22 August 2014

August Selections for the Scholastic Mother-Daughter Book Club

Remember when I introduced you to the Scholastic Mother-Daughter Book Club for middle readers? I'm committed to featuring or reviewing all the books selected for this club because I think Scholastic has picked winning titles that have broad appeal.

Don't forget that the Scholastic book club site includes more information about the books, recipes, reading guides, and contests. The resources are perfect for book clubs, teachers, homeschoolers, and any one who wants to get more out of reading books with middle grade readers.

Your young readers will have a hard time picking between the two winning books for this month's book club. One is adventure and mystery and one is tough historical fiction. Both, however, are excellent.

Loot by Jude WatsonJude Watson is best known for her 39 Clues series, but her new book, Loot: How to Steal a Fortune, is destined to win her a whole new group of avid fans. March McQuin, just a few weeks shy of his thirteenth birthday, is visiting Amsterdam with his dad. But don't be misled, this is no ordinary father-son team; they are, in fact, notorious jewel thieves. Well, March is still in training.

When his father's latest heist goes terribly wrong, March is there to witness his father's fall from a tall building. Left with some cryptic last words, a list of random words, a deck of cards, and a book, March tries to figure out what he should do next. As he begins to solve the clues his father left him, with the help of three other kids, he learns some truths about himself and his family.

Loot is one rollicking adventure, with a cast of four young criminal minds pitted against some not-so-trust-worthy adults. There are magical moonstones to be found, locks to be picked, computers to be hacked, and millions upon millions of dollars to be made. The clues are fun to work out, and the action is almost nonstop. Twisty, funny, and sometimes scary, the novel is sure to grab the attention of both boy and girls.

Book clubs will have a lot to discuss. The main themes are family and trust, but kids will also want to talk about having adventures and what it might be like to try to live on their own. There's also the issue of stealing, which in this book is simply the McQuin family business. Other great questions can be found on the Scholastic mother-daughter book club site. The suggested recipe is for homemade ice pops which has particular meaning to March and one of the other kids in the gang.

Zane and the Hurricane by Rodman PhilbrickMany reviewers have heaped praise on Rodman Philbrick's Zane and the Hurricane, which is a story about a boy whose first visit to relatives in New Orleans is disrupted by Katrina. Zane Dupree, just twelve years old, travels from his native New Hampshire to meet his great-grandmother and to get to know her city. When the storm hits, his dog escapes and Zane goes running after him. The two survive the storm but risk getting trapped as the waters begin to rise.

Fortunately, boy and dog are saved by an old man and the little girl in his care. As the group paddles through the flood water to safety, they see things that Zane will never forget: snakes, destroyed houses, and even dead bodies. This journey is not easy, and Philbrick doesn't hide the dark side of Katrina or New Orleans.

Young readers will not only learn about the impact of the storm on the city but will also get some insight into how our country reacts to natural disasters. Clubs will want to discuss the differences between heroes and villains; race, class, and social divisions in the city; and Zane's New England perspective on what he learns about the South. More discussion questions can be found on the Scholastic mother-daughter book club site. The suggested recipe is for king cakes, which are a special New Orleans treat associated with Mardi Gras.

Loot: Scholastic Press, 2014; ISBN-13: 9780545468022
Zane and the Hurricane: Blue Sky Press, 2014; ISBN-13: 9780545342384
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

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21 August 2014

Bookishly Cozy: A Mystery Roundup

Sometimes all I want is a quick, light read that will take me away from reality and introduce me to some great characters. One of my favorite escape genres is cozy mysteries, and this month I discovered three that feature book-loving, bookstore-owing amateur sleuths. Take a look.

Set in Fort Myers Beach, Florida, Well Read, Then Dead kicks off a new cozy mystery series by Terrie Farley Moran. Sassy Cabot and Bridget Mayfield left their Brooklyn homes to pursue their dream job of owning Read 'Em and Eat, a bookstore cafe. Their customers consist of a good mix of quirky locals, snowbirds, and demanding tourists, all of whom share a love of books and good eats. When one of their regulars is murdered, Sassy and Bridget can't help but get involved with trying to solve the case. You'll love the literary references, the humor, the food, and the deep connections among the characters. By the time the two friends figure out who done it, you'll already be looking forward to the next Read 'Em and Eat mystery. (Berkley Prime Crime, ISBN: 9780425270288)

Book Fair and Foul is the fourth installment in Erika Chase's Ashton Corners Book Cub Mystery series, set in Ashton Corners, Alabama. Bookstore owner Molly Mathews is busy organizing a mystery book festival, complete with visiting authors and special events. When death threats become reality, one of the local book club members looks like the prime suspect. Although Lizzie did indeed know the murder victim, she's innocent and it's up to her and her friends to help the police solve the crime. This fast-paced series is full of Southern humor, warm friendships, a long-suffering local cop, and intriguing mysteries. Fortunately you don't have to start with book one to get in on the fun. Besides, who can resist a mystery involving book clubs and book fairs? (Berkley Prime Crime, ISBN: 9780425271490)

Allison Kingsley's Extra Sensory Deception is the fourth in her Raven's Nest Bookstore series. Set in Finn's Harbor, Maine, this series combines books with a little bit of fortune telling. Stephanie and Clara Quinn are not only cousins but also best friends and co-owners of the local bookstore. Clara, however, inherited the special gift of being able to see into the future, and sometimes what she sees isn't pretty. When Clara's premonition of death at the rodeo turns out to be right, she gets involved with solving the murder. Small town antics, a little paranormal, family dynamics, books, a loyal dog, and a sprinkling of romance spice up this popular series. Although you won't want to miss Clara and Stephanie's earlier adventures, you won't feel lost if you start with the newest in the series. (Berkley Prime Crime, ISBN: 9780425271384)

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19 August 2014

Wordless Wednesday 303

Back from the Farmers' Market, 2014

Click image to see it full size. For more Wordless Wednesday, click here.

