Posted in Adventure, Book Review, Grades 6-8, Sunshine State 17-18

Moving Target



There should have been some sort of warning.

– First Sentence

“Everything is part of the same painting,” as my dad liked to say. “But we are each the artist of our own life. We choose what colors to use.”

– Chapter 1

Cassie is an eighth grader living with her father in Rome, having an ordinary, boring life (except for the fact that she is an American girl living in Rome). One day, Cassie’s father comes to school and yanks her into the car, speeding through the city, blabbering about how much he loves her, how he is going to fix things, and how he should have told her when she was younger. He finally tells Cassie that the Hastati are after her. Cassie has no idea what that means and she thinks he might be crazy, but then a motorcycle pulls up and the rider starts shooting at them. When her dad gets shot, Cassie takes him to the hospital, but he insists she must run to find Brother Gregorio for help. Cassie is terrified and runs to the only place she thinks might be safe, her friend Simone’s house. But when the danger follows her even there, Cassie and Simone must find Brother Gregorio and find out what all of this means.

In her dad’s notebook, Cassie finds this message:

The Guardian will be bound for life once the spearhead is used.

It turns out the Hastati are a two thousand-year-old organization entrusted with one important duty – protect the spear (The Spear of Destiny). The spear can shape destiny, but only certain people can use the power – and Cassie is the last of that bloodline.

I was just an average girl. Things like this were not supposed to happen to people like me. The palette of my life’s painting was gray or maybe a boring variety of beige, not psychedelic neon.

Well, this book starts off running and doesn’t slow down. Cassie is constantly trying to figure out who to trust and how to keep Simone and herself safe. They are racing to find the spear, but they aren’t the only ones. They must figure out baffling clues at every turn and stay ahead of the two factions fighting each other for control of the spear.

This is an edge of your seat adventure that will keep readers guessing until the end. I highly recommend it to kids in grades 4-8 who enjoy mysterious adventure stories with strong female heroines.


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Posted in Book Review, Fantasy, Grades 6-8

Quest to the Uncharted Lands



When the Iron Glory’s engines rumbled to life for its journey to the uncharted lands, it marked a new future for the world of Solace.

– First Sentence

This book is a fantastic companion to The Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson. It isn’t a sequel, it takes place in the same world with different characters.

Stella Glass is the daughter of two scientists who are traveling on the Iron Glory to explore the uncharted lands of Solace. No one has ever explored this far west beyond the mountains. The Dragonfly Territories and Merrow Kingdom have finally reached an uneasy peace. They worked together on this ship and representatives from both countries are onboard.

Stella is not permitted to go, but she has planned for months to stow away because she is terrified her parents won’t come back. On the first night, Stella finds out she isn’t the only stowaway. No children are allowed on the ship, but she sees a boy outside the engine room with his hands on the wall. His hands begin to glow, and then his eyes. Stella isn’t sure who he is or what he is up to, but when he passes out, she drags him to her hiding place in the cargo hold. Someone doesn’t want this voyage to succeed, but who and how can they be stopped?

So, in The Mark of the Dragonfly, we met Piper (a girl who connects to machines in an almost magical way), and Gee (a boy who can transform into a dragon). This book continues in the same fantasy steampunk world and the story is in the same heroic adventure vein. Again, I highly recommend it to students in grades 4 – 8. It is just as good as the first.


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Posted in Book Review, Grades 6-8, Historical fiction, Sunshine State 17-18

The War that Saved my Life


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In the end it was the combination of the two, the end of my little war against Jamie, and the start of the big war, Hitler’s war, that set me free.

– Chapter 1

She was not a nice person, but she cleaned up the floor. She was not a nice person, but she bandaged my foot in a white piece of cloth, and gave us two of her own shirts to wear. Miss Smith was not a nice person, but the bed she put us in was soft and clean, with smooth thin blankets and warm thicker ones.

– Chapter 7

Huh, I thought. Imagine dressing up tables. Imagine wasting cloth to dress up tables.

– Chapter 18

I wanted Mam to be like Susan. I didn’t really trust Susan not to be like Mam.

– Chapter 26

Ada was born with a club foot, and because of this, her mom doesn’t let her leave the house. But that isn’t the worst of it. Ada’s mom (Mam) punishes her by putting her in a kitchen cabinet — sometimes overnight. Mam calls Ada rubbish and tells her no one wants her with her ugly foot. Ada “escapes” this abuse by going somewhere else in her head.

