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

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Seer of Shadows, by Avi

The year is 1872, and Horace Carpentine is apprenticed to the Enoch Middleditch, a ‘society photographer’. Photography is a subject of fascination to Horace, but Mr. Middleditch is strict about Horace NOT taking any pictures. Yet.

When a wealthy woman comes to Mr. Middleditch wanting her picture taken to present at the grave of her dead daughter, the clever photographer cooks up a scheme to create a scam photo, a “spirit image”. Horace must play a part in the get-rich-quick plot by taking pictures of pictures of the dead girl, but is torn by his conscience as to whether the Mr. Middleditch’s self-righteous excuses are valid.

The plan to create the spirit image goes horribly wrong when Horace realizes that the pictures he takes are somehow correlated to the ghost of Eleanora Von Macht, who begins to show up in ways that he never expected. The scheme spirals downward as more and more photos turn into near-fatal accidents, and Horace realizes his photography may have brought Eleanora back to life.

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If you have children who like to occasionally be frightened, but not scared completely out of their wits, this is a great book! Just creepy enough to send shivers down your spine, but not enough to keep you up at night, but still not a good choice for sensitive kids.

I keep saying that I’m waiting for Avi to surprise me, and this book has made it’s way near the top of the list of favorite Avi books. It isn’t technically perfect; in the same Avi fashion, the characters are kind of blah without any real growth, but the plot and setting are just perfect! It’s kind of a short read, which is weird to me because it could have been made far longer. If you’re analyzing the book (like me), there were a couple small plot holes which can be willingly suspended by my disbelief, and the ending seemed a little….easy. The beginning takes a little while to make it’s point, but afterwards it pretty fast-paced. I finished the whole book in about 5 hours.

The process of early photography is discussed, which is fairly interesting, and whole idea of a ghost image scam is fascinating in itself. Definitely recommended. I might have possibly categorized it in horror, but I don’t think that any real children’s book should ever be put in horror.

Overall Rating: 4/5

Violence: 4/10 (creepiness also contributes)

Language: 0/10

Inappropriateness/Romance: 1/10

Audience: Ages 11 and up.

Nancy Drew #30: The Shattered Medallion

George Fayne has always watched the reality TV show, Pacific Run, and has always wanted to participate in the competition.  Now, she and Nancy go as a team, seeking to win the competition by putting their shattered medallion together, piece by piece.  However, the show is careening out of control, as teams will do anything to win, be it purposefully injuring other contestants or cheating on their tasks.  Of course, it could have to do with the fact that the new producer of the show is a lunatic and seems to be secretive about his intentions of taking over the show.  You as Nancy Drew have to get to the bottom of whoever is sabotaging the show before someone gets hurt!

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Hmm…  Where to begin…  I had no idea what this one was about and who the dude on the front cover was until I watched the Her Interactive trailer.  I got an idea of the plot of the game, and then was kinda shocked to find that that dude was Sonny Joon, the guy who first made an ‘appearance’ in Nancy Drew #6: Secret of the Scarlet Hand.  We have no idea who he is, what he’s doing, and what the overall picture is.  He just seems to always be there, one step ahead of Nancy.  After that, I was super excited to play this game.  Sonny had come into so many other games and I’d not really thought about who he was and why he kept coming in.  And after all those games, it felt like there was this huge build up of excitement, knowing that we finally got to meet him.  And then I played the game.  I was expecting Sonny to be some kind of evil mastermind trying to take over the world, or something like that.  After finding out more information about him and talking to him, and seeing that he wasn’t an evil mastermind, it felt really disappointing, like this big letdown.  That’s my feelings about that part of the game.

As for the rest of the game… Well…  It was different.  Occasionally, the game would sort of pause and there would be this commentary about Pacific Run.  After all, it is a TV show.  But the way they played it out, it didn’t feel like it.  It was also confusing because you had to complete the tasks set for you by the show, but then there were other puzzles that had to do with the actual plot of the game that didn’t have anything to do with the show.  I just kept getting them mixed up in my mind and wondering “Wait, what does this key open?  Is it going to unlock something that has to do with my Pacific Run task, or does it open a secret passageway leading to nowhere?” and things along those lines.

The puzzles were really good, though.  They seemed very original and made your head ache (in a good way).  It’s hard to describe some of the activities in this game, because they were mostly all puzzles and stuff like that.  There weren’t really any of the ‘chore’ type things like feeding horses, baking cookies, sewing a dress, etc., from other games.  You may be wondering whether or not I liked this game.  I’m not really sure myself, because there are probably just as many things that I liked as things that I disliked about this one.  Sorry I can’t be more helpful.

