Sunday, 31 July 2011

Book Review: Skipping Stones at the Center of the Earth by Andy Hueller

Today I am very excited because is my stop in the Skipping Stones at the Center of the Earth blog tour.

BookSkipping Stones at the Center of the Earth by Andy Hueller, Cedar Fort, Incorporated/C F I Distribution,  expected publication: August 8th 2011, 248 pages.
Source:  ARC received from the publisher via NetGalley in return for a fair review.

Summary (from Goodreads):
Calvin Comet Cobble lives at Hidden Shores Orphanage. Location: the very center of the earth. Cal's life is full of the school bully and mean teachers, but when he meets Mr. E, who can skip a stone clear across Lake Arctic, everything about Cal's life changes. Told with wit and charm, Skipping Stones at the Center of the Earth is guaranteed to excite and inspire readers of all ages.
My Thoughts:
When he is five, Calvin is sent to live in an orphanage in a place called Robert at the center of the earth.  One half of Robert, where the orphanage is, is light, and the other half, where there is a prison for the most dangerous criminals, is dark.  Anyone who goes into the dark side never returns.

In the story, Calvin is twelve and is struggling at the orphanage, his mother is dead and he has never known his father, his unruly red hair keeps getting him in trouble, there are conflicts with the teachers and the other children, and endless rules that must be obeyed.

The story is also tied together with Bartholomew Rogers who, twelve years ago, discovered a screw at the top of the world.  The book goes back and forth between Bartholomew in the past to Calvin in the present.

I enjoyed reading this book and found it meandery and quirky.  I thought the imagination and interesting scenerios were great - screws at each of the poles, the light and dark sides of Robert, the idea that the government would try to get rid of criminals and orphans by hiding them in the center of the earth, and the stones that skip endlessly and engage a boy who has so little in his life.  Even life at the orphanage, though terrible, has a crazy humour to it.  It is a book funny and captivating book with an most Lemony Snicket feeling to it - one horrible thing after another gets piled onto the orphans who are forced to live at the Center of the Earth.

The characters in this book really captured me, especially Calvin with his unruly red hair that keeps getting him in trouble, though he can do nothing about it, and Bartholomew, who didn't ever intend on becoming famous.  I wanted things to work out for them.

Ultimately, however, this is a human story of fitting in, finding your place, and friendship.  That, combined with the fun and adventure, will appeal to middle school readers, and I would highly recommend this book to them.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Book Review: City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

Book:  City of Bones (The Mortal Instruments #1) by Cassandra Clare, Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2007, 485 pages, young adult fantasy.

Source:  purchased.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
When fifteen-year-old Clary Fray heads out to the Pandemonium Club in New York City, she hardly expects to witness a murder - much less a murder committed by three teenagers covered with strange tattoos and brandishing bizarre weapons. Then the body disappears into thin air. It's hard to call the police when the murderers are invisible to everyone else and when there is nothing - not even a smear of blood - to show that a boy has died. Or was he a boy?

This is Clary's first meeting with the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the earth of demons. It's also her first encounter with Jace, a Shadowhunter who looks a little like an angel and acts a lot like a jerk. Within twenty-four hours Clary is pulled into Jace's world with a vengeance, when her mother disappears and Clary herself is attacked by a demon. But why would demons be interested in ordinary mundanes like Clary and her mother? And how did Clary suddenly get the Sight? The Shadowhunters would like to know....

Exotic and gritty, exhilarating and utterly gripping, Cassandra Clare's ferociously entertaining fantasy takes readers on a wild ride that they will never want to end.

My Thoughts:
I have heard people raving about Cassandra Clare for quite some time, but for some reason, it took me a while to get to City of Bones.  Better late than never, right?  I loved reading this book, even more than I thought I would because I am not usually a big fan of books that involve love triangles.  I was able to read it on the beach this summer, which was perfect because it made a great, entertaining read.

To start with, I enjoyed Cassandra Clare's writing, her style is vivid, imaginative, descriptive and exciting.  I could really feel the world that she created and how she layered them so there could be two worlds at once, the one that most people can see and an exotic world filled with Shadowhunters, demons, werewolves and vampires. 

I also liked how Cassandra Clare explored the notions of good and evil, and how she used Clary, a naive fifteen year old girl to do this.  Clary is young and tends to see things in terms of good and bad, black and white, right and wrong, but the world is not always like this.  Clary gets challanged on these beliefs, learning that there are shades of grey and this is almost too much for Clary to wrap her head around, something I think that most teenagers experience.

