Some Recent Reading

  1. 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson, A+: In this book, a timid teenager receives a package from an aunt who has recently died. The package contains 13 blue envelopes and money for a plane ticket to England. The envelopes have instructions for her to follow once she gets to England, and they will lead her all over Europe. The beauty of this story is how the girl follows her aunt’s instructions in her own unique way, leading her to have experiences that are probably very different from what her aunt intended, and yet still wonderful.
  2. Bras & Broomsticks by Sarah Mlynowski, A-: Similar to Meg Cabot’s “The Princess Diaries” in tone, this is the story of a teenager who finds out that her younger sister is a witch. Rather than get jealous, she works on convincing her sister to do spells for her. Magical mayhem ensues. I almost didn’t read this one. “What tripe!” I thought to myself the first time I tried to read it. But I gave it another chance later, and it wasn’t so bad. In fact, by the time I finished it, I was happy with it. That just goes to show how much mood can factor into whether or not you like a book. This is the first in the author’s Magic in Manhattan series. There are three sequels.
  3. The Case of the Missing Marquess by Nancy Springer, A: When 14-year-old Enola Holmes’s mother goes missing, she’s not going to be shuffled off to some horrible school while waiting for her brother Sherlock to crack the case. Instead she sets out to solve the mystery on her own. This is an excellent start to what is sure to be an interesting series. I do not own this book, but I might buy it if the sequels turn out to be as good. Note: I tend to dislike books that are deliberately written to start a series, but I make exceptions for good stories that leave no loose ends. This book met my standards in that regard.
  4. The Crimson Shard by Teresa Flavin, B+: Two kids become trapped in the past after being tricked into walking through a magical door. Though it is a sequel to another book which I have not read, I thought it stood well enough on its own. It was cute but not particularly memorable. I donated it back to the library in hopes that it would find its ideal reader there.
  5. Dragon Magic by Andre Norton, B: I bought this book because I enjoyed several of Andre Norton’s other Magic Books when I was a kid. In this one, four boys from different backgrounds discover a jigsaw puzzle in an untenanted house. The puzzle is composed of four dragons. Each boy feels compelled to put together a different dragon at a different time, and in each case, the act of putting the puzzle together magically sweeps the boy into a story about that dragon. I liked the dragon stories, but the parts before, between, and after were dated and awkward. Recommended only for huge fans of dragons and/or Andre Norton. I’m keeping it for now, though, because it goes with the other Magic Books.
  6. Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein, A: In this book, Mr. Lemoncello is like the Willy Wonka of the gaming world. After building an amazing, technologically advanced library in his old hometown, he invites a group of kids to play a new, large-scale game: escape from the locked library! With its book-related puzzles and many references to kiddie-lit classics, Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library offers a great deal of fun for readers who enjoy those kinds of things (and I do!). My only reservation in recommending it is that some of the references might be lost on young readers. I don’t own it, but I might buy a copy of it someday.
  7. Fablehaven by Brandon Mull, A:  Two kids go to stay on their grandparents’ farm for a few weeks. Soon they discover that it’s not just a farm, but a preserve for magical creatures, some of them dangerous. Fablehaven contains few, if any, new elements (trolls, fairies, witches, satyrs, ogresses—not new!), but they’re combined in cool, new ways. Recommended.
  8. Far Far Away by Tom McNeal, A: This story is narrated by the ghost of Jacob Grimm (one of the Brothers Grimm of fairy-tale-collecting fame). Jacob doesn’t know why he’s still stuck on Earth but assumes that there’s something important he needs to do before he can move on. He’s a ghost, though, so he can’t really interact with the world. But then he finds Jeremy, a teenager who can hear him. Protecting Jeremy becomes his new purpose. I can’t say much more than that without spoiling the plot. I was initially put off by the idea of Jacob Grimm’s ghost as the narrator, but it works surprisingly well. He’s an endearing character. And while the story does get gruesome (think fairy-tale horrors), I enjoyed it so much that I almost gave it an A+. I gave it the lower grade only because of the pacing. It was just a little too slow in some places and rushed in others. I do not own this book, but I will probably buy a copy at some point.
  9. Granny Torrelli Makes Soup by Sharon Creech, B: Twelve-year-old Rosie’s feelings toward her friend Bailey are changing. While she and Granny Torrelli make soup, Granny listens to Rosie and relates similar stories from her own youth. Creech’s characters were great, but the format was somewhat difficult to follow initially. It was also more of a short story than a novel, leaving me feeling a little bit cheated. I donated it back to the library.
  10. Hole in My Life by Jack Gantos, A: This is author Jack Gantos’s memoir about how, as a young man, he got involved in drug-trafficking and went to prison. Those experiences, for all that they were bad, helped him become a writer. I bought this book because it sounded interesting, even though I had never read any of his work before. I’m glad I did. I will have to make a point of reading some of his fiction.
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