As one last thing to say, I think that this not a good game to play for your first ever ND game, just with the whole Sonny Joon thing.  Just because this one was kinda different and it would be good to get an idea of what the others are like before playing this one.

Creepiness Factor: 1/10

The Unmapped Sea, by Maryrose Wood

The 5th book in the Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series.

With the entirely unexpected news of Lady Constance’s pregnancy, Lord Frederick flies into a panic about how to deal with it. Certain circumstances make the baby…undesirable. Of course, Lady Constance doesn’t know of Lord Frederick’s secret malady, which will most likely be passed on to the pup – I mean baby.

Miss Penelope Lumley, the governess to the three Incorrigible children, agrees to accompany the Ashton’s to Brighton, which the doctor prescribes as the best thing for Lady Constance’s health. Upon arrival, they stumble into many people who warn them to stay away from the ‘horrible Babushkinov’s’, who are the only other people staying at the English seaside on the off-season. Of course, what else should happen except just that?

The Babushkinov children are the wildest things the Incorrigibles have ever met. They themselves are now nearly tame, and only occasionally have the urge to howl or gnaw. Is it just coincidence, or is the darker scheming of Lord Edward Ashton at work?

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It is imperative that you read the first four books about the Incorrigibles, who were raised by wolves, in order. Here is my review on the first book.

If, by now, you are dying to know what happens next, join the club. Thankfully, this book offers more answers as to the mystery of it all, but still leaves many questions unanswered. Wood also does an amazing job at leaving the end at a cliffhanger, the hopeless kind in which you are dangling off a ledge, no one can hear your cries for help, gravel is falling into your eyes, and your fingers are getting sweaty and beginning to slip….

Enough of that. That isn’t actually what happens. It also was a little dark, with evil threats which are certainly going to be carried out, leaving me worried for the character’s safety in the ending. Which is all good.

With the other four books setting high standards, there were parts of this book which seemed a little unneccesary. Each book is progressively longer than the last, and this one was no exception. It wasn’t exactly my favorite out of all the books, but hilarious stagecraft managed to save the book from being more dull than the others.

There were a couple random love triangles which can be interpreted as funny, but I thought that part was uninteresting for a children’s book. Also, Penelope-in-love tends to lose her usual pluck when in the presence of a certain playwright who was kidnapped by pirates in the last book. I found myself missing the old Penelope, whose sole devotion was to the children. I suppose it can’t always be the same, otherwise the book would be “dull, boring, tedious, and uninteresting” (see what I did there?).

Overall rating: 4/5 (one point knocked off for being a little slow in the beginning, and the love triangles)

Violence: 2/10 (although violent threats can be interpreted as much as you wish)

Language: 0/10

Inappropriateness/Romance: 2.5/10 (not really inappropriate)

Audience: Ages 8 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 Maze Runner, by James Dashner

Thomas knows nothing of where he came from, nor anything of his past, except his own name. When he wakes up, he finds himself in a large group of boys also with forgotten memories, surrounded by a maze that literally comes to life at night.

Living an existence counting on routine, Thomas must help the boys survive and come up with a solution to help them escape. But as memories begin to come back, is returning to the world they thought they left behind worth the huge amount of sacrifice it will take?

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Did I like this story? Hmmm…maybe. I liked the premise of the plot, but as a trilogy, no. I also had a couple of complaints that a lot of other people on Goodreads have.

It was fairly suspenceful, and the pacing was okay, but there were way too many little things that bugged me. By the time Thomas arrives, some of the boys have already explored and know every inch of the maze. This draws away from the mysteriousness from what could have been closer to a horror book. I won’t give more away, but what the maze holds was figured out much too quickly.

Apart from the plot, which was okay, everyone seems to agree that the characters weren’t interesting at all. Thomas has this amazing ability to ‘just know’ stuff, because of some connection he has to the maze, but it doesn’t play out well at all. The side characters were boring; it reminded me of several other movies in which there are a group of kids who all are cliched in some way. The leader. The kid who should be leader. The genius. The girl. The fat kid. The bully. All are accounted for, in a way that I don’t appreciate. The girl was especially irritating, because of her non-purposeness. And just by throwing her into the mix, you can imagine all the drama.

The way they talk, with plenty of made-up words, just comes across as stupid, and feels choppy. It takes a while to get used to, but it didn’t serve in any way to set any kind of stage as to where, or who, they are. Usually, changing up dialogue helps give you the idea who is talking, but in this case I couldn’t tell the difference between one person and another because they all talk the same way.

