Thursday, January 20, 2011


Zach Harriman's father is a government agent working for the U.S. President and has special powers.


When he unexpectedly dies in a plane crash everyone says  it's an accident but Zach believes it was murder. As he tries to figure out what happened to his father, he develops his own superpowers of x-ray vision, super speed, sixth sense, and flying. What 14 year old wouldn't love that? Mr. Herbert mysteriously appears and mentors him regarding his superpowers. Zach has to learn fast because the bad guys or "Bads" are going to make their move and he will have to stop them.

This story is a fast read. Too fast in fact. Lupica didn't quite set it up as a well-rounded "hero" book. For instance, the villians are vague and never defined as any particular person or group of persons. While Zach is mentored by Mr. Herbert he comes and goes really quickly in the story. In the Percy Jackson or Harry Potter series, the heroes develop their powers in a setting such as Hogwarts School or Camp Half-blood. Zach just gets his powers. Also, there is no explanation as to how Zach's dad got his superpowers and how he went from being an orphan to going to Harvard and becoming wealthy. The dialogue was forced at times with youthful cliches and fist-bumping or high-fiving.

There are many sports references and politics. Lupica's sports novels are better than this attempt at a different genre. Perhaps the sequel will fill in the blanks.

Reading Level 5.6

:-) :-) :-) 3 Smileys

The Curse of the Deadman's Forest

I fast forwarded my reading through this sequel. Ian and Theo continue their adventures saving the world from the evil Demogorgon and his 4 offspring. The two have to find 7 children (in book one it was 6 children) to save the world from the rise of the Demogorgon. In this book, the prophecy predicts the two finding the third child by going through the portal and she will be a great Healer; however, it also predicts that Ian will be killed. The adults, along with Theo and Carl, agree that Ian is not to go through the portal. When the Plague comes to the Keep and children begin to die Theo, Ian, and his best friend Carl find themselves forced to go through the portal. Will Ian live?

The plot in this book is more inconsistent than the last book and the pacing is slow in spots. I got confused at times who was speaking in certain chapters. For instance, the Earl is mascarading as Mr. Nutley's nephew and when another character said, "Mr. Nutley..." I had to reread passages to determine if it was the Earl or the Professor speaking. It might have been because I was reading in fast forward motion which I do if the pacing is slow. I also got confused when someone snuck out of the Keep and met with Dieter on page 76. Just remember that Dieter and Hylda are the Van Schufts from the previous book who killed two children from the Keep. I didn't remember their first names because they are mainly referred to as the Van Schufts.

Ian is out of character a couple of times. The first time is when he spots a woman paying off a cab driver but still gets in the taxi and doesn't tell the Earl. There have been several attempts at their lives and he is The Guardian, protector, or the cautious one of the group. This action was irresponsible and out of character. The other time is when Carmina steals the journal from the Professor. Ian has no thought as to whether or not the Professor was injured. He would have sent Carl to check on him if he was being The Guardian. Theo sounds older than an 11 year old.

The book is violent in parts particularly when the soldiers shoot Eva and have the children line up execution style with hands behind thier heads so the German soldier can kill them. The soldier shoots the air and kicks them down a ravine. This was too realistic and violent for me. Maybe students lack of knowledge of WWII would make them okay with it. This book has Ian jealous of Carl because the girls like Carl. While publishers have the book for ages 9-12 it has elements that would place it in Young Adult.

Reading Level 6.1

:-) :-) 2 Smileys

Monday, January 17, 2011

Oracles of Delphi Keep

A hellhound wants the blood of orphans Ian Wigby and Theodosia after they discover a box from a cave at the White Cliffs of Dover. The box contains a three-thousand-year-old prophecy written by the great Oracle, Laodamia. As the mystery unfolds the two end up on quest with the likes of a professor, two teachers, and an orphan as they try to save the world from being taken over by a demogorgon or demon God of the Earth.

The pacing is a little slow in spots but picks up toward the end as the characters of Caphiera and Magus chase after the group of questers. Caphiera is like Medusa except people turn to ice rather than stone. Magus controls the hellhounds and fire. He can burn a person from the inside out. The characters are 8 and 14 years old but sound older and have incredible physical stamina. They seemed older to me than the ages they were given in the book. I wished that the teachers Perry and Thatcher bantered more and could provide some comic relief but they argued with each other through most of the story. I thought Perry in his persistant belief that nothing was real got ridiculous because the author drew it out too long.

The book gets more violent toward the end as the two tribes in Morocco fight in a bloody battle. Most of the story draws from Greek mythology and Druids from Celtic mythology. This is the first book in a series and fantasy lovers should enjoy it although it might be dense for some readers at 552 pages.

