Nightbooks

If you’re looking for a bookish read with just the right touch of mystery and nightmarish chill, consider picking up this week’s read, Nightbooks, by J. A. White.

The Story: There’s nothing quite like a scary story, except when it’s happening to you. Alex loves classic horror films, but when a mysterious woman lures her into his apartment and reveals she is a witch who traps children inside, he realizes that he’s stuck inside what could turn into a nightmare. The witch Natacha is only keeping Alex and her other prisoner, Yasmin, alive because they do her bidding: Yasmin to keep her home and run her errands and do her dirty work, Alex to tell her the dark stories that keep her satiated. But what will happen when he runs out of spooky tales? Will he and Yasmin ever make it back home? And can Alex ever find the courage to face his biggest fears…about himself?

My Thoughts: This is a pretty straightforward read, with no incredibly massive twists. The story is as advertised: a spooky tale for middle grade readers. So what about it makes me encourage you to pick it up? Besides the genuine voice and writing style, the ending of the story brings up an interesting psychological point and Alex is an engaging hero in which I can find a little bit of myself with my desire to be a writer. Definitely an engaging story. Pick this up and buy it for the aspiring young writer in your life. The power of stories is definitely evident in this read.

Parental Advisories: This is a scary story, so mention of cannibalism, monsters, and spooky creatures of the night are made mention of. However, nothing is explicitly described in gory detail and this is tame, on the level of the cheesiest Goosebumps fare.

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Spooktacular Reads

Though I’m a huge Halloween fan, I know many people love the opportunity to dress up, munch on some sweet treats, and have ghoulish fun. In the spirit of October, I decided to pick three of my more spooktacular reads to share with ya’ll. These are sweet, family-friendly picks that the whole family can read and love, so if you’re not one for the darker side of Halloween, you needn’t worry.

Our first read of the day is The Heebie-Jeebie Jamboree. Sam and Daphne love Halloween and this year they can’t wait to enjoy it together – but wait! When mysterious tickets find them, each for the Heebie-Jeebie Jamboree, the two kids decide to head for the festivities. The dazzling midway is truly magical. Daphne can’t wait to check everything out. That is, until she notices Sam has gone missing. Where has her brother gone?! Can Daphne navigate this fun land and find him before the night is out?

The next story is Carl Reiner’s Tell Me a Scary Story… But Not Too Scary. This story Iloved in particular because for those of you who don’t know, Carl Reiner was part of one of my favorite TV shows The Dick Van Dyke Show. This story begins with a grandpa’s scarystory as told to his grandchild on a cool autumn night. Following the adventure of a young boy who ventures into the terrifying basement of his neighbor’s house to return a frightening glass eye. This book is a treasure, with its creepy narrative, moody art, and funny ending.

There’s a skeleton high in our sycamore tree, high as high can be. He was hung up there by my sister and me, high in our sycamoretree….At night when the wind howls overhead, with ghoulish, ghastly glee, our skeleton dances the dance of the dead, there in our sycamore tree. This frightening tale will be sure to delight both children and adults alike as they read the tale of two children who decorate their tree with a skeleton for Halloween. But the morning after All Hallows Eve, Fred McFree is gone! Where has he disappeared to?

These three books are a scream! Children and adults can appreciate each without getting too petrified and the childlike idea of dressing up these authors use is to be appreciated. I highly recommend you pick up these and similar books at your local library to get into the mood of this “spooktacular” October!

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Pygmalion

Today we’re paging through a classic read that got its own Broadway musical starring Julie Andrews and film adaptation based both on the musical and by extension the novel starring Audrey Hepburn. This week we’re reading Pygmalion.

The Story: “Liza” Doolittle may not have much, but she knows her place in the world – even if that place is only as a lowly flower girl on the streets. When an arrogant gentleman named Henry Higgins presumes to tell Eliza that she’s not as high a human being as he, she makes up her mind that she’s going to turn his phonetic brilliance on himself by demanding lessons to turn her into a lady worthy of a respectable job. Though it may be a difficult job, Colonel Pickering and Henry Higgins decide to take the challenge. It may be more difficult than they’ve thought. Henry Higgins is hardly a gentleman and Eliza Doolittle is still, at the end of the day, a flower girl. Written almost like a play, Pygmalion is a story of a woman’s journey as she comes into her own and leaves the world she knew behind.

