Friday, June 27, 2014

Review: The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

The Westing Game readalong
From Goodreads:  "Sixteen people were invited to the reading of the very strange will of the very rich Samuel W. Westing. They could become millionaires, depending upon how they played the game.

The not-quite-perfect heirs were paired, and each pair was given $10,000 and a set of clues (no two set of clues were alike). All they had to do was find the answer, but the answer to what?

The Westing game was tricky and dangerous, but the heirs played on, through blizzards and burglaries and bombs bursting in air. And one of them won!"

This is my first time reading The Westing Game, I think this would have been another book that I would have enjoyed reading in middle school.  I grew up reading Nancy Drew, Encyclopedia Brown and The Hardy Boys and later in high school moved on to Ian Fleming's series, but there is something about a really good middle grade puzzle murder mystery book that stands out to me.  The Westing Game is such a great example of this. 

The Westing Game was like playing a game of Clue trying to figure out who done it while filtering out all of these red herrings and trying to piece together how each of these heirs are connected to Samuel Westing.  I must admit, I did better with some then others. Placing the heirs into pairs made keeping track of them a little hard for me, there were a lot of Wexler's to keep straight, but I enjoyed that there was such a diverse set of characters too. "One tenant was a bookie, one was a burglar, one was a bomber, and one was a mistake."  Figuring out who was who, was half the fun.  I really should have taken better notes or enlisted Sydelle to let me borrow hers. I loved the humor in the typed index cards and notes that were left in the elevator or on the bulletin board and the many character descriptions that came later in the story as the Judge was gathering backgrounds on the heirs. 

 I absolutely adored Turtle, she was my favorite character.  With her braided hair, slumping and kicking people in the shins and hating "dumb grown up parties" (which I so could relate to as a kid), what's not to love? Turtle wasn't afraid to speak her mind but at the same time she was so loyal to her sister and you could feel her love for "Baba".  My heart ached for her at the end of the book, yep I shed a few tears.  Yet, I loved how Raskin wrapped things up by giving updates on how each heir fared after the game was over, a very satisfying ending.  

You can follow along or join in on the discussion at and #tmgreadalong.  

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Review: Mouseheart by Lisa Fiedler

18668473From Goodreads: "The Warriors series meets Redwall in this first book in an epic animal adventure series set in the subway tunnels of Brooklyn.

Hopper is just an ordinary pet shop mouse before he escapes. Soon he finds himself below the bustling streets of Brooklyn, deep within the untamed tangles of transit tunnels, and in Atlantia, a glorious utopian rat civilization.

But all is not what it seems. Though Hopper is treated as a royal guest, he misses his siblings that he lost in the escape attempt. That, and Atlantia is constantly threatened by the rebels who wish to bring the city to its knees. And there are cats everywhere in Atlantia, cats that leave the citizens unharmed; and no one can seem to answer why.

Soon, Hopper is caught in the crosshairs of a colossal battle, one that crosses generations and species. As the clashes rage, Hopper learns terrible, extraordinary secrets: Deadly secrets about Atlantia. Painful secrets about his friends.

And one powerful secret about his destiny."  

Mouseheart has a lot of action and Fiedler doesn't hold back on some squirmy moments. There is one scene early on where prince Zucker crashes a gate down on a mean cat named Cyclone causing him to lose an eye. There is also lots of tense moments when Hopper, Pinkie and Pup are about to be sold to a boy as food for his pet snake.  It really grabs your attention.  I really liked the earlier parts of the story that took place underground in Brooklyn, it gave me the feel of city life with the eminent dangers of trains coming speeding at you down the tracks. When the story moved to Atlantia (still below the tracks), it was like stepping through a time portal into a city with an Emperor and royal guards.  Yet, there was also this dystopian piece that consisted of camps with mice refugees.  It made for an interesting world to navigate through.   