For the most part, I enjoyed the characters in City of Bones.  Clary, as I said before, is young and fifteen - she rushes in, doesn't always think and is fiercly loyal, which I think is fairly realistic for a girl her age.  She also needs to be rescued a lot, and I am hoping that changes as her character grows in the next books of the series.

The other characters are good also, even if some of them are a bit stereotypical.  Most, however, are well developed and show some sort of growth.  Jace, the sarcastic, macho, obnoxious Shadowhunter, can be a bit much sometimes.  I am not sure why everyone loves good looking jerks so much.

There are also some great plot twists which will keep the reader turning the pages.  Many of these are foreshadowed in the book, which makes them even better.  Overall, there is a nice balance between action and "down time" as well as some humour thrown in.

I can really see young adult readers enjoying this book, as well as adults who enjoy this type of urban fantasy genre.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Book Review: The Atomic Weight of Secrets

BookThe Atomic Weight of Secrets or The Arrival of the Mysterious Men in Black (Young Inventors Guild Trilogy #1) by Eden Unger Bowditch, Bancroft Press, 2011, 339 pages.

Source:  Received egalley from the publisher via NetGalley.

Synopsis:  (from Goodreads):
In 1903, five truly brilliant young inventors, the children of the world's most important scientists, went about their lives and their work as they always had.

But all that changed the day the men in black arrived.

They arrived to take twelve-year-old Jasper Modest and his six-year-old sister, Lucy, he with his remarkable creations and she with her perfect memory from their London, England home to a place across the ocean they'd never seen before.

They arrived to take nine-year-old Wallace Banneker, last in a long line of Africa-descended scientists, from his chemistry, his father, and his New York home to a life he'd never imagined.

Twelve-year-old Noah Canto-Sagas, already missing his world-famous and beloved mother, was taken from Toronto, Canada, carrying only his clothes, his violin, and his remarkable mind.

And thirteen-year-old Faye Vigyanveta, the genius daughter of India's wealthiest and most accomplished scientists, was removed by force from her life of luxury.

From all across the world, they've been taken to mysterious Sole Manner Farm, and a beautiful but isolated schoolhouse in Dayton, Ohio, without a word from their parents as to why.   Not even the wonderful schoolteacher they find there, Miss Brett, can explain it. She can give them love and care, but she can t give them answers.

Things only get stranger from there. What is the book with no pages Jasper and Lucy find in their mother's underwear drawer, and why do the men in black want it so badly?

How is it all the children have been taught the same bizarre poem and yet no other rhymes or stories their entire lives?

And why haven't their parents tried to contact them?

Whatever the reasons, to brash, impetuous Faye, the situation is clear: They and their parents have been kidnapped by these terrible men in black, and the only way they're going to escape and rescue their parents is by completing the invention they didn't even know they were all working on an invention that will change the world forever.

But what if the men in black aren't trying to harm the children? What if they're trying to protect them?
And if they're trying to protect them, from what?

An amazing story about the wonders of science and the still greater wonders of friendship, The Atomic Weight of Secrets or The Mysterious Men in Black , the first book of the Young Inventors Guild trilogy, is a truly original novel. Young readers will forever treasure Eden Unger Bowditch's funny, inventive, poignant, and wonderfully fun fiction debut.

My Thoughts:
I was anxious to read this book, mostly because the cover and the title drew me in.  I love the dual title and this is carried through in the book with the chapter headings. The cover is also beautiful and intriguing.

The book itself is full of science and creative inventions and it is interesting to read a steampunk novel for kids.  There is adventure and tension, with the kids thinking up smart solutions to problems, but still from childlike points of view.  I like how they did not seem more sophisticated than they were.  No matter how intelligent the kids are, they still come to childlike conclusions.

I did enjoy reading this book, it is quirky and different, but it is also a bit difficult.  There are times when it is fast paced, but also when it is quite slow, as the book alternates between what is happening in the present and the past of these five children. 

I loved the characters, especially the kids and how authentic they felt.  They are so smart and sure in how smart they are.  I also liked watching the friendship grow between the five children and how they developed as people.  I felt invested in all five of them.

The men in black were a fun addition, with their outrageous costumes and bizarre behaviour.   There is almost a Lemony Snicket feel to the book, with the crazy men in black, the quirky sense of humour and a mysterious plot overshadowing the entire book.

