Archive for June, 2008

The Red Necklace by Sally Gardner

I, CorianderOne of my favorite books of 2005 was Sally Gardner’s book I, Coriander, a fascinating children’s historical set during the English Restoration, a time-period rarely written about in fiction.  The story had compelling characters, exciting adventures, and a small amount of completely believeable fantasy, if that isn’t an oxymoron.  The book enthralled me: I forced on many of my colleagues (all of whom loved it), and gave it to several family members for Christmas. 

I was extremely excited, therefore, when I discovered that Sally Gardner had a new book coming out: The Red Necklace.  This book is set during the French Revolution, a much more often written about time period, but the story is equally thrilling and captivating. 

Right from the beginning, the book is captivating: Yann Margoza, an orphan, is part of a magic show, along with Tetu the dwarf, who raised him, and Topolaine, the magician.  When the trio is hired to perform at a party given by the terrifying and mysterious Count Kalliovsky and his associate, a dangerously foolish Marquis, Yann meets the Marquis’ neglected daughter, Sidonie.  The performance goes horribly wrong, one member of the group is murdered, and from that moment on, the story hurtles forward with an exhilarating and riveting momentum.

Much like in I, Coriander, the language is what tells us the story of The Red Necklace.  Surprisingly, though, the language is not over-wrought: there are no long, overtly lyrical descriptive passages to get through to come back to the story.  Each word the author uses is there to specifically set each scene, yet the tone is that of a lushly epic adventure; the result is a perfectly realized world with compelling, and achingly believeable characters. 

I cannot recommend this book highly enough, to children, young adults, and grown-ups.  I promise that if you read it, you’ll be as excited as I am to hear that there is a sequel coming out next year.

Posted by: Sarah

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To the Beach by Linda Ashman

To the BeachWith summer just around the corner, To the Beach is the perfect read aloud.  The rhyming text moves this silly story about a family trying to get to the beach (without much success) right along.  While mom and dad think the car is packed and all ready to go, they soon find out that everyone left something behind and have to return to the house repeatedly.  Will the family ever make it to the beach?  Mom and Dad have an even better idea!  Read this story along with Please Do Feed the Bears by Naylor, another story about a trip to the beach that doesn’t go quite as planned.

Posted by: Liz

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Greetings from Nowhere by Barbara O’Connor

Greetings from NowhereThe cover of this book made me think of another time, and so I was drawn to it.  It is actually set in fairly current times in North Carolina’s Great Smoky Mountains and is about several kids and adults, each with their own personal struggles.  Just by happenstance, they all end up staying at the Sleepy Time Motel, which is an old fashioned roadside motel run by Aggie, who is on her own with her cat Ugly since her husband Harold died.  The kids in the story are going through some things of their own, for example Kirby who is on his way to reform school or Willow who is lonely after her mother has left her and her father.  This motel is where these strangers build important friendships and learn about themselves and even find new hope when things look pretty bleak.  This was a wonderful story of hope and redemption and how strangers can play an important role in your life.  It was a well-written story, and if kids can read far enough into it (not really that far) to see that it is about kids and not just about an old lady, I think they will love it.

Posted by: Mary

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Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian

the dead and the gone

Imagine being removed from your home in London during the build-up to World War II and being taken to a small village in the country to live with a stranger. It would get you away from the potential for bombings but you would be scared of so many things in your new environment. Also, imagine that you were the reclusive old man who reluctantly took such a scared young boy into your home and you realized that the boy had been abused by his single, mentally ill, mother and needed more than just getting away from the bombs.

This intense, powerful story tells how these circumstances combined to change lives. Children will find the adventures and the relationship development to be very absorbing if they are old enough to not be disturbed by the references to abuse and wartime events. Adults will also find it engrossing. You’ll be glad to know that there is a movie based on the book.

Posted by: Iris

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The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets by Nancy Springer

The Case of the Bizarre BouquetsFor the third time, Enola Holmes, the fictional younger sister of the equally fictional Sherlock Holmes, is traipsing the streets of London. She is yet attempting to be a perditorian, a finder of lost persons, while at the same time trying desperately to avoid detection by her older brother Sherlock whom she finds both irksome and admirable.

