Under the Spell Thief’s Spell

This is one for the kiddies…  it is for beginning chapter book readers.  The Spell Thief by Tom Percival looks like the first in a series (the ARC I got has a little from book 2 as a preview).  While is isn’t complicated and doesn’t have the heft of something like Harry Potter for character development, dialogue or plot, if you keep in mind that it is aimed a very beginning readers, it is delightful.  The story if of a little boy, Jack of Jack-in-the-beanstalk fame, and his fellow young friends: Red (yes, Little Red Riding Hood), Rapunzel and Hansel & Gretel.  They live in a little town with a delightful tree that records their stories.  They are at war with trolls and 29623561Jack’s father is off mining moonstone, which keep trolls at bay.  One day, a ship from a far away land arrives with another little boy, Anansi.  Jack catches him talking to a troll and sets out on a quest to find out if Anansi is a troll spy.  He meets a young saw witch named Lily and tries to get her help.

In the end, I think it will be something that will be super fun for my little guy to read once he is old enough.  A tiny bit of exposure to the characters would add in on the fun, as it would be easier to understand why Rapunzel has such long hair or why Hansel & Gretel are always finishing each others sentences.  But, hard core knowledge of the fairy tales they come from isn’t necessary.  Again, it is important to remember the target audience for this; if you picked it up expecting an adaption like Wicked or some other “fractured fairy tale” (which is apparently new lingo), this isn’t that.  Instead, the characters and their story are merely a delightful device to explain what they have in common and where they all come from.  There is a little bit of magic to keep things interesting and to, hopefully, spark an interest in reading things more magical and more complicated.

It has messages of friendship and the value of listening as well as a few others.  The little illustrations are cute enough to keep my 3-year old looking at the page while I read and I loved the way Lily was drawn.  I certainly will look forward to other installments.  The Spell Thief cast a delightful, albeit simple, spell.


Not quite Enchanted

Enchantment Lake was a fun little read.  My expectations were totally off, but still, I enjoyed it.  I just wouldn’t say I was enchanted by it.  There was a little too much going on for that.  And this is another that suffers from genre-identity-crisis.  Is it YA, cozy, children’s fiction?  Who knows.  I am going to call it cozy, but I don’t know if it is the start of a series or not.

So, first, why were the expectations off?  With a caption above the title (LOVE the cover, by the way) that says “A Northwoods mystery” I think cozy.  With a description in netgalley that calls our 17-year old protagonist Francie a “reluctant northwoods Nancy Drew”  and the following:

“What happened to her father? Who and where is her mother? Who is she, and where does her heart lie—in the bustle of New York City or the deep woods of Minnesota? With its gripping story, romantic spirit, and a sly dash of modern-day trouble (evil realtors and other invasive species),Enchantment Lake will fascinate readers, providing precisely the charm that Margi Preus’s readers have come to expect.”

I expected a little more.  I can’t say I know exactly how a publisher chooses “YA” versus “Children’s” – but I would say this is a little mature for what I think of as children (12 year olds being the target there) and it definitely falls more in line with the YA (Francie is 17 after all).  There are elements of cozies in that its a small town, there are red herrings galore, and the “who dun it” is a little out of nowhere with the detective sort of falling into the answer and not exactly being a great sleuth.  That’s one of the differences though that make the book’s description so misleading – Nancy Drew was a great detective.  Most of our detectives in the cozy genre (at least what I have read) aren’t.  They just happen to end up solving things through shear dumb luck.

The story goes something like this:  Francie is a young lady in NY City, looking to pursue her acting career when she suddenly gets a frantic call from her old aunt’s claiming that they are in danger.  Francie hops on a plane (then a bus) and travels to the remote area of Minnesota where the charming ladies tell Francie of the mysterious deaths occurring to people who live on the same lake they do.  Is it the real estate agent?  His treasure hunting son?  The handy man (well, until he turns up dead, anyway)?  The folks who want to develop the lake and build a road?  And what about this wealthy family with a former actress matriarch?  Can Francie solve it before she is next, or before her aunts are arrested or killed?

The tangential questions of who is Francie’s mother that are raised and what ever that is all about are mere distractions.  It would have been better had that just been skipped and we could focus on the mystery.  It was easy to read and the setting of the Minnesota lake brought to mind images of peaceful and tranquil vacation spots where I would love to get away from it all.  Francie’s aunts didn’t get near enough page time as they have the potential to be great comic relief.  They seem like they would be fun people in real life – we just don’t get enough of them to be sure.  With dialogue that seemed fairly natural and some insecurities that were precious, this was cute.  I wouldn’t say I was enchanted, but intrigued enough to read another, should there be one!