This book set so much up and left so much unanswered and I will certainly be interested in reading the next installment.  Also, the website for the book is a fun one (click on the book title above), as it has information and games.  I am sure that middle school kids who are interested in steampunk and science would enjoy this book.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Book Review: The Secret World of Whales by Charles Siebert

BookThe Secret Life of Whales by Charles Siebert, Chronicle Books, 2011, 112 pages.

Source:  Won in a contest from Cracking the Cover and the publisher (thank you so much).

Summary (from Goodreads):
The Secret World of Whales takes readers deep into the history of human encounters with whales. In conjunction with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Charles Siebert illuminates the latest research on these gentle giants. Readers will discover scientific findings that suggest that the human brain and the whale brain are surprisingly similar. They will dive into stories from fiction and legend, as well as real-life tales of ships raised in the air on the back of a whale. With masterful storytelling and impressive photographs, this comprehensive book brings new light to the mysterious underwater world of whales.

My Thoughts:
This book was so timely for me as we had just come back from our vacation on Hornby Island (off the coast of BC), where, after years of going there, we saw a pod of Orcas swim past.  It was so exciting for us and for our kids.  When we returned, this book was in the mail and I hadn't even realized that I had won it.  After our encounter with Orcas, my eight year old was especially interested in reading this book, so we read it together and loved it.  

This is a different kind of book about whales, it is more about their culture and social history with humans than about what types of whales there are and where they live.  The basics of whales are covered, but then there are anctidotes about interesting whale activity, such as how they are learning to take fish off of fishing lines in Alaska, and are teaching this to other whales around the world (one of my son's favourite stories).  

Also covered is how humans are affecting whales, from finding them mystical beings, to hunting them, to whale watching tours, to noise pollution.  

I found that I learned a lot by reading this book and that it really got me thinking - I knew whales were smart, but I did not understand the extent of their culture.  This is a great book for kids who want to know more about whales as it is written in an engaging, friendly way, but it also a good book for doing research.  My eight year old loved this book and never wanted me to stop reading and was enraptured while I read.  This in not a dry book, but is full of colourful pictures and interesting stories combined with facts and research.  

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Book Review: Theodore Boone, The Abduction by John Grisham

Book:  Theodore Boone:  The Abduction (Theodore Boone #2) by John Grisham, Dutton Children's Books, 2011, 217 pages.  Middle school fiction.
Source:  purchased.

Summary (from Goodreads):
Theodore Boone is back in a new adventure, and the stakes are higher than ever.

When his best friend, April, disappears from her bedroom in the middle of the night, no one, not even Theo Boone-who knows April better than anyone-has answers.

As fear ripples through his small hometown and the police hit dead ends, it's up to Theo to use his legal knowledge and investigative skills to chase down the truth and save April.

Filled with the page-turning suspense that made John Grisham a #1 international bestseller and the undisputed master of the legal thriller, Theodore Boone's trials and triumphs will keep readers guessing until the very end.

My Thoughts:
I have read John Grisham novels in the past and enjoyed them and so was excited to read this middle school novel - I was not disappointed, this is an exciting, intreguing read for kids.

The beginning immediately draws the reader in when Theo's friend April has been abducted.  There is a kind of tough talking detective feel to the book, a bit abrubt and edgy.  At the same time, Grisham makes the reader feel for April and her plight and want her rescued, as well as feeling total sympathy for Theo in his plight to find his friend.

Theo is a fun character who will appeal to kids who like smart dectective novels.  He has a passion for the law which is contageous and keeps the reader turning the pages to watch him figure out what happened to his friend.

There are times when the book is a little repetative, but overall, it is well written and kids who like mystery, solving puzzles and suspense will really enjoy this series of books.  Grisham successfully combines the mystery solving Nancy Drew type story with a kid friendly legal thriller.

Theodore Boone:  The Abduction is the second in the series, the first being Theodore Boone:  Kid Lawyer.

This is the TV spot made for this book:

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Book Review: Van Gogh and the Post-Impressionists for Kids

Book:  Van Gogh and the Post-Impressionists for Kids:  Their Lives and Ideas, 21 Activities by Carol Sabbeth, Chicago Press Review, 2011, 144 pages.

Source:  Received eGalley via NetGalley from the publisher in exchange for a fair review.

I absolutely love van Gogh's art and was quite eager to read this children's book to learn more about him.  Carol Sabbeth does a great job of summing up van Gogh's history as well as putting his life and art in a greater context.  She helps the reader understand what was going on at the time in the art world as well as what was going on personally in van Gogh's life, what kind of person he was, what influenced him, and how he came to be an artist.  I found that she presented the perfect amount of information - the book was both informative and entertaining. 

