The Hotel Between

This week we’re reading an exciting read released last year. Filled to the brim with mayhem, mystery, and adventure, The Hotel Between is one book you won’t want to miss.

The Story: Cameron wishes life could be easier for him and his disabled sister, Cass. What with her failing health and the lack of parents, he hardly can afford to hope that they’ll be able to visit all of the amazing places that his sister wants to go to. When a mysterious boy named Nico shows up in the middle of the night, asking questions and flashing magic skills. Cameron and Cass are drawn into the depths of a mysterious building called “The Hotel Between”. Here the secrets of the mystical realm lie, allowing Cass to achieve her long held dream of seeing the world. But all is not as it seems in this strange new world. Cam is sure the secrets of his father’s disappearance and magic lie here, yet with all of the twists and turns life is taking, Cam’s not sure who he can trust. And with Cass’ health failing, can he really afford to risk it all?

My Thoughts: This was a well written and highly entertaining read. Sean Easley does an excellent job of keeping the pacing at a consistent level, though I will say that some of the reveals were somewhat predictable (but that’s an opinion that’s up for debate). All in all, this is a read that I think younger and older readers alike will enjoy.

Parental Advisories: There is some standard juvenile humor, but no cussing and/or scenes.

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The Greatest Treasure Hunt in History

Kid’ nonfiction seems to be getting better and better, with reads that could be considered quite easily enjoyable for adults, teens, pre-teens, and children alike. While a movie was made several years ago about the “Monuments Men”, author Robert M. Edsel strives to explore their endeavors a little bit more in this eye-opening read.

Summary: As World War II drew to a close, America’s art community became aware of a historical travesty that might be continued if they did not do something about it. In June 1944, a military unit assembled of artists, art historians, and soldiers decided to take matters into their own hands by taking back the art that Germany had stolen from the museums and countries it had conquered. Together, these men would save the surviving paintings art and history they could – in the process making history themselves.

My Thoughts: I’ve watched the Monuments Men film before and watched a short documentary on the subject as well, but I did not realize that the film was inspired by Robert M. Edsel’s book. It is a pleasure to read through this comprehensive research project into the history and heroism of these men. I appreciate the fact that Robert M. Edsel chose to reintroduce his book for younger readers, though I will note this book is formatted so that any readers could enjoy. This is a read that would actually be great for young adult consumers who don’t want to read through a lot of dry information but want to enjoy learning about this fascinating piece of history.

Parental Advisories: There is some mild swearing throughout, so I’d be careful handing this to a younger reader; this book is definitely aimed at audiences in the middle grade demographic and higher. Adults who have not had a chance to pick up Robert M. Edsel’s original book may want to pick this one up so they can read through with their child as it is definitely worth it.

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Tangled in Time: The Portal

This week we’re reading a book released earlier this year by renowned children’s author Kathryn Lasky titled Tangled in Time: The Portal. The book is the first of what seems to be a series of novels in the historical fantasy genre.

The Story: Everything seems to have gone downhill for Rose Ashley. Once upon a time she was an aspiring fashion designer who lived in Philadelphia and went to a great school. All of that is behind her now. With her mom’s recent death, Rose is shipped off to live with her grandmother in Indianapolis and is forced to go to school where the “Mean Queens” rule. To make matters worse, all of Rose’s fashion supplies haven’t arrived and Rose’s grandmother has dementia. Life is lonely. What with the girls at school constantly trying to ruin her life or the fact that her only surviving family doesn’t even remember who she is half the time, Rose thinks her life is over – that is, until she discovers that the greenhouse on the estate is a bit more than what it seems. When she follows a stray cat through the doors, she finds herself in a different time and place, more specifically Elizabethean England. Rose isn’t sure how she got there, but when she discovers a locket with a family photo and a painting of a strange man, she is determined to discover the truth. Maybe if she can figure it out she’ll not just solve a mystery, but heal her own tangled family mess for good.

My Thoughts: This was an entertaining and well written read. Kathry Lasky is known for her excellent pacing and all of the characters (with the exception of the Mean Queens) are likable. One of the pluses of handing this book off to your kids is how educational it is. Readers will enjoy discovering more about England’s rich history in this engaging mystery. I highly recommend this read for any readers willing to take on the challenge.

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Scream and Scream Again

As spooky season gets in full spirit and chills, we’re reviewing some more haunting reads. This week on the blog as we get to the big day itself, we’re reading R. L. Stine’s and the Mystery Writers of America newest collection for younger readers: Scream and Scream Again!