My Thoughts: I was surprised by the end of this story. *Spoiler alert* In the musical and film My Fair Lady, Eliza returns to Henry Higgins. This ending always bothered me personally because it made no sense that Eliza would return to someone who is as much of a jerk as Professor Higgins. In Pygmalion, Liza decides to make a life for herself with the young gentlemen Freddy. As she puts it, “Freddy loves me: that makes him king enough for me.” In addition, I find it somewhat quaint and charming that the worst language to be found in the book is “bloody” and “d***ed”. This is one of the books that definitely needs to be read in its historical context and the version of Pygmalion that I read had an excellent portion about the author George Bernard Shaw that I recommend readers finding out about.

Parental Advisories: This is a book I’d advise waiting to hand off to your kids as it does include some language (d***n and h***). Eliza and Henry Higgins also briefly mention being a “virtuous woman”. Parents who understand the context can choose whether they feel comfortable letting their child read the book or not.

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Belle Takes Flight

Disney’s 2017 live action remake of their beloved classic Beauty and the Beast gets a sequel with Disney Press’ new children’s book Belle Takes Flight. Filled with adventure, mystery, and just a little magic, this release is sure to please the reader in your home!

The Story: Life is never boring in the castle. Belle’s father, Maurice, has recently moved in and is constructing a flying balloon which will allow her and the Prince to soar through the skies. With a little bit of enchanted help from the master of the castle and a few of Belle’s ingenious ideas, the balloon is almost completed when the Prince spots a music box that takes him back to his tragic past. When he disappears and appears in the Magic Mirror captured in a dungeon far away, Belle knows she must rescue him. Through the power of stories, she and her friends will travel beyond all they know to save a friend – and in the process save a kingdom.

My Thoughts: This was an enjoyable read that I easily plowed through, though there are definitely some things I could nitpick. For one, this book is supposed to be a sequel to the live action film, but I was actually confused as to whether it was supposed to be due to certain character descriptions being rather different from their live-action counterparts. Mrs. Potts is suddenly short, squat, and Irish with fellow servant Cogsworth apparently being rather rotund as well. In addition, the Beast/Prince is just called “the Prince” throughout the entirety of the book. I definitely think he could use a name as it got a bit repetitive to use the same name over and over.

Parental Advisories: None! This is a clean read absolutely perfect for kids.

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Dear Sister

I usually enjoy a uniquely formatted book and one with a big heart is to be even more appreciated. Today we’re looking at a children’s book that will touch your heart whether or not you are an older sibling or a little sibling: Alisen McGhee and Joe Bluhm’s Dear Sister.

The Story: A new addition to the household has arrived and the newly dubbed “brother” is not happy. Not one bit. His sister takes over everything in the house and she whines all the time. Plus, despite the fact that he clearly has as many dietary objections to lima beans as she, he’s the only one forced to eat the disgusting green vegetables. So here’s his plan. He’s going to write letters to his sister (even if she’s so stupid she can’t read yet). No matter the length of the years or the time that passes, this brother is not going to stop writing until his dear little sister knows just what he thinks of her.

My Thoughts: I got a little sentimental and emotional at the end of this book, I’ll admit it. Being an oldest siblings myself, I remember the excitement of waiting for a little sibling to arrive and how many adventures I thought I was going to have with them. Since I myself am getting ready to step into a new part of my life soon, the story of their relationship changing as the brother graduates and heads off to college is sweet. The author and illustrators do an excellent job depicting this sibling relationship through the letters the brother figure has written and the illustrations that capture wonderful character moments.

Parental Advisories: If you are opposed to tattoos, the main character (the brother) does get a tattoo at the end of the book and the idea of getting a tattoo is discussed throughout the read.