Carol Sabbeth also presentes brief biographies of several other influential artists of the time and how their relationship with van Gogh influenced each other as well as the greater art scene.  Some of the other artists she discusses are Paul Signac, Paul Gauguin, and Emile Bernard. 

There are also several activities in the book for children to get their hands dirty and learn more about the art and culture that they are reading about.  For example, there are art activities such as making a Starry Night peep box, paint your own vase of sunflowers, a Japanese fold out album, a Pointillist sail boat, and how to write an acrostic poem.  There is also an activities to make a traditional soup that van Gogh may have enjoyed, which I thought was a fun way to learn more about the culture.

One of the things I found really interesting is how the author describes how much studying van Gogh had to do to become a great artist.  Yes, he had a natural talent and aptitude, but he also had to work hard, study and practice continually, and was always open to learning new techniques.

I also liked the "art detective" spot that was written for each artist.  This is a brief summary of how to identify a painting from that artist, describing their style and painting techniques.

This book presents interesting history interspersed with paintings and engaging activities and I am sure that elementary age kids would especially enjoy it, whether to learn more or do do research for a project.  It was  a beautiful book to read, full of colourful paintings.  Carol Sabbeth has also written similar books on other artists, such as Monet.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Author Interview: Frank L. Cole

Today I am privileged to interview Frank L. Cole, author of The Guardians of the Hidden Scepter (you can read my review here). 

I read on your blog that you come from a family of storytellers, can you tell us more about that? What was it like? Is that how you got started writing? 
My mom came from a backwoods Kentucky town and my Dad from Brooklyn, New York. Storytelling was the only means of communication. Every holiday was spent listening to my parents conjure up scary, or historical, or awe-inspiring stories. It was a great boost and definitely helped inspire me to write.

You also said on your blog that daydreaming is one of the most important things anyone can do. What do you daydream about? 
I think I usually daydream about new stories and ideas. My mind creates dialogue for characters all the time to the point I frequently talk out loud to myself. I just love magical possibilities and unexplained things which create mystery in the world, so I daydream about those sort of situations as well.

You do a lot of workshops at schools. What is the most important or interesting piece of advice you have for children or for any aspiring author? 
I think I've learned my best writing is yet to come so in order to reach that level I have to keep writing. So often we marry ourselves to our first novel or story and never let it go or move on. My advice is to move on… it gets better.

I loved the imagination displayed in your book, what do you do to nurture your own imagination? 
Reading books in my genre, watching movies, making up bedtime stories, brainstorming with people who I feel have super creative minds… It all helps.

Who or what encouraged (or still encourages) you in your writing? 
My wife and family are huge supporters of my writing. It's great to call upon them and run by ideas or read pages of manuscripts, or even wake them up in the middle of the night to share a scene I thought up while sleeping.

What challenges have you faced in your writing and how did you overcome them? 
Rejection. I've been rejected so many times and sadly, continue to face rejection with new ideas and stories. That's just part of the business, but it is difficult to cope with. Marketing my books has been almost as tough as writing a book. There is a lot of work that goes into any book to make it successful and I don't think I realized it prior to getting published.

What do you do when you are not writing? 
I'm ornery. I fidget a lot. I do play a little basketball, watch sports, play games with my kids.

How do you incorporate writing into your everyday life? How do you fuel your writing? 
I have to commit to write or it won't happen. I don't do it every night, but I need to see something advancing in the way of a story each week or I'm failing at my goals. Other authors' successes definitely fuel me to become better at what I do. Always staying hungry and searching for the next great story.

Do you have any special routines or rituals for writing? 
It has to be dark and quiet and the whole rest of the day has to be completely wide open (no appointments, no scheduled events, no work) or I struggle to write.

Humour seems to be a big part of your life and writing. Your earlier books (the Hashbrown Winters series - I am afraid that I haven't read them yet, but I have added them to my "to read" list) look like they are for a younger audience and are funnier than Guardians of the Hidden Sceptre. What prompted this change? 
I love humor and I enjoy making people laugh. I think I strayed from the Hashbrown style humor writing because I wanted to prove I could be versatile, but I will always incorporate humor into any story. That's just me.

Is there anything else you want to tell us about your book? 
(I answered this with the next question.)

What new projects are you working on or are excited about right now? 
There will be more books in the Guardians of the Hidden Scepter series. I'm working on the next in the series as we speak and I hope to have other books in the works soon.

Thank you so much for answering my questions.  To contact Frank or to find out more about his books, you can go to Frank's website, or Frank's blog.