The story centers around Hopper's search for his siblings and his brotherly feelings of responsibility toward them.  There are also messages of faith and trust in others and being brave despite being afraid. I especially enjoyed this quote "Bravery isn't measured by size. It's measured by heart."   Hopper's sister, Pinkie was something entirely else, she seemed to be motivated by wanting to have power and comes off as very resentful of her brother's involvement in the prophecy as the "chosen one".  Her actions were some of the most disheartening throughout the whole story.  Prince Zucker, on the other hand was one of the more likable characters in the story to me, I got the feeling that he looked at Hopper in a brotherly fashion, wanting to protect him and help him.  And that cover, I can't seem to get enough of it.  Oh and the illustrations, love love loved them.   And then I went to the website  very eye catching and there are mice running around the page.  I had a lot of fun browsing the Curriculum Guide too.  I am curious as to how much schools use these for newer books or even at all.  So much of what I've seen sent home seems to be lists of spelling and vocabulary words taken from a specific story and then there is a quiz based on those lists.  I would love to sit in on some of the class discussions to hear if they go as in depth as the discussion guide does for Mouseheart.  Although, I do know that the teachers and librarian spend time reading stories aloud in class as well, so perhaps that is where all the discussions happen.  Overall, I thought Mouseheart was a fun adventure story and things were wrapped up pretty good. Even though there were a few loose ends, they will probably be addressed in book 2, so there is that to look forward to.   
My review copy was purchased.      

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

317500I've had this boxed set for sometime and have really been meaning to read it.  The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe is a lovely story that takes place during war time where four children are sent to live with a professor.  The professor owned the perfect kind of house for exploring.  Who hasn't known one of these types of houses? And it is on one rainy day that Lucy stumbles upon a wardrobe.  A very special wardrobe that leads her into the world of Narnia. Through the fur lined coats and tree branches, straight into snowflakes drifting down from the sky. I can see why this book has held it's appeal since the 1950's.  C.S.Lewis wrote this story for his granddaughter with the following dedication message: 

"I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books.  As a result you are already to old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still.  But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.  You can then take it down from some upper shelf, dust it, and tell me what you think of it....."    

It's one of the qualities of the book that so appeals to me, how he wrote The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe specifically for a child.  I think he captured all the magical, mysterious things that children love reading about within the pages of the book. There is the winter wonderland feeling, special Turkish Delights, danger of being turned to stone and a prophesy to complete.  There is just something comfy to me in all that, I know that sounds kind of vague, but reading The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe leaves me with the feeling of a grandparent reading a story aloud.  I hear it in a passage like "And now of course you want to know what happened to Edmund..." It will always be one of my favorite books to re-read.  

Monday, June 16, 2014

Sky Raiders (Five Kingdoms #1) by Brandon Mull

From Goodreads:  "Cole Randolph was just trying to have a fun time with his friends on Halloween (and maybe get to know Jenna Hunt a little better). But when a spooky haunted house turns out to be a portal to something much creepier, Cole finds himself on an adventure on a whole different level. 

After Cole sees his friends whisked away to some mysterious place underneath the haunted house, he dives in after them; and ends up in The Outskirts. The Outskirts are made up of five kingdoms that lie between wakefulness and dreaming, reality and imagination, life and death. It's an in-between place. Some people are born there. Some find their way there from our world, or from other worlds. 

And once you come to the Outskirts, it's very hard to leave. 

With the magic of the Outskirts starting to unravel, it's up to Cole and an unusual girl named Mira to rescue his friends, set things right in the Outskirts, and hopefully find his way back home; before his existence is forgotten."

The Five Kingdoms begins as Cole's journey to find his friends within The Outskirts.  I liked Cole's qualities as the hero of the story, brave and at the same time somewhat reckless. Cole makes the choice to go after his friends, I mean he didn't really have to, but he feels responsible for them ending up getting captured. Soon after coming to The Outskirts, Cole ends up a slave himself and is sold to a group of Sky Raiders.  On the Brink the Sky Raiders try to take treasures from floating castles.  It's here that Cole meets Mira and Jace, each with their own mysteries to hide.  I found Jace's character to be the most interesting, he's strong and confident and puts people in their place. Mira was the most elusive, her story hasn't been fully explained yet.  Mira has the power to shape things to resemble living things or renderings of non living things.  This is where some of the magical qualities of the book come into play.  Mull gives Mira the ability to "shape,"  so she can create special weapons or objects like jumping swords and golden ropes.  I have a feeling that the Mira will be fleshed out more in the next stories.   

