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The Extraordinary Nicholas Benedict

Hi, sweeteas,

I continue my quest for books that are unique and memorable.

I’ve been following the series The Mysterious Benedict Society, about a group of extremely intelligent and inventive children who are chosen by the narcoleptic, talented Mr. Benedict to join the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened and carry out a series of secret missions that ultimately save the world. The books are a delight to read, full of adventure and suspense.

The last book in the series, The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict, is my favorite. It’s the story of Mr. Benedict when he was nine years old:

Nicholas is an orphan with an unsightly nose, who suffers from narcolepsy. He has been sent to a new orphanage, where he must face bullies and cruel adults while solving a mystery that could completely change his life. But, of course, Nicholas is no ordinary child — he’s a genius.

I love young Nicholas’s resiliency, resourcefulness, and inventiveness. This final installment is a fantastic way to end this fascinating series. I recommend all the books (The Mysterious Benedict Society, The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey, The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner’s Dilemma, The Mysterious Benedict Society: Mr. Benedict’s Book of Perplexing Puzzles, Elusive Enigmas, and Curious Conundrums, and The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict.), but especially the last one.

Happy reading!

“I believe humans get a lot done, not because we’re smart, but because we have thumbs so we can make coffee.” ~Flash Rosenberg

 

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A Delicious Victorian Gothic Thriller

Hi, sweeteas,

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m on a quest for new and extraordinary juvenile, middle grade, and young adult books. Books that break the mold, that don’t follow a formula, and that are interesting and exciting to read. In other words, books that are unique and memorable.

Last month I wrote about Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce. This month I’m recommending Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz. *****

Splendors and Glooms is a delicious Victorian gothic thriller that brings together five unlikely characters: three very different pre-adolescent children trying to survive in the dark and dangerous world of Victorian England and two rival magical adults bent on using them for their own selfish and nefarious purposes. Here’s a brief description of the characters:

1- Cassandra Sagredo is an old, ailing witch possessing a deadly magical amulet that she needs to get rid off before it destroys her.

2- Gaspare Grisini is a master puppeteer, an evil warlock, and a criminal who enjoys manipulating and controlling people the way he does puppets. He is also Cassandra’s old lover and rival.

3- Lizzie Rose is a pretty, well-mannered orphan “rescued” by Grisini to assist him with his puppet act. Lizzie is an intelligent and genuinely good girl.

4- Parsefall is also an orphan “rescued” by Grisini. He is the classical crude and grimy street urchin. Grisini has taught him to steal, manipulate the puppets, and fear him.

5- Clara Wintermute is the only surviving child of a wealthy doctor. Her life is darkened by grief and guilt and the belief that her parents don’t love her.

I like how the author places the reader in each of the characters’ minds, and I loved the rich and complex plot and the wonderful descriptions. The novel is replete with suspense and dark humor and the writing is superb.

Here’s an excerpt:

“In the past weeks, Clara had come to look forward to the puppet show even more than Parsefall did. When he lifted the perch and pulled her strings, her bloodless body seemed to tingle, and she felt as if something quickened inside her. She could almost imagine that her limbs stretched and swayed by their own free will. It was not true, of course. But she wondered if one day it might be true — if somehow Parsefall might help her cross the border between paralysis and life. With every touch, the bond between them grew stronger. When he played upon her strings, Clara glimpsed the splendors and glooms that haunted his mind. She shared his appetite for prodigies and wonders, for a world where spangles were stars and skeletons frolicked until their bones fell apart.” (from Chapter 25 – “A Member of the Audience”)

I can’t wait to discover the next extraordinary book!

Happy reading!

We had a kettle; we let it leak:
Our not repairing it made it worse.
We haven’t had any tea for a week…
The bottom is out of the Universe.
~Rudyard Kipling

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Happy New Year!

Hi, sweeteas,

Happy 2013 to all! The century is now a teenager, isn’t that cool? And tomorrow school starts, isn’t that great? You’ll get to see your school friends, learn useful things, and — best of all — check out awesome books from the school library! 🙂

How about starting the new year with a couple of reading goals? Here are mine:

1- Read 1-2 books per week (between 50 to 100 books by the end of the year).

2- Read a diverse diet of outstanding books.

I want to be more selective in the books I read this year. If I start reading a book, and it doesn’t interest me, I’ll switch to another. There are so many wonderful books I haven’t read, and I don’t want to waste my time reading those I won’t completely enjoy. (So many (great) books; so little time!)

