#AnUrchinofMeans (The Baker Street Series, #1): This Book is worth reading

AnUrchinofMeans

An Urchin of Means (The Baker Street Series, Book 1)

By: April White

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I wish I could remember what made me pick up Marking Time, book 1 of April White’s Immortal Descendants series. Was it the time travel? The vampires and shapeshifters? The historical fiction? Jack the Ripper? Probably a lot of each of those.

But the biggest reason?

It was FREE. It still is. Right now, on Amazon. It. Is. Free. It costs you exactly nothing. You have no excuse. Except that you’re going to love it, and then you’re going to have to by the next 4 books–which aren’t free…

…but so worth reading. April White, indie author extraordinaire, writes books that are worth reading.

And with that preamble, I am happy to introduce you to her latest–An Urchin of Means, Book 1 of the Baker Street Series.

Ringo and Charlie, happily married and fresh off their time-traveling adventures in The Immortal Descendants series, have settled down in their native time and place—late Victorian Era, London. With a head full of the future and a past full of learning to survive alone on the streets, Ringo can’t help but be the coolest guy in town. So cool, in fact, that when his buddy Oscar Wilde invites Ringo to join Oscar Wilde and Arthur Conan Doyle for lunch, Ringo’s exploits and skills of observation become source material for a certain famous detective.

Elementary, my dear.

An Urchin of Means is short enough to be read quickly, and the most interesting bits of history are woven seamlessly through the narrative like the fact and the fiction have always belonged together. This is historical fiction at its most fun. I loved it.

Here’s my prediction:

You’re going to give An Urchin of Means a try because it sounds like a fun story. (It is!)

You’re going to remember An Urchin of Means because of Oscar Wilde.

April let him steal the show, and I’m so glad she gave him the treatment he deserved. Oscar Wilde was a treasured personality who did not deserve the ignominious ending he received. Don’t know his history? Look him up. You’ll be happy you did.

Just like you’ll be happy you gave April White’s stories a try.

An Urchin of Means is written to stand alone. You don’t have to have read The Immortal Descendants first. Jump right in.

These are books worth reading.

Happy Reading!

#TheAmuletofSamarkand, (Bartimaeus, #1): Looking for a hero…

Bartamaeus1The Amulet of Samarkand, Bartimaeus #1

By: Jonathan Stroud

My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I recently was wildly impressed by Jonathan Stroud’s Lockwood & Co series. If you haven’t read that, you are missing out on some Harry Potter sized fun. Go now.

Fueled by the feeling I’d discovered something brilliant and new, I wasted no time jumping into Bartimaeus, the other (earlier) series by Jonathan Stroud.

I should have known book lightening wasn’t going to strike me twice.

Actually, that was a little harsh. The Amulet of Samarkand (Bartimaeus, #1) was actually quite good. It’s nothing like Lockwood & Co, however, and therefore Bartimaeus has to learn to live in the shadow cast by its hero-sized big brother.

Here’s what was great about The Amulet of Samarkand: Picture alternative modern London, ruled by magicians who get their power from the ancient demons they enslave…djinn, for example. England is the European superpower because they have the strongest magicians. Government is ruled by magicians who live in luxury, while the commoners are forced to labor and live as the lower caste constantly in fear of drawing the ire of the ruling class.

The story is about Nathaniel, magician apprentice, besotted by the glory awaiting him as a magician and oblivious to the plight and dissatisfaction of the populace, more skilled at magic than a 12-year-old should be, and unwilling to wait for his training to be complete before he decides to summon his very own djinni. He’s too young to know how stupid he is, and–in the immortal words of Forrest Gump–stupid is as stupid does. Magical hi-jinks ensue. Disaster looms. Still, despite the odds, in the end kid becomes hero.

See? Fun stuff.

Here’s what I didn’t like: This is a cool setting for a great story about a privileged who, realizing the injustice in his world, comes to the aid of those less fortunate to help them overthrow the oppressive regime. But…

That doesn’t happen.

