Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Middle-Grade Review: We the Children

My 12-year old son is a big fan of Andrew Clements, so we were excited to hear he had recently published the first book of a new mystery series, Benjamin Pratt & The Keepers of the School: We the Children.  My sons and I listened to it on audio during a trip last weekend to visit cousins.  We all enjoyed the suspenseful tale.

Benjamin Pratt lives in a seaside town and is trying to adjust to his parents’ recent separation.  He lives half the time with his mom and half the time on his dad’s sailboat, moored in the harbor.  He wasn’t too concerned with the town’s plan to bulldoze his historic old school to make room for an amusement park, until the old janitor at school entrusts him with a secret and tells him he needs to protect the school.

As Ben and his friend Jill investigate the development plans, they discover things that certain people don’t want discovered and find themselves in possible danger.  They work together to come up with a plan to save the school, with the help of some very old clues left by the school’s original builder, Captain Oakes, in 1783.  Meanwhile, Ben gets ready for his first solo sailing race.

We all liked the book very much.  It’s an original story, with plenty of mystery and suspense set in an historical context.  My sons love sailing, so they especially liked those parts.  My one disappointment was that it felt like it ended in the middle of the story.  I prefer series where each book can stand on its own.  I guess we’ll just have to wait for book 2 to come out (September 2010).

Simon & Schuster Audio
Read by Keith Nobbs


Monday, March 29, 2010

It's Monday 3/29! What Are You Reading?

Very busy here lately.  I spent last week working on a writing assignment (hardly any time at all for blog reading!), and this week, we'll all be rushing around getting ready for our spring break trip - we're driving down to Louisiana with our camper to visit Cajun country and New Orleans.  My husband and I used to live in New Orleans, so it's a very special place to us.  We took our sons there a couple of years ago, and they fell in love with it, too!

Jamie, my 15-year old son, had a bad flare-up of his chronic illness last week and spent 5 long days on the couch.  He watched a lot of movies but also read some good books:
  • Jamie finished Sharp North, a chilling novel about a future in which wealthy people keep clones of themselves.  He says it was excellent, so I've added it to my own waiting-to-be-read stack (which is overflowing my bookcase!).
  • Jamie also read The Seven Rays by Jessica Bendinger, a spooky teen novel about a girl who can suddenly see people's secrets, dreams, and pasts when she looks at them.  This one sounds good, too!
  • Craig, 12, is reading another Hardy Boys book, The Bombay Boomerang - he loves these fast-paced mysteries, just like I loved Nancy Drew when I was his age!
  • I finished Wherever Nina Lies by Lynn Weingarten.  I really liked this suspenseful teen thriller.  You can read my full review here.
  • I also read an adult novel, I Was Amelia Earhart by Jane Mendelsohn, for my library book discussion.  It's a fictional story about what might have happened to Amelia Earhart when she disappeared.  It's a beautifully written, almost poetic, novel that would also be appropriate for older teens and young adults.
  • I just started a middle-grade mystery, Sherlock Holmes and the Baker Street Irregulars: In Search of Watson by Tracy Mack and Michael Citrin.  Jamie has read other books in this series and recommended them; they're stories about a group of street urchins who helped Sherlock Holmes solve his mysteries.  I'm not sure I've ever read a Sherlock Holmes story myself, but Jamie is a big fan.  A couple of years ago, he read our huge Sherlock Holmes anthology (encyclopedia-sized!) from cover to cover.
  • Finally, on a trip to visit cousins last week, the boys and I listened to a new audio book by Andrew Clements, Benjamin Pratt & The Keepers of the School: We the Children, a mystery about a couple of kids who want to save their historic school from being torn down to make room for an amusement park.  We all really liked it; our only disappointment was that, like so many new series now, it seemed to end right in the middle of the story!  I prefer series where each book can stand on its own.
So, lots of good books last week, and a very busy week coming up.

What are you and your family reading?

(What are you reading Mondays are hosted by One Person's Journey Through a World of Books).

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Teen/YA Review: Wherever Nina Lies

Lynn Weingarten’s first novel, Wherever Nina Lies, is mystery, thriller, and romance all rolled into one. I really enjoyed this compelling, original story about a sixteen-year old girl on a mission to find her missing older sister.

