The Reptile Room, by Lemony Snicket: A Review

For the 2019 Popsugar Reading Challenge prompt #3, a book written by a musician, I chose to read The Reptile Room, by Lemony Snicket. I chose this book because it was the only one I found on my shelves that fit the category. I started the Series of Unfortunate Events last year, reading the books aloud with my eldest son, and he has been happy to continue it with me.

Book two finds the unhappy Baudelaire orphans in a new home with a new guardian, their Uncle Monty (who isn’t truly their uncle). Uncle Monty is a collector of reptiles, and is delighted to introduce his new charges to his passion. For a while, things seem to be going well for the Baudelaires, especially after the disastrous events of book one. They even begin to think they could be happy here.

However, it isn’t long before their nemesis, Count Olaf arrives on the scene. But he has disguised himself as Uncle Monty’s newly hired assistant, and no one but the children recognize his true identity. And so it falls once more to the children to save themselves.

I enjoy Lemony Snicket as the narrator of these books. He uses sarcasm, dark humor and a sense of the ridiculous to tell his stories. He often breaks into the story with a side note about his own woes, or to define a word or phrase. While this particular episode has not been my favorite so far, I have continued with the series, and I’m still having fun. If you enjoy a bit of dark humor, this series could be for you.

The Tombs of Atuan, by Ursula K. LeGuin: A Review

For ATY’s 2019 Reading Challenge prompt #40, a book you stumbled upon, I chose to read The Tombs of Atuan. I frequently browse the used book sections of thrift stores, and I ran across this book in one of those. I knew it was one I wanted to read, so I picked it up, despite not having the first book of the Earthsea series. I have since read that book – A Wizard of Earthsea – last year, making this a very natural choice for this prompt.

In this story, we meet Tenar, a young girl taken at the age of five to be trained as the next First Priestess to the Nameless Ones. In preparation for this new role, she is stripped of everything, including her name. She becomes Arha, The Eaten One. The bulk of the story is learning who Arha is and what her world is like. As she grows up in this Place where she serves as Priestess, she is trained by the Priestesses of the Twin Gods and of the Godking.

And then a stranger arrives and turns Arha’s world upside down. She is no longer sure of what is right or real. She is confronted with her own belief system, forced to face everything she has been taught.

I love LeGuin’s writing style. It is beautiful, and flows so smoothly, you don’t mind the time it takes to get anywhere. LeGuin tells Tenar’s story with such subtlety, you can’t help but get a sense of the deeper political story that underlies what’s immediately clear. Tenar herself is kept in ignorance, but through the action and the words left unsaid, the reader can’t help but feel the dangers that surround her.

A 1972 Newbery Honor book, The Tombs of Atuan has received much recognition. LeGuin’s Earthsea books might be her best known series. It is well worth reading, and I am looking forward to “stumbling upon” the rest of the series, a bit more deliberately, most likely.

Artemis Fowl, by Eoin Colfer: A Review

The 2019 Popsugar Reading Challenge prompt #1 is to read a book becoming a movie in 2019. When I began investigating books for the challenge, and this prompt in particular, the only book that really grabbed my attention was Artemis Fowl, by Eoin Colfer. At the time, the movie adaptation was scheduled for release in August 2019. I have since learned that the release date has been bumped back to May 2020, so technically, this book no longer meets the prompt. I will take it anyway.

Artemis Fowl is a 12-year old boy genius. In truth, he’s a criminal mastermind. The story opens with Artemis is seeking to acquire a particular item, a book. This is the rule book by which all fairy folk live. Artemis contrives to acquire the book by deception and trickery. Ultimately Artemis is after a greater prize. Once he has the book and kidnapped an elf by the name of Holly Short, his true plan is finally set fully in motion.

The story that ensues is full of action and magic. It is fast paced and doesn’t let up. Along the way we meet the agents of LEPRecon, to which Holly Short belongs. We encounter trolls, elves, dwarves and goblins. There is fairy magic, of course, but even more than that, there is fairy technology. The book is engaging and moves quickly. My one complaint would be that the chapters feel too long.

I think this is a book my 9-yr old son would enjoy if I could talk him into reading it. I know I had a lot of fun reading this book. I will definitely check out more of the series when I get the chance. And I’m looking forward to the movie!

Harriet the Spy, by Louise Fitzhugh: A Review

I chose to read Harriet the Spy, by Louise Fitzhugh for Popsugar’s 2019 Reading Challenge prompt #28, a book recommended by a celebrity I admire. At first, I was put off by this prompt. I’m not one who gets overly excited by fame and celebrity. There are famous people I like well enough, certainly some historical figures I could say that I admire. No one really came to mind, however, as someone I wanted to find out their book recommendations.