Reading Level 7.1

:-) :-) :-) 3 Smileys

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Rescuing Seneca Crane

Kari is tired of hearing her best friend Lucas talk obsessively about her boyfriend, Mr. Makes Me Want to Gag. Kari and Lucas are traveling to Scotland with Kari's mom, a magazine reporter, who is interviewing Seneca, a teenage pianist prodigy. They make friends with Seneca who is kidnapped after a concert. Thus begins the mystery where the two unravel the clues to figure out Seneca's kidnappers. Along the way Lucas rethinks her relationship with her boyfriend and Kari discovers she's not as cowardly as she thinks in the beginning of the story.

I thought this was your average mystery book. The writing wasn't super descriptive and the plot was predicatable. However, the author focuses on the girls and their friendships which young readers will like.

Rather than use swear words the girls use the word "Meep." It sounds like a baby kitten. I think the author was playing on the sounds of people who are beeped on television when they swear. It was cute at first but got annoying by page 288. But I also read the book in one sitting. Maybe it wouldn't be annoying if I had picked it up and set it down more often.

:-) :-) 2.5 Smileys

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


The title of the book, Dusssie, by Nancy Springer is supposed to be a snake hissing.  However, in the book her name is Dusie, pronounced "Do See." The play on words is the heart of the story. Dusie is trying to figure out who she is on the inside. She wakes up one morning and has snakes on her head. Mom explains that she is a gorgon: Color me stupid, but I was thirteen before I understood why my mother always wore a turban. I thought it was just part of her artistic weirdness. I had no clue until my own hair turned into snakes.

Dusie's real name is Medusa - named after her famous aunt. Dusie flips out but still tries to go to school and cover her snakey head. Except things go awry. She gets annoyed with a boy she likes on the way to school and gives him the evil eye. Oops. Now he's stone on the outside but breathing on the inside. Dusie feels awful. She sets out to turn him back and learns how to like herself, her snakes, and (gasp) her mom.

Dusie doesn't interract with many other characters. She makes friends with an old man who helps her find a cure for her snakes and she argues with her mom. She also talks to the Sisterhood but that's about it. The plot was well done with some interesting twists but I thought the story could have used another character. Maybe another kid like her? A cousin?

Dusie gets her snakehead because she starts to menustrate and enters womanhood. While the story is a clever way to address the anxieties of puberty, I wish the author had left out the details of cramps and changing sheets, etc. in the first chapter. It turned me off. If you can get past that it is a fun book and quick read.

Reading Level 7.1

:-) :-) :-) 3 Smileys

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Medusa Jones

Medusa Jones is being bullied at school by the popular kids. Her parents don't help much with solving the problem and the teachers at school are disrespectful bullies themselves. Medusa goes on a camping trip with the popular kids and when they get in trouble she and her friends have to decide whether or not to help them.

The illustrations in this book are well-done but the story is not well-written. There are cliches and the plot is random and predictable. I'm not sure what the chapter on Medusa going to the barber relates to the overall story; it just seemed mean-spirited. I also thought Medusa was out of character at the end when she called her friend an idiot and said she was "the beauty and brains of the outfit." She sounded just like the bullies in the story.

You need to know what a Gorgon is and be somewhat familiar with Greek mythology when reading this story. Also, a "chiton" is a tunic. It is mentioned several times in the story. I'm more familiar with the word, toga.

Reading Level 4.1

:-) :-) 2 Smileys

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Witch of Blackbird Pond

Kit is like a bobber on a fishing lure. She periodically gets dunked but she always comes bubbling to the surface, irresistable and full of life.

Kit has fled her home in Barbados after her grandfather dies and thieves take his land and wealth. Kit is educated and somewhat spoiled. When a little girl accidentally drops her doll over the side of  a longboat that is taking a group of New Englanders ashore to the town of Wethersfield in 1687, Kit begs the Captain to  go back and pick it up. The Captain ignores Kit and the little girl's mother, Goodwife Cruff, cuffs the wailing girl making Kit so mad she jumps into the water and retrieves the doll. The adults are flabbergasted! Few people swim; especially women. A woman who floats is considered a witch. One who sinks is innocent. The mother of the little girl is convinced Kit is a witch. Kit's impulsive good-hearted actions set off a string of unintended events that lead to an exciting climax as she learns to live in the strick Puritan-run town of Wethersfield, Connecticut with her  aunt and uncle and their two daughters.  Here, Kit learns about hard labor, love, and prejudice. 

It is easy to see why this book won the Newbery Medal in 1959. The descriptions, historical detail, and character development are marvelous: "Judith plumped matter-of-factly to her knees and began to pull vigorously. Kit could never get over her amazement at her cousin. Judith, so proud and uppity, so vain of the curls that fell just so on her shoulder, so finicky about the snowy linen collar that was the only vanity allowed her, kneeling in dirt doing work that a high-class slave in Barbados would rebel at. What a strange country this was!" (p. 78) Kit is strong-minded and independent. She reminded me of Jo in Little Women or Anne in Anne of Green Gables.

