Review: Deep and Dark and Dangerous

Deep and Dark and DangerousReview:

Deep and Dark and Dangerous

Author: Mary Downing Hahn

Publisher: Sandpiper, an imprint of Houghton Mufflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2007

Source: Public Library

No Halloween reading list would be complete without a selection by Mary Downing Hahn. Her books are always so deliciously creepy! Although this is not a newly published book, it is wonderfully chilling – just right for reading on a dark and dangerous night with your back up against a wall.

Ali is getting to spend the summer at Gull Cottage on Sycamore Lake in Maine despite her mother’s negative attitude toward the whole idea. Her mother hasn’t been to the cottage since she was a girl, but according to her the place is always rainy, mosquito-ridden and unpleasant. Sycamore Lake is deep and dark and dangerous. Aunt Dulcie, an artist preparing for a big show, has decided it is time to return and get some work done. She needs Ali to babysit her five-year-old daughter, Emma. Despite a lot of reservations, Ali’s mother agrees.

Once in Maine, Ali realizes that her mother’s fears may be well-founded. Emma shares a scary dream in which bones in the water come out and chase her. Then a malicious and mysterious girl of about nine or ten shows up. Sissy is a nasty little thing, made all the worse because she seems to be a bad influence on Emma. After hanging out with her, Emma begins lying, telling Aunt Dulcie that Ali tried to push her off the dock into the lake.

It is through Sissy that Ali and Emma learn about a girl named Teresa: how Teresa was drowned in Sycamore Lake and her body was never recovered. “… her bones are still out there someplace deep down in the dark, dark water” (pg. 87). Most frightening of all is the accusation that Ali’s mom and Aunt Dulcie were somehow involved in the tragedy.

Can Ali find out the truth after all this time? Can she keep herself and Emma safe while trying to find out just what happened at Lake Sycamore? And is Sissy going to make more trouble – or might she actually help solve the mystery? Those questions really keep the pages turning.

 

Review: The Witch’s Boy

witchs-boy.jpgReview:

The Witch’s Boy

Author: Kelly Barnhill

Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers, 2014

Source: Personal Purchase

Recommended Ages: 9+

Ned and Tam are twins. They built a raft which they tried to float in the Great River. The craft was not seaworthy and the boys were thrown into the water, fighting for their lives. People of the town gathered at the edge of the river and called out to their father, “If you can only save one, make sure you save the right one.” He saves one boy, Ned, and Tam is drowned. The townspeople shake their heads. They felt he had saved the wrong boy.

The boys’ mother, Sister Witch, realizes that she is also about to lose Ned. So she uses her magic and as Tam’s soul leaves his body, she takes hold of it and sews it onto Ned. Ned survives.

Áine is the daughter of the Bandit King. Her mother’s last words are, “The wrong boy will save your life, and you will save his.” Her father was so grieved at the loss of his beloved, that he locks himself away with a jug of wine and howls his sadness. When Áine points out that they desperately need money to survive, the Bandit King finally rouses himself. Suddenly there is money available, but her father is much changed. What has caused this change? Áine does not know, but she knows that action is needed in order to save her father from himself.

When the Bandit King comes to steal Sister Witch’s magic, Ned knows he must do something drastic, so he attaches the magic to himself. But “Magic is chaotic. Magic is sneaky” (pg. 121). Perhaps Ned has taken on more than he can handle. He meets up with Áine and together they set out on a mission that will change the course between two warring nations and their lives.

The Witch’s Boy stands as a great classic fantasy story. However, I love it in part because it’s language is so rich. My partial vocabulary list includes words like multitudinous, implacable, prodigious, and stymied – not the vocabulary used by the average nine-year-old, or even much older kids, for that matter. So you might think this book is too hard for some of the younger audience to read. I’d like to quote Madeleine L’Engle from her book, A Circle of Quiet (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1972):

To give a writer a controlled-vocabulary list is manipulating both writer and reader. It keeps the child within his present capacity, on the bland assumption that growth is even and orderly and rational, instead of something that happens in great leaps and bounds. (148)

The more limited our language is, the more limited we are, the more limited the literature we give to our children, the more limited their capacity to respond, and therefore, in their turn, to create. (149)

We need more books like this, books that use wonderfully expressive language. Sure, it’s a great story, but part of what draws us in are the words. I was so impressed by this that – as you may have guessed – tomorrow I will include a vocabulary list. Warning: it is a long one!

