As you might recall, my son and I absolutely LOVE to check out all the incredible pictures and stories in these books! When I brought this latest edition home, he was actually disappointed that we had to sit down to eat dinner instead of going straight to the couch to check it out.
Some of our favorite wacky and creepy items in this edition were:
- “Fake Family” [p. 26] — Alice Winstone has spent nearly $20,000 creating a nursery for 50 lifelike baby dolls that she “feeds,” bathes, and even sleeps with.
- “Corpse Bride” [p. 48] — though the owner of the bridal shop says it is only a mannequin in the front window, many people believe that she is really the preserved corpse of the previous owner’s daughter.
- “Speared Skull” [p.110] — a 3D scan of construction worker Eduardo Leite’s skull after a 6 foot long metal bar fell and pierced through his hard hat and his skull. Amazingly, Eduardo lived and was not even paralyzed!
- “Triathalon Juggler” [pp. 170-1] — Joe Salter of Pensacola, FL, completed a triathalon… while juggling the entire way!
- “Candy Magic” [p. 204] — an artist named Jason Mecier created a portrait of Harry Potter using only red and black licorice.
- “Lickable Wallpaper” [p. 215] — inspired by Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, this wallpaper featured cake-flavored stickers — each of which was replaced by an attendant after someone licked it to avoid the spread of germs.
- “Webbed Wonders” [p. 237] — workers from Clearwater’s High Rise Window Cleaners dressed in Spider-Man costumes to clean windows at the All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, FL. Talk about a great way to raise morale!
I could go on and on… but, really, you just need to get your hands on a copy and check it out for yourself!
Other than the fact that I had to listen to some of the dialogue bits twice to understand what the Wee Free Men were saying in the audiobook (because they speak with a very thick Scottish brogue), I loved this book! Tiffany Aching is a young witch who has to rescue her young brother, Wentworth, from the clutches of the evil Queen of Fairyland. Though Tiffany doesn’t actually know any magic, her teacher/mentor, a witch named Miss Tick, reassures her that having a keen eye and an attention to detail is often more practical than magic. After witnessing her attack on a monster, using only a frying pan, the Wee Free Men [aka the Nac Mac Feegle] decide they would like to help Tiffany on her quest. And, while it sounds awesome for Tiffany to have a band of men to help her out, you have to consider that these particular “men” are six inches tall and best known for their sheep-stealing, drinking, and fighting. If you enjoy fantasies and/or stories that make you laugh out loud, you should definitely check this one out.
Cent [short for Millicent] is a 16-year-old girl who, despite being homeschooled in the remote Canadian wilderness, has seen more of the world than many people will see in a lifetime. She sometimes takes off at a moment’s notice to go shopping or surfing half way around the world, but her parents don’t own a private jet or helicopter. In fact, the helipad on their property is so overgrown with weeds it’s barely recognizable. How do they get there, then? They jump. All they have to do is concentrate on where they want to go and they can teleport themselves. Though unable to jump herself, Cent has always been brought along by one of her parents. Until one day, while snowboarding without permission, when she nearly gets caught in an avalanche and accidentally learns how to jump herself. Cent gets excited by all the possibilities her jumping has opened up to her… but it terrifies her parents. Not only do they have the usual parental worries of their daughter getting hurt in the usual ways, but they’re also worried that Cent could wind up kidnapped by the scientists who once held her father captive in an attempt to discover how jumping actually works.
River was orphaned when his parents died in a car crash, and he’s also shorter than he should be because his legs’ growth plates were fractured in the crash. He now lives with his aunt and pretty much only has two friends — Freak and Fiona. Freak has plenty of problems of his own, thanks to his alcoholic father. And Fiona is popular enough that she pretends not to know River and Freak when other people are around. To make matters worse, they live next to a place the local newspaper calls “Hellsboro” — the area surrounding the old Rodmore Chemical plant where an underground coal-seam fire makes the land inhabitable.
After all of that, I can understand if you’re hesitant to believe that this is a great/often-funny middle grade book, but it really is! My son and I actually laughed out loud fairly often as we read this story. How is that possible? Because it doesn’t focus so much on the depressing stuff; that’s all more of a footnote, really. The story centers around all the craziness that happened after they found a rare crayon in a sofa by the curb in front of the Underhill Mansion. If you want a funny story about cell phones, genetically modified foods, flash mobs, and brain control (presented as a nice blend of realistic and science fiction), I suggest you check this one out.
Tom always wished that he was special enough to be a Chosen One who would get whisked off to an alternate reality in which he was the only one who could save the day. The way he saw it, though, he just wasn’t “unspecial” enough… Until the night someone named Gark showed up and told him he WAS foretold in a prophecy and that he needed to enter a portal to another world to help save a kingdom! Although it initially seemed like a dream come true, it soon became apparent that the unnamed kingdom [which Tom dubbed "Crap Kingdom"] was full of pessimistic people who couldn’t really care less about whether or not Tom saved them. And Gark, who was the only one actually excited about Tom’s arrival, kept calling him “Tim.” Yeah. Being the chosen one wasn’t necessarily so great after all.
Despite the fact that this is a fantasy book, a great deal of it takes place on Earth and could easily be mistaken for contemporary fiction. Original, funny, and well-written. What’s not to like?!? I would highly recommend this book to fantasy readers who want a break from books that require a glossary and pronunciation guide and/or fans of humorous books who wouldn’t mind a little reality bending. People who enjoyed The True Meaning of Smekday should probably pick this one up.
