Friday, April 18, 2014

Percy Jackson

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Today I want to talk about one of my absolute favorite series for kids (actually it is two series, but one is a sequel of sorts).  After Harry Potter, Percy Jackson is the second must read kid's series, in my opinion.  I think every kid, and adult alike, should read these books.  They are just awesome.  The first five books (Percy Jackson and the Olympians) follow young Percy as he learns the truth of who he really is and embraces his destiny.  He is a demigod, son of one of the Olympic gods .  The monsters and gods from Greek Mythology are real and he is a key figure in their world, whether he wants to be or not.  In each book he finds himself on some seemingly impossible quest, relying on friends, guts and ingenuity to survive.  The five books are tied together by a prophesy that says when one of the demigods turns 16, he or she will either save or destroy Olympus.  The Titan lord Kronos is the big bad in this series.  As he gains power and starts to break free from his prison in Tartarus, Percy and the other demigods must do whatever they can to stop his army.  Obviously a lot of adventures take place over the course of the series.  They happen over the span of five years, culminating in the dreaded birthday and ensuing battle.  My favorite thing about these books is getting to know the modern day aspects of the gods.  They are quite entertaining.  The characters, not just the gods, but the demigods and other mythical creature, are all extremely fun and very likable.  Percy Jackson is a great hero, full of flaws but loyal to the end.  I can't say enough about this series.  If you haven't read it yet, start it immediately.  The second series, Heroes of Olympus, is still in progress.  It has mostly new characters, sons and daughters of the Roman aspects of the gods.  There are a handful of characters from the Greek side, including Percy, that are also in the series.  The trouble is, the Greek and Roman sides of the gods have always been at war with each other.  The two sides must learn to fight together if they are going to stop the Earth Mother, Gaea, from rising.  So far I am enjoying this series almost as much as the first.  They are well written and full of adventure.  I've always preferred Greek Mythology to Roman, so that is why the first series is a little better, in my opinion.  Still, I am loving this sequel series.  I can't wait until October when book five comes out.  Seriously, if you haven't read this series yet, pick up a copy of The Lightning Thief TODAY and get started.  I promise you won't be sorry.  Happy reading!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Guardians

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Last Easter we watched Rise of the Guardians, and I was intrigued with the characters.  I wanted to read the series that inspired the movie.  In each book, the title character is recruited by the Man in the Moon to become a Guardian (of Childhood).  These are their origin stories so to speak.  The movie isn't exactly based on the books themselves.  It is more on the characters after they have been Guardians for awhile, once again battling Pitch.  If you liked the movie, you will definitely enjoy getting to know the characters back stories more.  Each adventure is filled with wonder and amazement.  They are also filled with danger as the growing group battles Pitch Dark (usually just called Pitch).  He is determined to fill the world with fear and turn children into Fearlings.  The books are so much fun.   The group is searching for all the missing pieces of the Moonclipper.  When assembled, they can stop Pitch once and for all.  If you are looking for long, deep stories, these are not for you.  They are short and fun books aimed at young children.  The first book sets up the series and then the story continues into each, as St. North and the Man in the Moon gather up/recruit the Guardians.  There is a smattering of artwork throughout the books, helping you see what the author had in mind when describing characters and creatures.  Over all, I had a lot of fun with the books and look forward to the series continuing.  As far as I know, there are at least two more planned.  If you are looking for a less fluffy Easter story this year, try this version of the Easter Bunny.  Happy reading!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Flipped

