haPPy bIRthDaY

it’s maTts birTHday toDay.  hE desERves some special mEsagEs?.  He’S a gReat FrienD, an Awesome twin (Happy Birthday Jenny!) and AN aMazIng REAdER!

make SUre You let him kNow that yoU’re thinking of hIm toDay.

happY bIrThdAy maTt  hoPe iT Is a HaPpy sUnNy DAY  (yOu’Ll haVe to ScrolL doWn a Bit, but The AcCorDian is woRth the tiME(


pS – he ReAlLy enJoys imPropeR convenTioNs aNd inCoRrecT gramMar so Do iT UP biG*

New Lands

New Lands (The Chronicles of Egg, #2)by Geoff Rodkey

325 pages of adventure and intrigue for middle and upper-grade readers

New Lands is the second book in the Chronicles of Egg.  I have come to care about the characters of these books and to wonder how their society and culture evolved.  Nothing is quite as it seems – Egg is running for his life.  He has discovered the truth behind too many secrets and Roger Pembroke needs him silenced.  Roger Pembroke wants to create his own empire.  To do this he must sow the seeds of distrust, feign alliances where none exist and create a facade of charity to mask the cruelty of slavery.  Roger Pembroke is willing to lie, cheat, maim and kill – he is even willing deceive and betray his own daughter.

Mystery and ancient tales surround these lands; there are rumors and misunderstood edicts.  There are pirates and slavers and cannibalistic tribes.  Each event weaves together until you know that what has been considered “good and helpful” is not, and yet you are not totally certain that the opposite is true.  At the end of Deadweather and Sunrise, Egg was orphaned, friendless and alone trying to elude those who would find and murder him.  At the end of New Lands, Egg is with his friends, Guts and Kira, his thought-dead brother, Adonis and his uncle, notorious pirate, Burn Healy.  Certainly much has changed for Egg and yet he is still running for his life from Pembroke only this time he is running from him on a sinking ship that is being hunted down by Ripper Jones.

With Pembroke involved it is hard to tell who is friend and who is foe and that makes for an exciting adventure.  When I finished the first in the series I wasn’t sure how I felt.  I don’t like characters that are cruel because it makes them happy.  I had a hard time reading through the meanness and thoughtless disregard.  Obviously I was intrigued enough to give the second a try and I am glad I did.  I am looking forward to discovering how the battles develop and how the Fist of Ka is eventually discovered – as I am sure it must be in some way or another.  I like Egg and Guts.  I wonder how Kira and Millicent will support them.  What battles will develop.  Usually good triumphs over evil – but will it in these books and do I know which is which?  I don’t think so and that makes the reading interesting for sure.  Discover more about the books here  .  I will be looking for the next books as soon as it’s available.  I think you will too.


Pieby Sarah Weeks

This is a book that makes you smile inside when you discover the secret ingredient.

It matters – I hope you’ll read to find out why.

PIE is a fabulous story.  No matter what your favorite slice might be, you’ll find it in this book. Polly Portman has a gift for making pies.  Making pies brings her such joy that she makes them to give away.  Walk into her pie shop, simply called PIE, and you’ll be handed the most glorious treat you can imagine – flakey light crust, perfectly sweetened filling, every slice – pure happiness.

Polly Portman is nice to everyone.  Everything she does seems just right.  Known for her humble kindness and her ability to remember each person’s likes and needs, Polly she takes pleasure in making others happy.  She loves to share her gift and in return Polly is given all she needs to make the very best pies from the very best ingredients as they come into season. Alice Anderson has been helping her aunt for as long as she can remember.  Her Aunt Polly has become her best friend and that’s why her untimely death hits with such a shockwave of grief.

PIE is closed.  Aunt Polly is gone.  Nothing is right.  The will that Aunt Polly left is strange – the pie shop has been left to Reverend Flowers to do with as he pleases.  The crust recipe has been left Lardo, the cat; and the cat had been left to Alice.  This announcement launches a whole series of peculiar events through which readers get glimpses of the past and better understanding of the present.  We discover why Blueberry Awards are so important. We learn why Alice’s mother, Polly’s sister is so bitter and spiteful.   We come to understand why pies would be stolen and cats catnapped.  We are reminded of what is truly important in making pies… and in life.

PIE is a story that will make you happy – you’ll smile over and over again when you think about it even well after the book is finished.  You’ll probably find yourself opening it later to give a recipe a try.  I think my favorite might be found with Charlie Erdling’s on page 114, but I have to say I have never heard of, nor tried, Aunt Polly’s favorite on page 128.  I might have to in late summer to see what I think.  After you’ve read PIE, we’d love to know what your favorite pie is?  Is it a Portman pie, or an original.  Be sure to share your recipe if it is.

