Ulysses Moore: Door to Time, by Pierdomineco Baccalario

In a house on the coast of England, there is a door. It hides unimaginable mysteries, unavoidable danger, and unbelievable surprises. When eleven-year-old twins Jason and Julia move into the old mansion with their family, the door is a secret – locked and hidden behind an old wardrobe.

But Jason, Julia, and their friend Rick are about to discover what lies behind it…

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This book was originally written in Italian, then was translated to an audio. I’m not sure whether you can find it in book form or not in English.

On a roadtrip to Seattle, Washington we checked out three audios. Two, come to find out, were about halfway through a series we had never heard of. So we were stuck with this one the whole way there and back.

I was not thrilled. It was like a cross between Indiana Jones and National Treasure, but the peril was lurking at quite a distance. There were supposed to be a lot of tense moments, but there wasn’t enough tension in the situation because multiple times nothing happened. Multiple close calls don’t make for a very interesting story, because then you figure out that the author has no intention of anything happening. Not very life-threatening if you know there life isn’t threatened.

They also happened to be child-geniuses. 11 and 12 year olds aren’t supposed to know about ancient extinct languages, have the strength to row a huge ship that has run aground and make wise life decisions in a dark tunnel with parents conveniently out of the way. You may get tired of hearing , “Hey guys!” I suppose the title should have given me a hint about what would happen in the end, but I must admit I found the end a little annoying.

If you really liked 39 Clues but without the gruesome bits, or the Magic Tree House series, then this might be the book for you!

Overall Rating: 3/5

Violence: 2/10

Language: 1/10

Inappropriateness/Romance: 0/10

Audience: Ages 6 and up

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Moon Over Manifest, by Clare Vanderpool

When Abilene Tucker shows up on a train in Manifest, Kansas by herself, the sign reads, “Manifest: A Town With a Past”. Strange; that isn’t what her daddy Gideon told her it said. In fact, there are a lot of things Gideon told her that don’t match up about Manifest, the town where he grew up. Looking for more clues about Gideon around Manifest, Abilene is surprised to find that there is more to this town than meets the eye.

Tales of the mysterious ‘Rattler’ begin to pop up after Abilene finds a box of knick-knacks under the floorboards of a church. With her two new friends, Abilene begins a hunt to find out what happened to the Rattler, and Gideon, twenty years ago. Walking down the Path to Perdition, Abilene must face the reality the maybe Gideon isn’t coming back for her.

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My first inclination with this book was yes, it was very good. Well written, with interesting background and secret pasts and mysterious dodgy citizens. A well thought out plot, and lots of research. Basically, everything that a person with refined taste in style raves over, like a librarian or an English teacher that will assign it as reading, because it contains everything they’re looking for: history, character building and ethnic diversity. While I don’t consider my own tastes “refined” in any way, I am trying to look at this book from several different angles: the critical, factual perfectionist editor angle, and the potential forced to read this in Junior High angle (which I was not, but the Newberry status of the book makes it the perfect candidate).

From the critical standpoint, I have absolutely nothing to say that was bad on a technicality. The writing style was unique, the story well-told, and an overall good feeling of coming together-ness from a town that fell apart 20 years earlier during WWI.

But (again, theoretically, I am not this kid), coming from the perspective of a kid who loves the Hunger Games and Maze Runner and all the other gripping popular teen fiction that lacks finesse, this book is going to be the book that puts them to sleep. “Why should I care about topics like character building or ethnic diversity?”

Personally, I liked this book. I wasn’t on the edge of my seat, but I thought it was deep enough to enjoy, especially for a children’s book. It’s sort like the next step up from the American Girl series, but better and less girly. If you really enjoyed those books, then this is your cup of tea.

Overall Rating: 4/5

Violence: 2/10

Language: 1/10

Inappropriateness/Romance: 1/10

Audience: 8 and up

The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick

Hugo has kept the secret of his notebook from everyone he knows, even if he doesn’t know many people at all. But especially from his uncle, his only living relative. Arguably, Hugo’s very existence of living among the clocks in the walls of the train station in Paris is a secret, keeping them well-oiled and running.

When Hugo’s Uncle Claude leaves and doesn’t come back to the train station, Hugo begins to wonder what will happen if the clocks stop working. He knows how to fix them, for the most part, but what will happen if the station inspector finds out he’s living alone? It would be straight to the orphanage, and then the secret of the notebook and what Hugo hides would be lost forever.

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Have you seen this movie yet? If you’ve only just heard about it, please, please, please read the book first! The movie adaptation, named Hugo, is a relatively good movie, but it is just so much more awesome once you know the story. There is a lot left out, and the story is just told in a different way that keeps the mystery much better.

