January 21, 2016

The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , at 5:01 am by suebe2

The Sword of Summer
Book 1 in Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard
by Rick Riordan

Life isn’t easy on the streets but Magnus has been homeless for two years.  He knows who will give him food, where to find a mostly safe place to sleep and how to avoid the cops.  Then one of his friends hands him a missing person flier.  Magnus can’t believe it.  After two years, his uncle is looking for him.

Magnus spies on his uncle and his cousin Annabeth but his mother told him to avoid her brothers.  He doesn’t really know why but he decides that he needs to know what is going on and breaks into his uncle’s house.

Uncle Randolph catches him in the house and starts to tell him about their family’s history.  They are descended from Vikings.  There is a missing sword.  The only one who can find it is Magnus and, fortunately, the sword is in the Boston area, just a few blocks away.

Soon Magnus finds himself on a bridge holding a corroded piece of metal.  His uncle claims it is an ancient sword and it is all Magnus has to fend off the deadly fire giant that is standing right in front of him.  When his attempt to dice up the giant fails, Magnus’ soul is snatched up by a Valkeyrie who takes him to Asgard.  If he can prove he is a hero, he will have a place there.  If not . . . he doesn’t even want to consider the alternative.

If this sounds a lot like Percy Jackson, don’t be shocked.  Riordan has found his niche and young readers love him for it.  Although Percy Jackson is all about the Greek gods and Magnus Chase is about the Norse, the two worlds overlap.  Annabeth, Magnus’ cousin, is Annabeth daughter of Athena from Percy Jackson.  If you’re expecting the book to be 100% original, you might be disappointed.  Instead, go into it understanding that the two series overlap.

As always, the story is full of Riordan’s quirky brand of humor.  His secondary characters especially seem to be designed to make us laugh. My favorite? Half Born the Beserker.  Or maybe Loki.  His Loki is very bit the amazing trickster that I expected — alluring, coniving and just a little scary.  Riordan has done an admirable job in creating a full range of characters so that both boys and girls will be drawn into the story.  Share it with the young fantasy lover in your life.




July 14, 2014

The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 1:58 am by suebe2

The Night Gardener
by Jonathan Auxier
Amulet Books

Molly and Kip aren’t sure what to expect when they arrive at the mansion where Molly has been hired as the maid, but it certainly isn’t what they find.

The first trick is in getting there.  No one in the vicinity will tell them how to get through the sour woods to the Windsor’s mansion.  At best, they give only vague directions.  More often than not, they mutter vague warnings then say no more.

It isn’t until the siblings encounter a tiny old woman carrying a pack that they final get the directions they need.  A storyteller, Hetty agrees to help them out on one condition.  Molly has to tell her what they find at the mansion.

As they travel through a forest where no birds sing and no animal hum, Molly wonders what Hetty expects to hear.

Then they catch their first sight of the house — a structure that is as dark and delapidated as the massive tree that grows around and through it.  They make their way across a yard covered with row upon row of shallow hills to the front door.

Molly gets to work, cleaning the massive home, serving her new mistress and cooking the meals.  Kip busies himself in the yard, whipping the gardens into shape but avoiding the big tree which has been warned by their mistress never to touch.  The children’s aren’t sure how but somehow they know that this tree is at the heart of the mysteries that surround this grim family.  Why is everyone so listless and pale?  Why has their hair gone dark and lank?  And why is Molly’s doing the same?

This isn’t blood and guts horror but horror of a more traditional sense – ominous, moody and dark.  Mytery and magic.  Tone and timber.  The sour woods are a creepy place.

But this is still a solidly middle grade story.  Yes, there are human villains.  Yes, they threaten people and people do get hurt (I’m not saying who or how or why) but it isn’t a gory story.  It is all about the atmosphere which only begins to lighten when Kip and Molly face their past, open up to each other and solve the mystery threatening adult and child alike in the Windsor home.

The children are Irish emigrants and the setting is vaguely creepy English manor house.  The mood of the book is helped along by dark scratch board styled illustrations by Patrick Arrasmith.

