Hero on a Bicycle

Hero on a Bicycleby Shirley Hughes

a different view of of World War II – the tension of being caught in between

In 1944 in Florence, Italy, Rosemary Crivelli, Paolo’s mother… “knew she should remind him of the dangers of what he was doing and forbid him – forbid him – to go out alone again at night, but somehow she could never find the heart to do it…She reflected grimly on the old cliché that wartime, when not terrifying, was a combination of long stretches of boredom and grinding hardship.”

Paolo can’t stand doing nothing.  He sneaks out at night to ride his bike through the city –the tension of breaking the rules brings some excitement to his life. Controlled and commanded by authority that could snap at any moment, Paolo is looking for a way to do something in the chaos that surrounds him.  His father left secretly two years ago to join the resistance and now the Crivelli family is under close watch by the ever-present Gestapo.  Signora Crivelli is British, another reason to be watched closely by Colonel Ritter – where do the true sympathies of the Crivelli family lie.

Paola thinks his rides are secret, but they are not.  Both his mother and 16-year old sister, Constanza know of them.  They hear him leave and the lie awake until he returns well after midnight.  This last time, Paolo was given a message at gunpoint to take to his mother. That one message removes all hope of being left alone to endure whatever ordinary hardships might come their way.  That message brings them into direct contact with Il Volpe, the leader of the Italian resistance and puts them in charge of seeing that the escaped prisoners of war make it back across Allie lines.

Quick thinking and smart decisions barely keep the Crivellies safe through to the liberation of Florence.  They suffer when friends bend and break under the pressure of fear and distrust.  The witness the horrific cruelty and pain of war and the fearless dedication of those committed to their cause.  While I wished for more detail and for the plot to be developed more completely, I appreciate how this original tale, set in a different place and with a unique vantage point, adds to our understanding of World War II.  Intermediate and middle grade readers interested in this topic will like Hero on a Bicycle and will be compelled to turn each page as the tension mounts and secrets unfold.

The Hero’s Guide to Storming the Castle

The Hero's Guide to Storming the Castleby Christopher Healy

477 pages that are sure to make you laugh

Liam has been kidnapped and Ella and Frederic have a plan – The League of Princes must be reunited.  Their first mission is to stop Briar Rose from forcing Liam to marry her.  When that doesn’t  work, the League finds themselves in the dungeon. Liam agrees to recapture the Sword of Erinthia from the Bandit King in exchange for his friends’ freedom.  Together again, but working under the constant threat of re-imprisonment, the League develops a plan to scale the Wall of Secrecy, cross the Moat of A Thousand Fangs, enter Castle von Deeb, unlock the Vault o’ Fine Loot with the trigger switch in The Snake Hole to recapture the priceless heirloom. Complicated and convoluted, the plan unravels.   At times it involves trolls, dwarves, bandits, gnomes, warlords, giants, clowns and snakes.  Never smooth, but always developing the many secrets, arguments and twists in the plan will keep you eagerly reading and giggling through to the very end.

The Princes Charming are never efficient and yet they persevere.  They may be unlikely heroes, but because they are devoted, loyal friends to the end they will win your admiration.   At the crossroads they each take their separate way, yet readers are certain the League of Princes will be called together again.  Maybe this time they’ll get it right?!?

If you haven’t read The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom yet – here’s why you should.  The funny details, the captivating characters combined with just a pinch of suspense will pull you in and make you wish for more when the end is reached.

Gone Fishing

Gone Fishinga novel in verse

by Tamera Will Wissinger

Sam loves fishing that’s for sure and he is looking forward to the next day when he and his dad will take the boat to the lake for the day.  He is over the top excited.  They have collected their bait.  The tackle box is prepared.  And then… and then… little sister, Lucy comes.  Loud and squirmy, crackly and slurpy Lucy fills the boat.  Worse yet, she seems to have the lucky pole!

From sleepless excitement to rockbottom dispare to appreciative acceptance Gone Fishing shares Sam’s hopes and dreams  about fishing through a collection of poems in a trio of voices.

The books opens with:



Tercet Variations

Dark night.


Dad and I hunt worms tonight.


Grass slick.

Worms thick.

Tiptoe near and grab them quick. …

moves on to



List Poem

Fishing poles,

My tackle box,

Extra pairs of shoes and socks,

Our sweatshirts and

The camera bag,

The fishing next,

The boating flag, …

and ends with, among many…




Four on a stringer

Lucy’s bluegill, my catfish –

Gold-star fishing day.