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Today's Read: Dollbaby by Laura Lane McNeal

Imagine that you're almost twelve years old when your father dies. Then just days later your mother drives you from Seattle to your grandmother's house in New Orleans. That might be OK, but you never even knew you had a grandmother, and now you're watching your mother drive off, with no clear idea of when she'll return. This is what happened to Ibby Bell in early July of 1964:

There are times you wish you could change things, take things back, pretend they never existed. This was one of those times, Ibby Bell was thinking as she stared bug-eyed out the car window. Amid the double-galleried homes and brightly painted cottages on Prytania Street, there was one house that didn't belong.
Dollbaby by Laura Lane McNeal (Penguin USA / Pamela Dorman Books, 2014, p. 3)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: New Orleans, 1960s
  • Circumstances: After her father dies, Ibby Bell is left at her fraternal grandmother's house in New Orleans. Ibby doesn't understand why her mother abandoned her and she feels lost in a world that includes household staff, civil rights unrest, Vietnam War protests, church, and unfamiliar foods. As she matures into a young woman, Ibby learns that life is unpredictable and sometimes "you got to dance, even when there ain't no music."
  • Characters: Liberty Bell (teenage years); Fannie Bell, her eccentric grandmother; Queenie, Babydoll, and the rest of the Trout family; various neighbors and friends
  • Genre: historical fiction; coming of age; Southern fiction
  • Themes: family, love, civil rights, doing what's right, helping those who need our help
  • What I liked: I'm not quite finished yet, but McNeal has created memorable characters, each with their own issues, who help one another as best they can. I particularly like following Ibby's maturation, as she gains perspective on social class differences and human rights.
  • Recommendations: Even though I haven't gotten to the end, I can recommend Dollbaby for anyone who likes a good coming-of-age story, quirky characters, and time pieces. Although the topics are deep (making it a good book club choice), the novel can also be approached on a lighter level as a good summer read. Yes, Fannie's life is sometimes hard to believe, but I have enjoyed getting to know her, Queenie, Dollybaby, and Ibby.
  • Audiobook: I listened to the unabridged audiobook (Penguin Audio; 11 hr, 12 min) read by January Levoy. Let me cut to the chase: Levoy's performance is nothing short of brilliant. I love her characterizations and that she changes her tone so we can tell that Ibby is growing up. I can't distinguish among Southern accents, but I think Levoy does a great job with the various Louisiana dialects. Don't hesitate to listen to this one.

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18 August 2014

Review: Sven the Returned by Brian Wood

One of the graphic novel series I read this summer was Brian Wood's Northlanders, which is historical fiction that takes place during the time of the Vikings. Instead of focusing the entire fifty-issue series on a single character or plot line, Wood wrote seven independent story arcs, each of which is set in a different location and in different years, spanning roughly from the 700s to the 1200s. Here are my thoughts (with a minor spoiler) in a bullet review.

What's it about? The first volume, Sven the Returned, is set in the Orkneys in 980 BCE. Sven, the son of a Viking lord, left his northern home when he was a boy, rejecting his inheritance as much he felt his family rejected him. He eventually ended up in Constantinople, where he made a good a life for himself as a Varangian. When he learns of his father death, however, Sven decides to return to the islands to claim his wealth and defeat his uncle, who has taken over the lands.

The good. I was initially drawn to the series because it was about Vikings and because I loved the artwork (by Davide Gianfelice) (click the scans to see full size). I also appreciated that the story was fairly realistic, with almost no fantasy or myth elements. You should be aware that Northlanders is most definitely an adult series, with plenty of violence and some sex.

The not so good. Sven wasn't a very sympathetic character and came off as selfish and greedy. This made it difficult for me to feel sorry for his situation and to root for him to regain his inheritance, especially because he wanted the money and didn't really care about what happened to the people. In the end, he showed a better side of himself, but it was not enough and a little too late. Furthermore, the women in the book, were not very well developed, although I liked Enna, a Scotswoman, whom Sven met when he was living in Orkney wilderness.

My main problem with the book had to do with the setup of the comic itself. There were quite few instances in which Wood resorted to descriptors instead of illustrating what was happening. For example, instead of demonstrating a change in seasons through the artwork, Wood includes a narrative bubble that reads, "Months pass, winter comes" (p. 84). In another instance, instead of showing us through facial expressions that Sven is attracted to a young woman, Wood adds a thought bubble that says "And she had my heart" (p. 112).

My final complaint was that the ending was fairly predictable and that a few plot points were glossed over or dropped.

General thoughts. Unfortunately I can't wholeheartedly recommend Sven the Returned. In fact, for the reasons I discussed, I don't plan on reading more of Brian Wood's Northlanders series. On the other hand, it's important to remember that each story arc in the series is independent, and the other collected volumes may be much more successful.

DC Comics / Vertigo, 2008
ISBN-13: 9781401219185
Source: Bought (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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