There are so many good things to say about this book! I’ve only read the book through the audio, narrated by Jeff Woodman (who is a personal family favorite), and to this day The Invention of Hugo Cabret is my dad’s favorite book and probably goes down in our history of books as ‘One of the bests’. I am looking forward to checking out the book, because it has only just now come to my attention that the book has beautiful illustrations as well. Double whammy!

Technically, this is historical fiction because it takes place sometime in the 1930’s, and there was some history involved which I would rather not say, but the story didn’t feel as involved with the rest of history as you would think. In other words, it doesn’t feel like your typical historical fiction.

The way the story unfolds is just fantastic, and even though I hesitate to say it is an action/adventure type story, it still had us on the edge of our seat as the mystery of who Hugo was is discovered. The way the tension builds into an inescapable fiasco is so perfect I don’t know what to say. Other than READ IT.

Overall Rating: 5/5

Violence: 2/10

Language: 0/10

Inappropriateness/Romance: 1/10

Audience: Ages 7 and up

The Willoughbys, by Lois Lowry

The Willoughby’s are an old-fashioned kind of family. The four Willoughby children do things old-fashioned children do; they go to school, they live in an old house, and they read books about other old-fashioned children in which most of them have no-nonsense nannies, find babies in baskets, have rich parents in a mansion, or no parents at all.

The Willoughby children decide that, yes, they should be orphans and make their way in the world like so many other old-fashioned children have in books. No, they do not like their parents very much. While scheming to somehow get rid of their parents, little do they know that their parents have a plot to get rid of their children at the same time.

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The whole book was tongue-in-cheek, and more hilarious than I can even say! Many people compare the style of the story to Lemony Snickett, but I thought The Willoughby’s was far funnier. Would it actually bother you that the parents don’t like their own children? Or that they attempt to get rid of them? It shouldn’t; this book was much too hilarious to read into the actuality of orphan-hood.

The narrator was very good; not so much the voices he gives the characters, which are relatively limited, but he has a way of stating the funniest sentences in a matter-of-fact way, the very way the children do when they are trying to be serious and don’t think themselves very funny at all.

Last note: there is a lot of humor that would fly way over young children’s heads, and arguably, the entire concept of the book. Would a 6 year old find the idea of parents wanting to get rid of their children, or children praying death omens over their parents head funny? It could be taken way too seriously by some. Kids who like old-fashioned kinds of stories will appreciate it.

Overall Rating: 4.5/5

Violence: 2/10

Language: 0/10

Inappropriateness/Romance: 2/10

Audience: 8 and up

The War That Saved My Life, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

10-year old Ada and her brother Jamie live in London with England being on the cusp of WWII. With children being sent away with the threat of bombs, their mother, who doesn’t really like either of her children to begin with, decides to send Jamie away with the other children to avoid the contempt of the neighbors. Ada, however, is to be kept at home, because, as her Mam says, “No one wants to see that ugly foot”.

And it’s almost true. Ada has a twisted foot; too gnarled to be useful, and too painful to walk on. So Ada is confined to the one-bedroom apartment for most of her life. Up until now, of course. With the help of Jamie, she escapes the apartment and her cruel mother for a life with someone new. The English countryside is something completely new and different; so many new opportunities to discover who she really is, and what the world is really like.

Susan Smith, the woman who takes the siblings in, struggles with depression after the parting of her dear friend. With the arrival of Ada and Jamie, she recognizes how much care they have lacked. The only problem is that Ada fights everything; the need for help, the need for basic care, and the need for love. How can she accept everything, or anything, that Susan offers when she knows it can’t last forever?

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I checked this audio out from the library for a road trip, and the whole family enjoyed it. Even though it wasn’t a story that is usually my dad’s cup of tea, we all agreed that this book singularly has the best character depth and development of all time. We all cared so hard, and got pretty wrapped up in the story. This also has to be the most highest rated book on Goodreads, with almost every single review being 4 or 5 out of 5 stars.

Not only does Ada struggle with PTSD (not labeled as such in the book, but that was basically it) from her past with an abusive mother, she also can’t see any worth to herself. Being told she was the most hideous person on the face of the planet and that she wasn’t good for anything is probably the hardest thing for her to overcome. Over time, she begins to recognize that she isn’t exactly worthless, but the fact that her Mam will eventually come back and take them back to their dreaded past life seems to ruin everything as she tries to hard to NOT enjoy herself, and NOT to get used to the kind Susan.

It was all so satisfying; with each triumph of Ada finding new ways with which she can be useful and discovering new things she can do, it felt so justifying. The ending was very good; the only thing I didn’t like about the entire story was that I wanted to see some kind of reconciliation or explanation of Mam’s hatred towards them. It doesn’t ever really come around. To give you a little bit of perspective, she was a little like Miss Hannigan, but a bit worse.

