December 15, 2018

Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor

I loved Strange the Dreamer , as you might recall from my earlier review.  I always look forward to sequels or “next books” in series I love with anticipation, as well as a frisson of nervousness.  If a book doesn’t meet expectations, the disappointment is so much more intense when it is an author or characters that have really been engaging to you.  So last week, I turned to Laini Taylor’s most recent book with mixed feelings.  And. . .I loved it.  I can happily recommend the novel as a delightful and engaging holiday read,  or anytime read.  The depth of the characters of Lazlo and Sarai, as well as Minya and new characters like Kora and Nova, are deeply explored and contain nuances and surprising plot twists that show the reasons for their personal strengths and foibles.

Book 2 picks up right where the first novel leaves off.  It is not a stand-alone, so if you haven’t read Strange the Dreamer, you’re going to need to read that first.  At Book 1’s conclusion, Sarai dies.  And yes, she is still dead in Book 2, but survives as a ghost, tethered to Minya’s will, making Sarai a kind of hostage to Minya’s plans.

The novel switches back and forth between this Sarai/Lazlo narrative, and the backstory of Nova and  Kora, which all comes together in an intricate and well-designed plot.  I don’t want to include any spoilers, so just let me say that if you enjoyed Strange the Dreamer, I feel confident you will be swept up in Laini Taylor’s eloquent sequel.  Enjoy!



December 9, 2018

The Solstice Badger by Robin McFadden

Here in Portland, Oregon, our family mostly celebrates the Winter Solstice for our December Holiday.  Though there are books aplenty to honor Christmas and Hanukkah, other Winter celebrations are notably missing in children’s literature.  Happily, I just found a treasure:  The Solstice Badger. I always love a badger as protagonist (think Frances and her family! ).  So I fell in love with this adorable badger who befriends the Sun, way back when the sun shone all day long. The Sun begins to spend more and more time with his dear friend, and his absence  from  the skies causes the world to darken and snow to fall. How can they save the world, yet still maintain their friendship?  A magical and well-written tale.   It’s also a beautifully illustrated book, suitable for returning to each December as part of a read-aloud tradition.





December 1, 2018

The Wall in the Middle of the Book by Jon Agee

We love books that invite readers to be  part of the book, with the narrator talking directly to her audience. In fact, we appreciate them so much, we did a whole book flight: Go Inside a Book  with suggestions for the whole family, and at every age level.  So we are always on the lookout for great new reads that break the fourth wall. The story is told by a knight, who is very relieved that there is a wall in the middle of the book, with the left side of the book completely separated from the right by a brick wall in the middle.  He feels protected from the “danger” on the other side of the wall:  the ogre, tiger, giant rhino.  He’s so busy being afraid of these threats that he fails to notice the rising water on his side of the wall, with crocodiles and hungry fish.  Who will rescue him? I’ll bet you can guess.  The message is you can learn a lot from those you don’t yet know. Great commentary on preconceived ideas about others and other places.  And a lot of fun to engage with kids at the same time.

OVER AND UNDER THE SNOW by Kate Messner, Illustrated by Silas Neal

November 27, 2018

Over and Under the Snow by Kate Messner, illustrated by Silas Neal

It’s fun to walk, ski, or snowshoe through the snow, and enjoy nature during the winder months.  But it’s also fascinating to look at the world beneath the snow. This nonfiction book for young children invites readers to take an adventure in the subnivean zone (the world beneath the snow), where you can explore underground–and overground–tunnels and caves, and places where animals live beneath the snow. It’s a simply lovely study of the ways that animals spend the winter.  I loved the intriguing information on animal adaptations, as well as the illustrations which perfectly complemented the text. The above and below ground views invite explorations of the page as well as entice for further investigations.  The back of the book has further information on animals preparing for winter, too. Great for building on children’s natural interest in the change in seasons, and curiosity about animals.

BAN THIS BOOK by Alan Gratz: Fourth Graders Fight Back

November 9, 2018

Ban This Book by Alan Gratz

I’ve been reading a lot of Alan Gratz’s books lately, thanks to a visit with my grand-nephew, fifth-grader Jake, who is especially into the WWII fiction by the author.  And they’re very good!  Stay tuned for posts about these incredible and moving novels.

This recent title is a must-read for kids to recognize the importance of championing freedom to read, and the power to fight back against banned books.  It’s a book that will resonate with all book lovers.  Listen to the words of this (English teacher) reviewer: “Ban This Book will spark rich discussion about the First Amendment, civil disobedience, and learning to find your voice. After all, we should speak all ‘speak our mind, even if our voice shakes.'”

Basics of the plot:  a PTA President finds more and more books on the school library shelves “objectionable.”  When her favorite books (like FROM THE MIXED-UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER) start being pulled, she decides to create the BBLL (Banned Books Locker Library).  There are close calls, lots of fun plot twists, and great dialogue.  The characters (even the “villains” ) are not stereotypes, but fleshed out and realistic.  Besides the main themes of censorship and civil disobedience, I appreciate the journey of a young girl finding both courage, and her own unique voice. So important in these times for all of us to be brave and stand up for what is right!


November 3, 2018

Lights, Camera, Middle School:  Babymouse Tales From the Locker by Jennifer L. Holm, illustrated by Matthew Holm

As a fan of Babymouse, have you ever wondered how she fares as she progresses through school?  For example, what happens when she reaches middle school?  Well, thanks to Jennifer and Matthew Holms’ new Babymouse series, we get to find out.  It’s a new culture with difficult new rules and people to navigate.  But luckily, Babymouse doesn’t want to fit in–she wants to stand out!

The new series is perfect for fans of Babymouse who have grown beyond her younger adventures and want to read a bit more challenging text in a longer chapter book.  It’s such fun to see Babymouse dealing with middle school drama.  In this first book, she decides to join drama club and write and direct a movie based on her favorite epic dramas. Her delusions of grandeur are perfect for her new role, but she has many lessons to learn, as you can imagine. It’s part chapter book, and part graphic novel, so be prepared for something a little different. I’d say it’s the perfect read for fans of Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  Enjoy!

THE CASE FOR JAMIE (Charlotte Holmes Novel) by Brittany Cavallaro

October 27, 2018

The Case for Jamie by Brittany Cavallaro

If you are a big fan of Sherlock Holmes, and have already found this contemporary spin-off that features Charlotte Holmes, you will be delighted to delve into book number 3.  In case you are happily surprised to hear about this series, check out our reviews of A Study in Charlotte and The Last of August.That will get you up to speed and ready for the latest adventures. So, Jamie Watson and Charlotte Holmes are coping with the death of their friend August Moriarty.  It’s been over a year, and they are on separate paths, and haven’t even spoken.  Jamie has returned to their posh high school, and is basically going through the motions, even with his sweet new girlfriend.  Frankly, he misses Charlotte as much as he is angry with her. Charlotte, on the other hand, is on the run, mostly from the Moriarty family who blame her for August’s death.  But strange things are beginning to happen in Jamie’s life–deleted projects and homework, missed messages, and many separate mini-mysteries that come together into one giant thriller. No spoilers here, so we can only recommend that you pick up a copy and start reading so you’ll be ready when the adventures continue, in Book 4!