Instead, the power-hungry and ignorant kid stays power-hungry and ignorant. He makes bad choices in the name of gaining power, and in the end he gets what he wants. The oppressed remain oppressed, and the powerful stay in power. This is a really hard main character to root for.

My hope is that this is a slow arc, and that over the course of the next couple of books, ignorance becomes understanding and Nathaniel becomes a real hero.

So, fingers crossed.

I liked it enough to keep reading, and I bet you will too. If this thing ends like I hope it will, it could be great.

Stay tuned.

Happy Reading!

#AstrophysicsforPeopleinaHurry: The Universe is big and I’m dumb.

Astrophysics

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry

By: Neil deGrasse Tyson

My Rating: 4 stars out of 5

I needed to “cleanse my palate” after binge reading a fantasy series. I decided to step as far from fantasy as possible, so I ventured into the far more complex realm of…

Fact.

Astrophysics, to be precise.

What’d I learn?

I learned the universe is much bigger than I can comprehend, and we puny humans are much less significant to the universe than we imagine.

I learned I’m glad there are people who are good at Astrophysics, because I’m not.

Mostly, I learned that Astrophysics is really (Really, REALLY) complicated. Even having Neil deGrasse Tyson spell it out for me couldn’t get topics like quantum mechanics, prolate spheroids, dark matter, or E=MC2 to be more than curiosities beyond my reach.

Getting through the book was worth it just to get to the last chapter, where Neil deGrasse Tyson brings the “our universe is so big and we are so insignificant” talk to a climax with some great comparisons. For example…

Did you know there are more molecules in a cup of water than there are cups of water on Earth?

Of course you didn’t. Because you’re not an Astrophysicist.

Instead of feeling small, however, I was left feeling part of something very, very grand.

Some call it science. Some call it God. I call it both.

Interested in Astrophysics but clueless about Astrophysics? This is the book for you. You’ll still be clueless, but you’ll feel okay being clueless once you get a sense for the overwhelming complexity involved in with the physics of the universe.

It’s a big place.

Happy Reading.

#Lockwood&Co: Freaky. Awesome. Freaky Awesome.

Lockwood & Co.

Book 1: The Screaming Staircase
Book 2: The Whispering Skull
Book 3: The Hollow Boy
Book 4: The Creeping Shadow
Book 5: The Empty Grave

By: Jonathan Stroud

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I feel like Simon Cowell standing up to give my rare and reluctant standing ovation, but here it is:

Lockwood & Company is as great as Harry Potter.

Mike drop. I’m out.

And…

I’m back.

The five books of the Lockwood and Company series are fantastic!

It’s modern-day England, except for one thing: “the Problem.” Beginning around 50 years ago, ghosts inexplicably began to run rampant, disrupting lives of the living. These aren’t Casper and his friends. The more gruesome their death, the more ghostly powers they have. These ghosts are mean and nasty!

In this England, Agencies now exist to seek out and fight against the Problem. Only children are sensitive enough to detect these Ghosts, and the big agencies have all the resources–teaming up the children with adult supervisors. Small firms like Lockwood & Co have to make it on their own, without all the flashy gear and expensive high tech equipment. What does Lockwood & Co have that those big agencies don’t? They are brash. They have style. They have confidence.

And they have no adults.

It’s kids only at Lockwood & Co, where the brashness, style, and confidence cause as much harm as it does good. It does make for an awesomely fun story, though!

This is Venkman, Ray, and Egon meets Harry, Ron, and Hermione, and I loved it!

Instead of proton packs and energy streams, we get magnesium flares and salt bombs.

Instead of wands, we get swords.

There are mysteries to solve, ghosts to hunt, reputations to make, and a lot of fun to be had…

…as long as they don’t die in the process.

Book one starts on a high, and the pace doesn’t let up. Book five is explosive (literally!) and ties things up in that perfect way that leaves you satisfied on one hand, but wishing for another five books on the other.

Read these with the light on, they’re legit scary. Other than that, Lockwood and Company should be required reading for everyone. It’s brilliant!