The characters are neither entirely good nor bad. Kit's aunt and uncle represent the fair-minded Puritans while Goodwife Cruff represents the ignorant and superstitious-minded Puritans. Hannah Tupper represents a free-thinker as a Quaker. Her different way of thinking scares the townspeople.

I loved this book except the ending. Most people will like the fairy tale ending but I didn't think it rang true. Three young people all find the right mate and get married in one year? The love triangle of Mercy, John, William, Judith, Nat and Kit provide excellent tension and suspense in the story but did they all have to neatly get married? And Nat owning a ketch at the end? How would he have enough money to buy one? That part of the story reminds me of the 50's where women focused on getting married and raising kids. I couldn't find one criticism on the book when browsing the Internet so I wonder if I'm off-base. I'd be curious what others think.

Terrific book!

Reading Level 7.2

:-) :-) :-) :-) :-) 5 Smileys

Monday, January 3, 2011


Finn has escaped the prison, Incarceron. Or has he just substituted one prison for another?

This action-packed sequel to Incarceron has many twists and turns as Finn finds that being the heir to the throne is just as suffocating as being in prison. He still has spells and is very depressed until an imposter rises to claim he is the prince. Finn's life is in danger as he and Claudia search to reopen the portal to the prison freeing the warden who is trapped there and knows the truth about Finn's birth.

Meanwhile Attia and Finn's oathbrother, Keiro, are still trapped in the prison from the first book and work to find the secret passage that the legendary Sapphique used to escape. They meet up with a magician as the plot twists into an exciting ending.

You really need to read the first book to understand the prison and that it is a live being. The first book also explains more in-depth the relationship between Keiro and Finn. The book has many violent parts and there is some swearing but it is well-written with strong characters.  The magician, Rix, reminds me of Gollum in Lord of the Rings. Rix is obsessed with Sapphique's glove and I was waiting for him to call it, My Precious. A fun read for fantasy lovers.

Young Adult

:-) :-) :-) :-) 4 Smileys

From Cover to Cover: Evaluating and Reviewing Children's Books

I'm pretty clueless when it comes to blogging. This blog is meant to help me remember all the books I've read, get students excited about reading, and inform parents or teachers about books.  

That said... Kathleen Horning's book, From Cover to Cover: Evaluating and Reviewing Children's Books, is not about blogging but it is about evaluating books in a professional way. What a great tool for helping me know what to look for when evaluating books, why books are written and categorized in certain ways, and how I can write in a way that is useful to my audience.

Chapters are divided by fiction, nonfiction, and picture books. The depth and history of publishing, as well as examples of excellent reviews and books, is extremely helpful to me as a teacher and librarian. I picked up information I didn't know in every chapter and have referred to it when writing my most recent reviews for this blog.

At least that's the gist of it. Now I just have to practice, practice, practice.

Great reference book.

I Am Number Four

John Smith is hiding from the Mogadorians in Paradise, Ohio anxiously waiting for his Legacies or super powers to develop. The Mogadorians, who destroyed John Smith's planet and people, are now on Earth tracking down and killing nine Loric youths in numerical order. One through three are dead. John is number four. Will they find him before he has the super powers needed to fight them?

A movie is being released based on this book and I think students will like the action and characters. The beginning of the book doesn't have strong dialogue. I found the conversations boring and too many sentences starting with "I". The writing felt monotonous until the end where it gets stronger and sentences start to vary and more senses are incorporated into the text.

The section with the bully at school is predictable and all of the characters swear a lot. John also gets a girlfriend and they kiss a lot.  On page 112 John says that his Grandfather is 50 years old which doesn't make sense because we learn earlier that people on Loric marry when they are 25. His parents would be 43 and Grandpa would have had a kid at the age of 7 when he had John's parents. Other lapses in plot are why would John go to the bully, Mark's, house for a party after the violent incident that happened between them. And why would Mark make a 180 degree turn and risk his life for John fighting the Mogadorians? Also, how can number six survive being stabbed by a 4 inch knife 3 times and shot in the leg? And what happened to the beast at the end that helped them?

If you can overlook the inconsistencies and get lost in the action, you should enjoy this book. The ending sets up the next book.

:-) :-) 2 Smileys


I liked this book so much I walked to the car with my nose pressed between the pages, risked motion sickness reading it on the ride to Grandma Edith's place, and resented any interruptions that forced me to put it down. Of course, I'm an Orson Scott Card fan so it isn't surprising. He's a terrific writer.