Having said that, let me share a few of my favorites reads from 2012:

Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos (April 29 post)

I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchet (April 29 post)

Chime by Franny Billingsley (July 7 post)

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (Aug 7 post)

Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage  (Sept 8 post)

Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper (Sept 8 post)

Today I’ll tell you about another favorite book that I read over the holidays:

Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce *****

Cosmic is a hilarious story about a twelve-year-old boy who often gets confused for an adult because of his size and facial hair. He takes advantage of this mistake and gets into a lot of funny situations. He even manages to con his way into going as the only adult chaperone in the first space rocket taking four kids around the moon and back. But something goes wrong, and he and the rest of the kids end up lost in space. What I love about this book is how the author manages to make the quirky characters and the preposterous situation so believable and humorous. He totally pulls it off! This has to Mr. Boyce’s best book so far. Don’t miss it!

I’ll post again next month. Enjoy the start of the new year!

“I’m a little teapot, short and stout. Here is my handle. Here is my spout. When I get all steamed up, hear me shout. Tip me over and pour me out!” ~ from “The Teapot Song” by George Harold Sanders and Clarence Z. Kelley

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Spooky Reads

NOTE: MY NEXT POST WILL BE IN JANUARY.

Hi, sweeteas,

October is the month for spooky reads. Here are a few recommendations:

My favorites by Ray Bradbury:

The Halloween Tree – A fascinating story about a group of boys who take a guided tour through time to learn about the history and meaning of Halloween and to save their friend from the clutches of death.

Something Wicked This Way Comes – An mysterious carnival comes to town, but a young boy and his father thwart its evil plan.

From the Dust Returned – A collection of stories about a family of (mostly) supernatural beings.

The October Country – A collection of very dark stories.

By Roald Dahl:

The Witches (The movie is great, too!)

Roald Dahl’s Book of Ghost Stories

Let’s not forget the horror classics:

Tales of Horror and Suspense  and The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe

Dracula – Briam Stoker

Frankenstein – Mary Shelley

A few hair-raising story collections:

All Hallows’ Eve Thirteen Stories — Vivian Van Velde

Halloween – Paula Guran (Editor)

October Dreams – a Celebration of Halloween – Richard Chizmar (Editor), Robert Moorish (Editor)

The Book of Halloween – Edna Kelley (Editor)

And more creepy stuff:

Halloween by Melanie Jackson – A terrifying trick-or-treat adventure.

Wait Till Helen Comes by Mary Downing Hahn – A creepy and scary ghost story.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman – The story of a baby who is raised by the ghosts of a cemetery (awesome read!).

Halloween Night I and II  by R.L.Stine – A scary story about revenge (with a lot of high school drama).

Advanced YA readers: Want to get really creeped out? Read Stephen King’s The Shining or It or The Storm of the Century or any other of his scary novels (or watch the movies!).

Careful now – you don’t want to get too scared (just a little bit and just for fun). Try sharing a scary book with a friend. Better yet, have a sleep-over and take turns reading a scary story aloud. Fun times!

Have a Happy Halloween!

Leonard, social protocol states that when a friend is upset you offer them a hot beverage, such as tea. — Sheldon (from The Big Bang Theory)

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Suspenseful Reads!

Hi, sweateas,

My post is one day late, sorry!

Here are the books (Juvenile and YA) I read in August, with my rating and a brief description of the plot:

1- The Shadows (Books of Elsewhere Series #1) by Jacqueline West ****

Eleven-year-old Olive and her parents move into a Victorian mansion full of antique paintings that are really portals to a strange and dangerous world full of spooky shadows. I loved the talking cats! ****

2- The Ghost of Graylock by Dan Poblocki ****

A brother and sister solve the mystery of a ghost that haunts Graylock Hall, an abandoned mental asylum for young people. Suspenseful and creepy!

3- The Family Hitchcock by Mark Levin and Jennifer Flackett****

Seeking an affordable summer vacation, the Hitchcocks swap houses with a family in Paris,  only to find themselves caught in a web of political intrigue and end up fighting for their lives. Action-packed fun!

4- Falling In by Frances O’Roark Dowell ****

Sixth grader Isabelle Bean stumbles into a parallel fairy-tale world where villagers are afraid of a witch who supposedly eats children. Surprising story line!

5- Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage *****

Sixth grader Miss Moses (Mo) LoBeau (along with her best friend, Dale Earnhart Johnson III) set out to solve a murder mystery that affects the lives of the quirky people who rescued her when she was an infant and who became the only family she has ever known. Wonderful and humorous Southern-small-town yarn!