It’s been two years since Ellie’s beautiful, creative sister Nina disappeared. Nina was a free spirit and seldom at home anymore, but this time, she didn’t return at all. Ellie and her mother have no idea what happened to her or where she is, but Ellie can’t forget her sister and “move on,” as people are always telling her to.

One afternoon, sifting through boxes of donated junk at the store where her best friend, Amanda, works, Ellie finally – after all this time – finds a clue:

A rectangular piece of cardboard with slightly rounded edges, a little smaller than an index card, has fallen out of the book and fluttered to the floor. I reach out and grab it. As soon as my skin touches it, my heart starts pounding, and I feel dizzy, like I’ve been spinning and just stopped. The room tilts. Everything around me looks wrong all of a sudden, and I think maybe I’m going to pass out. I sink to the floor; I’m vaguely aware of Amanda’s voice calling my name, but I can’t answer. She sounds far away and unfamiliar. Everything is unfamiliar, except for one thing. The piece of paper in my hand, covered in blue vines. I stare at them so hard they begin to swirl, like delicate navy thread snakes on a field of white. And in the center of these vines is a drawing of a girl: big round eyes, round face, round nose, crazy hair curling out in all directions, one dimple, a crooked smile. I know this drawing.

Ellie would recognize her sister’s drawing anywhere because she’s been drawing constantly on all sorts of surfaces ever since Ellie can remember. This particular drawing holds clues that lead Ellie off on a crazy, cross-country road trip with a gorgeous guy she barely knows because he’s the only person in her life who seems to understand and believe in her.

Ellie’s journey takes her to new and strange places, as she follows clues to her sister’s whereabouts. Along the way, she falls in love. This mystery contains more twists and turns than a mountain road, though, and Ellie doesn’t know where this trip will lead her. There's nothing I like better than a road trip book! Filled with plenty of suspense and surprises, as well as Nina’s unique drawings, this well-written novel kept me reading late into the night.

(recommended for older teens and young adults; contains some sexual situations, though nothing graphic)

316 pages, Point (an imprint of Scholastic)

Monday, March 22, 2010

It's Monday 3/22! What Are You Reading?

Very busy week here but beautiful weather! It's finally officially spring - hurray!

None of us had a lot of reading time, but we're all reading some good books:
  • Jamie, 15, is reading Sharp North by Patrick Cave, a new teen thriller set in a future Great Britain where mysterious murders occur and the wealthy keep illegal clones of themselves, just in case. He says it's an awesome book!
  • Jamie finished The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows for his British Literature class at school and enjoyed it very much. I'm next!
  • Craig, 12, finished Hunting for Hidden Gold by Franklin W. Dixon, a Hardy Boys book and moved onto another one, The Bombay Boomerang. He also loves to watch our DVDs of the old Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew TV show from the 70's, especially on sick days. I enjoy them, too - I used to have a picture of Parker Stevenson hanging in my locker!
  • My husband, Ken, finished Icecore, a new teen thriller by Matt Whyman that both Jamie and I loved. You can read my review here.
  • I'm reading Wherever Nina Lies by Lynn Weingarten, an excellent teen book that combines mystery, suspense, and romance. I'm about half done and loving it so far!
  • I finished My One Hundred Adventures by Polly Horvath on audio and am now listening to its sequel, Northward to the Moon. They're both excellent.
I posted a review of Murder at Midnight by Avi last week.

Now, for an embarrassing admission. I've been wondering why I never get any comments on this blog...and just now discovered I get lots of them but wasn't being notified! Seriously, I had no idea anyone was leaving comments which is why I never reply to any or visit your blogs. My other blogs are set up with e-mail notification and comment approval. As soon as I post this, I'm going to change my settings so that I'll actually see your comments from now on - sorry! Boy, do I feel stupid...

Anyway, what is your family reading this week? I really do want to know and will even read your comments this time!

(What are you reading Mondays is hosted by One Person's Journey Through a World of Books).

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Vote for Your Favorite Books!

Voting is now open for the 2010 Children's Choice Book Awards!

Just use this link to vote for your favorite books - choose age categories K-2, 3-4, 5-6, and teens and cast your vote for your favorite book, favorite author, and favorite illustrator.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Middle-Grade/Teen Review: Murder at Midnight

Believe it or not, I had never read an Avi book until last week when I picked up his latest, Murder at Midnight. Ever since my son read Crispin by Avi years ago, he has been telling me what a good author he is. Murder at Midnight was a quick, suspenseful read that I enjoyed very much.