When Ada finds out her younger brother Jamie is to be evacuated with the other kids from his school, she is determined to go with them. The journey takes them to a small village where families have agreed to take in the evacuated children. Ada and Jamie end up living with Susan Smith, an old, grumpy spinster who doesn’t really want them.

Ada is a heart-wrenching character. She has been taking care of her brother all his life, but no one takes care of her. She has suffered unimaginable abuse from the woman who should love her the most. She doesn’t know how to accept love and kindness, and she doesn’t even think she deserves it. Her mother has told her that her foot is messed up because Ada did something wrong.

Susan has her own issues. She recently lost her best friend and suffers from severe depression. Having Ada and Jamie around gives her something else to think about and an important responsibility – a reason to get up every day and engage with others.

Wow. This book is powerful. It is set in England during World War II. I loved watching Ada’s development and bonding with Susan and others in the village. Despite everything Ada has been through (or maybe because of it), she is stubborn and courageous. She is also slow to trust and filled with self-doubt. The last chapter had me in tears.

I recommend this book to kids in grades 4-8 and their adults. I think it will touch their hearts in a major way.


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Posted in Fantasy, Young Adult

Everlost by Neal Shusterman – review



Nick & Allie were in a fatal car accident and ended up caught in Everlost, a sort of limbo for kids who don’t make it where they are going when they die. Everlost is a magical place for things and places that no longer survive in the living world (ex. the Twin Towers). But Everlost is also full of dangers (if the kids stay in one place for too long, they sink to the center of the earth), and monsters (the Magill, the Haunter). When Nick and Allie make it to the Twin Towers, they find Mary, who calls herself the queen of lost children. But while Nick feels at home with Mary, Allie suspects Mary is hiding something.

This is a fun young adult story with plenty of excitement and danger. The narrator did an excellent job and didn’t distract from the story at all. This is an interesting look at what could happen to souls whose journey is interrupted. Many of the kids have been around for hundreds of years, including Mary, who has written books on how to survive in Everlost. The kids all cross over in whatever they were wearing, which makes for some interesting wardrobes and nicknames for those who may have died on Halloween or during a day at the beach (think Speedo). Nick even dies with chocolate on his face. However, if the kids don’t think about things, they tend to forget them, such as their name and their physical appearance.

Bottom line: This is an engrossing start to the trilogy, that I will be happily continuing. The world building is remarkable and the ending suggests more peril and exploits for the characters that survive. Recommended to grades 6 & up. No serious violence and no sex, only cute crushes. Most of the kids we meet are under 16.


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Posted in Adventure, Book Review, Grades 6-8, Middle Grade, Mystery, Sunshine State 17-18

Omega City


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Some secrets are small — the size of a battery, or a button, or a scrap of paper. Other secrets are so big they can bury a man alive, or tear apart a family … or even destroy the world. Omega City was both.

Gillian’s dad is a historian who specializes in Cold War conspiracies and wrote a book about Aloysius Underberg, a brilliant Cold War engineer. But Dr. Underberg is missing and Gillian’s dad has been discredited. When Gillian is faced with an opportunity to solve Underberg’s greatest mystery and prove her dad right, she can’t resist. She enlists the help of her brother Eric, best friend Savannah, a NASA obsessed boy from school (Howard), and Howard’s brother Nate. Others are searching for Underberg’s secrets too, and they will stop at nothing to get them first.

This is an adventurous mystery with a strong female protagonist. Gillian’s team faces life-threatening situations, including nerve gas in an elevator, goons with guns, and scuba diving in unknown waters. I think middle-grade readers will enjoy this thrilling adventure. (for fans of Luck Uglies or City of Ember). Grades 5-8


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Posted in Book Review, Grades 3-5, Graphic Novel

Brave by Svetlana Chmakova


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Brave is the sequel to Awkwardan amazing graphic novel about navigating middle school life. Brave follows the same basic group of kids, with a different main character. In Brave, Jensen (the art club kid from Awkward who is obsessed with sunspots) learns about bullying. He doesn’t think he is a victim at first, but he gradually begins to understand what being bullied really means. He compares his school day to a video game, a constant struggle to avoid the “bad guys” and traps; making it through the day is a struggle for “survival.”

This book has a bit more mature content compared with Awkward. There is no sex or serious violence, but the bullies call Jensen “fatso” and “stupid” and Jensen uses the phrase “makes my life a living hell.” Compared to the overall message in this book, these are tiny considerations. But, as a parent, you should know what you are getting into. Many of our 3rd graders read Awkward and their parents might not think they are ready for this one.

Overall, this is a great book that describes realities of middle school, bullying, feeling alone, making friends, and standing up for yourself. I highly recommend it to 4th grade and up.