Rigg is being raised by a man known only as Father. He has the unusual ability to see animals and peoples paths in the past as well as those alive. The two are fur trappers and Father tutors Rigg like a scholar. Rigg thinks it is a bunch of useless information until Father dies and sends Rigg on an adventure to find his sister that he didn't even know existed. Rigg is given a bag of jewels and journeys with his best friend, Umbro, whom he discovers has an unusual gift just like him except Umbro can travel through time. The two learn to control and use their gifts as they seek to free his sister and mother who are under house arrest when power shifted from Royalty to a Ruling Council.

Another story is interspersed with Rigg's about the first human-built spaceship that attempts to do a time-jump to cut down on its interstellar voyages. During the time-jump, it is divided into 19 colonies and it sets up a wall so those colonies can flourish separate from each other. Rigg's story takes place in one of those colonies.

The time-travel part is complicated and the characters discuss it in-depth. I can see students not being able to stick with this part of the story or be confused. I don't tend to mull over details and I thought it became clearer as the story progressed. I also didn't think the voice of Rigg sounded like a 14-year-old. He was too sophisticated and smart developmentally for that age. Perhaps if the author made him 17 or 18 years old it would have been more believeable. Still, it was easy to ignore that aspect and enjoy the book. The characters are well developed, funny and Card has some great plot twists.

The ending sets up for a sequel.

:-) :-) :-) :-) 4.5 Smileys

Sunday, January 2, 2011


The villagers think Maddie is a witch because of the runemark on her palm. People and animals with runemarks are usually killed at birth but Maddie is not because  the midwife who delivered her is considered mad and no one took her seriously when she told of the runemark. 

After her birth, the villagers begin seeing goblins who are known to watch Maddie. She is ostracized and wild until she meets One-Eye, the man who tutors her in performing magic using her runemark.  For 7 years, One-Eye teaches her for a short period of time traveling from the World's End. He is late this year and when he does arrive he finds that Maddie's powers have grown and he wants her to help him open a gateway into the Red Horse Hill to retrieve the Whisperer. Thus begins Maddie's quest where she meets the Norse gods of old who wage a battle with the religious rulers of the world who want to rid themselves of the gods forever.

This book is going to be a difficult read without any knowledge of Norse mythology and the creation stories. Because I had read three Norse books prior, I didn't have too many problems following the story. There are quite a few references to the myths but not in-depth explanations which was good because I think it would have taken away from the main story. The reader should know the difference between the Aesir and Vanir and Order and Chaos. A knowledge of Mimir's story is necessary and I think they should have included that in the story (or had it in an appendix) because the Whisperer, Oracle, and Mimir are the same people.

I thought the author did a nice job of developing Loki as the lying trickster who incorporates both good and evil and order and chaos. The reader should be familiar with his story in Norse mythology in order to fully understand his contradictory behavior. While he is presented as charming, I wished he had been more playful. The story is heavy handed at times with religious aspects. The villagers who represent order are narrow-minded zealots and only Nan seems to be presented as a less extreme person. 

The ending has some interesting twists. I didn't really understand what the author meant with Adam running away with the golden key. Maybe she was referring to Grimm's fairytale that has no ending. A boy finds a golden key and unlocks a box but the reader doesn't know what happens after that. 

The book has violent parts and some might be uncomfortable with when the gods shift shapes into animals they come back to their human form with no clothes on. This creates some odd situations for them - some funny, some not. Fantasy lovers should find this an interesting read with plenty of action.

:-) :-) :-) 3 Smileys

Leven Thumps and the Gateway to Foo

Leven Thumps is a weird name. 

This is the name of the main character in the book, Leven Thumps and the Gateway to Foo. While Leven is not teased about his name, he is teased about the white streak of hair that runs down the side of his dark hair. Skunk, he's called by the bullies at school and home.

That's right, home. Step-dad is a bully. He is cruel to Leven and so is step-mom forcing him to sleep on the porch and serve them as a slave. When Leven meets Clover, a creature from the world of Foo, he learns that he has special powers and must save the world from the evil Sabine who wants to take away humans' ability to dream. On his quest, Leven meets Winter who also has unique powers and the two of them run away from their difficult home situations where they find Geth, the king of Foo, who has turned into a toothpick.

The book is full of action and an entertaining. The parents are cartoonish in their extreme behaviors and made me think of Roald Dahl's Aunt Spiker and Sponge. Sabine is evil and it is hinted that he doesn't control his actions but someone else is. This is never explained.

The book has some violent parts with the step-dad attacking Leven with a baseball bat and of course the "bad guys" trying to kill Leven, Winter, and Geth. Fantasy lovers should enjoy this read.

Reading Level 6.4

:-) :-) :-) 3 Smileys