brings a teenager home. She claims this young Melvin is actually grandpa Melvin. He has found the fountain of youth, which turns out to be a jellyfish. Of course he experimented on himself and reversed the aging process. Only problem is that his lab has been bought out and they are pushing Melvin out; of course there is also the fact that he looks 15 instead of 75 like he is supposed to. So Melvin moves in with Ellie and her mom and starts going to school with her. Melvin and the mom do not get along. Melvin doesn’t respect the fact that Ellie’s mom has chosen a career in drama instead of following in his footsteps with science. Melvin also doesn’t fit in at school since he still acts, dresses and talks like a 75 year old man with no respect for anyone else. Ellie however kind of likes having her grandpa around. She has found that middle school is a whole new world compared to elementary school. Her best friend has moved on to the world of volleyball and Ellie doesn’t find it easy to make friends. Soon Melvin has pulled Raj (scary goth kid who is actually pretty nice) into their circle and concocted plans to break into his lab and steal his jellyfish. Ellie is also finding that she fits in with the science world of Melvin a lot more than she does with the drama/theater world of her parents.

I thought Ellie was fantastic as a character. She is trying to find her way in the world and trying to figure out who she is just like everyone else. She doesn’t feel like she fits in with her family or her friends anymore and has to find where she does fit. I liked the fact that the complete misfit Melvin actually teaches her more about being herself. Melvin doesn’t care if he fits in; he just does what he wants when he wants to. Ellie develops an appreciation for science and a better relationship with her grandpa through this process. I really like well done coming of age stories and this one is excellent.

04. November 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fantasy, Fiction

Spirit Animals Special Edition: Tales of the Great Beasts by Brandon Mull, Nick Eliopulos, Billy Merrell, Gavin Brown, Emily Seife, 192 pages, read by Angie, on 11/04/2014

Tales of the Great Beasts explores the war of the Devourer and his Conquerors. It starts with the rise of the Devourer and how he became the Reptile King. We then get chapters on each of the Fallen of the Great Beasts: Jhi the Panda, Briggan the Wolf, Uraza the Leopard and Essix the Falcon. We learn how each of these joined the fight, how the Greencloaks first started and how the war ended with the four dying and the two evil Great Beasts being imprisoned. It is a wonderful back story for the Spirit Animals series. I received this book from Netgalley.com.

04. November 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction · Tags:

Einstein the Class Hamster and the Very Real Game Show by Janet Tashjian, Jake Tashjian (Illustrations), 176 pages, read by Angie, on 11/03/2014

Einstein the class hamster has been quizzing the kids at school with Answer That Question. Now the kids are heading off to a real game show and Einstein gets to go along. He and his sidekick Marlon the turtle are smuggled into the game show studio. Principal Decker also brings his pet snake Twinkles who causes all kinds of havoc. But the havoc gives Einstein the opportunity to be a real game show host. This was a decent chapter book for early readers. It has nice big text and lots of illustrations. The story was not to my tastes but I can see where it will find fans. There are all kinds of crazy antics and a teacher who falls asleep all the time. I think my favorite parts of the book Einstein’s Tasty Tidbits were he shared facts and information on all kinds of subjects.

Rude Dude speaks in a language that I think kids will find appealing. He doesn’t talk like an adult or a kid but more of a mix of the two. He has lots of interesting history and facts about foods that kids like eating. He starts with chocolate and moves on to hamburgers and egg rolls and pizza. There are some really interesting facts about how these foods came to be favorites and how they came together. He also intersperses his historical facts with healthy eating facts that will hopefully motivate kids. Entertaining and just enough fun stuff to attract young readers.

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

Pennyroyal Academy by M.A. Larson, 304 pages, read by Angie, on 11/01/2014

A girl runs through the forest covered only in spiderwebs. She has no name but is running towards something. Her path is blocked by a cabin which turns out to be the home of a witch. She rescues a boy captured by the witch and together they set off to their destination. They are headed to Pennyroyal Academy. The girl is going to join the princess corps and the boy, Remington, plans to train as a knight. At Pennyroyal, the girl is given the name Cadet Eleven but shortens it to Evie. Evie becomes friends with a few of the other princess hopefuls in the Ironbone Corps. The girls are training to be princesses so they can go out into the world and fight the evil witches. They are walking in the footsteps of the great princesses like Pennyroyal and Snow White and Cinderella. Princesses are the only hope in stopping the evil witches and their plans to take over the world. The boys are training as knights so that they can fight the dragons.

If Evie had known what being a princess was all about she might not have come to Pennyroyal. Turns out Evie is under a memory curse and can’t recall what her life was like. All she remembers is the last few years with her family: her mother, father and sister. She tried to fly like her sister and almost killed her father and that is when she realized just how different she was from the rest of her family. She ran away because she isn’t a dragon and doesn’t want to cause her dragon family anymore pain. At Pennyroyal Evie does learn more about her background and her curse. Everything comes to a head during one of the training exercises when the truth behind her real family is revealed.