This is a book for those who love fishing.  This is a book for those who know how hard it can sometimes be to share what you’ve been dreaming about with others.  This is a book for those who care about poetry.  A complete story told through forty-one different poems – each one a different type.  What fun!  “The Poet’s Tackle Box” at the end of the book offers advice and information to interested poets.  You may be surprised to learn how similar writing poetry and fishing are.

Enjoy Gone Fishing.  What’s your favorite?

Fly Away

Flyawayby Lucy Christopher

a great middle grade read – you won’t be sorry you read it!

The special thing between Isla and her dad is birds.  Isla feels free in the wind and the wild.  She feels unsettled and shy at school – especially now that her only friend has moved away.  Seeing the birds soar free is like a balm to her.

Isla and her dad rise early in the morning to watch the swans return to the nearby wetlands preserve, marking the start of winter. Her dad began this tradition with him mom when the swans landed at their farm.  Too many people and houses have changed where the swans winter.  But their awesome beauty and strength is a wonder to see.  As far back as she can remember Isla and her dad have looked for the swans every year.  This one is different though.  Tragedy.  As they watch, the newly constructed power lines injure the front swans.  The lines haven’t been marked properly and the birds can’t see them.   Some plummet to the ground, others are driven away flying in chaos and confusion.  Isla and her dad try to follow them to see where the flock goes.  Isla notices that one young female seems disoriented.  Does she get left behind by those swans able to change direction and avoid the wires?  Isla and her dad lose the birds before their questions can be answered.

The next weekend, they go out again and try to find the swans.  Running across the fields to the preserve Isla’s dad has a heart attack. Instantly the swans are forgotten.  Isla, frightened beyond belief, manages to call for help and get her dad to the hospital. His heart is weak and it is touch-and-go for him as he waits for an operation.

While at the hospital, Isla meets Harry.  About her age, Harry has leukemia, and is waiting for a bone marrow transplant. From his window they can see a small lake and it looks like there’s a swan on it.  Swans don’t fly alone and Isla thinks she might be the one that got separated from the flock the day the whoopers arrived at the preserve. She goes out to see.  Amazingly the swan is not afraid of Isla. While Harry watches, the swan imitate Isla’s behavior, running as she runs, wings outstretched as Isla reaches out with her arms.  The swan doesn’t seem to know how to fly back to her flock.

Here’s where it all comes together – saving a swan, saving a dad, saving a friend – each in dire circumstances.  Because of an art project, Isla works with her grandfather to construct a set of swan wings large enough to wear.  They intricately simulate the movement of wing and feather.  Isla determines to use them to guide her swan back to her flock.  She believes that if she can help the swan then her much adored father will live and Harry, her friend – perhaps even more – will finally beat cancer.  So much rests on her wings – and Isla’s ability to make it all happen fast enough, before the unthinkable happens.

Fly Away is a complex, beautifully written story full of the questions and anxieties of life.  The way each piece of the story is woven together creates a respectful view of life, while offering a glimmer of magic and hope.  Isla’s interests, dedication, family and friends soar through the pages of this book.  When you finish it you’ll feel light and full at the same time.


In Harm’s Way

In Harm's WayIn Harm’s Way is the fourth of five books in Andrew Clements’ Benjamin Pratt and the Keepers of the School series.  With each book I understand more about the mystery and I appreciate how tightly the past and present are woven.  It is amazing that Captain Oakes could have enough foresight to put the perfect safeguards in place to preserve his wishes some 200 years later, but he did.  And that means that though times change and progress is made people and human nature are essentially the same through history.

The Glennley Group is pulling out all the stops to keep Benjamin, Jill and Robert from succeeding.  The discovery in the last book of the authentic Underground Railroad station slow the demolition plans, but didn’t stop them.  Glennley Group is silently spreading their tentacles of influence across Eastport while trying to find every innocent way possible to silently remove the Keepers.  They’ve placed a second janitor at the school so they are easier to follow and they’ve worked out ways to worm themselves closer to their parents.  They will work every angle to stop the Keepers to capitalize on their investment no matter how slimy the move may be.  Ben’s mom has been “chosen” as the relator to show the condominiums that will be built when the theme park is built.  Jill’s dad has been “convinced” to invest heavily in Gleenley Group stocks.  He’ll make a fortune when Tall Ships Ahoy theme park is completed.  Signs of Glennley Group’s presence and influence are everywhere from the massive yacht docked at the pier to the silent sport car appearing on the street outside their homes.  Ben, Jill and Robert have to be constantly on guard and constantly planning to stay one step ahead.  The stakes are high – life or death, and yet the keepers are committed to keeping the school safe just as Captain Oakes had asked.