331920Flipped is one of the first Young Adult books I ever read.  It is classified as that, but in reality it is probably more for middle grade kids.  The main two characters are in eighth grade, but it is a love story at the core, even if it takes place on the playground.  It is also the first book I can remember reading that has alternating chapters( narration switch), something I have come to love in books.  I guess I just enjoy getting to hear different perspectives on the events in a story.  It is not always successful, but Wendelin Van Draanen nailed it in this book.  Unlike most books with alternating chapters, this one mostly retells the exact same events from both perspectives.  It is hilarious.  Our two narrators are Bryce and Julianne.  The two meet in second grade when Bryce's family moves in next door to Julianne's.  She is instantly in love with him, and he of course can't stand her.  Bryce does things to try to dissuade her, like get a girlfriend he doesn't even really like.  Julianne, in turn, feels it is her duty to save him from said girlfriend.  At the heart of it, the two don't actually really know each other at all.  They are locked in a game of cat and mouse.  As they get older and get to know each other a little better, Julianne realizes she doesn't really like who Bryce turns out to be under the surface.  Bryce, on the other hand, starts to think Julianne is quite fabulous.  It is now up to him to prove to her that he is worth liking after all.  This book is just so cute and funny.  I think this author has a talent for mixing humor with real emotion.  She writes funny books that have a depth to them as well.  While this book is a love story, it also touches on family loyalty, friendship, standing up for what you believe and not being afraid to be yourself.  I have read it a handful of times and enjoy it immensely with each reread.  If you haven't given it a try yet, I highly recommend it.  It will bring you plenty of laughs as you see these two neighbors interpret simple events in vastly different ways.  Enjoy and happy reading!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Autism Awareness Month

1618I haven't read a lot of books involving autism, but one that always comes to the forefront of my mind is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.  This book is told from the point of view of 15-year-old autistic boy, Christopher.  My favorite part of this book is seeing the world through the eyes of an autistic person.  Getting to see how his brain works, how it perceives the world around his, and how he relates to others.  It was so eyeopening for me to get that better understanding, from the inside instead of from simple observation of autistic individuals in my life.  I read this book before I was even aware there was a spectrum and before I had ever heard of Asperger's Syndrome.  I'm sure I'm not the only one out there who had limited exposure to that world before reading this book.  I've seen Rain Man and various other shows/movies depicting autistic characters, but it wasn't until I was able to glimpse inside the autistic mind that I was truly able to understand their world just a little better.  This book is a work of fiction, but the author had years of working with autistic people as a reference into their minds.  This book shows how one little change in a person's life can really throw everything off balance.  How everyone's reality is different from that of others.  This month is all about becoming more aware of autism.  The prevalence is growing and I bet there is hardly anybody out there anymore who is not affected by autism in someway.  We all know at least one person on the autism spectrum.  If you want to understand them better, this is a great book to start you on that path.  While not every autistic person is the same, I bet at least one of Christopher's traits will hit home for you.  This is a great book to try out this month.  Happy reading!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Penderwicks

266904April 10th is National Siblings Day in the USA.  It is a day to celebrate siblings.  I think The Penderwicks is the perfect book to highlight such a day.  It is the first book in a series of fun books, although it is my favorite so far.  It introduces us to a very fun cast of characters.  The Penderwick sisters are very different from each other, which at times causes a little drama.  But at the end of the day they are fiercely loyal and love each other very much.  Their mother is dead and they must count on each other to fill that empty role.  Their father is a very loving and wonderful man as well.  Now for the girls, first you have 12 year old Rosalind.  As the oldest, she is thrown into the role of looking after her sisters and therefore is forced to be responsible.  Next comes Skye, who tends to let her temper get the better of her.  Jane is an aspiring author, penning stories following Sabrina Starr on various ridiculous adventures.  She reminds me a bit of Anne Shirley (Anne of Green Gables).  Finally we have 4 year old Batty.  She loves to wear butterfly/fairy wings and is constantly accompanied by the loyal family dog, Hound.  Batty is an animal lover to the core.  When the Penderwick family rents a cottage on the grounds of Arundel manor for a summer vacation, the girls immediately find adventure and trouble.  To their delight, the snooty owner has a young son, Jeffrey, who is a kindred spirit in many ways.  They instantly become friends, and for Jeffrey and perhaps the girls, life will never be the same.  This book is light and full of fun.  It is a bit of a throw back to the innocent stories of old.  It truly is out of time.  The setting isn't necessary for the innocence of childhood and the adventure we can have when we use our imagination and enjoy the outdoors.  The characters are really entertaining and definitely kept me interested right through the ending.  The plot isn't super complex and the story isn't much more than a summer adventure, but that didn't make it less enjoyable.  After all, it did win the National Book Award in 2005, so obviously the appeal is not just in my head.  It is a great book to read alone or together as a family.  The Penderwick family is truly unforgettable and vastly entertaining.  Happy reading!