Her case, in this story, is personal as well as perplexing. Dr. John Watson, confidant of both the Holmes’ has gone missing and though he has turned all of his considerable efforts towards solving this case, it seems that Sherlock is baffled.  Enola, on the other hand, seems to be onto the right trail but very possibly over her head and in desperate trouble.  Dr. Watson has been kind, considerate and even friendly toward Enola—though he is unaware of her true identity– and now he is in peril of his life.  Should she abandon her quest to be independent of the male dominated social order, reveal herself to Sherlock, seek his help and perhaps, in the end, be “imprisoned” in a boarding school for young ladies?  Or should she, as she has done before, rely on her wits and intelligence to see her through although it may cost her her life?  There were many hard decisions to be made in Victorian England, especially if your last name was Holmes.

Enola is a fascinating, contrary, endearing and vexing young lady with almost both her feet firmly rooted in the fashions and mores of 19th century upper class Britain.  Every once in a while she does slip out of the Victorian Age and into the 21st century, but she is supposed to be a modern thinker…  Author Nancy Springer has done a remarkable job in continuing to “flesh out” her character as the series has progressed.  One moment Enola is a motherless, bewildered school girl, the next she’s donning a complex disguise, roaming the midnight streets of London’s East End posing as a mute nun serving the poor or worried about showing too much ankle as she chases an urchin down the street.

Through Enola—and her many aliases–in The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets readers get a close look at the rules which bound the lives of Victorian women, who she may or may not associate with, how quickly she may walk (and, heaven forbid, never stop on the street, even for a moment, when unescorted by a male), what she can wear, which areas of her body can be exposed to public view, etc.  Enola finds it all very chafing and readers though fascinated, will, too.  However, with humor and cunning she manages to skirt those issues and be an observer as well as a participant of 19th century British life.  With a solid mystery, intriguing social commentary, not a small touch of humor and her complex family relationships, Enola will, I hope continue to keep both her brother Sherlock and her loyal readers on their toes for many more adventures.

Posted by: Eileen

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No Castles Here by A. E. Bauer

No Castles HereThis is a surprising tale of a boy, Augie, who happens to accidentally steal a book from a bookstore in Philadelphia.  The book he steals is a book of fairy tales (not your typical fare for a 6th grade boy).  There is definitely something special about this book and Augie really enjoys it, even though he thinks it is kind of dorky to be reading it. 

Now when I started this book, I thought it was going to turn into a new version of Neverending Story, but it really took on a life of its own and was nothing like it.  Augie and his mom live in a pretty bad neightborhood; he gets beat-up at school and he doesn’t really have any friends.   There are gangs, school budget cuts, and a host of other issues.   

Bauer weaves the fairy tale into what might otherwise be your typical story of a kid trying to rise above his humble beginnings.  Yet at no point does the story become preachy or annoying, but rather, due to some excellent character development, you anxiously wait to hear both the fairy tale stories and Augie’s story.  Usually, in books that have several distinct story lines, there is one that I like more than others, but in this case, both were equally enthralling.  And the ending was quite satisfying (not that I am going to say what it is of course).

Posted by: Kate

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H.I.V.E. The Overlord Protocol by Mark Walden

The Overlord ProtoclAbout a year ago I read and recommended on this blog the first book in the series H.I.V.E.  That fast-paced adventure took place at a secretive specialized school for prospective young criminals.  The students were elite kids possessing criminal abilities and potential and were abducted and forced into the six-year program during which our protagonists attempted a break out and also dealt with a deadly biotechnical science experiment that ran amok.

This book, H.I.V.E – The Overlord Protocol, is second in the series and is as equally fast-paced and exciting.  Our main characters, students and adults, are all back in the picture battling evil and trying to stop unchecked world domination through high-tech computers and robots. The students are up against some real ‘nasties’ in this story, but, of course, the fun twist in this series is that our very likeable student heroes are not saints themselves.  They are, after all, being educated to be master criminals at the Higher Institute of Villainous Education. 

I like this series, so far, and do recommend it for readers 5th grade and up, but it seems to be turning out more like the Alex Rider books (not a bad thing), as opposed to the Harry Potter books which I first thought because of the six years of schooling angle and how in the Harry books, the school year begins, continues, and ends all in one book.  That’s not so in H.I.V.E., but I enjoyed reading the story anyway. 

Posted by: Fran D.

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