It is 1490 in a small town in Italy, and a young boy named Fabrizio is adjusting to his new job working for Mangus the Magician:

During the past year, his parents – ragpickers – had died, leaving him a homeless ten-year-old. Only by relying on his wits and friends did Fabrizio survive the streets of Pergamontio. But a month ago, the City Corporation, which had the responsibility for orphans, bound him over to Mangus the Magician.

It was the magician’s wife, Mistress Sophia, who made the arrangements. It was she who insisted that her elderly husband needed a personal servant. She herself proved kind, and Fabrizio was thrilled not to be begging on the streets for a daub of cold, clotted pasta for his dinner. Now he had good food in his belly, a roof over his head, a bed for his back, and even a few coins for his pocket. Besides, not only did Master Mangus have a house with two older servants, there was his amazing magic.

Mangus is an illusionist, though to Fabrizio, his magic seems real. Both of them find themselves under suspicion and at the center of a plot to overthrow the king. Fabrizio wants to save his new master and prove his worth to him, but he doesn’t know who to believe or who to trust. Faced with possible death for himself and Mangus, it’s up to Fabrizio to figure out who’s behind the sinister plot.

As I said, this was my first Avi book, but it’s easy to see why his books are so popular. This one was filled with wonderful details of the historical period, realistic dialogue, and a fast-paced mystery plot. I’m looking forward to reading its sequel, Midnight Magic.

254 pages, Scholastic

Monday, March 15, 2010

It's Monday 3/15! What Are You Reading?

Today is the Ides of March! I'm not sure exactly what that means, but to me it means that spring is finally on its way, after a long, difficult winter! We had a weekend full of rain, but the weather is supposed to be beautiful the rest of this week.

Meanwhile, we've been enjoying some wonderful books at our house:
  • Jamie, 15, is reading Sharp North by Patrick Cave, a new teen thriller set in a future Great Britain where mysterious murders occur and the wealthy keep illegal clones of themselves, just in case...
  • He's also reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows for his British Literature class at school - I can't wait to get my hands on that one when he's finished!
  • Craig, 12, finished Nick of Time by Ted Bell, which he said was his favorite book ever! He's started Hunting for Hidden Gold by Franklin W. Dixon, a Hardy Boys book - the equivalent of comfort food for Craig!
  • I just finished Murder at Midnight by Avi, a suspenseful mystery set in Italy during the Renaissance. Believe it or not, this was the first Avi book I've ever read, though Jamie's been telling me what a good writer he is for years.
  • My husband, Ken, is reading Icecore, a new teen thriller by Matt Whyman that both Jamie and I loved. You can read my review here.
  • We finished listening to the audio of a classic, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg. We all really enjoyed it and have decided we need to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC!
  • I've been listening to the audio of My One Hundred Adventures by Polly Horvath, a wonderful middle-grade novel about a 12-year old girl looking for adventure.
What are you and your family reading?

(What are you reading Mondays is hosted by One Person's Journey Through a World of Books)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Teen/YA Review: Icecore

Publisher’s Weekly said, “If Robert Ludlum ever wrote a book for teens, it would probably be a lot like Whyman’s action-packed techno-thriller.” I don’t normally quote other reviews, but this statement just seems perfect for Icecore, a new teen thriller by Matt Whyman. My 15-year old son recently read this exciting suspense novel and recommended it, and now I understand why.

Seventeen-year old British computer hacker Carl Hobbes is shocked when American agents pick him up on his way home from school and take him into custody. Sure, he hacked his way into Fort Knox – which is supposed to be impenetrable – but it was just for fun, to see if he could do it. No one got hurt from his prank, right? But the American government doesn’t think it was funny at all, especially as gold bars from Fort Knox start ending up in the hands of terrorists all over the world.

At the police station, Carl’s assigned lawyer tells him about his offer:

“It’s from the American authorities,” she began, as if this made it something I couldn’t refuse. I’m not sure what I expected to hear. When Ms. Greene finished, I asked her to repeat it so I could be sure I hadn’t missed some kind of catch.

According to her, I had actually been invited by the Americans to fly out and answer some friendly questions. This wasn’t an order, she stressed. It was a request for me to come voluntarily. Once they understood exactly how I had managed to hack into such a high-security financial institution, they would put me on a plane home again. I wouldn’t be arrested or earn any criminal conviction. Not a caution or even a fine. As part of this package, my father would be forbidden to talk to the press, as would I on my return. In fact, they proposed that the whole thing would be kept completely off the record.