When Tamsin was born, her grandmother predicted that she would be one of the most Talented witches in their family. Now that she is 17 years old, it seems pretty clear that Tamsin has no Talent and her grandmother must have been mistaken. She is really embarrassed by her lack of Talent and frequently wishes to be more like her older, more beautiful, and extremely Talented sister, Rowena. While working for her family’s bookstore/magic shop, Tamsin is approached by a handsome young professor who would like help locating a family heirloom cuckoo clock. Unfortunately, Tamsin has no idea that locating this clock could upset the balance of good and evil. So, when he mistakenly calls her Rowena [who is fairly well known for her ability to locate lost items], she chooses not to correct him and, instead, tries to use this as an opportunity to prove herself.
It wasn’t exactly easy to be an independent teenage girl in New York City in 1911, but Aurora Lewis wouldn’t let societal norms dictate her life. She refused to give up on her musical studies to attend a “finishing school” because she was determined to play violin in a symphony someday. When she arrived at violin lessons one Saturday morning, though, she found the studio a mess and the window open — despite the winter chill in the air. Looking down from the window, she found her teacher dead on the sidewalk… and was accused, by street hooligans, of having pushed him! Although the police cleared her when they deemed his death an accident, Aurora wasn’t satisfied with that result and decided that she and her friends would have to solve this murder themselves. This book was well written, fast-paced, and full of interesting musical and historical facts. I bet even reluctant readers would get lured in to this story!
The number one complaint I had about this audiobook was PRONUNCIATION! It always bothers me when the reader gets a word wrong and everyone else involved in the production of that audiobook misses it. (One of my *favorites* was when the narrator for Twilight book said soul-der for the word “solder” — which is actually pronounced sod-der.) Now, I studied Greek Mythology in elementary school, high school, and college, and all of those teachers managed to use the same pronunciations. So, when I was listening to this book, I was jolted out of the story every single time the narrator pronounced “Hera” as hee-rah [instead of hair-uh] and “Gaia” as gee-uh [instead of guy-uh]… I know that the pronunciations of Greek Gods’ names can vary, but it didn’t exactly set my expectations very high for correct pronunciations when he said brassiere for “brazier” in the beginning of the book. [OK. My pronunciation rant is over!]
Believe it or not, though, despite the first paragraph of my review, I really loved this story! I thought it was a great creative twist on the whole Percy Jackson and the Olympians series and an awesome way to get kids to compare and contrast the Greek and Roman gods. People who haven’t read the other series, which began with The Lightning Thief, can probably even just start with this spin-off series because Riordan did a great job including snippets of back-story about important people and events to catch people up (or to refresh the memories of people who did read them).
In this story, Jason wakes up on a school bus with no memory of his past or knowledge of the people he’s with. The girl who’s holding his hand? She says she’s his girlfriend, but he doesn’t remember anything about her. He is also purportedly best friends with a guy named Leo but doesn’t remember him either. Jason has no idea where they are or where they are going. All he knows is that his name is Jason, he is apparently a student at Wilderness School (a school for juvenile delinquents), and something is not quite right about the teacher who is supervising their field trip. As readers quickly surmise, Jason is a half-blood like Percy Jackson. But, unlike Percy Jackson, Jason has a natural tendency to refer to the gods by their Roman names…
Seraphina’s father, a high ranking official, was extremely overprotective and wished to keep her hidden away as much as possible. She assumed it was because her mother had died in childbirth and somewhat forgave his overbearing nature, but that didn’t mean she was pleased with his strict rules — especially the rule forbidding her from playing music. When she found her mother’s old flute, she taught herself how to play and then played in front of some party guests to force his hand with music lessons. Serafina did not understand why this caused him to become so enraged and to fear for her safety, but she was pleased that he at last conceded to let her study music with tutor named Orma [a dragon in human form]. The lessons improved her skill so much that she eventually became apprentice to a famous musician and then even became a tutor for the princess. When Seraphina discovered the secret that drove her father’s fear, she began to understand that working with such high-ranking people put her in grave danger, but it was too late. At that point, she could only hope to keep safe and to protect the people she cared about.
This book reads like a blockbuster movie — and it’s not exactly a surprise, considering Chris Columbus [the director of the Harry Potter movies] is one of the authors! (You may also recognize the name Ned Vizzini because of his hilarious book-turned-movie It’s Kind of a Funny Story.) The short chapters and high action make this a great selection for reading aloud and/or for reluctant readers. My son and I absolutely LOVED House of Secrets and thought the only “bad” thing about it is that we don’t know how it ends, since it’s the first of a trilogy and the other two books don’t even have publication dates yet!
Brendan, Eleanor, and Cordelia Walker, like many siblings, don’t exactly get along. Unlike most kids, though, they get magicked away by an evil witch and have to learn to work together if they ever want to return home and see their parents again. How did this all happen? It began when their father lost his job as a surgeon after a mysterious incident that lead to a major lawsuit against the hospital he worked for. Dr. Walker was having a difficult time finding a new job, which left him unable to afford the house they owned, and the Walkers stumbled upon a too-good-to-be-true Victorian home just outside of San Francisco. The former owner was famous author Denver Kristoff, and the evil witch was actually his daughter, so the people and places Brendan, Eleanor, and Cordelia encounter are actually born of Kristoff’s imagination. A fantastic story in both senses of the word.