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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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

City of Orphans, by Avi

Maks is one of those mugs that you would call a ‘newsie’. A boy who stands on the corner and sells newspapers. It’s a hard way to earn money; the profit is 8 cents a day. But in 1893, that ain’t too bad for a 13-year-old.

When Maks’ sister is arrested for stealing a watch she never saw, Maks’ parents are confused and don’t know how to help her. Bein’ immigrants from Denmark, the law of the country don’t make no sense. Living in New York City don’t help much either; so much crime and poverty, and no one can help. Policemen are just as shady as the man who actually broke into Waldorf hotel last week and stole the watch.

With the help of an abandoned girl and an old, dying detective, it’s up to Maks to track down the real thief, in a city filled with the children of emigrants, who are all  poor and desperate. While some may have parents, they might as well be orphans.

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It’s funny; my first draft I wrote when I was only halfway through the book, but I totally changed my mind. The original rating was 2.5/5, and now it’s 4/5.

My original dislike came from the third person, present tense narrative. Not that that’s weird, but Avi spells out exactly how they talk, which can be hard for struggling readers and also for read-alouds. Avi also uses many incomplete sentences, even outside of conversation, but it makes it feel as though someone is narrating that speaks as they do. It makes the harder-to-read dialogue easier to swallow without having to switch back and forth between ‘normal’ speaking, and using an accent.

My favorite part about the book: Avi did his homework. He knew this subject well, and it showed. Almost in an unpleasant way; it felt like you were there, viewing the dirty underbelly of what it was like to be an orphan, hungry and cold on the streets, or even not to be an orphan, with a family who is so poor it almost would be better to be living on the streets so you don’t have any expectations of life getting better. Avi does paint a very clear picture of life approaching turn of the century.

For me, the characters almost took a back seat as he was painting this picture of what it was like without money, because no one had money to give, receive, or earn. It feels like Avi had this great idea about a plot, but as he delved deeper and deeper into the panic of 1893, the history aspect kept growing and growing until it almost made the plot insignificant.

Overall, it left something in me that I won’t forget. A deep sadness, in that, even though the story ended alright, there was still a city of orphans. I have never felt that before, for a historical fiction author to leave me wondering what happened to the rest of an entire city, even though we never met most of them.

I would be cautious who I recommend this to. The idea of a bigger picture within New York City was bleak. Not exactly depressing, but not cheerful either.

Listen to this:

(In reference to the newsboys): “Some lives in regular homes. Or, like you, don’t have no parents. They stay here or on the streets. Some sleep in those newsboys’ lodging houses. There are five of ’em. One for girls. Hey, I know a couple of guys who use old sewer pipes for homes. Some even live in rope houses.”

“What’s that?”

“Rooms with ropes stretched ‘cross. For two cents, you can hang your arms over the ropes, stand there, and sleep. Got a roof, don’t it?”

 

Overall Rating: 4/5

Violence: 3/10 (there are a couple ruthless bullies, plus a scene in which two men are shot, though no gore is described)

Language: 1/10

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

A Murder for her Majesty, by Beth Hilgartner

When 11-year-old Alice witnesses her father’s murder, she flees to the city fearing for her life. The murderers are agents of the Queen. Who knows? Maybe they are after her as well. Not to mention that she knows who they are.

She ends up disguising herself as a boy among the choirboys, who come to her aid upon hearing some of her circumstances. Some. The truth never fully reveals itself, until Alice realizes that the assassins may know where she is…..and are still looking for her.

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Truth be told, I think the title is a little dramatic for a children’s book. I know you are probably raring to hand a book about a murder to your child, BUT this is actually a very sweet book. With the murder frustratingly nondescript, it enlarges the age range of enjoyability quite a lot.

The mystery was not a very good one. The main question should have been ‘Why was my father murdered?’, but it was never very clear that they actually came to a conclusion on that.

So this book was surprisingly clean for a ‘murder story’, the only possible problem being that it was a bit suspenseful when Alice realizes the murderers are after her.

Oh, and it was quite funny that the speech of the priests in the church is not all that clean for a priest. Not exactly swearing, but you would think they would take an offence at saying the Lord’s name in vain…..

All in all, the book was mostly well written. If you use Goodreads, all the readers of the book gave it a very high rating, averaging between 4 and 5 stars, which is very unusual.

Overall Rating: 4/5

Violence: 3/10

Language: 1/10

Innappropriateness/Romance: 1/10

Audience: Ages 10 and up (as long as they can handle a little suspense; Alice’s fear is very plausible)

The 39 Clues Series

Siblings Amy and Dan Cahill never expected to inherit anything but a little money when their wealthy grandmother died. They were her favorites, so why shouldn’t they? All these other people at the funeral don’t seem to even be related to the dead woman. But both are shocked and surprised when they, along with select few other ‘relatives’, are given the choice to have either one million dollars, or a clue. A clue that supposedly will lead to unimaginable power and fortune.