Then I thought about authors I admire, and I decided they qualified as celebrities. I decided on Kate DiCamillo, an author of children’s books who seems to always have something positive to share. On Kate’s recommended reading list I found the book Harriet the Spy, and was instantly sold on this book about a girl who wants to become a writer.

In this book, Harriet, a self-proclaimed spy, carries around a notebook everywhere she goes. She writes in this notebook her various observations and opinions of all the people around her. Besides her classmates and her family, she actively follows some neighborhood people and writes about them as well. She goes so far as to sneak into a dumb waiter to spy on one such neighbor.

Her observations get her into trouble when one of her classmates gets a hold of her notebook and reads aloud all the unkind things she’s had to say about everyone, including her two best friends. Harriet ends up restricted from her notebook, and is ostracized by everyone around her. After many misadventures, Harriet ultimately learns to apologize to those she’s hurt and to temper her unkind words.

I enjoyed this book a great deal. It was funny and Harriet has an admirable adventurous spirit. I was disappointed a bit, however, when Harriet is given a chance to be the editor of the sixth grade news page, she only continues more of her unkind thoughts, writing now about the neighborhood folks rather than her peers, as if this makes it somehow okay. I would have liked to see her change a bit more in this respect after her unhappy lessons learned from her peers.

Overall, a great read. One I’d recommend for anyone who’s ever been too curious for their own good, or those who wish they’d been just a little more adventurous.

Mystery of Ghost Island, by Paul Moxham: A Review

I’m always looking for fun middle grade books, and I found Mystery of Ghost Island, by Paul Moxham on an ebook deal and decided to check it out. It sat in my ever growing e-library for some time before I found a place for it on the 2019 Popsugar Reading Challenge for prompt #30, a book featuring an amateur detective.

This is the eighth book in The Mystery Series, by Paul Moxham, featuring four children – Joe, Amy, Sarah and Will. The books are set in 1950s Great Britain. Though in this story, the children visit the coast of France. Here they encounter a rumor of a sea monster plaguing a nearby cove. Thus begins a series of wild adventures – or misadventures – taking the children to a desolate island. They get trapped in a flooded room, escape in a canoe, survive an earthquake, and a lot more.

I didn’t enjoy this book that much. The action seemed too improbable, especially for children the age which these characters are supposed to be. Early readers just venturing into chapter books might find this book fun. But it didn’t hold my interest at all as an adult.

Love That Dog, by Sharon Creech: A Review

For Popsugar’s 2019 Reading Challenge, prompt #29 – a book with “love” in the title – I chose to read Love That Dog, by Sharon Creech. I wanted to use books from my overflowing bookshelves, but sadly, have no books whose titles contain the word “love.” I found this book by Sharon Creech when I went searching for books that qualified.

I was intrigued by the description, so I borrowed a copy from my local library. Goodreads describes the book this way:

Jack hates poetry. Only girls write it and every time he tries to, his brain feels empty. But his teacher, Ms. Stretchberry, won’t stop giving her class poetry assignments – and Jack can’t avoid them. But then something amazing happens. The more he writes, the more he learns he does have something to say.

This book is labeled a “novel,” but is written in the format of a poem, or series of poems. It is the story of Jack, a middle-grader, who learns a thing or two about poetry. It’s a story about a boy and his dog. It’s about a boy finding his voice.

This book moves fast. I read it in a single sitting. I think I would like to read it again sometime, a little slower, perhaps.

I enjoyed it so much, I immediately handed it off to my 9 year old son. I did finally get him to read it. My son learned a few things about poetry. For one, it doesn’t necessarily have to rhyme. Two, poems shaped like the object they are about are a little weird (his words). When I asked him if he would recommend the book to someone else, he said maybe. He rated it a four out of five, and asked me to get the next book, Hate That Cat. That sounds like a recommendation to me.

Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson: A Review

I chose to read Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson for 2018 Reading Challenge prompt #36, a book set in the decade I was born. Originally published in 1977, this book evokes memories from my own childhood. A time that predates cell phones and video games, and children were set loose to roam freely around their neighborhoods. At the same time, it doesn’t ever really feel outdated.

This story follows fifth-grader Jess Aarons, the only boy in the middle of a family with five children. He has a keen imagination and loves to draw, but is pushed by his father to seek more practical pursuits. He has few friends at school, but has ambitions to be the fastest boy in the fifth grade once school resumes. These ambitions are thwarted by a new kid in class – a girl, no less.

And so begins a remarkable, if unlikely, friendship. The new girl and her parents have moved into the house next door to Jess’s family. They embark on an incredible adventure of imagination. Along the way their friendship is tested by school yard bullies, a clingy younger sister and a schoolboy crush on a kind teacher.

