April 20, 2019

Fallen Empires:  Cleopatra in Space #5 by Mike Maihack

Spring Break seemed like a good time to bring the grand-twins the latest books in a favorite series.   Fallen Empires was just such a book (and I must admit, it was satisfying to see it was such a compelling hit).  Xavius Octavian–super villain who went from being Cleo’s best friend to a hard-hearted and ruthless dictator–continues his assault on the galaxy.  We also learn more of the complicated history that made him what he is.  Cleo continues to be her confident, plucky, amazing self, and the other characters create a diverse and satisfying part in the adventure tale.  The art is simply amazing in portraying Cleo’s action sequences and her special personality.  I continue to love the futuristic Egypt landscape, with its pyramid skyscrapers and gleaming buildings. The series is really a lot of fun to read and reread, looking for details in the graphics.  I understand there is one more book planned in the series. . .I’ll be watching for it.  It doesn’t seem possible that we first read Cleo’s adventures way back 4 years when the twins were 8 years old; we reviewed the Book #1 Target Practice enthusiastically.  You can also check out our reviews of Book 2:  The Thief and the Sword,and Book 4 The Golden Lion.  Though the kids are now 6th graders instead of second graders, their delight in the series remains, so I can attest to its interest for a range of ages.  Check it out!




April 13, 2019

The Bad Guys:  Intergalactic Gas (The Bad Guys #5) by Aaron Blabey

A couple of years ago, I discovered (and recommended) The Bad Guys (#1).  Since that time, the series has grown to 9 titles!  I kept up with the first couple and shared them with our nephew Ian.  This week, I had the pleasure of hanging out with my great-nephew (!) Roger and going to the Seattle pubic library during spring break. Browsing through the books, Great-Uncle Jim pulled out book #5, remembering how much Ian had enjoyed the early books in the series.  We brought the book home, and read it aloud, (though it was the perfect reading level for 6-year-old Roger, who has definitely cracked the code). We all laughed so hard we were practically crying.  In this story, the Bad Guys are still trying to convince the world that they  have reformed and are actually Good Guys.  When they discover the world is ending, they are determined to save it.  To succeed, they must “borrow” a rocket and come up with a series of intricate plans.  But Mr. Piranha throws a wrench in the works when he might just have eaten a few too many bean burritos.  Uh oh. . . Luckily for the friends, they use his farting gas explosions to save the day.  Silly, funny, and fun to read.  (But be warned–a lot of potty humor jokes, so if you don’t want your kids hearing them it may not be a good fit.)  If this one strikes you and your kids’ fancy, check out the other titles.  We sent Roger The Bad Guys:  Attack of the Zittens, and just heard via email that he sat right down and read it as soon as it arrived.  We can highly recommend the readability for advanced first-graders, and second-grade readers, though the series is fun for all ages to share together.

A QUESTION OF HOLMES by Brittany Cavallaro: The Charlotte Holmes Series Conclusion

April 6, 2019

A Question of Holmes, (Charlotte Holmes, Book 4) by Brittany Cavallaro

Cavallaro’s contemporary Holmes and Watson retellings stand out in recent YA novels for their clever dialogue, intriguing plots and complex characters.  I have enjoyed all the mysteries and was not pleased to learn this was to be the conclusion to the series.  But despite my misgivings, I whole-heartedly enjoyed the final chapter.  In this book, Holmes and Watson have a chance to reset their romance and start again, this time with their solid history and a sense of trust between them.  But while attending a summer program, they are drawn into a murder mystery–a new case for Charlotte.  The plot revolves around a “cold case” of the summer past and is set in the theatre group at Cambridge.  I found the conclusion to be very satisfying, allowing some sweet closure, and imaginings of this dynamic duo’s further adventures.  Kudos to Cavallaro!  I await her next books with eagerness.