There’s no way this is a beach read, it is far too moody and dark, but it is a fast read and one that should definintely be on the list of young readers who enjoy a spooky tale.



July 7, 2014

Saucy and Bubba by Darcy Pattison

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 1:49 am by suebe2

Saucy and Bubba
by Darcy Pattison
Mims House

As much as Saucy loves the creativity and fun of gingerbread day, it’s also a day she dreads.  There’s no telling what kind of shape her step-mother Krissy will be in on any given day.  Krissy is an abusive alcoholic but not everyone sees this side of her.

The bakery in town sees her as a creative crafter, baking and assembling a new gingerbread house each month.  Some are based on easily recognized public buildings.  Some are known only to locals.  Regardless, her attention to detail and still are astonishing and bring business into the bakery.

She’s a loving mother to seven-year-old Bubba, reading him stories, getting him to help with her chickens and treating him with the love she would show her own child.

She even makes Daddy smile.  As much as Saucy missed his smiles and laughter after Mama died, she just can’t bring herself to trust Krissy.  Not after she left them at the ball field and forgot to pick them up.  Now when her words are slurred and her temper short even if this temper is always directed at Saucy.

On baking day, Saucy finds the bottle of rum hidden in the back of a kitchen cabinet.  She knows the drinking hasn’t stopped.  She has to keep Bubba safe even if it means running away and taking the bus to Aunt Vivian’s house in Albuquerque.

Even without the cover art, it is clear this is a modern Hansel and Gretel story complete with a mean step-mother and a clueless father.  The question is — wil Saucy be able to identify all of the wolves to keep Bubba safe on their journey.

I’m not going to talk any more about the plot because I don’t want to give anything away but this is an extremely powerful story.  Admittedly, I know Pattison and read an early version of this book but it is truly one of her most moving pieces of writing.

That said, it is going to make any an adult squirm.  Why?  Because we want to believe that it is easy to pick out the threats to a child.  It scares us to think that we might miss something and that someone who is drunk and out-of-control can also be methodical enough to only abuse one child.  This is the kind of book that makes an adult squirm.

But this is its truth and why it is so powerful.  This is clearly a story for the young reader who needs to know that grown ups don’t know everything and that sometimes the only person you can protect is yourself.

Not many books move me to tears.  Be warned.  There are wolves in the woods.


January 6, 2011

The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 11:52 pm by suebe2

The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester

by Barbara O’Connor

AR 4.7

Frances Foster Books

I have to admit that the first thing that caught my attention with this particular book was the cover — two kids in a mini-sub pursuing a swimming frog.  Incidentally, that would have been me on the left (in awe but apprehensive) while my husband (the one thinking “oh cool!”) is on the right.

But more about these similarities later.

Owen Jester is in a bit of a mood.  His father has lost his job so he and his family have had to move in with his grandfather.  This means that he no longer lives next door to one best friend and across the street from the other.  In fact, he now lives next door to Viola, the peskiest most know-it-all girl ever to pester a boy.  The good news is that there is a barn full of old stuff begging to be gone through, train tracks, a big ol’ pond with a dock and lots and lots of woods to explore which Owen does, tracking a good bit of it all across the kitchen floor.

He’s managed to catch the biggest bullfrog ever but Viola insists the frog is sad and should be set free.  Owen is certain that Tooley, what else would you name a frog, is perfectly fine but as the frog jumps less and refuses to croak or eat, he begins to wonder.  Can a frog be sad?  Should he be let go?

One night Owen is lying in bed listening to the train clatter down the tracks when he hears a wooden crash.  Something has fallen off the train and Owen is determined to find out what.  Now he just has to figure out how to include his best friends, leave out Viola and stay, more or less, out of trouble.

Owen is, as I am learning, every boy.  He has his own agenda, which only on rare occasion overlaps with that of one or more adults.  He hates it when someone knows more than he does, will make things up just to have something to say, but is also in awe of someone who can get things done, even if that someone happens to be a know-it-all allergy- ridden girl.