It sounds like a good idea, but Carl soon realizes he’s gotten into more than he bargained for, as he is transported secretly to a military prison deep in the Arctic among world-famous terrorists and his questioning takes some surprising turns.

This is an action-packed thriller, with plenty of unexpected plot twists to keep you glued to the page. I grew to like Carl and couldn’t wait to find out what would happen to him. My son and I are both looking forward to the upcoming sequel, Goldstrike.

307 pages, Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Simon & Schuster)

Friday, March 5, 2010

Kids' Book Awards

There was some interesting news this week about two different book awards for kids' books.

The Children's Book Council announced its finalists for the Children's Choice Book Awards, in categories from kindergarten through teen. One of my favorites made the teen list: Catching Fire, the sequel to The Hunger Games - easily my favorite teen/YA books from last year (I read both in 2009). Their author, Suzanne Collins, was also nominated for Author of the Year. Check out the full lists at the CBC website, and vote for your favorites starting on March 15.

The UK's Booktrust announced its winners of the coveted Blue Peter Book Awards. The winner for Best Book I Couldn't Put Down as well as Blue Peter Book of the Year was Frozen in Time by Ali Sparkes, an exciting adventure of two cryogenically frozen kids from 1950 who are brought back to life in 2009. Sounds like a great plot, doesn't it? Frozen in Time will be available in the US on May 25, 2010. I can't wait!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Teen/YA Review: Camilla

I jumped at the chance to review Camilla by Madeleine L’Engle because she was one of my favorite authors when I was a kid and teen. Camilla, though, is a very different kind of novel than her better-known sci-fi series that starts with A Wrinkle in Time. L’Engle’s writing talents still shine through in this classic coming-of-age story that I listened to in audio.

Camilla Dickinson is 15 years old, lives in New York City and has lived a happy life so far with her parents, with little strife or suffering. All of a sudden, though, things start to go wrong, and it seems to her that her life is crumbling around her. She doesn’t know where to turn until she meets Frank, her best friend’s brother. The two immediately become lost in conversation, and Camilla feels like she has met her soul mate.

Camilla and Frank spend long hours roaming through the streets of New York and talking about every subject they can think of, from war to religion to philosophy. Frank introduces Camilla to new people – some of them far different than anyone she has encountered before in her sheltered life – and, despite the heartbreak she feels at the divisions forming in her family, Camilla feels alive and in love for the first time in her life.

Although this novel was originally published in 1951, its themes are still relevant today. There are minor hints of its age – especially the prices for a meal in NYC! – but the things that Camilla experiences are similar to what teens today experience: the crushing disappointment at finding out your parents aren’t as perfect as you thought they were, the pull between being a child and growing up, and the universal feelings of a first love. Camilla is a wonderful narrator, full of youthful exuberance about her city and her new love, as she works through the challenges of growing up.

272 pages, Square Fish (reissue)

Listen to a sample at Audible.com

Monday, March 1, 2010

It's Monday 3/1! What Are You Reading?

March 1st - finally! It's been a long, hard winter - I'm ready for spring! We had another busy week, including a whirlwind trip to Connecticut for my niece and nephew's birthdays after yet another snowstorm passed through the area.

It was a good reading week for all of us:
  • Jamie, age 15, finished Everwild by Neal Shusterman, the excellent sequel to Everlost. He loved it as much as I did, then passed it on to his Dad who is now reading it!
  • Jamie started Sharp North by Patrick Cave, a new teen thriller set in a future Great Britain where mysterious murders occur and the wealthy keep illegal clones of themselves, just in case...
  • Craig, 12, is still reading Nick of Time by Ted Bell, an exciting time travel pirate adventure.
  • I finished listening to Camilla by Madeleine L'Engle on audio, a coming-of-age teen classic by one of my favorite authors.
  • During our car trip, we all listened to the audio of another classic, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg. We're about 2/3 of the way through and finishing it at home - we're all enjoying it very much and have decided we need to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC!
Last week, I posted reviews of The Lightning Thief on audio by Rick Riordan and Spacer and Rat, a clever teen sci fi novel by Margaret Bechard.

What are you and your family reading this week?

(What are you reading Mondays is hosted by One Person's Journey Through a World of Books)