6- Graveyard Shift by Chris Westwood ***

Londoner Ben Harvester’s unique gifts make him the perfect candidate for an apprenticeship with Mr. October, an agent for the Ministry of Pandemonium, a secret organization responsible for tracking down lost souls and guiding them to the afterlife. This paranormal adventure is not very convincing, but it’s interesting and entertaining enough for a read, especially if you enjoy the genre.

7- Out of Mind by Sharon M. Draper *****

Fifth-grader Melody has cerebral palsy and is therefore unable to walk,  talk, or care for herself. She also has a photographic memory and is the smartest kid in her school, except no one knows. She faces these insurmountable obstacles with courage, intelligence, and determination, and –with the help of her loving family and her caregivers– discovers a way to communicate and shine. In the process she learns that people can sometimes be obstacles as well. This novel is simply awesome!

8- A Scary Scene in a Scary Movie by Matt Blackstone****

Rene Fowler is a 14-year-old boy who suffers from obsessive-compulsive behavior and the traumatic memories of his father who abandoned him and his mother when he was a young boy. The story of Rene’s struggle to fit into the chaotic world of high school is told in first person, so the reader is constantly inside Rene’s messy, noisy, anxious, and exhausting interior world. Being in Rene’s head is one wild ride!

That’s it for the month of August. I’ll post again by October 7.

Happy reading!

No coffee can be good in the mouth that does not first send a sweet offering of odor to the nostrils.~Henry Ward Beecher

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Life: Funny, Sad, and Full of Wonders

Hi, sweeteas,

I have three books for you this month:

1- Guys Read — Funny Business Edited by Jon Scieszka *****

This book is a collection of humorous stories written by well-known and loved authors such as Eoin Colfer, Christopher Paul Curtis, Kate DiCamillo, Jack Gantos, Jon Scieszka, and others. You will love these tales of mischievous boys, a homicidal turkey, alien body snatchers, and more.

It’s easy to relate to the funny characters in this collection, whether we’re male or female, young or old. My favorite story is “Your Question for Author Here” by Kate Di Camillo and Jon Sciezka, where a middle school boy and a famous writer get to know each other through letters. The boy asks the author questions about writing and the author answers them while encouraging the boy to become a writer, too. Here are a couple of the questions and answers in the story:

1-”Why do you write?”

“To be found, understood, seen; and to find, understand, and see others.” [paraphrased] “I like lightning and//thunder, flashlight and the BAM://looking, being found.” “Every book I write helps me to understand myself better and to love the world more.”

2-”What got you started writing?”

“I decided to change my life, to work as much good in the world as I was capable of working.”

I love these answers because they match my own reason and mission for writing and teaching.

Read this collection. It’s funny and great and it’s not just for boys.

2- Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby  ****

This YA novel is set in the American Midwest during the Depression. It explores the themes of loss, identity, and belonging. The main character is Portia Remini, a gypsy girl with a talent for storytelling, who’s left to live with her aunt while her father sets out to hunt for work. Eventually the aunt gets tired of Portia’s antics and sends her to McGravey’s Home for Wayward Girls, which is nothing but a glorified slave camp.  The owner of the home is a creepy and abusive bachelor called Mister. Portia manages to escape from Mister and join a traveling circus that features an interesting group of “freaks.” There she makes herself useful in the kitchen and as a storyteller. Her hope is that the traveling will help her find her father.

There’s a constant creepy current of tension in this novel: Will Portia find her father, or will Mister find her instead? If Mister finds her, what will he do to her? Will she ever find a home and a family where she can belong? However, it’s the characterization that makes the story such a good read. The characters are well-rounded, complex, and captivating. I wanted more danger and a more detailed resolution, but I enjoyed the book nevertheless.

3- The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. *****

This absolutely fabulous YA novel is about teenagers with cancer. That said, it’s one of the best YA books I’ve read. The writing is simply brilliant. I don’t want to say much about the plot because I won’t be able to do it justice. Let me just state that the story is sad, funny, and poignant. That it’s about love, being alive, and living a life full of meaning and purpose. That you’ll love the characters and suffer and rejoice with them. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll celebrate. You’ll mourn. And you’ll do a lot of thinking. In fact, reading this book will probably make you a better person. It could even change your life. That’s the real power of a great book.

That’s all for this month. Visit the library and enjoy your last weeks of summer reading!

Much love!

“Coffee is a beverage that puts one to sleep when not drank.” ~Alphonse Allais

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Strange People and Strange Worlds

Hi, sweeteas,

I’m back! I trust you guys are enjoying an awesome summer break. God willing, I’ll be sharing book blurbs and recommendations by the 7th of every month. If the plan changes, I’ll let you know.