Review: The Candymakers

CandymakersReview:

The Candymakers

Author: Wendy Mass

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company, 2010

Source: Personal Purchase

I thought this book would be a nice one to include as part of my October reading. It’s not scary, though it does include a mystery. It’s just that it seemed like an appropriate way to start the candy season.

The Life Is Sweet candy factory has held a contest in which four lucky winners will get to compete in a candy-making competition. The goal, of course, is to come up with the best new candy. The four contestants have been chosen and there could not be four more unlikely children. They are only alike in one way. Each of them has a secret.

Logan Sweet is the son of the factory owners. Like his name suggests, Logan is a sweet kid. He has spent most of his life in the factory. In fact, since the factory stopped giving public tours years earlier when a child threw a toy truck into one of the machines, Logan hardly sees any other kids at all. You might think that as the son of a family of candy makers, Logan would have the definite advantage. He knows all about the processes involved. He’s been experimenting with them for years. All he really needs is a miracle. Instead, he is faced with a problem. Logan learns that someone is trying to steal the factory’s secret ingredient!

Miles O’Leary is a strange character. He speaks gibberish (well, unless you know his secret code, that is) and is overly concerned with the afterlife. His secret involves a terrible accident. But the real question is this: Does Miles really know what he has seen, not just what he thinks he has seen?

We know right from the beginning that Daisy Carpenter is a spy. Her mission is to steal the secret ingredient from the Life Is Sweet candy factory. At least, that is what her mission is supposed to be. She really has another, even more secret mission. However, she acts as though she is working completely for the spy agency while all the time she is wondering: Who is the client? Who really wants her to steal the secret ingredient?

Philip Ransford The Third wears a suit, carries a briefcase, and has an apparent dislike for candy. He’s all business and not a very likable kid. So why is he here? To Philip, success is the best revenge – and revenge is very, very important to Philip. Too bad he is unaware of the real person he needs to take revenge against.

Each section of the book is told from the point of view of one character. Then the stories converge, the secrets emerge, and the results are pretty sweet.

Though I loved the story, I have to be honest. I was disappointed in one aspect of the book. The candy portion could have been so much better. I mean “Icy White Blob” and “Neon Yellow Lightning Chews” are just not tempting, mouth-watering names. Even J.K. Rowling’s candies (you remember – things like Chocolate Frogs, Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans, or Cockroach Clusters) – have a certain charm, even if I wouldn’t want to eat them. Blobs and Chews just don’t cut it.

Review: The Notebook of Doom (Series)

the notebook of doomReview:

The Notebook of Doom series

Pop of the Bumpy Mummy (2014)

Rumble of the Coaster Ghost (2016)

Sneeze of the Octo-Schnozz (2017)

Author: Tony Cummings

Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.

Source: Public Library

Recommended for Grades 1-3

Lots of kids say they like scary stories. Some just think that they like them. Parents of this type of kid know what I mean. The child reads something that frightens them – and everybody suffers at night.

This series (The Notebook of Doom) might provide the right balance. I read three of them. There is minor mystery, some not-very-scary monsters, and lots of the type of silliness that is so appealing to this age group.

Basically, the Super Secret Monster Patrol (SSMP), led by Alexander Bopp, finds ways to fight the local monsters and then write them up in his secret notebook.

There is, for instance, the Bumpy Mummy. It’s actually a bubble wrapped warrior wearing a diaper (sort of). The Octo-Schnozz sneezes and the “snot rained down on Putter’s Cove making all eighteen greens a bit greener” (The Sneeze of the Octo-Schnozz, pg. 87).