Bridge to Terabithia was the Newberry Medal winner for 1978, and it’s well deserved in my opinion. Patterson has written a beautiful, emotional story that doesn’t disappoint. I had seen the movie prior to reading this book, and even knowing the outcome of the story, I still had the same response.

If you haven’t read this one, it is well worth the read. If you read it with children, though, be prepared for some conversation.

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume: A Review

I chose to read Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret, by Judy Blume for the 2018 Reading Challenge prompt a childhood classic I’ve never read. I really should have read this book when I was a preteen rather than a forty-something adult. It would have had a much different impact on me back then.

Still, this is a beautifully written rite-of-passage story about a sixth grade girl, Margaret. Though I didn’t read this book when I should have, I can still see the impact it had on the culture I grew up in. It is funny and deeply moving.

There is an understated discussion about religion through the course of this book. Margaret, the main character, has been raised in a non-religous home by parents of different religious backgrounds. I love how Blume shows a girl trying to find answers to the question of religion and faith. She hasn’t been given any of the answers, and seeks them out on her own. In the end, I think she finds what she’s looking for despite the division within her own family.

I really enjoyed how Blume demonstrated this struggle to find the meaning of faith and religion by placing that journey within the often uncomfortable family relationships we all deal with. She tackles a serious subject from a humorous standpoint, and in the end shows what love and acceptance really look like.

While some of the details are outdated (it was published in 1970), the struggles of a pre-teen girl to find her place in the world are timeless. This is a great book.

Haunted Castle on Hallow’s Eve, by Mary Pope Osborn: A Review

Prompt #29 on the 2018 Reading Challenge list is a book about or set on Halloween. I had a hard time finding a book I wanted to read for this, especially considering my self-imposed requirement of women authors. I eventually remembered there was a book in the Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborn set on Halloween. My son has become a fan of these books, and we’ve collected nearly the entire set. So I borrowed Haunted Castle on Hallow’s Eve from my son’s bookshelf.

This series of stories takes Jack and his younger sister, Annie, on a variety of exciting adventures around the world and throughout time. They travel via a magic tree house that comes to rest in the tallest oak in the small wood near their home in Frog Creek, Pennsylvania.

Typically, the pair are sent out on missions by the witch Morgan le Fay. This book, however, is one of the “Merlin Missions” and the two kids are sent out by the magician Merlin, one of only a few books in this series to take place in an imaginary world. Their assigned task is to restore order to a haunted castle in Camelot.

Jack is his usual hesitant but resourceful self, while Annie, true to form, is quick to run to adventure and trouble. The kids find plenty of both in this story. They also learn what it means to be brave. As well as compassionate.

The Magic Tree House series is great for young, emerging readers. I’ve enjoyed reading these books with my boys. They introduce elements of fantasy and time travel as well as historical and cultural facts from around the world.

I enjoyed this book, though it felt strange reading it for myself and not out loud with my boys. This series is recommended for readers ages 6-9 who are just beginning to read chapter books. They are fun to read and well researched. I definitely recommend this series for new readers looking for adventure around the world.

Middle Grade Weekend – Blanket Forts & Summer Reading

I’m between books at the moment for my 2018 Reading Challenge, and I just picked up a bunch of books at the library I want to read. Middle grade and young adult fiction has become my favorite reading lately, so most of these books fall into this category.

It seems sort of appropriate that as I’m writing this post, I’m sitting in a darkened room just outside the walls of a blanket fort listening to two of my boys snoring away. It’s summer time, I let them stay up past their usual bedtime.

More summer adventures await us tomorrow, as I hope to get a chance to take them to the library to pick out some great books. I’ve signed them up for the summer reading activities with our local library.

In the meantime, I’m binging on middle grade and young adult fiction this weekend. Here’s my list:

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume (on my list as a childhood classic I’ve never read)
Haunted Castle on Hallow’s Eve, by Mary Pope Osborn (a book about or set on Halloween)
Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson (a book set in the decade I was born)
I Survived: The Joplin Tornado, 2011, by Lauren Tarshis (recommended to me by my son)
The Rithmatist, by Brandon Sanderson (one of my favorites authors, and I just have to read it!)
The Raven Boys, by Maggie Stiefvater (a “staff pick” from the local library for the summer reading challenge)

I may also get in a few pages of one or more of these chapter books I’m reading aloud with my boys:

The Bad Beginning, by Lemony Snicket
The Silver Chair, by C. S. Lewis
Serafina and the Black Cloak, by Robert Beatty

What are you reading? Do you have any favorite middle grade or young adult books to recommend?