All that good stuff being said, I don’t think that every single person will be interested in this book. While it is well done, it isn’t for those who can only read action/adventure type stuff.

Overall Rating: 4.5/5

Violence: 3/10 (cruelty from the mother, and also the war finds it’s way to the town they stay in, but it isn’t really graphic)

Language: 0/10

Inappropriateness/Romance: 0/10

Audience: Ages 10 and up

The Chronicles of Narnia, by C. S. Lewis

Imagine other worlds, in which anything can happen. Worlds with other times, destinations, mystery, magic, and different sorts of experiences all together.

When the four Pevensie children step from our own dull, ordinary world into Narnia, they are transported to a world which is always filled with adventure; sword fights, mythical (or not so mythical) creatures, and battles between good and evil. The story of a different world, whose tale only now being told….

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Of course, everyone’s heard of the Chronicles of Narnia, especially after they began turning them into movies. If you have ever considered reading the books, do.

There is not much for me to say about them, other than the series is my one true fantasy love. It was my ‘introduction’, if you will, into the fantasy genre and probably the only one which I will never forget. It reads similarly to a fairy tale, which is how he intended it; however, even many adults agree that this story is enjoyed at any age.

Now, there is a lot of controversy about the Chronicles of Narnia, and it’s Christian content. True, there are many things to be gleaned from each story, but only as much as you wish to take away. It still is a fairy tale about good and evil, and is still enjoyable to most.

Being probably the cleanest of fantasy books, the movies are surprisingly violent compared to how Lewis words each story. For example: “But such people! Ogres with monstrous teeth, and wolves, and bull-headed men; spirits of evil trees and poisonous plants; and other creatures whom I won’t describe because if I did the grown-ups probably would not let you read this book.” That is about the extent with which he goes to tell about the various creatures, and battles.

There are two different ways to read the books: the order in which they were published, or chronologically. The movies have been made in the way that they were published. I prefer the published order, because the Magician’s Nephew is better appreciated after the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Publishing Order:

#1: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

#2: Prince Caspian

#3: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

#4: The Silver Chair

#5: The Horse and His Boy

#6: The Magicians Nephew

#7: The Last Battle

The chronological order is:

#1: The Magician’s Nephew

#2: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

#3: The Horse and His Boy

#4: Prince Caspian

#5: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

#6: The Silver Chair

#7: The Last Battle

Overall Rating: 5/5

Violence: On average, 2/10, some maybe a little more.

Language: 0/10

Inappropriateness/Romance: 1/10

Audience: Ages 6 and up

The Ravenmaster’s Secret: Escape from the Tower of London, by Elvira Woodruff

11 year old Forrest Harper has lived within the walls of the Tower of London his whole life. Being the son of the ravenmaster isn’t easy; his day-to-day boring chores never seem to end, although he doesn’t mind helping taking care of the tower ravens.

When several Scottish rebels are captured and imprisoned in the Bloody Tower, Forrest finds himself befriending the young Maddy Stewart, who he knows is not guilty of any such treason as is being claimed against her.

Upon learning that it is the King’s intent to execute all three Jacobite rebels, Forrest and the ratcatcher’s boy are given the choice: stay true to England and keep their families safe, or risk their own necks to help an innocent victim who happens to be from enemy country.

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What an interesting story! Although, to be honest, the title gives too much away from the very beginning.

It seems weird to me how lightly the author took heavy topics such as hangings, which were popular to watch in the 1700’s. Forrest happens to go watch, and it was a little gross to hear some of the descriptions of watching people hang. That was the only thing that really throws off the age range I would have given it. I would put an age cap on 14 as the oldest that would enjoy it.

I don’t have any bad things to say about this book, other than it may have been a bit predictable. The ending was very good, and wrapped up everything very nicely with a bow on top. The one thing I might have personally changed about the book was that I felt that both Forrest and Maddy were not very interesting people on their own, but the ratcatcher’s boy, called Rat, was very memorable.

Overall Rating: 4/5

Violence: 4/10 (the hangings were the only gross part in the story, and then there was a little violence aside, but none of the violence was graphic. Only the hangings.)

Language: 0/10

Inappropriateness/Romance: 0/10

Audience: Ages 10-14, maybe 8 with parental prereading.

Calico Bush, by Rachel Field

When Marguerite Ledoux is orphaned upon arriving in America in 1743, she has no choice but to become a ‘bound out’ girl. Bound out girls are contracted for a specified amount of time to a family, to serve wherever they are and whatever the circumstances. Six years is a long time to not have a say in your own life choices. At least she has a place to sleep, and food to eat.