Of course, how could the two orphans turn down the opportunity to get away from their boring aunt and travel around the world? There are 39 clues in all, but they are only given the first clue to many in a dangerous game. Each of the other clues must be fought for and earned, through blood, sweat, tears, brawn, and brains. With power-hungry cousins, aunts and uncles, Amy and Dan are pushed to use every resource possible just to survive.

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First off, I started to write individual posts for each book, but then I decided they were all alike enough (and there were too many) to include them all in one post. Sorry to all who have already read about this!

What is great about these books is they are never boring. Traversing the world, these kids are always searching through history to help them with the clues. While some of the books are a little more exciting and danger-filled than others, all are about even in the adventure aspect.  It is sort of like the Amazing Race meets The Westing Game.

I would definitely describe this book as the next step up from Magic Tree House for kids who might want something a little more suspenseful from that series, but not necessarily creepy. While there definitely are some scary parts in each book (hanging over the water with sharks right below them, trapped in a room and running out of air, climbing in a coffin on top of a skeleton to hide), the authors have an incredible way of making something a little less disgusting than it actually is. They are good at not elaborating on the gross.

Something I’ve always appreciated about them is they are fairly clean in the language and romance department. Other than name calling and a small crush, that is about it.

The only thing that bothers me is that the series is written by several different authors. I didn’t even notice until afterwards that several of the books were more well-written than others, which made them less consistent. Of course, your kids probably won’t even think twice. The other problem with multiple creators is that it felt like in each book, they were trying to out-do the last one in the ‘that was the scariest thing I’ve ever done!’ moment. Towards the end of the series, they definitely get more creative in coming up with peril-stricken scenarios and even seem to go out of their way to include them.

We listened to these on audio, and the narrator is pretty good. The voices are very good, and some narrators suck at accents and differentiating voices, but he pulls most of them off fairly well.

Here is the order in which they are to be read:

#1: The Maze of Bones, by Rick Riordan

#2: One False Note, by Gordan Korman

#3: The Sword Thief, by Peter Lerangis

#4: Beyond the Grave, by Jude Watson

#5: The Black Circle, by Patrick Carman

#6: In Too Deep, by Jude Watson

#7: The Viper’s Nest, by Peter Lerangis

#8: The Emperer’s Code, by Gordon Korman

#9: Storm Warning, by Linda Sue Park

#10: Into the Gauntlet, by Margaret Peterson Haddix

 

Overall Rating: 4/5

Violence: 4/10 (Some books are less)

Language: 1/10

Inappropriateness/Romance: 1/10

Audience: Ages 8 and up? Unless you have particularly sensitive kids.

 

Shadow Horse and Whirlwind by Alison Hart

Thirteen-year-old Jasmine is found guilty of assaulting Hugh Robicheaus, the owner of the horse farm where she works. But she’s still determined to prove the Robicheaus killed Whirlwind, the mare she loved. Jas is sure the Shadow Horse, a scrawny brown gelding she rescues at a horse auction, is the key to the mystery-but just how is Shadow Horse connected to Whirlwind?

When thirteen-year-old Jas Schuler found her beloved mare Whirlwind dead in her paddock, she though her heart would break. But now Jas knows the truth: Whirlwind is alive! Wealthy horse breeder Hugh Robicheaus faked the mare’s death, collected insurance money, then sold her to an unsuspecting buyer. And he’s going to get away with his crime, too-unless someone can find Whirlwind. And that’s exactly what Jas plans to do.

 

First off, good horse books are hard to come by. They all share the same plot, just will small alterations. Shadow Horse  was different, to say the least. I loved the entire story, and Jaz’s firey character. Usually horse books follow a girl doing everything she can for her horse; and by everything I mean risking her life, stealing, etc. While Jaz is looking for her beloved mare, Whirlwind, what the synopsis doesn’t say is that she is also trying to clear her uncles name. He was accused of poisoning the mare. So Jaz has more to gain from proving Hugh guilty that a horse.

The characters were fun, and I liked the setting as well. Jaz is quite angry in the beginning, but not without reason. I really like it when characters are far from perfect, so I personally enjoyed watching Jaz change throughout the story.

I’m not saying there was nothing cliche about this story, but as far as I’m concerned it was a refreshing story.