I loved this book a lot more than I thought I would. It is one book that when I finished reading it I immediately wanted another book in the series. I loved the different take on fairy tales; princesses are not born they are trained to become who they are. I really enjoyed the fact that Larson was able to so successful intertwine actual fairy tale stories with this tale. Evie is a fantastic character. She makes mistakes and isn’t the most knowledgeable but she has what every good princess is supposed to have: courage, compassion, kindness and discipline. I can’t wait to see where the next book will go and if it will answer some of the other questions that arose during this book.

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

School of Charm by Lisa Ann Scott, 304 pages, read by Angie, on 11/02/2014

Brenda “Chip” Anderson’s world has come crashing down. Her beloved daddy has died and taken the world she knew away with him. Chip used to spend her days outside exploring nature and climbing trees with her daddy and best friend Billy. Now mama is moving the family from New York to North Carolina to live with a grandma they have never met. Chip’s sisters Charlene and Ruthie immediately fit in with the Southern belle pageant atmosphere of grandma’s house. Grandma was Miss Dogwood 1939 and mama was Miss Dogwood 1961 so of course Charlene will be entered in the pageant and young Ruthie can do the Little Miss Dogwood pageant. Chip decides to enter the Junior Miss Dogwood pageant in the hopes that she will fit in with her family, but even that doesn’t seem to work. Chip is definitely not pageant material and can’t seem to get on grandma’s good side no matter what she does. Her tomboy ways just make her an outsider in her family. Then she discovers Miss Vernie’s School of Charm. Miss Vernie’s isn’t like a regular charm school. Chip and the two other students, Dana and Karen, don’t learn how to eat properly or walk with a book on their head. They spend their days working in Miss Vernie’s garden and learning about themselves. Miss Vernie gives each of them a charm bracelet and as they learn their lessons a charm falls off. The girls have to learn to stand on their own two feet, to find beauty, to blossom.

School of Charm is simply charming. I thought the Southern setting in 1977 really set the stage for the story. The South at that time was a different world from the world Chip left in New York. The women in Mount Airey do seem to be obsessed with the pageant and everything it represents. There are also the racial elements as Dana is the only Black contestant in the pageant. I love the fact that when Chip realizes her plan to fit into her family has failed completely she takes a stand and comes out as herself. She forces her family to accept her on her own terms and quits trying to change to please others. I think this is an excellent lesson for young readers to absorb. The one part of the book that I thought could have been a bit stronger was grandma’s story. We do learn a bit about why she is the way she is, but it comes so late that her character doesn’t recover from her one-dimensional, pageant loving, animal hating, mean lady persona of the rest of the book. Overall though this was a magical book full of spunk and charm that is sure to please.

02. November 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction

Double Reverse by Fred Bowen, 125 pages, read by Angie, on 11/01/2014

So sports books really aren’t my thing and this one wasn’t really that different. I can see it finding fans with sports-loving boys, but I really wanted a bit more plot. It was more football plays than plot. The book tells the story of Jesse who is starting freshman football with a team that has a terrible quarterback. Jesse’s brother Jay has always been the quarterback in the family but he is off playing college ball. When the quarterback is injured Jesse decides to try out even though he doesn’t look like a quarterback. Turns out he is really good, knows all the plays and even writes a few of his own. His move allows big kid Quinn to handle the ball and bit and little guy Langston to get some game time. The team needs a kicker which they find in soccer girl Savannah. Turns out that even though none of them look like ideal player they all got game. I enjoyed the fact that the characters defied the expectations of their looks to be who they wanted to be on the team, but I wanted a bit more meat to the story. It was a lot of play-by-play and little character or plot development.

02. November 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction

Courage for Beginners by Karen Harrington, 304 pages, read by Angie, on 11/01/2014

Mysti dreams of going to France one day, but first she must survive 7th grade. She knows it is going to be a difficult year when her only friend Anibal decides to conduct a social experiment wherein he becomes a hipster and cool. In order to do that he has to ditch Mysti and in fact become a super jerk. Mysti is stuck on loser island with fact-filled Wayne Kovok (my name is a palidrome) and superhero Rama Khan (*not really a superhero but her name invokes it). Things at home aren’t much better. Mysti’s mom is agoraphobic and never leaves the house. This isn’t a huge problem because dad is there to take care of things. When dad falls out of a tree and ends up in a coma things go downhill fast. Mysti is forced to take care of the family and try and stretch their meager supplies. She eventually has to figure out a way to get additional supplies when the family accepts the fact that dad isn’t coming home anytime soon.