Bottom of the Pie is surely sweet!

I don’t know how I hadn’t come across these books before. I picked up the newest through netgalley and was 3 chapters in (and totally LOVING it) when I realized it couldn’t be the first. So, I spent a few minutes on goodreads and was thrilled to discover not just a book or two that came first, but six. I bought all of them right away (love Amazon – although I will note I never get all of the books at once like that; it is a testament to how wonderful I thought the first 3 chapters of the 7th book are that I did so). And I am already engrossed in the first book. I will pick #7 back up when I get to its rightful place in the order.

I love Flavia – she is a wonderful character (so far anyway) and I can’t wait to read more about her. Reading the author’s prose is like listening to a favorite song – so easy to read, so easy to smile while my eyes dart across the page, so colorful and it makes it so easy to conjure a mental picture of Flavia and her world. I could almost imagine being able to dance to it and the lyrics something I might unconsciously end up memorizing.

Flavia is an amateur detective and chemist prodigy.  In a family with two sisters, a physically present but emotionally mostly absent father, dead mother, jack-of-all-trades (and currently the gardener) ex-prisoner of war manservant and family cook, Flavia has a wild imagination and a wonderful mouth filter (because her thoughts are matter of fact and fantastical but they are merely thoughts, not words, and the very fantastical she never acts on).  She is a delight of a character.6218281

In this first installment, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, the mystery surrounds the death of a mysterious visitor and it kick starts her detective career.  A well built little plot, an intriguing mystery, and a rambunctious and smart young lady with an excellent vocabulary and sense of logic despite being merely 10 years old – and that shines through in many ways if you are looking for it – or maybe because she is merely 10, create a clever and fun read.

I was reminded of all the great Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Encyclopedia Brown, and all the great little mysteries that these presented I read when I was younger.  And in many ways, I was reminded of all the Agatha Christie that I have read too.

I had one question though throughout – it is a little unclear if the narration, which is from Flavia’s point of view, is occurring as if Flavia is older, looking back and telling the stories, or is she just so exceptional that she has a better vocabulary than most of my colleagues (I suffer from the affliction of being a lawyer by day and so I think that’s saying something about her vocabulary)?  Mr. Bradley, the author of this fine book sent me an email addressing this, after I posted to a comment on his blog (which can be found off his website), which I will share:

Dear Kris,

It’s always a treat to hear from a happy reader. Your shamefully flattering words will keep me going for weeks.
Flavia is, as you have spotted, very precocious. Although she has never defined the time-frame from which she is writing (some have suggested she’s in her 70’s!) my own personal opinion is that she’s recording each tale not long after it has happened.
Thanks so much for taking the time to write.
With warm wishes,
Alan Bradley”

Binge watching is the latest thing with popular tv series but for me, I am more likely to binge read than binge watch.  And, this series is definitely going to cause me to binge.  I am so looking forward to continuing the Flavia marathon that just started for me!  Yarrooo!!!

Small Update – since writing this review (as short as it is), even though I failed to publish it, I have finished the entire series.  And I couldn’t have enjoyed them more.  I will be posting pages on each, but will likely only review the last which I did receive from Netgalley.  It is precisely because I received it from Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review, that I will review it.  But, it is enough to say that I loved each and every installment and am eager for what ever is next with Flavia!

Whales and Mars…

… are just two of the facts
we learn about
from The Cat in the Hat.

Two little tales
stories which are great fun
for reading at bedtime
and teaching my little one.

Teaching him
about all sorts of things
like dolphins and fish
the Earth and Saturn’s rings.

In these books
Dick and Sally go for a ride
with Cat, Thing 1 and Thing 2
as teaching tour guides!


Part of the Cat in the Hat’s Learning Library series, I only have two of these books (so far).  But they are wonderful.  Filled with so many wonderful little facts (many I didn’t know either) they are a wonderful way to make learning fun.  A Whale of a Tale by Bonnie Worth and There’s No Place Like Space! by Trish Rabe are perfect for reading my 2 year old to sleep.

While the (always awesome) Cat in the Hat takes the reader on a journey in the spirit of Dr. Seuss, in these books the only Whos are Thing One and Thing Two and we don’t really see much that is created just for purposes of rhyming.  Instead, we get real facts about the topics.  Good facts that are fund to read.

These are perfect for bedtime reading.  They take about 6 minutes to read out-loud.  And the illustrations are done in the Seuss style which is always fun.  There are also labels on some of the pictures and additional facts that are not incorporated into the larger narrative.