The one thing that truly bothered me about this book was that the know-it-all be-spectacled pest is a girl.  It seemed 2-dimensional and a wee bit stereotypic mostly because it hit a little too close to home.  Yes, in an earlier time I could have easily been mistaken for Viola.  Very easily.  But then I live with Owen the Shorter and Owen the Taller.  So maybe the characters aren’t stereotypic as much as they are uncomfortably realistic.  Ahem.

I don’t remember ever seeing how old Owen is but he strikes me as pretty much your typical 5th grader.  Busy.  Messy.  Determined.   At only 168 pages, this book wouldn’t overwhelm a less-confident reader.

A girl would enjoy the fact that the one who figures out practically everything is a girl.

The book also had a bit of an old time feel.  These kids are outside, building and doing.  They aren’t texting or e-mailing and I remember next to nothing about the phone.

My son came in and wanted to know what I was doing.  After I read him the review and we chatted about the book, he took it with him for his next read.


July 26, 2010

Igraine the Brave by Cornelia Funke

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 3:17 am by suebe2

Igraine the Brave (AR 5 .6)

by Cornelia Funke

Igraine may come from a family of magicians but she has no desire to follow in the footsteps of her parents and her older brother.  Igraine has other plans — she wants to be a knight.  To that end, she’s already raided the castle armory for armor and practices daily with her sword.

When word comes that the new neighbor plans to steal her parents’ singing magical books, no one is very worried.  After all, the castle has special magical defenses and her parents are wondrous magicians, but then in completing her birthday present, her mother mis-speaks a word and POOF both of her parents are transformed into pigs.  While no one minds pigs, pigs cannot do magic.

There is a spell to reverse the process but first someone has to go get the key ingredient — red giant hair.  It sounds like a perfect job for a knight so Igraine borrows a horse and rides toward the hills.  There she meets a real knight.  Will he be able to help save the castle or is it as hopeless as he fears?

My family listened to this as a book on tape and I have to admit that I approached it with a great deal of curiosity.  Funke is one of my son’s favorite authors but the cover looked a bit girly (he is very aware of what is girly) so I was surprised that he picked this particular book out on his own.

Igraine is a character who will appeal to boys and girls.  She’s a feisty heroine who uses her smarts and determination to get herself in and out of a wide variety of trouble.

Funke also wrote this book with her trademark humor.  Igraine’s mother is a great beauty and, even as a pig, has no doubt that she is the fairest in all the land.  The singing books resemble mischievous children more than they do anything particularly wise and apparently wizards succeed occasionally in spite of their own inability to plan — their failures are always funny.

This is a good road trip book but would also make a great family read aloud.


July 9, 2010

House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 10:41 pm by suebe2

House of Many Ways (AR 5. 4 )
by Diana Wynne Jones

More than anything else, Charmain Baker would rather spend time with books, either her own or someone else’s.  So she pens a letter to the King, volunteering to work in the royal library.

Then several relatives, including her mother, volunteer her to house sit for Great Uncle William, the Royal Wizard of Norland.   Mother has never held much with magic — what would the neighbors say to something so base and common — so Charmain knows nothing about this special skill.  But someone has to look after the place while her Uncle is away and Charmain is the only one with nothing to do.

Not only does Charmain have nothing to do, she has very few skills as she discovers when she gets to the house.  She has no idea how to make her own meals, do laundry or clean a house.  That said, Great Uncle Williams house is no ordinary house.   There are no taps in the kitchen so where does the water come from?  And whenever she wonders aloud how to do something, Great Uncle William’s tired voice gives sounds out of thin air to give her the answer.  And why do you sometimes end up one place when you go through a doorway, and sometimes another completely different?  Maybe she’ll just settle down with a good book and wait for her uncle to return, so she heads up to his library in search of something to read and finds an interesting looking, but tricky, spell book.

Then a boy her own age shows up in the midst of a rain storm.  He is to be the wizards apprentice and is aghast at how little Charmain knows.  She may not know much, but Charmain quickly notices how often Peter’s spells go awry while mysteriously, her own seem to come together rather nicely in spite of her lack of knowledge.