My only down side of the book was the world within The Five Kingdoms felt kind of confusing.  The Outskirts are made of five kingdoms and there were cities like Skyport, Junction City mentioned, but it was somewhat difficult to visualize where things were in relation to each other.  Giving the Outskirts the qualities of lying "between wakefulness and dreaming, reality and imagination, life and death.  It's an in-between place," It kind of feels that way too.   I agree with Mrs. Yingling, a map would have been nice as the world does sound like it has lots of potential.   The Five Kingdoms slightly reminded me of The Edge Chronicles by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell, with its sky pirates theme, but the Edge Chronicles has wonderful illustrations that bring the world to life.    

This quote from the book sums up the story "you have many knots to untie, but you wont unravel them all today."  I nice beginning to a new fantasy adventure story by Brandon Mull.  

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Summer Reading List part 2

So not only am I planning on reading the books I listed yesterday, there are also some classics that I should have included.  These are mostly for read alongs....

8391634I used to read a lot of mysteries growing up, mostly Nancy Drew and then later on the James Bond Series. I'm looking forward to reading The Westing Game and following along with the discussion at on June 27th.  


It's been such a long time since I've re-read this book and am happy to revisit it.  

Are there any classics that you re-read every year or ones that stand out as needing to be read again? I'm also up for any book recommendations on classics that you might care to share.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Summer Reading

Summer Reading List 

Summer is quickly approaching in our household and it's time to gather all those books that I've purchased or borrowed from the library to get ready for some relaxing book reading time.  Here is my list thus far:


I've been holding off on this one for sometime...don't want it to end
This one came highly recommended by my child

Pre-ordered and releases on June 17th
Borrowed from the Public Library


Monday, June 2, 2014

Review: Doll Bones by Holly Black


One of my first introductions to Holly Black was the Spiderwick Chronicles series, which she wrote with Tony DiTerlizzi.  This was the very first series of books that my child adored.  I mean sleep under the covers and carry with to school everyday books.   Needless to say, I was super excited to be able to read Doll Bones by Holly Black. 

First, I loved the make believe games that Alice, Poppy and Zach were playing together.  The ideas and characters that they created were so imaginative and creative, way more then anything that I ever played as a kid with my friends. Although, I did give my Barbie a very cool wedding.  

Alice, Poppy and Zach are getting ready to move up to middle school and in a lot of ways will begin to grow up.  But, Zach's dad tries to hurry things along by throwing away his prized collection of figures that he uses to play "the game" with Alice and Poppy.  Zach is upset and hurt by what his father did and he doesn't seem to know how to tell the girls that he can't play anymore.  So, he pretends that he just doesn't want to play the game anymore.   Poppy and Alice are also hurt by Zach's reaction and even try to entice him to come back.  Poppy offers to take her moms prize possession, a china doll that they lovingly call The Queen out and use her to play one final game together, but Zach doesn't budge.  So, late one night, Alice and Poppy show up at Zach's house telling him about a dream Poppy had about Queen. Poppy says Queen is actually made from a girl named Eleanor that mysteriously died and now she wants the children to take her to East Liverpool and bury her under a tree in the cemetery.   So Alice, Poppy and Zach begin a quest to try to uncover the truth about Eleanor and set things right.   
I found Doll Bones to be very creepy and yet, I could hardly put the book down.  I was so engrossed in wanting to find out how the story would end.   It was just one of those books that got under my skin in a good way. I think it started with the cover, 
there was something about the way Queen looks on that cover and the dark shadows of Poppy, Alice and Zach in the boat that just screams creepy.  It's also in Queen possibly being possessed and her telling her story in the children's dreams.   Then when Poppy starts acting differently after having these dreams it gives you this eerie feeling.  I could never really determine whether Poppy was making up this last game or not and that is some of the charm of the story because it leaves it open to the reader to decide.  I found the characters to be pretty easy to relate to. Maybe because, I had an older sibling who went off to college and one of my favorite childhood friends went off to middle school before me.  The whole concept of growing up and wanting to hold on to your friends like Poppy really resonated with me.  I find this happening more and more at the end of each Summer with my own child, not wanting them to grow up so fast but noticing that even a few months have changed them.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading Doll Bones with all its creepiness and messages about friendship and coming of age.  A big thank you to Deb Marshall for the giveaway of Doll Bones over at her blog

I will be playing the book forward by donating it to the school library.