This series causes you to think and question.  Friends come from unlikely places if you’re willing to give them a chance.  Though you may want to work alone, when you’re open better things almost always come from collaboration.  The saying “two heads are better than one” is true.  Sometimes a personal goal has to be set aside for the common good.  What is the true price of progress?  Are immediate gains worth the lasting, irretrievable outcomes?

After you’ve read In Harm’s Way how will you answer those questions?

If you haven’t read the the other books in the series make sure you do.

We the Children (Keepers of the School, #1)Fear Itself (Keepers of the School, #2)The Whites of Their Eyes (Keepers of the School, #3)


The House of Secrets

House of Secrets (House of Secrets, #1)by Chris Columbus and Ned Vizzini

496 pages of suspenseful action that will have you questioning what is real

Sometimes when things look to good to be true, it is wise to be cautious.  The Walker family is looking for a new house.  Ever since the “incident” they have been crammed into an apartment and questioning how they will move forward. They discover an ad describing a Victorian mansion for sale overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge and  San Francisco Bay.   Designed and built by an obscure, occult author in the late 1800’s, it has been completely renovated and furnished with period pieces.  The house is stunning.  On top of that it is priced perfectly for the Walkers.  And yet Cordelia, Brendan and Eleanor find themselves wondering.  The house is exciting and creepy at the same time.  First there is the statue – there and then gone.  Then there is the neighbor claiming to be the elderly daughter of the original owner of the home, Denver Kristoff.  Something feels wrong, but by the time they understand what, they are caught in a sinister plan fueled by greed and the desire for ultimate power.  The children are far away from any certain help.  Their parents are gone – perhaps dead.  They are  attacked by bandits in a primeval forest, forcing them to team up with a World War I Flying Ace who helps them escape only to be thrown onto a ship captained by an sadistic pirate.

Just as the Walker siblings have found a way to defeat one life threatening event, another arises.  They realize they have actually been transported into Denver Kristoff’s stories.  They search through the books in the library, reading and learning all they can  fighting for survival and looking for a way back into their own time.  The book of Doom and Desire has set the powerful magic in motion – when you have the book you are able to have everything you wish, but at a price.  Will the Walkers be able to resist?  What if they die trying?  Is it worth it?

This is a fast paced, convoluted tale that is sure to surprise.  I loved the juxtapostion of real life with story life – which is real and how do you survive in a world you know only exists in a book.  Can you use what you’ve read to change the story in your favor?  What happens when your actions join the plots of two or more books?  Are the stories changed forever?  Do the characters die?  Can you get out of a story once you live there?

The Walkers are characters you’ll come to admire.  Their determination and loyalty is honest and true – they are honestly annoyed by each other’s quirks and failings, but they know they are all each other have.  They pull through with the help of unusual friends and the opportunity to make the unexpected possible.  It’s a book you’ll be glad you read.  I wouldn’t be surprised if you read it again right away.  There’s a lot to think about and question.  I was glad to see “book 1” by the title.  I am eager to spend more time with the Walkers to see how they deal with obvious occult magic surrounding their new home and family.


A Crooked Kind of Perfect

A Crooked Kind of Perfectby Linda Urban

211 pages for intermediate and middle grade readers hoping to discover what “perfect” means with family and friends

Four years ago Lyndsey and Josie said I should read A Crooked Kind of Perfect.  Their recommendation is what kept this book on my mind and finally it came to the top of my pile.  I am so glad it did.  A Crooked Kind of Perfect is a soft reminder that marvelous things happen if you stop to take notice.  Nothing is perfect.  Everything has its own unique quirks that can be seen as gifts or embarrassments – each one of us has to decide how to view them.

Zoe Elias is meant for great things.  She dreams of playing like Horowitz at Carnegie Hall.  In her mind’s eye everything it elegant and beautiful – long gowns, tiaras, clapping and smooth flowing music as she makes the piano sing for her adoring audience.  Zoe Elias is meant for great things, but sometimes things don’t work out quite as planned.