Yes, I know. Not remotely scary. And sometimes that’s exactly what kids need. Many of the characters (Alexander’s father comes right to mind) and pictures are goofy, but pleasantly so. Actually, the monsters are kind of cute. These books would be fun even as read-alouds.

Review: The Crimson Skew

crimsonskew

Image Credit: http://www.segrovebooks.com/books.htm

Review:

The Crimson Skew (Mapmakers Book Three)

Author: S. E. Grove

Publisher: Puffin Books, 2016

Source: Personal Purchase

Ages 10 and up

Sophia Tims is returning to Boston. With help from a number of companions, she had been searching for her missing parents by using a very special map. She is using a divining map, which allows her to fulfill the meaning of the map rather than just following set directions.

At the same time as her return, a mysterious crimson fog with an unknown source has been unleashed over certain areas of the country. The effects of the crimson fog are more than frightening: the fog is lethal. Anyone caught by the fog becomes delusional and commits horrific acts of violence. Why is the deadly fog occurring and who is behind it? How will this new peril effect Sophia’s quest?

I had not read the rest of the Mapmakers series and if this is the case for you, too, I would recommend putting aside this volume and going back to read the 1st (The Glass Sentence) and 2nd (The Golden Specific) books in the series. Without any knowledge of the previous books, the story is very hard to follow. Despite this lack, I found Crimson Skew to be an intriguing mix of the familiar and fantasy, with a cast of characters that includes everything from soldiers and fortunetellers to beings from different worlds.

Review: The World’s Greatest Adventure Machine (and Giveaway!)

Adventure MachineReview:

The World’s Greatest Adventure Machine

Author: Frank L. Cole

Publisher: Delacorte Press, 2017

Doug Castle of Castle Corp. from Beyond (Beyond, California, that is) has held a contest. Winners will get the chance of a lifetime: a new type of roller coaster ride – the Adventure Machine – which promises plenty of thrills and chills.

And the winners are…. (drum roll, please):

  1. Trevor Isaacs, a thirteen-year old who is frequently in trouble
  2. Cameron Kiffling, world’s smartest eleven-year old who is just a bit hyper (well, maybe more than a bit)
  3. Devin Drobbs, an obnoxious thirteen-year old gaming genius with an equally obnoxious, photo-snapping father
  4. Nika Pushkin – a milk-shake-drinking Russian girl with a way overprotective grandfather (who happens to be very, very rich)

This ride is much more than it seems because the Adventure Machine taps into its riders’ minds to have a thrilling – and entirely out-of-mind – experience. The prime attraction of this ride is the Terrorarium, a name which gives just a hint of what is to come. And any number of deadly things – black holes, saber-toothed tigers, and miniature moose (???) – are lying in wait for the unsuspecting contestants.

What the winners and their parents don’t realize is that the Adventure Machine ride has a secret. And to make this story even more of a page-turner, each of the riders has a secret, too. (I’d love to tell, but no spoilers!)

With four unique children, one dangerous and scary ride, and a few unexpected characters thrown into the mix, this story gives just what the ride promises: plenty of thrills and not overly grisly chills to keep readers racing for the end.

Here is my own little surprise: another contest! Win a copy of The World’s Greatest Adventure Machine. Simply follow Two BookWorms Blog and leave a comment to be entered into a drawing. Share this post for an extra entry! The winner will be announced on Friday, September 22. Good luck to all who enter!

 

Note: I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

 

August 2017 Round-Up

 

Check out my reviews for the month of August! You can find links to all of these reviews in the Index!

Let me know in the comments below what books you want me to review next!

Review: North of Nowhere

North of NowhereReview:

North of Nowhere

Author: Liz Kessler

Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2012

Source: Personal Purchase

When Mia’s grandfather goes missing, she heads off with her mother to support her grandmother and try to help find out what has happened to Grandad. It’s a big and complicated task, made even more complex by the fact that Mia has always been closer to her grandfather and seems to have little in common with her grandmother.