The Story: What lies beyond in the woods? Why does she have nails like claws? What really goes on behind closed doors? Who is making the shrieks that can be heard? How can they make their haunted house even more terrifying? R. L. Stine and the Mystery Writers of America bring you this horrifying volume, filled with tales to instill fear in you. Of course, if a story is not enough, they have their ways…Not every story starts with a scream, but every story certainly ends with one. From mysterious screams of bobcats in the woods to haunted houses to ghosts, this is one chilling compendium of short stories.

My Thought: I’m about to admit to you guys a shocking secret. Ready? I have never read a Goosebumps book. Yes, it’s true. Despite their position as a staple of childhood nightmares (kidding), I never had an interest in picking up anything in that series. That’s not to say R. L. Stine isn’t a good author – I just have no experience with his work. That having been said, this was a pretty good collection of short stories. Definitely juvenile, with a varying degree of excellent writing style and voice, but still worth it for a younger reader who can’t wait to get into spooky stories.

Parental Advisories: This is a collection of “scary” stories so read at your own risk. Know there is death, destruction, and mayhem galore.

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Spooktacular Reads: Part 2

This week we return to Spooktacular Reads with even more books to enjoy. As stated previously, these are all clean children’s reads that are fun for the whole family. The colorful illustrations and vivid storytelling are sure to please readers young and old alike.

Today’s first pick is The Story of the Jack O’Lantern. This book tells the tale of Jack, a mean spirited soul who takes what he wants and never thinks of the consequences. One cold Halloween night, Jack makes a deal with the devil – quite literally. Hungry for a sumptuous meal but out of the funds to pay for it, he agrees to pay back his debt on the day he dies. Wandering for years and continuing his stingy ways, Jack never thinks about his debt…until one night as he carves away at a stolen pumpkin, the stranger returns. It’s time to pay back his debt, but Jack is not dead yet. Though he survives an attack via a burning coal, Jack is condemned to wander the earth forever; never to find a place to stay, with only a glowing pumpkin to light his way. This chilling tale will be something to remember as children carve their own pumpkins during the Halloween season.

Our next pick is Boo!, the tale of a ghost who just wants to be the scariest of them all at his school’s Scariest Spook Competition. But what will make him scary enough? Will paint make him scarier? Boo! Will fangs and dark wings make him scarier? Boo! What will make him scary? Follow this little ghost in a simple picture book that is fun for the whole family to read. The illustrative narrative is simple to follow and even the youngest readers can enjoy reading the book without any difficulty. The story is also rather sweet and is fun to enjoy.

The last pick of the day is Trick Arr Treat. This fun spin on Halloween night is a perfect representation of what every kid thinks Halloween is about. Getting together with a pack of friends, putting on an awesome costume, and pillaging – er, politely asking adults for treats. Complete with appropriate punctuations of pirate exclamations, funny moments, and an enjoyable battle, this book is what it means to have fun. It is colorful, entertaining, and true to the spirit of the season. Kids and adults alike will love reading through, even if it’s just to say “Arr” over and over.

I hope you all are looking forward to his Halloween; I know I certainly am. Let me know what your favorite part about Halloween is. Have a spooktacular October!

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The Strangers

This week we’re reading an excellently crafted book by lauded children’s author Margaret Peterson Haddix. This is the first book in a series entitled Greystone Secrets, the beginning novel being this week’s read The Strangers.

The Story: Chess, Emma, and Finn are close as siblings can be. They stick together through anything, even when a trio of siblings exactly like them – names, ages, birthdays, everything – go missing in Arizona. The news says it’s kidnapping. Even though it’s far away, none of the children can shake the feeling that something odd is going on, especially as their mother continues to act cryptic and act out of character. When their mom goes missing completely, the three realize that it may be up to them to find her again. As they try to discover the truth with the help of their babysitter’s daughter, Natalie, a startling amount of questions begin to arise that need answer: where are they really from? What happened to Dad? And most importantly: will they ever get Mom back?

My Thoughts: I devoured this read over the course of one weekend, using every opportunity I could to read in large chunks. This is a book that grabs you from the opening chapters and manages to keep your attention throughout the story. There is a fair amount of perspective switching that doesn’t feel jarring and adds to the overall plot. Chess, Emma, and Finn are true to life siblings with understandable relationships. Natalie is by far one of the most engaging characters in this book; her interactions with her mother are natural and relatable for kids in her situation. The only criticisms I can make about this book is the big plot twist in the latter half of the book (but you’ll have to read to see why I say that). I highly recommend picking this book up; it won’t disappoint.

Parental Advisories: None! This is a clean, engaging children’s novel that any capable reader can enjoy, regardless of age.

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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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