One for You and One for Me: Nellie Bly

March 24, 2019

One for You and One for Me:  Nellie Bly

~posted by Ruth

When I was a young girl,  I considered myself a daring reporter in the making; in fourth grade, I even started a neighborhood newspaper that I carefully hand-copied for all my neighbors.  And I wasn’t bothered by a lack of hard news.  One of my front-page stories carried the headline:  DR. SHAGOURY HAS A BALD SPOT ON THE BACK OF HIS HEAD, (THOUGH HE IS AN EXCELLENT DOCTOR).  Needless to say, my dad was not thrilled with my early forays into journalism.  Luckily for my family, I turned to more private journal writing, and to reading about women journalists.   One of the first biographies I read was of the ground-breaking journalist Elizabeth Jane Cochran, aka “Nellie Bly.”  It was an amazing feat for a woman to be a journalist at the turn of the 19th century, and Nellie was particularly outstanding for her struggles against  the male-dominated industry and her determination to report the stories no one else was covering–the stories of underprivileged women.  Nellie Bly is also known for her globe-trotting adventure, showing she could duplicate the fictional Jules Verne feat of traveling around the world in 80 days.  In the young reader biography I read as a girl, the author bemoaned the fact that Nellie Bly’s work and reporting on behalf of women had become little more than  a footnote to her round-the-world adventure.  Years later,  I have found the same disappointing coverage of her career, especially in biographies for young readers.  But I also discovered a stand-out bio for youth, as well as a novel for adults based on the real-life and reporting endeavors of the one and only Nellie Bly.  Perfect for Women’s History month, and just right for a pair of books, One for You and and For Me.  I hope different generations of readers will be inspired by these books and enjoy rich discussions of the role of woman reporters in today’s world, noting differences and similarities between the world of 100 years ago and today’s “turbulent times. ”

For Readers Middle School and Older:

Ten Days a Mad-Woman:  The Daring Life and Turbulent Times of the Original “Girl” Reporter, Nellie Bly by Deborah Noyes

Deborah Noyes creates the kind biography that readers can dig into, with a wealth of photographs both of Nellie and also important people and places of her time.  Side-bars include quotes from Nellie Bly, as well as information about places and institutions that were part of this intrepid reporter’s first-person investigative reporting.  The most daring of her undercover reporting was her decision to be committed to a famous (or infamous) insane asylum:  New York City Lunatic Asylum on  Blackwell Island.  Her treatment as a patient was torturous, and she came to realize that if she had done this on her own without the backing of her newspaper, she never would have escaped the asylum.  Her series “Behind Asylum Bars” was both a huge hit, but also forced major changes in the care of mentally ill patients.  Notes does a great job of illuminating other important stories very personally investigated:  she passed herself off as a maid to expose employment agencies’ ruses, got herself hired at a paper bag factory to show how girls slaved all day for little money in airless rooms filled with glue fumes.  Not mention, the series she wrote on lobbyists’ corruption and her infamous tour around the world in 80 days.  This is a fine bio that will entice your readers to learn more about Nellie Bly, and other intrepid heroes like her. Highly recommended.


For Adult Readers:

What Girls are Good For:  A Novel of Nellie Bly by David Blixt

If reading about Nellie Bly from Noyes’ biography has you intrigued and interested in learning more about this unsung American hero, then David Blixt’s novel is for you.  He has meticulously research her life and writings, and brings her incredible experiences to life with vivid and engaging writing. It’s an engrossing tale, full of a young woman’s rage against injustice and detailing the adventures Nellie Bly gets into because of that fury.  Her romantic adventures make for engrossing reading, too (she married a millionaire, for example, and also made overtures to a married colleague she was attracted to, who hurt her by rebuffing her).  She was chased out of Mexico for revealing government corruption. Readers are treated to a riveting–and true –account of a spirited and idealistic woman.  Happy Reading!