To her great surprise, Charmain is invited to help in the Royal Library.  To her dismay, she doesn’t get to read all day.  She is to look for documents that might answer a mystery — where is all the money in the kingdom going?  If this leak isn’t found and stopped, soon they will have to ally themselves with a neighboring kingdom of dubious reputation.  Charmain knows that the answer must be somewhere if she can only decide who to trust and where to look for information.

I listened to this one as a book on tape and wasn’t altogether sure I’d stick it out.  Charmain was so utterly useless and more than a little snippy, but I’m glad I did.  This isn’t your classic high fantasy — magic and mysterious creatures abound but there are no dragons and many people exist without magic , or so they think.

Readers who enjoy mysteries and/or fantasy would enjoy this tale although it may be more suited to girls than boys who really won’t care how much trouble Charmain had doing her own hair.


Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 10:40 pm by suebe2

Howl’s Moving Castle (AR 5 .4 )

by Diana Wynne Jones

Meek and dutiful, Sophie quietly takes her place as an apprentice in the family hat shop after Papa’s death.  The work is tedious, but Sophie has to do her part and all three daughters have been apprenticed out by Sophie’s well-meaning step-mother.  Besides, Sophie has a talent for hat making, a talent that seems almost magical.

But magic is something the people of her town fear.  Nearby is the Witch of the Waste, the subject of late night tales and fireside whispers.

Then a massive black castle floats into view.  Soon the town is abuzz with talk of Wizard Howl, a fierce sorcerer who robs young women of their hearts.

With the castle looming over the town, Howl is a much more immediate threat until the Witch shows up in the shop and turns Sophie into an old woman.

In a panic, Sophie flees the only home she’s ever known and, as night falls, barges into the only shelter in sight — the floating castle.  There she becomes Howl’s housekeeper who is more vain than fierce.  Still, for a man with so many short comings, he occasionally seems amazingly kind in his own mysterious way.

A hapless apprentice,

A scary scare crow,

A crafty fire demon,

and a dog who sometimes turns into a man come to people Sophie’s life even as she struggles to shake off the enchantment.

As an old woman, Sophie becomes fierce and strong, although Howl still accuses her of being too kind.  She also has a tendency to make short sighted decisions with disastrous though humorous results.   As she strives to sort things back out, she must decide who is more than they appear to be and which of the people in her life can be trusted, all before it is too late.

A fabulous fantasy adventure, Howl’s Moving Castle makes an excellent read for tweens who adore fantasy, feisty, strong-willed characters and humor.  For, at times deeply serious, at other times the book leaves you rolling with laughter, especially when Howl is under the weather.

It isn’t necessary to read these books (Howl’s Moving Castle, Castle in the Air, and The House of Many Ways) in order, but it will certainly shed light on the characters of Sophie and Howl when they appear in The House of Many Ways.

This middle grade novel would also be suitable for advanced readers for, although love is a strong theme, it isn’t acted upon in anything but a romantic sense.


June 26, 2010

The Two Princesses of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 11:38 pm by suebe2

The Two Princesses of Bamarre
by Gail Carson Levine (AR 4 .5 )

Princess Addie and Princess Meryl may be sisters but the two are almost opposites.  Fair Meryl wants nothing more than adventure, practicing sword play whenever she has the chance.  Darker Addie would rather sit quietly and compose another artful piece of needlework, combining color and story.

But then disaster strikes, threatening Meryl’s life.  The wait for the King’s return, hoping he will bring answers.  Instead he brings resignation, prepared to await his daughter’s death.

Addie agonizes — she knows Meryl would face any dangers to save her life, is she not willing to do the same for her sister.  So fearful Addie disguises herself and flees into the countryside to find the help they need.  Bravery and magic, love  and determination bring her to the answer so many so many have sought for so long.

In many ways, this tale is typical high fantasy — an epic journey means that a youthful protagonist must leave the comfort of the palace to face monsters of various kinds.  Magic can help but magic alone is not the answer.  A shy young woman must find the bravery to love herself, love others and even find respect for an age-old enemy.