Even though I would have preferred something a little less pre-explored for the maze, I appreciated the suspence. I was surprised by quite a few readers who both thought it was very suspenceful, and some found it boring. I didn’t think it was boring, and I was kept fairly engrossed evenly throughout the book. I also thought that, even though we don’t have answers as to the why of the whole thing, I just felt like it was irrelevent to what the author originally intended the story to be.

In other words, I am not clamoring for the next book, which other reviews have told me stinks. The plot potential was fantastic, but frankly I’m tired of all the popular dystopian books, and adults who throw kids into freaky alternate realities. If you like the Hunger Games, or Divergent, then this might be the book for you.

Overall Rating: 3.5/5 (half point knocked off for character unoriginality, another half for boring dialogue (which would have improved the story 100%), and one last half point for not figuring out a way to wrap up the series into one slightly longer book, which is only my personal opinion)

Violence: 5/10 ( the monsters in the maze are scary enough, and there’s enough gore to make you wince, and also a mental disorder which occurs that is a little disturbing)

Language: 3/10 (mostly made up swear words)

Inappropriateness/Romance: 2/10 (surprisingly)

Audience: Ages 14 and up, or younger if they have already read the Hunger Games

Crispin: Cross of Lead, by Avi

“Asta’s Son” is all he’s ever been called. The lack of a name is appropriate, because he and his mother are but poor peasants in 14th century medieval England. But this thirteen-year-old boy who thought he had little to lose soon finds himself with even less – no home, no family, or possessions.

Accused of a crime he did not commit, he is proclaimed a ‘wolf’s head’, meaning anyone may kill him on sight. To remain alive, he flees his tiny village, his only possessions being a newly revealed name – Crispin – and his mother’s cross of lead.

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There are a couple of interesting parts about this story that make Avi stand out.

I couldn’t figure out what Avi’s intentions were with Crispin. His character was a little confusing, and also a little passive. He’s supposed to be that way though, but it makes character growth tough because he suddenly comes across as caring a little too much all at once. However, Crispin’s companion takes the cake in his world philosophy, and thought provoking ideas.

The history aspect was fairly good, although I felt that some of the small details included may be uninteresting to non-history lovers, even though it set a good picture of Medieval poverty in my head. I would probably only recommend it to people who like historical fiction.

I didn’t feel like it was Newberry award-winning material, mostly because the plot is not particularly original for Avi. He has quite a few other books that touch on the subject of innocent-accused (True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, City of Orphans, etc.), so I’m still waiting for an Avi novel to surprise me. That being said, it is still a good story and one that kids will enjoy.

Note: it does have some violence, and some gruesome descriptions of several people, long dead. He did a careful job of making it kind of gross, but nothing that would probably stick in your head forever.

Overall Rating: 3.5/5

Violence: 3.5/10 (some people, long dead, are gross; one part in which a man is impaled (very brief), and one part in which a man is stabbed (also very brief))

Language: 1/10

Inappropriateness/Romance: 2/10 (nothing horrible, but there is a little bit of talk about the illegitimate children of a great Lord, which comes into play later)

Audience: Ages 10 and up, as long as they don’t mind a little violence.

Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman

Ever since dragons and the humans of Goredd made a peace treaty, the dragons work hard to become like the humans, including taking on human shape. Although not the same as a human, still with dragon instincts and motives, it has worked. For the most part. Up until now. Everything begins to fall apart as the annual treaty celebration approaches. When a member of the royal family dies under suspicious circumstances, the dragons are the first to be assumed as the culprit. Who, and why, are undetermined.

Seraphina, a girl who is unusually musically talented, is mysteriously drawn into the investigation by an unknown connection to the suspect. Caught in the middle as the go-between, confusion reigns as she struggles with her own emotions and trying to keep the truth about who she really is from the people she loves most.

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This book is very well-written; the inner tension and turmoil is perfect, and just enough questions to keep you guessing throughout the whole book. It was paced fairly well, especially for a long book. One thing I wasn’t sure about was some of the fantasy words; I listened to the audio, but the unfamiliar spelling way of wording things made this a good audio choice. I didn’t have to pronounce those strange words myself.

The characters were fantastic! Especially Seraphina, in all her crankiness, was fresh and different, although if I knew her in person she would not come across as so. The supporting characters were fairly good as well, but Seraphina stands out as one of the strongest protagonists I’ve ever read about.