TWO CAN KEEP A SECRET by Karen McManus: YA Guilty Pleasure

March 17, 2019

Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen McManus

Karen McManus follows up her best-selling YA Thriller One of Us Is Lying. It tells you quite a bit about the book to see on the cover that the subtitle is:  . . .If One is Dead!  In our recommendation for the first book, we found the writing to be fine, but not the best; nonetheless, the book was “strong and engaging and a lot of fun.”  This recommendation for her new book retains the same caveat, and the same endorsement.  For me, it was a kind of guilty pleasure to be caught up in the mystery and the characters and trying to guess what was going on. Definitely a page turner that kept my interest. Ellery and her twin are whisked away to their mother’s home town in small town Vermont to live with their grandmother when their mother enters rehab for an opioid addition. The mom had a twin sister who was homecoming queen in high school, and disappeared. Just five years ago the current homecoming queen was murdered.  And now that Ellery is in town, there is another threat centered around homecoming. Ellery and her brother Ezra may have success is finding out what ties the different crimes across the years together–if they can uncover the secrets at the heart of the town scandals. The story is told in alternating chapters by Ellery and Malcolm, whose brother was implicated in the murder of the homecoming queen a few years past.  Tension and mystery abound, and if you are looking for a light read and fast-pasted thriller experience (and don’t mind the lack of character development), I would recommend Two Can Keep a Secret.

CIRCLE by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen: Completing the Shapes Trilogy

March 10, 2019

Circle by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

When this author duo gets together, the results are magical.  We have enjoyed the first two books in their Shapes series, Triangle, and Square, and have been eagerly awaiting the publication of Circle.  In the book dedicated to Triangle, there is some trickster humor going on between the two friends, Triangle and Square.  Then, in Square, we are introduced to the third amigo, Circle.  The final book, devoted to her, brings the three friends together in an adventure.  Practical Circle has some rules for her explorations.  But what happens when she has to break those rules to save her friend Triangle? The illustrations are genius; how does Klassen show so much emotion and wit with such a limited palette and simple shapes?  The sly humor is evident, though not quite as much as in the first two books.  But the philosophical musing is amped up a bit, I thought.  The ambiguous ending is growing on me, especially since I have been sharing the book with young friends who use their imaginations to talk about what scary thing–shape?–is in the cave.  At first reading, I didn’t appreciate it as much as I have come to.  My recommendation is to share with your friends, students, and family and see what discussions grow out of it.  The intended audience seemed to catch on to the magic before I did!


March 2, 2019

A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver by E.L. Konigsburg

Over the last year, I have been fascinated by Eleanor of Aquitaine and the whole intriguing history of Europe in the 11th through 13th centuries.  The historical fiction of Sharon Penman has been my guide, not to mention addiction.  Her series on Eleanor and Henry II, especially Devil’s Brood and her 3-novel series The Queen’s Man  immersed me in the medieval world of England, Wales, France, and Germany, and the stunning intrigue that was life for people during those times.  Years ago, when Meghan was the age of the twins–a middle school student–one of her favorite books was A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver.  I remember reading it and enjoying it, but all I remembered was that it dealt with Eleanor of Aquitaine and it was a great read.  So.  Time to reacquaint myself.

What a revelation!  This short novel covered the most important people in Eleanor’s life as well as the highlights of this amazing woman’s legacy.  The premise is that Eleanor has been dead for quite a while and is waiting for her husband Henry II to arrive in Heaven.  (He had to spend a couple of hundred more years in Hell than she did, thus the delay.)  As she impatiently waits to continue their conversations that she has missed, different characters from her life fill in for others  amazing history.  She was married to two kings, both Louis of France and Henry II of England.  And she was the mother to two English kings, Richard the Lionhearted and John.   She lived a long and rich life–82 years! –and bore 10 children.  And this was despite being imprisoned by her second husband, Henry II for 16 years for inciting a rebellion against him.  If today’s readers are anything like me (and Meghan), this novel will be a pathway for more historical fiction and a dive into medieval history.  Well-written, witty, and historically accurate, this is a wonderful read to recommend to middle school, high school, and adult readers.  Then, you might want to dig in to Share K. Penman’s novels.  Happy reading.