Levine’s story doesn’t rely on fantasy conventions to keep the reader enthralled.  She delivers a fully developed plot with well-rounded characters and a carefully considered world complete with history and folklore — no more or less true than our own.

The reading level for this middle-grade novel is low enough to aid a reluctant reader while the characters and story are advanced enough not to insult this reader by delivering childish fair.   Though this story has humorous elements throughout, it is slightly more serious than Ella Enchanted but a rewarding princess story none-the-less.  Fans of the Newbery Honor Novel (Ella Enchanted) would do well to pick this one up too.A good choice for a young fantasy lover but probably better for girls than boys.


May 27, 2010

The Shepherd’s Granddaughter by Anne Laurel Carter

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 10:42 pm by suebe2

The Shepherd’s Granddaughter (AR 4 .1 )

by Anne Laurel Carter

More than anything, Amani wants to be like her grandfather, Seedo.  She wants to be a shepherd on the mountain.  She wants to mirror his calm ways, his loving, peaceful heart.

At first it is her family that stands in the way.  Shepherding is not a job for a proper Palestinian girl.  She should go to school so that she can learn, among other things, English.  Finally, Seedo makes it clear.  Amani will continue her time with him on the mountain, shepherding is clearly in her soul.  There begins her time learning to care for sheep, bringing in a government vet, documenting the introduction of hardier stock.

Unfortunately, Palestine is now part of Israel and as Seedo grows ill and eventually dies, the family is faced with the threat of Israeli settlers with guns and army backing.  As the family weather’s one crisis after another, Amani befriends an Israeli boy who is as in love with the local wildlife as she is.  She also learns that Seedo’s heart was not always as tranquil as she thought and that the world is a complicated, scary place.

Admittedly, I picked up this book because of attempts to ban it in Canada.  As is most often the case, I found the claims of the would-be banners to be inaccurate at best.  Really.  Hint:  Anyone who complains about the scene where a soldier shoots one of Amani’s sheep has not read the book.   Or, if they have, their reading comprehension is shameful.

Yes, the book touches on some very controversial issues — the Israeli occupation of Palestine, their treatment of Palestinians and terrorism. But Carter’s characters, both the Palestinians and the Israelis, are realistic and fairly drawn.

Instead of keeping this book from your child, why not use it as the stepping off point for a thoughtful discussion?  Carter gives you plenty to think about and does it in a very good, age appropriate story.


March 30, 2010

The Shifter by Janice Hardy

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 3:07 am by suebe2

The Shifter (AR 4.4 )

by Janice Hardy

Imagine a world where healing takes place by pulling the pain from the afflicted person’s body while simultaneously healing the injury or illness.  Unfortunately, the pain then shifts to the body of the healer until they can transfer it to a special kind of stone.

That’s how it is supposed to work and that’s how things work for Nya’s sister who is training to be a healer.  But Nya cannot shift the power from herself to the stone.  The only way she can get rid of it is to do the unthinkable — to shift it into another person.  In her war torn land, this could easily mean being used as a weapon and Nya manages to hide her ability until the night the starving girl is caught stealing an egg.  Her slip brings her to the attention of a pain merchant — those who take pain only to plant it into a weapon.

When a terrible accident happens, the pain merchant again demand’s Nya’s services even as she becomes aware of something horrible.  Apprentice healers are not being allowed to dump their pain.  What is going on and why?

Nya leads a band of unlikely allies to the rescue and discovers the horrible implications of her own power as well as the power held by the leaders who control her city.

This middle grade fantasy is the first in The Healing Wars Trilogy.  Although boys would enjoy the physical nature of this adventure it is likely to have a greater appeal to girls.  Nya is feisty and determined and a great role model for girls who may be wondering if they can do all that is expected of them.  A good choice for reluctant readers because the story is complicated enough to interest them, with some mature implications, but not so difficult in reading level that it will lose them.  This would also be a good book for advanced readers who need a faceted story to hold their interest.


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