Like Bug Juice on a Burger

Like Bug Juice on a Burgerby Julie Sternberg

Try something new along with Eleanor – it’s not always easy or fun.  In fact life can be pretty disappointing at times, but you get through it.

Eleanor is off to summer camp.  Grandma Sadie has given it to her as a present.  She is going to the same camp her mom went to and loved. Eleanor was excited at first.  Her friend, Katie, had gone to a summer camp the year before.  She’d had a blast riding horses, jumping on the floating trampoline, diving, eating M&M’s… it seemed great.  Grandma Sadie even sent Eleanor a picture of her mom standing in front of a cabin with a fluffy soft sleeping bag rolled in her arms.  It was clear she was happy, and Eleanor thought she would be too.  Camp Wallumwahpuck would be an adventure.

While Eleanor gets a little nervous – who wouldn’t.  She wonders what it will be like to be so far from home.  She wonders what it will be like to miss her parents too much.  The next day when they drive to the pick up spot Eleanor watches as the seasoned campers meet each other and find out if they are bunking together.  They are happy and hugging while Eleanor is alone.  First Eleanor finds out she is in cabin “Gypsy Moth.”  Gypsy Moth?  Aren’t they ugly?  Next she meets very tall, very thin Joplin.  She’d been to camp before so that was helpful, but she has an odd way about her.

“Do you eat chocolate?”

“Sure,” I said.

I waited for her to offer me some.

Because why else would she have asked?

But instead she said,


A girl in my cabin last year said it gave her a rash.

I never liked her.”

“Oh,” I said.

We were quiet for a second.

I wondered what the girl’s rash looked like.

Each beginning after that starts badly – falling over a tree root while on the way to the cabin and scraping her hands and knees, having to make up a top bunk, being in a cabin with five other girls who are already friends, not passing the swimming test and discovering that the only thing she likes at the dining hall is salad (minus the tomatoes) and rolls (two’s the limit).  Every new thing is not quite what Eleanor expects even the fruit punch has a disgusting name that makes it undrinkable.  Bug Juice?  Who’d want to drink that?  All Eleanor wants it have one of her dad’s juicy burgers with ketchup, but nothing at Camp Wallumwahpuck is like that.

Everything is like Bug Juice on a burger and Eleanor just wishes to go home.  She sticks it out and you’ll be glad she did.  She makes it all way until pick up day when she can show her parents all the places she has been and the things she has done.  There’s not a reader who won’t related to Eleanor’s struggles and disappointments.  Her concerns and fears are eloquently real – she puts words to thing most of us only think.  Her accomplishments from large to small will be celebrated and cheered.

C.S. Lewis said, “We read to find ourselves.”  Like Bug Juice on a Burger is a great example of that.  Eleanor is a wonderful book friend to have.  This is a perfect companion to Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie.  I hope to read more about Eleanor soon.

Never Say Die

Never Say Dieby Will Hobbs

for middle grade readers with a love for adventure and the outdoors – Alaska in particular

Never Say Die opens with a grolar bear attack.  Neither you nor I would have made it, but the savvy hunter, aware of the ways of bears in the tundra does.  Nick Trasher is Inuit – in his blood he’s only half; in his outlook he’s full.  Nick’s grandfather, Jonah, is the most important influence in Nick’s life.  They have spent fifteen years in the wilderness together.  Jonah has taught him the old ways, as well as the new adapted ways using up-to-date tools for hunting and fishing and gathering.  That is the only way to maintain family in the Arctic – and Nick means to stay.  Nick understands the balance that must exist between the hunter and his environment in order for all to survive.  That way of life is changing, however.  The environment is changing.  The effects of global warming are evident all around them – ice is less, herds are smaller and animals that would never be sited are frequently.  Jonah, and Nick through him, isn’t totally sure he approves of the work of the environmental biologists and scientists as they track animals to understand changes.  Nick thinks, “Just ask the hunters – ask the old hunters – they know all there is to know.”   Life is changing one way or another in Inuvik and Nick wonders what his future will bring.

Right now Jonah is struggling with a cancer that will soon claim his life.  That change is sure for Nick and he is making the most of every moment. Then comes the second change. Nick is invited by his older half-brother Ryan to take a raft trip up the Firth River in search of the caribou herds. Ryan is a professional photographer.  He is working with many scientists and wants to write an article on the effects of climate change on caribou, their migration and numbers. It is the brothers’ first opportunity to get to know each other.  They’ve been raised by their moms and know little of their dad.

Nick hesitates to leave, but Jonah urges him on. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity- one that Jonah wishes he had been able to share with Nick himself.  He tells Nick to go and says he will surely wait to hear Nick’s stories of the trip before he “lets the bear and wolf enter the town.” Nick decides to join his brother and promises to bring back all the stories he can of his trip, the land and especially, the caribou.