A Whale of a Tale is all about dolphins, porpoises, and whales.  We learn two distinctions between these 175184types of animals and fish; we learn how whales eat; we learn about the sizes of the animals and some of how to distinguish a spinner from a bottle nosed dolphin.  They are clever and full of great information.  There’s No Place Like Space! is all about our solar system.  Not only is the mnemonic (or one of them anyway – I learned a different one in school, but then again, I had to include Pluto back then)  on how to remember the order of the planets included but we get a fact or two about each, and we are implicitly learning about spacial relations and action (i.e., why we don’t spin off the Earth as it spins).

Quality of the Story: For both, they weren’t really stories so much as journeys.  One is simply a trip through space and the other is a ride in the ocean.  But, for these purposes, they work.

Rhymer or Not: They are in the same vein as Dr. Seuss.  So, do I really need to answer that?  Apparently, I do, says the Cat in the Hat.  They rhyme, yes they do.  And they have extra bonus facts too!

Out-Loud Readability: Wonderful.  For books which include real facts, creating the rhyming scheme must have been a challenge (I am impressed) but keeping them readable too is even more impressive.

Educational Value: Excellent.  Lots of big and small facts; while Mom knew lots of them she learned quite a bit too.

Both of these have made me decide to pick up others from this series when ever I get the opportunity.

Fun Facts for Mom and Kiddie!

I am adding a new section!  Reviews on children’s books.  Not “YA”, but those for Mom, Dad, Grammy, etc., to read to little ones or for little ones just learning to read.  I am (obviously) 18049049and avid reader.  And I have a little guy running around the house these days (or should I say running the house these days) and I read to him every night.  I am hoping that he loves to read like I do.  And, in my attempt to ensure that he is hearing lots of words, learning about imagination and spending some good quality time with Mommy (since I work all day), I am on the hunt for new good books to read to him.  I think, the more books he has access to, the better.  So…  I am going to go broke not on groceries or diapers but on books.  And, I realized that I should add reviews (even though they will likely be super short given the length of these books to begin with) of what I read to him.  Because some of these books are great and others… not so much.

What I hope to let my followers know span these categories: (a) quality of the story, (b) it is a rhymer or not (some nights that’s a good thing and others it makes me nauseated), (c) quality of the illustrations, (d) readability when reading out loud, and (e) educational value.  To me, these are the things that differentiate great (like Dr. Seuss) from barely tolerable.

To start, I provide the following thoughts on the “Did You Know” series – or at least on the ones I have.  There are 7 in the series (as per goodreads anyway).  They are:

  1. Hippos Can’t Swim and Other Fun Facts
  2. Chickens Don’t Fly and Other Fun Facts
  3. Dinosaurs Live On and Other Fun Facts
  4. Rainbows Never End and Other Fun Facts
  5. Trains Can Float and Other Fun Facts
  6. Frogs Play Cellos and Other Fun Facts
  7. Saturn Could Sail and Other Fun Facts

They are credited as written by Laura Lyn Disiena and Hannah Eliot with illustrations by Pete Oswald and Aaron Spurgeon.  I have Hippos, Chickens, Rainbows and Saturn.  I am actively on the look-out at the books stores for the others.  These are less story and more education.  But they are pretty awesome.  They start with the fact on the cover, and an explanation of it and then add successive facts that are linked to the previous fact.  All to loop back, at the end, to the initial fact.  There is a lot of good educational material in each.  And they are presented in a fun way.  They don’t rhyme but that’s ok because even as an adult I found the way the facts are presented fun to read.  And the illustrations are wonderful.  They are silly and playful, but still get the point of the educational fact across.  They are fun to read aloud too because the pages take the form of “Did You Know?”  Hence the titles!  As far as educational value – well, there were facts that I didn’t know in each of the 4 that I bought to read to my little man.  They contain all sorts of facts – educate on science, colors, shapes, animals, etc.  They each end with a page that summarizes the great facts presented in the main book.  And, the entire book takes about 5 minutes to read so they are perfect for the right-before-bed-time story time.  I highly recommend them (at least the four I mentioned, but I assume the other three are just as wonderful).



Wyatt and Ruby, on the run in Ruckus on the Ranch

Quickly becoming an expert in titles that can be held by little hands, and serve as quick little reads to little ears before bed, I enjoyed Ruckus on the Ranch by The Texas Tenors (with illustrations by Brian Fitzgerald). The story was a quick, but cute little one, with easy words for the beginning readers. And, felt fun to Mom to read aloud. There’s no rhyming scheme here but the story is an adorable little one. And this illustrations are awesome. I think, if read aloud with the right cadence (or with the background music that apparently will be – or is – available as a free download), this would be something my toddler would love to have read to him before bed.

I will definitely be looking for a hard copy of this to put on my son’s bookshelf.