Happy Reading!

#Smile, #Sisters, #Ghosts, and #DRAMA!

Smile, Sisters, Ghosts, and Drama

By: Raina Telgemier

Occasionally I get asked my opinions on books I haven’t read.  This author came up recently, so I did my research.

Here’s what discerning parents need to know:

These are very well done and popular graphic novels.  If your elementary or middle schoolers haven’t read them, they’ve probably seen or heard of them.  Drama has controversial content that parents need to be aware of.  Read on.

Side note…Age appropriate graphic novels are an excellent way to get your young readers to read.  One Man Book Club approved.

As long as they’re age appropriate.

Age.

Appropriate.

Message delivered?  Just because it looks like a comic book doesn’t mean it’s kid friendly, so parents, please be involved in what your kiddo’s are reading.

Side note over.

Smile and Sisters are favorites of my 2nd grader.  They are cute, short, easy to read, and all about middle-school-aged kids going through middle-school-aged problems.  Braces, crushes, school, siblings, friends, not friends.  Highly recommend.

Ghosts is a bit heavier, and my 2nd grader doesn’t want to read it because it’s about–well, ghosts.  Not her favorite subject.  I think when my 2nd grader is a 4th grader, it will have more appeal.  This one tackles subjects like other cultures, death, childhood disease–specifically Cystic Fibrosis, fear, moving, and siblings.  I don’t have experience with childhood Cystic Fibrosis, but the reviews for this one concur that the representation is accurate.  Recommend.

Drama comes with baggage.  Drama–appropriately named.  The middle-school-aged kids in this book are working together to put on a middle school theater production worthy of Broadway.  But budgets, friendships, egos, hurt feelings, and crushes keep getting in the way.  Parents should know the main character in this book has a crush on a boy who discovers he’s gay.  It’s not the main story line, but it is a significant story line and includes scenes of a boy wearing a dress and being applauded for coming out. It’s a great opportunity to kick-off a discussion with your kids about a controversial topic.  I recommend this to kids whose parents are aware of it’s content, are ready to read it along with them, and discuss the topics it brings up.

I have a problem with children’s book authors who sneak in controversial topics without telling parents about it.  I get to decide what my kids are exposed to and when.  2nd grade is too young for my child to read about being gay and coming out without me helping them navigate the topic.

Now you know.  It’s what I do.

Happy reading!

#TheScreamingStaircase (Lockwood & Co, #1): A new favorite series!

 

51ge37ajjcl-_sx338_bo1204203200_The Screaming Staircase (Lockwood & Co, #1)

By: Jonathan Stroud

My Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

Now here’s a new favorite series I can’t wait to share!

It’s modern-day England, except for one thing: “the Problem.” Beginning around 50 years ago, ghosts inexplicably began to run rampant, disrupting lives of the living. These aren’t Casper and his friends. The more gruesome their death, the more ghostly powers they have. Some of these ghosts are mean and nasty!

In this England, Agencies now exist to seek out and fight against the Problem. Only children are sensitive enough to detect these Ghosts, and the big agencies have all the resources–teaming up the children with adult supervisors. Small firms like Lockwood & Co have to make it on their own, without all the flashy gear and expensive high tech equipment. What does Lockwood & Co have that those big agencies don’t? They are brash. They have style. They have confidence.

And they have no adults.

It’s kids only at Lockwood & Co, where the brashness, style, and confidence cause as much harm as it does good. It does make for an awesomely fun story, though!

This is Ghostbusters meets Harry, Ron, and Hermione, and it is fantastic!

There are mysteries to solve, ghosts to hunt, reputations to make, and a lot of fun to be had…

…as long as they don’t die in the process.

Read this with the light on, it’s legit scary. Other than that, I recommend this one for everyone. I loved it!

Happy Reading!

#KingsoftheWyld: Holy $%*#! This book is LEGIT!

KingsoftheWyldKings of the Wyld

By: Nicholas Eames

My Rating: 5 Stars out of 5

Oh man…Kings of the Wyld is LEGIT.