Full of uncertainty at his leaving, Nick draws hope from the school motto, “Never Say Die.”  – meaning:  always think, always survive.  It is a motto he will think of often over the coming days because on the first day of the trip the raft flips over and Nick and Ryan are separated on opposite shores. Now they must find each other and survive in a brutal environment with limited supplies. Never Say Die is a survival story to say the least, but it is also the story of brothers who learn from each other, come to understand their differences and grow in respect of each other. They form a bridge between old way and new way through understanding and respect.

Never Say Die is an amazing journey both for what you learn about the land, and for what you learn about the ways people of different backgrounds and outlooks can come together for a common good.  Having finished this, I am off to read all the Will Hobbs’ books I can find.  If I enjoy them half as much, I’ll be pleased.  I appreciate having another author to recommend to realistic fiction, with a fast pace readers.

In a Glass Grimmly

In a Glass Grimmly (A Tale Dark & Grimm, #2)a companion to A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz  You can find out more about him by clicking on his name.

Where the first book follows Hansel and Gretel through various Grimm fairytales this book follows cousins Jack and Jill through Grimm and Anderson tales , along with rhymes from Mother Goose.  Jack and Jill are not happy in their respective homes.  Jack longs to be admired and Jill longs for beauty and both are bent on making decisions that will enable them to reach their goals.  Off to a rough start, they find themselves working together with the help of a talking, three-legged frog.

After making a deal with a strange baby-faced ancient woman, Jack and Jill set off on a quest that sends them to many different places.  They go to the clouds where they meet a murderous group of giants who are outwitted after stunning amounts of vomit.  From there they journey to the sea only to find beautifully cruel mermaids and then on to the goblin market where truth is not valued, nor are body parts or life.  Lastly they find themselves underground where they befriend an enormous salamander that smells worse than any combination of smells you can imagine – and that is on the outside before they enter his gullet to retrieve a lost treasure.

Irreverently disgusting, this book is full of revolting delights.  It is a well written blend of fairy tale telling with a vocal narrator who offers cautions and belated apologies for events that may have scared or offended.  Along the way there are other ideas to ponder…

One is the ravens’ distinction between being confused and being con-fused.

“As long as you are con-fused you will never find what you seek.  Even though it is right there.”

“There is this weird thing that happens, when you stop worrying so much about what other people think of you.  When you are no longer – to use the ravens’ word – con-fused.  At that moment, you suddenly start seeing what you think of you.”

You’ll love it from beginning to end.  Enjoy!


Dragonborn (The Flaxfield Quartet, #1)by Toby Forward

Book 1 of the Flaxfield Quartet

don’t be deceived by the cover – this is a book for seasoned fantasy readers who’ll be okay with a little confusion and patient enough to have their questions answered as the story unfolds throughout the series.

Dragonborn begins with these words:  Flaxfield died on a Friday…  Flaxfield had been teaching Sam to become a wizard.  Sam is halfway through his apprenticeship – he knows some magic but not enough.  He is completely alone but for his dragon and best friend, Starback. Everything that is familiar to Sam disappears in that instant.  Flaxfield’s past apprentices come back to the cottage to honor their master as the rules dictate – while there they question Sam and don’t believe he is an actual apprentice.  They frighten and confuse Sam enough so that he runs away in search of someone or a way that will help him complete his apprenticeship. He is determined to become a full wizard.  That he will not lose.

Sam’s journey follows a tracing of trails that weaves worlds and times together.  For a time Sam loses Starback because he meets a roffle.  The roffle leads Sam to a school for wizards suggesting he can finish his apprenticeship there.  Once at the school, Sam discovers that it is not what he needs at all. The magic taught there is not what he wants to learn.  Most of the teachers and students there lack respect for the rules of real magic, the important kind.  Magic is wasted there so it becomes weak and useless. Sam leaves there too.

Almost as soon as Sam begins his journey, the other Flaxfield wizards realize that Sam might be “the one” and they go in search of him. Starback, no longer with Sam, but wishing to help, sees this and leads them away from Sam.  He leads castle he once knew.  Then it was teeming with life.  Strangely now it is lifeless and dark, but it is away from Sam and Starbuck hopes that will keep him safe.

Separated from his friend, Sam’s lonely journey continues.  Glimmers of hope appear around some of the bends, while shadows of evil slip through at others. Sam is on a quest, one that threatens his very life.  It seems he has no choice but to follow the path before him.  There is no running from destiny and by the end of the book I had a inkling of what that destiny might be. There is evil magic abroad and an old danger is gathering strength.  It seems that Sam and Starback have an important part to play in this unfolding battle.