ALSO, IF YOU ARE A WRITER, CHECK OUT MY NEW BLOG: THE WRITE TOWN: WWW.THEWRITETOWN.WORDPRESS.COM

This month’s titles, blurbs, and ratings:

1- The Whisper (sequel to The Roar) by Emma Clayton ****

In The Roar we learned that The Wall that was built to separate the infected from the healthy in a depleted post-apocalyptic world, is nothing but a plot to keep the poor away from the rich. In the action-packed and environmentally-conscious sequel, The Whisper, telepathic twins Mika and Ellie must use their abilities to overthrow Mal Gordan (an evil tyrant bent on creating an army of mutant children to secure world power and eternal youth), liberate the brainwashed children, tear down The Wall, and change the world. This novel is full of action and is not as violent as other YA bestsellers. Great Read!

2- Bruiser by Neail Shusterman ****

Bruiser is the strange story of a young man who literally takes on the emotional and physical pain of everyone he cares about. It’s a thought-provoking novel about true friendship, the meaning and purpose of pain, and the sacrifices that we must make for the good of those we love. Shusterman does it again — great read!

3- Chime by Franny Bilingsley *****

Seventeen-year-old Briony Larkin hates herself and believes she is an evil witch. Her stepmother — who has died mysteriously — convinced her that she is the cause of all her family’s tragedies, including her twin sister’s mental/social disability.  But when cheery, handsome Eldric comes to live with the family, things start to change.  Slowly Briony discovers who she truly is and what has really happened to her. The story explores the consequences of emotional abuse and the complexities of family relationships. Briony’s voice — her anguish and her confusion — rings true from beginning to end.  I enjoyed the love story, the creative use of language, and the sheer creepiness of the world. Awesome read! “Filled with eccentric characters—self-hating Briony foremost—and oddly beautiful language, this is a darkly beguiling fantasy.” — Publishers Weekly

4- Divergent by Veronica Roth ****

Enter the new and improved Chicago, where society is divided into five factions, the members of which are dedicated to developing their most dominant virtue: selflessness (Abnegation),  peacefulness (Amity), honesty (Candor ), bravery (Dauntless ), or intelligence (Erudite ). Sixteen-year-olds are tested to identify their dominant virtue, but then are allowed to choose the faction to which they will devote all their lives. But Beatrice is a divergent; her test results don’t match any  faction. And after making a choice that surprises everyone — including herself — she begins a journey of self-discovery that leads her to face (and oppose) what’s really happening in her “perfect” world. There’s a lot of violence in this novel, but it’s an interesting read.

5- The Drowned Cities by Paolo Pacigalupi ***

This story is set in the same dismal world as Ship Breaker, but it follows the struggles of different characters. Mahlia and Mouse are two kids trying to survive in a war zone not far from the Drowned Cities that were once Washington D.C. Mahlia helps Tool, a genetically enhanced half-man, recover from his fatal wounds, and as a result, an unlikely allegiance is formed between them. Together they set out to rescue Mouse, who has been forcibly recruited by a band of violent marauders. The novel is very well-written, with lots of action, a fascinating setting, and interesting/damaged characters, but I had one problem with it: I didn’t like Mahlia, the main character, all that much. Still, those of you who like violent war stories will really enjoy this novel.

That’s all for this month. Visit the library and enjoy your summer of reading!
 
Much love!
 
“If you are cold, tea will warm you.  If you are too heated, it will cool you.  If you are depressed, it will cheer you.  If you are excited, it will calm you.”  ~Gladstone, 1865

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Reading Frenzy!

Hi, sweeteas,

This past two weeks I’ve been experiencing a sort of reading frenzy. Here are some of the books I’ve read. I’ve added a rating as well.

Juvenile:

A Tale Dark and Grim by Adam Gidwitz (gory retellings of fairy tales with Hansel and Gretel as protagonists) ****

School of Fear by Gitty Daneshvari (four unusual children are sent to a wacky school to get cured of their phobias) ****

Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George (a royal family lives in a castle that has a mind of its own and is trying to protect them) ****

The Moon Over High Street by Natalie Babbitt (a boy chooses between the opportunity to have a life of ease and the freedom to follow his dreams) ****

Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos (the humorous summer adventures of a young boy in a small town) *****

YA:

There once Lived a Woman Who tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya (a collection of creepy fairy tales similar to scary urban myths) ***

The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde (an imaginative magical adventure set in an alternate present-day Britain) ****

I Shall Wear Midnight by Sir Terry Pratchet (with the help of the wee free men, witch Tiffany Aching faces another dangerous challenge and ends up getting a boyfriend) *****

I love the Tiffany Aching books. Sir Terry Pratchet is a master fantasy storyteller, and the antics of the wee free men (tiny dwarf-like magical creatures) are always hilarious. Don’t miss this wonderful series!