This is a story about acknowledging your situation and then taking steps to change the things you can change and accept the things you can’t. Mysti takes a while to figure things out, but she eventually starts standing up for herself both at school and at home. It helps that Rama Khan is there to boost her up when she needs it. I enjoyed Mysti as a character, but I did get a bit frustrated by the story. These types of novels are all about the kids taking charge of their situations and becoming more resourceful which is great. And usually the parents are gone or withdrawn from the kids life. However, there is generally a bit more realism to the story. I thought Mysti’s home and school life were very realistically portrayed. I could see trying to cope with a disabled parent and dealing with friends who abandon you. What I couldn’t buy was no one realizing what Mysti’s home life was like. It should have been a red flag at the hospital when the dad is there for weeks and weeks and no one comes to visit and the doctor has to talk to the mom on the phone about dad’s care. It should have been another red flag when you have a 12 year old walking to the grocery store and only buying what will fit in her backpack. The neighbors should have noticed that the mom never left the house and stepped in. You would have thought even the school would have noticed. I guess I just wanted someone to realize what Mysti was going through and give her a break. It was an excellent book aside from that point.

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

Murphy, Gold Rush Dog by Alison Hart, 160 pages, read by Angie, on 11/01/2014

Murphy has a horrible owner named Carrick, but all he really wants is a home. So when he gets a chance he runs away; he has to live hard on the streets of Nome where everyday new prospectors come searching for gold. One day Mama and Sally get off the boat and they are so different from everyone else that Murphy approaches them. Soon he has the home he has dreamed of, but times are hard in the frontier town. Mama has to work around the clock to make enough for them to survive. Sally dreams of having her own stake and finding gold. When Mama decides they have had enough and are going back to San Francisco Sally and Murphy take off to find their claim. Their journey is full of hazards from wolves to bears to avalanches to Murphy’s old owner Carrick. Murphy has always thought he wasn’t brave, but he has to be brave to protect his family.

This book is told from Murphy’s point of view which makes it a different kind of book. Murphy wants nothing more than to find a home and family and once he has it must decide to be brave and do whatever he can to protect them. I like that the story was based on historical events and that the author included a lot of information about the gold rush, claim jumpers and actual dogs. It is a strong story for reader’s who like animal books.

02. November 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction

Half a Chance by Cynthia Lord, 218 pages, read by Angie, on 11/01/2014

Lucy’s dad is a photographer and loves to move his family around a lot. This time they have ended up on a lake in New Hampshire. One day they move in and the next dad takes off on a photo shoot in Arizona. Luckily there is a lot to occupy Lucy’s time. She immediately meets their neighbors, the Baileys, and becomes friends with Nate and Grandma Lilah. They come to the lake every summer, but this one might be the last because Grandma Lilah is not well. Nate introduces her to the loons of the lake and Loon Patrol. Every day they head out on the lake to check on the pair of loons who are nesting there. Lucy also finds out about a photo contest her dad is judging and decides to enter. She too is a photographer and gets Nate to help her with the contest. During her quest for the perfect shots she learns more about the area, Nate’s family and herself.

I really enjoy Lord’s writing. She is a wonderful storyteller and really makes the world she is writing about come alive. I like that Lucy is a regular girl, but one with a special talent. She is learning to see the world through a photographer’s eye and the world opens up around her. She is able to see things that others might not or might not want to see. Her photos show how vulnerable Grandma Lilah is and reveal how much Nate doesn’t want to accept that his grandma has dementia. Lucy also works hard to convince herself that she is good enough for her absent father. It seems that everything she does it to please him until she realizes how to please herself. Even though there is a lot going on in this book, it is a quieter story with more depth than action.

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

The Mummy's Curse by Penny Warner, 182 pages, read by Angie, on 10/30/2014

The Code Busters Club is a group of four friends who love to solve puzzles and codes. Cody, Quinn, Luke and ME are in 6th grade and learning about hieroglyphics. Their classes are taking a trip to the local Egyptian museum. At the museum they meet Ms. Cassat, the museum director, and Dr. Jordan, a forgery expert. The kids notice that an eye of horus appears to be fake and they start investigating what happened to the real one. Did Dr. Jordan create the perfect forgery or did Ms. Casset’s love of Egyptian jewelry get the better of her?

This is an interesting book. In some ways I really liked the fact that there are actual puzzles for the reader to solve along with the Code Busters. In others I became really frustrated by the fact that I had to keep flipping to the back of the book to find out the answers. I thought the mystery was good and not as obvious as some kid’s mysteries. I liked that all the kids were smart and did their parts to solve the mystery.

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

New Orleans! by Giada De Laurentiis, Francesca Gambatesa (Illustrations), 144 pages, 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.