Monday, April 7, 2014

April is Poetry Month

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I'm not much for poetry.  I prefer to read without having to look for the deeper meaning.  Not that there isn't a deeper meaning in other genres, I just don't tend to seek out poetry books.  Kid's poetry, on the hand, is all sorts of fun.  My favorite will probably always be Where the Sidewalk Ends.  When I was kid (if I'm being honest, as an adult too) I listened to the audio version a gazillion times.  There is nothing like having Shel Silverstein read a handful of his poems to you.  Hearing them exactly as he intended them to be is unbelievable.  It is just amazing.  Outside of his great work, there are a handful of compilations that I just love.  Compilations are my favorite because you get a good mix of lots of popular poets, and you get their best poems all in one book.  The Random House Book of Poetry for Children has been my go to collection since I was a child.  Caroline Kennedy put together two collections of poetry that I also love (A Family of Poems and Poems to Learn by Heart).  For me the best part of her collections is the illustrations.  Jon Muth is one of my favorite illustrators.  His watercolors are breathtaking.  Having those images accompany familiar poems is pretty unbeatable.  Julie Andrews has two collections I really like as well (Collection of Poems, Songs, and Lullabies and Treasury for All Seasons).  Like I said earlier, collections are my favorite because you get a good compilation of the best poems out there.  The variety is the best part.  If you are looking for some good poems to read this month in celebration of Poetry Month, I recommend giving one of these books a try.  Happy reading!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Gallagher Girls

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I stumbled upon the Gallagher Girls series years ago.  I read the first book, thought it was cute and that was the end of it.  At the time it was the only book out in the series, and by the time the next book came out I had already forgotten about the series.  It wasn't until I read the first book in Ally Carter's other series (Heist Society) that I was once again reminded of her first series.  What actually made me get back into the Gallagher Girls books was a cross-over novella between the two series.  Double Crossed doesn't take place  until after book five, so I figured I better read these books first.  I was definitely happy I did.  These books, while a little fluffy and silly in the beginning, are so much fun.

Gallagher Academy is an elite,  private, all girls boarding school.  At least that is what it appears to be on the outside.  For the select few chosen to attend the prestigious school, it is quickly seen for what it really is: a secret sisterhood of spies in training.  On this day, International Tell a Lie Day, I figured this was the perfect series to talk about.  After all, spies' very lives depend on their ability to tell lies.  At the center of the stories is a group of girls: Cammie, Rebecca, Macey and Liz.  The roommates find themselves in the middle of all types of trouble throughout the series.  As they get older and as the series progresses, the books start leaving silly behind and start to get real.  The danger and reality of being spies in training and often the target of double agents, the group of friends learn to count on each other for their very survival.

The characters are lots of fun, not just the main four girls.  The teachers and family members, as well as others involved in their little world make these books a success.  One thing I love about these books is they are completely clean, except for some incidental violence that goes along with life as a spy in training.  They don't have any bad language or sex.  They are just good, clean fun.  I love that you never know who you can really trust.  At times you will suspect just about everybody of being a double agent.  Only sometimes will you be right.  The not knowing will definitely keep you on your toes.  To me the series just kept getting stronger as it went on.  That cannot be said for plenty of series I have read; in fact; there are some that I have never bothered to finish because I have lost interest in them.  This series kept me hooked until the very end.  I highly recommend this series, as well as Heist Society, which I wrote about in another post already.  Give them both a try.  I promise you won't be sorry.  They are a lot of fun.  Happy reading!