I have much more to learn about magic, dragons, Flaxfield, Flaxfold, Tamrin and Ash and I can’t wait!  Dragonborn is the first of four books.  I am eager to read them all.  I had many questions as I read.  It was challenging to keep the characters and the action straight. Jot some notes. They may help you understand the sides and that’s important.  I found myself rereading large sections of the book to make sure I understood how the pieces fit together.  This is a complex book – one to read and read again and enjoy.

Hold Fast

Hold FastBlue Balliett

What is the dream you keep in your heart? What is the rhythm that makes your heart sing?

It may not be fancy, but it certainly feels just right.  Early Pearl is part of a family of four.  There’s Dashel her dad, Summer, her mom and Jubilation (Jubie for short), her younger brother.  Together they are Dashsumearlyjubie, a celebration of rhythm and caretakers of words.  In the Pearl family words are “for choosing, admiring, keeping, giving.  They are treasures of inestimable value.”  The family has a notebook for interesting words – recorded by origin and definition and another for important quotes worth remembering.

Together the four Pearls fit snuggly into their Woodlawn apartment.  They dream one day of having a house – a dream similar to those kept by Langston Hughes.   Their ordinary, yet joyful life skids and crashes to a stop when Dash’s bike is found crumpled in the street, groceries strewn across the snowy sidewalk, but no man.  He has disappeared – but how and why.  Is he gone?  Did he just decide to leave?

Without Dash there is no rhythm in their lives.  They are four Pearls.  How can they become three?  And as if losing Dash isn’t enough, thugs come into their home taking everything of value and smashing all they leave.  They even take the family books of words and quotes.  Nothing is right.  There is no beat.  The Pearls can’t seem to find their rhythm.  As they are plunged into the homeless shelter system of Chicago they find it harder and harder to hold onto their dreams.  Nothing works – in fact it seems as though the rules are set up to keep the Pearls from getting the help they need to make changes in their lives – to keep dreams alive. “’I’m sorry, baby,’ Summer says to Early after a few days in the shelter.  ‘It’ll feel refreshing to get to school tomorrow, and if you can just keep an eye on Jubie for a few more hours, that’ll be the best help ever.’  Early nodded numbly.  She thought of all the fun things they’d had at home – Play-Doh, paints and crayons, paper, toys…and, of course books.  They’d gone on trips to the local library, sometimes twice a week.  Made cookies with Sum.  Had blocks and Legos to build with.  It had all felt normal then, but so much choice now seemed a luxury.”

While reading this book I also reread the collections of Langston Hughes poems – Dream Keepers and other poems and Love to Langston.  I started thinking more about words and rhythms.  I paused to consider all we have that goes unnoticed.  People are amazingly strong – but how much easier our lives would be if we all remembered kindness.  The mystery of this book may not be as compelling as those in Blue Balliett’s other books but I loved the flow of the story from the “click” through the “crash, cling and clutch” and on to the “chase, catch and cast.”  What dream do you hold on to?  How do you honor the dreams of those around you?

The Spindlers

The Spindlersby Lauren Oliver

a intermediate adventure with an eerie twist

The first thing I noticed when I opened The Spindlers was the dedication:  To Patrick, of course –  And to my sister, who has rescued me many times from the dark, and for whom I would gladly go Below.  Hmm… I thought as I began to read…  “One night when Liza went to bed, Patrick was her chubby, stubby, candy-grubbing and pancake loving younger brother, who irritated and amused her both, and the next morning , when she woke up, he was not.”

A few sentences later I read:  The fake-Patrick picked up his spoon and gave Liza a look that chilled her to her very center.  Then the fake-Patrick began to eat his cereal, methodically, slowly, fishing all the alphabet letters out of his Alpha-Bits one by one and lining them up along the rim of his bowl.  … I-H-A-T-E-Y-O-U.

Patrick was somehow both there, and totally gone.  Because of this, their parents see no reason to notice.  They are caught up with  the search for missing reading glasses and the endless cycle of working hard and worrying about paying bills on time.  If Patrick is to be saved, it is totally up to Liza.  She knew there were worlds beyond and below.  She’d heard the stories, and though she hadn’t been sure they were true, she wondered now that Patrick was gone.  Had his soul been stolen by the Spindlers.  Though he was a pain, he was her brother.  He was her friend and it seemed to Liza that she must try to find and save him if at all possible.  And so she went looking.  She discovered more than she had ever dreamed of and she had the courage to go Below.  That is how she met Mirabella, the mascaraed rat, learned of the lumer-lumpen, discovered the seeds of hope and found the truths that come to you in your dreams.

Liza is off on a challenging quest in a land that is totally unique and far from kind – and yet it is just down the stairs and a bit below from where you are reading right now.  Will you dare to go?   Will your courage hold ?  Once you’ve made your decision you’ll have a great tale to tell…if you return.