As for Whirlwind, I though it was an awesome sequel to Shadow Horse. It was exciting and full of adventure. Jas was still her perky self, but with a better idea of what she was doing. I loved it and it was a good book to go with the first. As I’ve said, good horse books are hard to find, but Alison did an incredible job with this book, and I wouldn’t mind reading it again.

I liked that Jas was opening up, making friends. There was good character development, and I love that in a book. I really enjoyed her character and all the characters alongside her.

 

Overall Rating: 4.5/10

Violence: 1/10 (I think)

Language: 0/10 (I think)

Inappropriateness/Romance: 3/10

Audiences: Ages 11 and up

The Interuppted Tale, by Maryrose Wood

The fourth book in the Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series.

Miss Lumley, finally 16 years old, has had an invitation from Miss Mortimer to attend and speak at the CAKE. The CAKE, or Celebrate Alumnae Knowledge Exposition, is held at Swanburne itself!

Penelope is delighted to finally be able to return home, and bring the Incorrigible children as well! But something strange has happened since Penelope left her alma mater. The imposter, Judge Quinzy, has become chairman of the board and made some dreadful changes, including changing the name of the school from the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females, to Quinzy’s School for Miserable Girls! Can the Incorrigible’s prove Judge Quinzy’s real identity before it is too late?

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What a great book! Please be sure to read the first three books, though.

I still think that Katherine Kellgren is the absolute best narrator in the history of narrators. She makes this book absolutely hilarious, just like the first three.

I felt like this book was not quite as good as the others, and thought at first that it wasn’t as funny. But it was; there are just as many quotable lines, although it was missing more pithy bits of wisdom from Agatha than the other books. Of course, now we will have to wait a long time before the fifth book comes out…*sigh*.

Overall Rating: 4/5

Violence: 2/10

Language: 0/10

Inappropriateness/Romance: 3/10

Audience: Ages 8 and up.

The Unseen Guest, by Maryrose Wood

Book #3 in the Incorrigible Children if Ashton Place series.

Penelope has been making remarkable progress with the children, and they have taken up bird watching. Strange; who knew ostrich’s lived on the Ashton grounds?

The house is in an uproar as it tries to prepare for the arrival of Widow Ashton, Lord Frederick’s mother. No one was expecting her until the day she announced she was on her way.

The widow has been mourning her dead husband, drowned in a medicinal tar pit, for all these years in a convent. However, she has recently met a wonderful man, the Admiral Faucet has asked for her hand in marriage and she wishes for her “Freddie’s” approval.
As soon as Admiral Faucet hears of the ostrich, they learn that the ostrich belongs to him and cost him a great deal. He proposes a search party to find her in the woods of Ashton place and enlists the help of the Incorrigible’s to sniff out the large bird before Frederick Ashton’s hunting dogs do. But can the Incorrigibles control themselves in the woods, or will Penelope be forced to admit that maybe the children are better off in the woods?

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This book is even more hilarious than the first and second, filled with the sayings of Agatha Swanburne and Penelope’s lists of things to bring on this outdoor excursion. Of course, the audio is the best, as you have already heard.

This book is so mysterious….and no, no questions from the last book are answered. More is told, but the original questions change after this book.

If you are reading this book and happen to be concerned that there is a seance, don’t be. It’s all hilarious, and nothing really scary happens.

Filled with plot twists that even a certain nice young playwright would be excited about (whom we of course haven’t seen the last of!), this is my favorite out of all five of the books.

Overall Rating: 5/5

Violence: 2/10

Language: 0/10 (unless exclaiming ‘blast!’ when a certain book goes missing….)

Inappropriateness/Romance: 1/10

Audience: Ages 8 and up.

The Hidden Gallery, by Maryrose Wood

The second book in the Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series.

The Ashtons have decided to leave Ashton Place while repairs are being made to the house and invite Penelope and the Incorrigible’s to join them. Of course, Penelope snatches the opportunity, thinking only of the children’s education. And of course, she doesn’t plan on tasty pigeons, British guards, and the theater to be a problem.
And why, oh why, didn’t Miss Mortimer give her an actually helpful guide, instead of the Hixby’s Guide to London that is filled with gibberish? And what did that fortune-teller mean by ‘the hunt is on’?!?
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This book is absolutely wonderful! Even more hilarious than the first, and filled with funny new characters, including an old Gypsy fortune-teller and the perfectly nice young man, Mr. Simon Harley-Dickinson.

Much more mysterious than the first book, so many more question are asked than answered, so be prepared to go straight into the third book!

The narrator is just as entertaining and enjoyable as before; please do the audio!

Overall Rating: 5/5

Violence: 2/10

Language: 0/10 (does exclaiming ‘blast!’ when a certain book goes missing count?)

Inappropriateness/Romance: 2/10

Audience: Ages 7 and up