There are more mysterious happenings than Grandad’s disappearance. While taking Gran’s dog, for a walk, Flake bounds onto a fishing boat. When Mia goes on to retrieve him, she finds the diary of another young girl, Dee, and realizes that they have a lot in common. However, despite efforts to meet with Dee, the other girl is frustratingly elusive. Mia also meets a young boy her age, Peter. Yet after he heads off in the fishing boat, Mia learns from his family that he has also vanished.

What’s going on? One minute a storm will blow up; the next it is as though it never happened. Where are Grandad and Peter? And most mysterious of all – who would have left a package containing a compass at a local store for Mia?

– SPOILER ALERT –

I’d like to say this story reeled me in, but I am afraid it did not. I know this is a bit of a spoiler, but I usually like time travel stories. This one was confusing more than mysterious. I could have accepted that if, at the end, a good and clear explanation was offered. But no, we learn that the characters have been time traveling back and forth over a fifty year time period, and we are not given a perfectly clear understanding for why the time travel happened. For me, that’s an absolute necessity. No wishy-washy “I think so-and-so had it figured out.” I want it figured out and all believably explained (after all, why couldn’t the time travel work for different times? Say twenty-five years one time, thirty the next?) Perhaps younger readers won’t be so particular on this point.

– END SPOILER ALERT –

To learn more about Liz Kessler and her books, go to http://www.lizkessler.co.uk/.

 

 

 

 

Review: Beyond the Bright Sea

bright seaReview:

Beyond the Bright Sea

Author: Lauren Wolk

Publisher: Dutton Children’s Books, 2017

Source: Personal Purchase

When Crow was just a baby, she had been tied into an old boat and set adrift on the ocean. The boat washed up on one of the Elizabeth Islands off the coast of Massachusetts, where she was found by a man she comes to call Osh. Osh keeps her and raises her on his own little private island. No one knows where she has come from or who her real parents may have been.

Yet there are some suspicions. On Penikese, another of the Elizabeth islands, there had been a hospital for people suffering from leprosy and most of the residents of the islands believe – and fear –  that Crow was born there. Crow develops a great longing to know. Who were her parents? Why did they send her off in that little boat? Where they really from Penikese?

In a story that unfolds as gently and as beautifully as a rose in the summer’s heat, the secret of Crow’s birth is explored. At the end of the mystery, we learn the true meaning of family.

If you enjoyed Wolk’s first book, Wolf Hollow, Beyond the Bright Sea will not disappoint. It is so wonderfully moving that, yes, I do feel some discussion questions coming on!

To learn more about Lauren Wolk, visit her website at: http://www.laurenwolk.com/home.html

 

 

Review: The Cat Who Came In Off the Roof

The Cat Who Came InReview:

The Cat Who Came In Off the Roof

Author: Annie M. G. Schmidt

Publisher: Delacorte Press, English translation copyright, 2014

Source: Personal Purchase

Mr. Tibble is a reporter, but he’s got a problem. He’s too shy to get any real news. Instead he writes articles about cats. He’s about to be fired, but his editor is giving him one last chance. Tibble must submit a news article by the morning.

Luckily for Tibble, a very unique young lady – Miss Minou – comes into his life when a dog chases her up a tree. She claims she is really a cat. She certainly has some very cattish traits. She sleeps in a box in his attic apartment. She is ready to pounce when a schoolgirl brings her pet mouse to show Tibble. She purrs and hisses and her very favorite person in the neighborhood is the fishmonger.

It is Miss Minou, whom Tibble calls his secretary, who saves Tibble his job, for as she climbs out onto the roof and converses with the other cats of the neighborhood, she is able to dig up some real news for Tibble to report. Again and again she is able to find out things long before anyone else hears a word. Tibble becomes the star reporter at the newspaper.

However, just as Miss Minou and her ‘sources’ are the reason behind Tibble’s success, they could be his downfall. Can Miss Minou save the situation? And now that she has somewhat adjusted to being human herself, what will she do if she has the opportunity to once again become a cat?

This delightful story will have readers cheering for everyone – Tibble, Miss Minou, and all her feline friends, even Tatter Cat, who is more than a bit rough around the edges. It’s a timeless and ageless little romance in the truest of feel-good traditions.