The Sargent’s are kind enough, but their plans to settle in rural, unsettled Maine were not exactly what Maggie bargained for. Through harsh weather, Indian raids, and accidents that never end, Maggie struggles to feel at home in a land whose story is just beginning.

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Many mixed reviews on this book from various people have me confused. I can’t make up my mind. Several aspects of this story I liked. And several parts of each aspect I like, but I definitely didn’t like every bit of it.

The plot was only okay. If you don’t like historical fiction, this book does not cater to every taste. If you are interested in pioneers, then this is a good one. I have read my fair share of pioneer/settler type books and this one falls in with the rest in the same way: it portrays life back then, but the plot and characters are not as strong because it is not meant to tell a thrilling story, but more to teach and make a point.

There were several characters I liked: the endearing Aunt Hepsa was the best, but the rest don’t have a lot of originality. Only some are described, and all the children are lumped together as, well, ‘the children’. Maggie is alright, and her character was carefully thought out. Her courage and feeling towards the people who didn’t expect it from her is fresh.

As with other historical books of any kind, the Indians were never given any kind of understanding. In a lot of books, they always mention that some are friendly, and some are hostile. Apparently, only the hostile kind live in Maine. Yet the Sargent’s, in their prejudice never gave any thought to them other than ‘bar the door, the Injun’s are coming!’

Overall Rating: 3.5/5

Violence: 3.5/10 (like I mentioned, lots of accidents that may make you wince do occur, along with a creepy incident in which Maggie runs into the murder site of some settlers who have been scalped. The body’s are never actually seen)

Language: 0/10

Inappropriateness/Romance: 1/10

Audience: Ages 10-14, 8 and up with parental guidance (only the one creepy part gives me pause)

The Wanderer, by Sharon Creech

“The sea, the sea, the sea. It rolled and rolled and called to me. Come in, it said, Come in.” Sophie hears the sea calling to her, promising adventure as she sets sail for England with her three uncles and two cousins. All boys.

Cody, the second cousin, is just as enthusiastic for adventure as she is. His one chance to prove he is capable and helpful to his father, who never takes him seriously.

As the crew battles the ocean to reach their grandfather, Sophie manages to offer what none of the men expected. As they sail towards England, each person learns something about each other, the world, and themselves.

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Sorry to disappoint you, but this is not really an adventure story. Less adventure, more feeling. And no, it isn’t historical fiction. I can’t exactly remember why exactly they decided to sail, other than why not?

This book….it has always left a deep impression on me. It is written with a lot of emotion poured into it, and is a good balance between dialogue and lyrical-ness. The conversation was so deep and moving it always manages to make me cry. Yes, I have read it quite a few times. It’s the kind of book in which I always keep a bookmark at my favorite parts.

A great read for both boys and girls. Probably not a good read-aloud, as it is written in diary form.

Definitely my favorite Sharon Creech book, except for maybe the Castle Corona, which was just a little wittier.

Overall Rating: 5/5

Violence: 1/10

Language: 0/10 (maybe?)

Inappropriateness/Romance: 1/10

Audience: Ages 10 and up

The Mysterious Benedict Society, by Trenton Lee Stewart

When the ad in the newspaper said ‘”Are you a gifted child looking for special opportunities?”, Reynie jumps on the chance to escape the orphanage. He is rather peculiar, very bright, although not particularly knowledgeable.

The tests which Mr. Benedict set before him and his new-found friends are made to evaluate their potential skills and the strength of their minds. Because the plans he has made for them will most certainly need concentration, quick wits, willingness to work and rely on one another, and bravery.

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This book was…pretty good. I loved the beginning, everything about it. The puzzles were clever and most certainly the best part in the book. The plot structure was only okay, a bit on the over-used side (man taking over the world, kids, without the help of adults, out to stop him). The villain was never very creepy or frightening, yet his plot to take over the world was fresh and had the potential to be frightening. It felt toned down for kids, which is totally fine. It broadens the age spectrum by a lot. It actually felt a lot like Spy Kids.

My main concern was how long the book was for the amount of plot. In the audio, there are eleven discs. Compared to the last Harry Potter (which was seventeen discs, which had a lot of side stories and a lot of plot), this one slowed down in the middle and drew it out longer than it needed to be.

All in all, fairly entertaining, although I think I will wait to read the second one because I feel a little burned out, like he killed the plot to death, which is a little disappointing.

For kids, this is a great, interesting action book without being very scary.

 

Overall Rating: 4/5

Violence: 3/10 (the only major violence is probably brain-washing quite a few workers at an institute, the process isn’t explained, and perhaps the mention of a certain room in this institute will strike fear in a mind because no one knows what is in it, although it turns out to be not so bad)

Language: 0/10

Inappropriateness/Romance: 0/10

Audience: Ages 7 and up