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Posted in Grades 3-5, Mystery

The Slippery Slope



The tenth book in this outrageous publishing effort features more than the usual dose of distressing details, such as snow gnats, an organised troupe of youngsters, an evil villain with a dastardly plan, a secret headquarters and some dangerous antics you should not try at home. With the weather turning colder, this is one chilling book you would be better off without. (From Amazon)

The title of this book refers not only to the mountain the Baudelaire children find themselves on but also to the slippery slope that could lead them to become villains. The Baudelaires are challenged to save their sister and find out the secrets of VFD without comprising their principles.

The performance of Tim Curry (who reads the story) is flawless – to the point where I forget who I’m listening to. His portrayal of Count Olaf is deliciously evil.


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Posted in Grades 3-5, Graphic Novel, Realistic Fiction

Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova




Cardinal rule #1 for surviving school: Don’t get noticed by the mean kids.

Cardinal rule #2 for surviving school: Seek out groups with similar interests and join them.

Penelope Torres (Peppi) is thinking of these rules as she starts a new school. When a boy (Jaime) tries to help her pick up all her stuff, the mean kids start calling her Nerder Girlfriend. Embarrassed, Peppi pushes Jaime and runs away. She feels guilty and spends most of her time trying to figure out how to apologize. When a rivalry heats up between Peppi’s art club and Jaime’s science club, things become even more awkward.

This is a charming middle school story that kids will enjoy. It is age appropriate for 3rd grade and up – no violence or bad words – just a sweet story with a hopeful ending. The graphics are expressive and fun, a highly recommended graphic novel.


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Posted in Book Review, Grades 3-5, Mystery

# 7, 8, 9 in The Series of Unfortunate Events

A Series of Unfortunate Events #7: The Vile Village   The Hostile Hospital - Brett Helquist, Lemony Snicket The Carnivorous Carnival - Lemony Snicket

In The Vile Village, an entire village decides to adopt the Baudelaire orphans. But, instead of taking care of them, the villagers just put them to work. Nothing goes easy for the Baudelaires but they pull together to survive and protect each other.

From Amazon re: The Hostile Hospital.

In Lemony Snicket’s eighth ghastly installment in A Series of Unfortunate Events, I’m sorry to say that the Baudelaire orphans will spend time in a hospital where they risk encountering a misleading newspaper headline, unnecessary surgery, an intercom system, anesthesia, heart-shaped balloons, and some very startling news about a fire.

From Amazon re: The Carnivorous Carnival.

A carnival is a place for good family fun—as long as one has a family, that is. For the Baudelaire orphans, their time at the carnival turns out to be yet another episode in a now unbearable series of unfortunate events. In fact, in this appalling ninth installment in Lemony Snicket’s serial, the siblings must confront a terrible lie, a caravan, and Chabo the wolf baby.


Throughout the three books, the Baudelaires find more clues about the initials VFD and what happened to their parents. Then again, everything they learn only leads to more questions. Count Olaf continues his villainous behavior and efforts to get his hands on the Baudelaire fortune. The warnings from Snicket to stop reading still make me laugh as do his explanations of what words mean (always set in the context of the story).


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Posted in Book Review, Grades 3-5, Mystery

# 4, 5, 6 in The Series of Unfortunate Events

The Miserable Mill - Lemony Snicket The Austere Academy - Michael Kupperman, Lemony Snicket, Brett Helquist The Ersatz Elevator - Brett Helquist, Lemony Snicket, Michael Kupperman

The Miserable Mill and The Austere Academy are books 4 & 5 in the series. Both involve the same plotline as books 2 & 3… No one ever recognizes Count Olaf in his ridiculous costumes except the Baudelaires, and no one ever believes them. And in the end, when Count Olaf is finally discovered, he escapes. In the Miserable Mill, the children are forced to work in a lumber mill, and the Austere Academy takes place in a boarding school. At the school, the Baudelaires finally meet some friends their own age who believe them.

In the Ersatz Elevator, the formula finally changes. The Baudelaires are adopted by a wealthy family near where their home burned down. As the back of the book says,

“Even though their new home in the city is fancy, and the children are clever and charming, I’m sorry to say that still, the unlucky orphans will encounter more disaster and woe. In fact, in this sixth book in A Series of Unfortunate Events, the children will experience a darkened staircase, a red herring, an auction, parsley soda, some friends in a dire situation, a secret passageway, and pinstripe suits.”

I was thrilled at a change and having someone else to root for and someone else to hate. The characters are quirky and outlandish, but fun to read about.

The mystery deepens…


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