It also was not as clean as I would prefer; there is an awkward topic, which I cannot mention without spoiling it, that makes this an inappropriate choice for elementary-age kids. Nothing happens in it that I would not recommend it to a teen. For a little more info, I’ll include a spoiler (this is a major spoiler) if you’re really worried about the content (highlight the bottom section).

Overall Rating: 4/5

Violence: 3/10 (can’t remember, I think there may have been a stabbing, but it wasn’t memorable)

Language: 3/10 (some, nothing really bad)

Inappropriateness/Romance: 4/10 (mostly awkward topics, but nothing inappropriate ever actually happens.)

Audience: Ages 12 and up

Because dragons have a human form, it is possible for dragons and humans to have children. This is a big part of the book, and is talked about quite a lot. It comes across as awkward, mainly because dragons are NOT humans, and is disgusting to the other characters. Nothing ever happens that would give me pause to not recommend it to a teen, but the topic was a large enough part of the story that I thought it inappropriate for anyone under 12.

Woven, by Michael Jensen and David Powers King

Nels, the son of a widowed seamstress, has always dreamed of becoming a knight. The whole village agrees…except his mother, who needs his help just to stay alive.

That was before he died, of course, murdered by a stranger. Now Nels, as a ghost, must haunt the Princess Tyra, the only person who can see him, to convince her to save him. By helping him find an object which will bring back to life, it may cost Tyra more than she bargained for as they begin a perilous journey to weave Nels back into the Great Tapestry of time.

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Hmmm….I honestly don’t have anything bad to say about the story. It was really well-paced, but there were a few quirks I personally would have changed if I had written the book myself.

This book scarily reminded me of my first attempt at a novel, most particularly the writing style. Or, should I say, lack thereof. When writers write a lot, they develop a certain way of telling a story. If you read a lot of one author, or if you write, you may know what I’m talking about. I’m not saying that a lack of writing is actually bad, I just felt that the author has not yet developed his own particular way of writing. Excuse my nit-picking, but most people aren’t going to notice this.

I am happy to report that this book is pretty clean, and I’d feel comfortable handing this book to mostly anyone. I was a little disappointed how hard they pushed the romance in this book; it wasn’t inappropriate at all, but it could have been a little more subtle. I knew this book was going to be more romantic than I usually read even before they met. For this reason, I can’t say this book is for everyone, particularly those who will only stand for a little romance.

I’m sorry if the book description sounded a little cheesy, but…it was, just a little.

Overall Rating: 3.5/5

Violence: 3/10 (nothing horrible)

Language: 1/10

Inappropriateness/Romance: 3/10

Audience: Ages 10 and up

Harry Potter #3: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry Potter is lucky to reach the age of thirteen, since he has already survived the attacks of the feared Dark Lord on more than one occasion. But his hopes for a quiet term concentrating on Quidditch are dashed when a maniacal mass-murderer escapes from Azkaban, pursued by the dark guards who can’t seem to know the difference between a prisoner and an innocent student. It’s assumed that Hogwarts is the safest place for Harry to be, but is Harry really safe anywhere? And is it a coincidence that a black dog has popped up, following him as an omen of death?

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This particular book is a little disconnected from the other books, just because Voldemort isn’t really a part of the story. It also happens to be my favorite, and apparently everyone else’s, in the series 🙂

Between the 1st two books and this book is a vast difference in how scary it is. While in the first two, the only scary thing was a walk in the woods at night, and a descent into the Chamber of Secrets with a giant snake, this book is very dark, even without Voldemort.

The guards who come to Hogwarts to ensure the murderer doesn’t come onto the school grounds are the creepiest part about the story. They aren’t really human, and without giving anything away, their dark intentions may freak out some more sensitive kids. Other scary creatures come into the story as well. If your kids finished the first two books with no trouble, don’t assume the third book may be fine for them as well.

I loved how the story was a little off-beat from the others in plot. While the other six books are part of the bigger picture with Voldemort, this book sort of breaks up the rest and allows for a more complicated plot unto itself. The whole mystery within this story keeps you hanging on the edge of your seat, and you won’t be able to put it down. I read it on a road trip…..read it all, the whole nine hours, and then most of the 4th one on the way back.

Somehow, Rowling manages to keep it mostly light-hearted. From flunking divination class and making up faux-predictions of Ron’s future, to wandering around the castle at night, to Uncle Vernon’s meltdown when he gets a call from Ron, the book is not entirely serious, just like the other books.

Overall Rating: 5/5

Violence: 5/10

Language: 2/10

Inappropriateness/Romance: 1/10

Audience: Varies through personal taste; I would have said 12 and up, but so many kids much younger than that have read it that my opinion doesn’t matter.