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A Drop of Hope

Contemporary novels for younger readers are getting better and better these days. With focus on character, Keith Calbrese writes a tender novel of belief in magic, family, and finding oneself.

The Story: The last thing Ernest Wilmette wants to do is organize his grandpa’s attic. Especially now that his grandpa is dead. Still, a promise is a promise. As Ernest quickly discovers, his grandpa’s attic is not quite what it seems. When local boy Ryan accompanies Ernest to Thompkins Well, both boys discover that the objects from the attic have power – and that Ernest’s grandpa has been hiding big secrets from him. With the help of Ryan’s childhood friend Lizzy, a girl abused by her relatives and raised by her single mom, the three kids will discover that Ernest’s grandpa not only knew the magical truth of Thompkins Well, but also was hiding one of the most important secrets that the small town of Cliffs Donnelly, Ohio could never imagine.

My Thoughts: This book was rather uniquely formatted. The POVs are somewhat messy and it can be disarming to find oneself reading about a character that we might (if lucky) come back to reading about. Still, the characters we are reading about are delightful. They feel like real characters with real problems; they are complex and lovable. The main trio is particularly endearing as there is so much in them that readers can relate to.

Parental Advisories: The book is fairly clean. It deals in damaged family relationships, death, and crime, but it does so in a family-friendly manner.

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Dutch Girl

For movie fans, Audrey Hepburn is one of the most stunningly beautiful and iconic film stars, but very few know the truth about the darkest years of her life, while the war raged on in Europe. This week we’re taking a look at a release that sheds some light on Audrey Hepburn’s early years from childhood to her escape to the bright lights of Hollywood in Robert Matzen’s new book Dutch Girl: Audrey and World War II.

The Story: The time is Great Depression Era Europe. In a world torn by poverty, a rising Adolf Hitler promised peace and prosperity. Like many of the German people attracted to the promises of fascism, Baroness Ella van Heemstra is drawn to the Fuhrer’s ideas of grandeur – especially if it means a better life for her and her small family. Little Adriaantje is completely unaware of her mother’s Nazi ties when she is sent away to live with her grandparents to avoid the madness of the city, though as her parents become embroiled in the fascist network and times grow darker, it is hard for any of the children to avoid this truth. Even the Baroness realizes that the allure of the Nazi party may hide something much darker, leading the family to escape to the country. What follows during the next few years will change little Adriaantje into a survivor and a young woman that Audrey Hepburn will never leave behind.

My Thoughts: I am personally a big fan of old Hollywood. While I usually am not fascinated by the lives of those who populate the silver screen, the retro era of classic films contained a whole host of ladies and gentlemen who survived historic events, served in wars, and experienced a turmoil completely separate from the giddy temptations of LA’s movie business. Audrey Hepburn, as previously stated, is one of Hollywood’s best remembered actresses and the story of where she came from is just as fascinating as her filmography. It was intriguing to learn more about the family that Audrey came from, especially as I was completely unaware of the fact that she was German and/or connected with the Nazi party in any way. Her performances in order to raise money for the Dutch Resistance only barely skim the surface of the events that made a little girl into a generous woman.

Parental Advisories: This book is fairly clean, although there is an occasional quote in which a historical figure will cuss. Overall, this is clean and well written read that any parent should feel confident handing off to a competent reader.

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Spooked!

I enjoy a good nonfiction read, no matter the demographic or age range. Historical nonfiction is some of my favorite, which is why this week we’re taking a look at Spooked! How a Radio Broadcast and the War of the Worlds Sparked the 1938 Invasion of America.

Summary: Orson Welles’ famous 1938 dramatization of H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds is reintroduced to a whole new generation in this fascinating read. Author Gail Jarrow delves deeper into the political tensions of the late 1930s and the economic fears that kept many Americans on edge. This book collects witness testimony, radio excerpts, photos, and clippings that weave together to create a colorful narrative that will keep readers wondering, what next? With candor and an astonishing array of sleuthing work, Spooked! elaborates on the intense radio broadcast which shook America out of its stupor and made people listen a little bit closer to what they were hearing.