Next on my YA book pile:

Bruiser by Neal Shusterman

The Whisper by Emma Clayton (the sequel to The Roar)

Chime by Franny Billingsley

How do I choose the books I read? I visit bookstores that carry a wide, quality selection of juvenile/YA books, and I write down the titles of the books that appeal to me. I also pay attention to the books my friends and students recommend. Then I request the books from my local library. If I start reading a book and discover that it doesn’t interest me, I put it aside and start reading another. There are hundreds of wonderful books out there, so I always find something I like or love.

BECAUSE I’LL BE TAKING A CLASS AT CU-DENVER DURING THE MONTH OF JUNE, I WILL NOT BE BLOGGING UNTIL JULY. TALK TO YOU THEN!

Much love!

P.S. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman is going to be made into a movie! Yay!

Mothers are those wonderful people who can get up in the morning before the smell of coffee.  ~Author Unknown

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Announcement

Hi, sweeteas,

Keeping up with three blogs is proving to be a bit difficult. Because of that and because 1- I need time to read the yummy books I’m writing about, and 2- I want you to know when to expect my posts, I’ve decided that I’ll continue to post on The Reading Café only once a month, but on the weekend closest to the beginning of the month, and that I’ll let you know in advance when to expect my next post.

My next post will be on Sunday, April 29.

I’m still reading cool short-story collections, and I recently read the latest Tiffany Aching installment. I’ll blog about those on the 29th.

What are you guys up to?

Much love!

P.S. Wasn’t The Hunger Games movie just awesome?

“Bread and water can so easily be toast and tea.”  ~Author Unknown

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Like Brother, Like Sister

Hello, sweeteas,

Today I’ll be writing about a series I absolutely love: the Enola Holmes Mystery series by Nancy Springer. I know I have mentioned it to you before, but after re-reading the first  installment and because we recently celebrated International Women’s Day, I feel that it’s important to encourage you again to read this not-as-well-known-as-the-Harry-Potter-or-Percy-Jackson-books-but-equally-fabulous series.

There are six books in this historical mystery series, and the first one is titled The Case of the Missing Marquess. Enola (“which, backwards, spells alone“) is the young sister of the famous detective Sherlock Holmes and his very proper, older brother Mycroft. The setting is Victorian England, which means that Enola is living in a time period and a society where women are treated as less important and less intelligent than men. (Is that no longer the case, I ask?) Enola’s mother mysteriously disappears on Enola’s fourteenth birthday, and her brothers, whom she has not seen in 10 years, show up and decide to send her off to boarding school (the horror!). But intelligent, emancipated Enola has other plans. Her mother has left her a little book of ciphers and plenty of money, so Enola disguises herself and courageously heads to dangerous London, where she hopes to search for her mother, while hiding from her brothers.  Fortunately, Enola’s brothers consistently underestimate her, so she’s able to outsmart them and figure out how to track her mother, while solving  the famous kidnapping mystery of Viscount Tewksbury, Marquess of Basilwether (like brother, like sister). The story has a lot of action and suspense, as well as clever and funny situations. Last, but not least, the author’s exceptional use of imagery, dialect, and historical facts make it a convincing and delightful read. 

Enola’s adventures continue in the subsequent installments:

The Case of the Left-Handed Lady

The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets

The Case of the peculiar Pink Fan

The Case of the Cryptic Crinoline

The Case of the Gypsy Goodbye

The plot lines are great, but the best part about the series is Enola’s voice:

It feels very queer to think of one’s mother as a person like oneself, not just a mum, so to speak. Yet there it was: She had been weak as well as strong. She had felt trapped as I did. She had felt the injustice of her situation just as keenly. She had been forced to obey, as I would be forced to obey. She had wanted to rebel, as I desperately yearned to rebel, without knowing how I ever would or could.

But, in the end, she had managed it. Glorious rebelion.

Confound her, why had she not taken me with her?

It’s Enola’s smart, heartfelt, and witty voice — a voice you can identify with — that makes you want to keep reading, not just the first book, but each of the five successive installments. The books never disappoint, and it’s such a treat to read how Sherlock slowly learns to accept his talented little sister as his equal. Enola herself evolves as a person throughout the series, so that, by the end, she has become an independent young woman and a force to be reckoned with.

Read these books, guys. They are awesome.

Much love!

P.S. See you at The Hunger Games!

A morning without coffee is like sleep.  ~Author Unknown

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