How do I even set this up? Let’s see…

Think of the Tim Allen movie Wild Hogs.

Think of places like Westeros and Middle-Earth.

Think of friends like Harry, Ron, and Hermione.

Think of a father’s love like Jean Valjean and Cossette.

Think of heroes like Kaladin and Dalinar.

Think of warriors like Darrow or D’Artagnan.

Thnk of battles like Helms Deep or Minas Tirith.

Think of crossing both the Fire Swamp and the Misty Mountains.

Think of magical weapons like Night Blood and The Sword of Gryffindor.

Think of every mythical creature you’ve ever read about from Greek Mythology to Gremlins.

Think of 80’s rock bands, except ones that slay those mythical creatures instead of guitars.

Thinking of all that? Now start laughing. Hysterically.

That’s Kings of the Wyld. Top two for me this year, easy.

For my discerning friends, you need to know that these guys swear like Mark Watney and have no qualms with using crude names for gender specific body parts, especially when it comes to insults and exclamations. There is one gay character. Lot’s of blood. Plenty of innuendo, but no sex.

It is, however, packed full of fun.

Happy Reading!

#JeniusJournal: A new fav for fans of quality story time!

Jenius Journal

Jenius Journal: A book of silly invention and crazy conversation starters for parents and kids

By: Aaron Shaw

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I have a soft spot in my heart for authors who are brave enough to publish on their own…especially the ones who are good enough to deserve some buzz.

If you have kids, Aaron Shaw is one of the ones who deserves a look.

He gets my kids. They love his books! He’s pretty much got rock star status among the 3-8 year olds in my house.

When I saw Jenius Journal was available, I thought it’d be a great addition to our collection. I was right, obviously.

I expected the kids would enjoy the pictures and descriptions of all the wacky inventions. What I didn’t expect was how much they’d enjoy the discussion prompts that accompany each invention! We’ve been having fun picking the silliest inventions based on the pictures, reading about them, and then talking about them. I’m not even allowed to move to the next one until all the questions have been asked and thoroughly discussed!

My 8-year-old even wanted to take it to school with her, and that’s about all the recommendation you should need.

I recommend you give Jenius Journal a try.

Happy Reading!

#TheMiraculousJourneyofEdwardTulane: I can’t wait to read this to my kids!

EdwardTulaneThe Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane

By: Kate DiCamillo

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Now, that’s a story. I can’t wait to read it to my kids.

Edward is a toy rabbit. He’s made of china and fur and is always dressed in the nicest clothes. His life is charmed. He’s beautiful and he knows it. Unfortunately for Edward–as with all conceited rabbits–he’s got some lessons to learn, and lessons don’t come easy.

Beautiful writing, short chapters, lessons to learn, feelings to feel, and one lovely rabbit make The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane an instant classic and a favorite to be shared.

Happy Reading!

#Lirael (The Abhorsen Trilogy, #2): Obviously, I missed something.

47629Lirael (The Abhorsen Trilogy, #2)

By: Garth Nix

My Rating: 3 stars out of 5

Huh. There are a lot of people who really love this book.

Obviously I missed something.

I found the plot tedious…which is understandable because NOTHING HAPPENS. I kept holding out for some big resolution at the end that would explain the adulation–but no. Nothing.

The characters are idiots…which explains why I wanted to PUNCH THEM IN THE FACE. I held on because I thought once they moved through their development arc their heroic moment would bring payoff–but it never came. They actually got worse.

There is an interesting story here, and I suspect this is why the book has fans. I also get the impression that book 2 and book 3 are probably more like one book, so the resolution to the grand story arc I was looking for probably doesn’t come until the end of book three.

I’m going to give this a positive recommendation for young people. It’s an adventure, has some complexity, and is unique. The writing is adequate. I know some teens who will probably love it.

For myself and other like-minded folks…I couldn’t wait to be finished with it. I don’t even care to read book 3.

But what do I know?

Happy reading!