My Thoughts: I am a huge fan of H. G. Wells’ work and – having read War of the Worlds multiple times – find the story of the 1938 radio dramatization absolutely fascinating. Kids will get a kick out of learning about the hoaxes, rumors, and ludicrous reactions that swept through the public like wildfire. Radio serials and adaptations bloomed thanks to this monumental show, which managed to prove to the world the power of effective acting, storytelling, and medium.

Parental Advisories: None! This is a squeaky clean read that I not only recommend to kids, but also to adults. It’s worth a read; trust me.

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Howl’s Moving Castle

We’re getting into more YA this week with the book that inspired Hayao Miyazaki’s popular fantasy film.

The Story: Sophie is one of three sisters who live with their mother. Together they operate a hat shop with dying business, only separated when Fanny decides to send off the girls to find their fortunes and hopefully make it easier for all of them. Sophie works day and night with a patient fervor until the day when the mysterious Witch of the Waste steps into the shop and curses her. Suddenly Sophie is an old woman whose bones ache and creak. In order to fix her curse, she flees into the wilderness where she encounters the monstrous edifice known to belong to the wicked wizard Howl. Here she meets the fire demon Calcifer, who promises to help break her curse if she will break his. Sophie agrees, not knowing that such a bargain will lead her into a deeper world of magic, mystery, and duplicity then she could ever imagine.

My Thoughts: I’d never seen any material about Howl’s Moving Castle before I saw the film recently with some friends. While I enjoyed the film, I was left with multiple questions and thought the book would possibly answer them. While Diana Wynne Jones does offer up some quality entertainment in her novel, the book hardly answers all the questions the movie presents. The book is definitely superior in certain ways, but if you don’t intend on ever reading it, take a look at the spoiler thoughts below.

Spoiler Thoughts: In the book, Howl courts many girls with wild abandon and is described as leaving them as soon as he’s caught them. This is a facet of his personality that is rather absent in the films, but makes much more sense when it comes to the contract between him and Calcifer. In order to save Calcifer (who was originally a dying star), Howl gives him his heart. This apparently seems to be what a fire demon is in the book, a star who was saved from extinction by being given a wizard or witch’s heart. In addition, the world that Sophie inhabits appears to be an alternate reality to our own, as Howl comes from the normal world. There is so much more that I could go over, but it seems that both book and film struggle to deal with explaining everything that they contain.

Parental Advisories: I believe Howl swears once in the book (“hell”) and for parents who try to avoid fantasy stories for their children, this is a definite no-no. The book also mentions demons, dark magic, and spirits, but never really gets deep into this side of the story.

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Escape From the Isle of the Lost

Recently, I was blessed to receive a copy of the newest Melissa de la Cruz Descendants novel through a giveaway generously hosted by Leslie Kay from The Disneybound. Today we’re going to be reviewing the fourth and possibly last novel in the Descendants series.

The Story: Mal and her friends have fought hard for the peace they’re enjoying now. She loves her amazing boyfriend, King Ben, the wonderful friends who make up her family, and Auradon Prep. Unfortunately, not everyone is content to let Mal live her life in peace. Uma, daughter of Ursula, is still lurking around in the waters between Auradon and the Isle of the Lost, searching for a way to escape. It seems she’s not alone however. Hades, former god of the underworld, has been trapped in the bowels of the Isle for as long as both girls can remember and he’s even more desperate to get away from this prison to get back to the paradise he once knew as an all powerful being. With Uma’s help, Hades might be able to get off the island and wreak havoc for the innocent citizens in Auradon. He and Uma might even (dare they think it?) be able to kick back and enjoy life – if they can just escape.

My Thoughts: I’ve enjoyed this series since I picked up the first book in 2015. Melissa de la Cruz is an excellent authoress who is a credit to the Descendants brand by writing novels that flesh out the world of the films and manages to write what feels like a tangible world. These books are fun ways to escape into another dimension and the perfect treat on a hot summer’s day.

Parental Advisories: None! Melissa de la Cruz does an excellent job of keeping these books appropriate for any age group.

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