Zoe’s dad was supposed to buy her a piano, but instead he came home with Prefectone D-60.  It’s an organ – nothing like the graceful piano she should be playing – but it does come with six month of free lessons from Mabelline Person (pronounced Per-saaahn).  So while Zoe’s mom is working and Zoe’s dad is completing, yet another, correspondence course, Zoe moves through the lessons in the Prefectone D-60 lesson book.  She plays tv show jingles and hits of the seventies.  She learns that socks aren’t cool and that Wheeler Diggs isn’t exactly the kid she thinks he is at school.  Zoe gets pretty good and Mabelline Person suggests that she compete in the Perform-O-Rama organ competition.

Sometimes life is what we expect. Sometimes it’s not. Sometimes the unexpected is better. Sometimes it’s not.   Zoe is on a crooked path discovering perfect.  Read A Crooked Kind of Perfect to find out how it works out.  It’s not what you expect and you’ll be glad.

Take Me to the River

Take Me to the Riverby Will Hobbs

184 pages of suspenseful whitewater adventure, fast paced and flowing with excitement for intermediate and middle readers

Dylan has packed his bag.  At fourteen he’s flying from to Asheville, North Carolina to Alpine, Texas and then taking a bus to Terlingua Ghost Town.  His long lost uncle and cousin live there. Dylan’s never met them before and he’s looking forward to his first chance.  His uncle leads wilderness adventure trips.  Dylan’s been to camp and learned about canoeing, rafting and white water, but this is his first trip out west to give some serious rapids a try.

After hours of grueling travel Dylan arrived at the hotel where he is supposed to meet his cousin and uncle.  They’re not there, but they’ve left a message to hitchhike 80 miles to meet at a ghost town restaurant.  Dylan has to decide:  call home and bring the trip to an end or take a chance – a big chance. He takes the chance.  Fortunately he arrives without harm but again the unexpected happens.  His uncle isn’t there.  He has suddenly been called away to Alaska.  His fifteen-year-old cousin Rio still wants to do a rafting trip.  Again Dylan has to decide:  call home and end he trip, let his mom and dad know no adult is around, or agree to a smaller canyon trip.  He agrees and sticks with his decision even after they are warned about Hurricane Dolly and even after they see suspicious Black Hawk helicopters flying up and down the river.

The first part of their trip is uneventful.  The water is calm and low.  The boys have fun getting to know each other. It kind of cool to know you know what to do in the wilderness.  It’s clear Rio has had a lot of experience, but Dylan can hold his own as well.  One night, while were setting up camp, two figures appear – man and seven-year-old boy.   Both of them are in bad shape.  The boy has red marks on his hands as if his wrists had been tied, his head is cut and his hands are scatter with cactus needles.  They claim one story, but Dylan and Rio don’t believe it is true.  They’d like to help, but something tells them to be wary.  They end up sharing some supplies and even give the strangers their tent before heading off along the river toward the Mexican border.

The predicted bad weather arrives.  Torrential rain comes, filling the river and turning their placid trip into a harrowing challenge for survival.  On top of that they come upon the strangers again.  The man is bad news – but the boy must be helped.   Only Dylan and Rio can help him, but how?  Dylan and Rio are engaged in a suspenseful struggle you’ll be racing to the end to see who comes off the river alive?  Take Me to the River is an exciting ride to the very end.  It’s full of details and description that make you want to raft the Big Bend River and explore the canyons – just not in a hurricane.  Read Take Me to the River.  You’ll be glad you did.


Fyre (Septimus Heap, #7)Angie Sage does a masterful job of bringing all the characters from the first six books of the Septimus Heap series together in Fyre. Septimus is 14 and he has chosen magical over alchemical.  He has made his commitment.  Past and present weave together setting the stage for what looks to be a very bright future indeed. Septimus will become the next ExtraOrdinary Wizard.  His main challenge at the moment is to decipher the glyphs on the tower roof.  Beetle is the newly appointed Chief Hermetic Scribe of the Manuscriptorium.  He is sorting and classifying and working to locate missing pieces in the documents of the history of their magical world. Jenna, soon to be the new queen, must learn all she can about the Queen’s Way.

Their tasks are pushed aside by a challenge from the Darke Domaine.  The evil contained in the two-faced ring is ever-changing and strong.  If they are ever to be free of it, it must be denatured in the true alchemical fyre.  This is not an easy task – especially when magic and deceit are in play so even what they think they know, they do not.  To achieve this goal Septimus must use all his skills –  magical and alchemical and he will require the knowledge, support and genius of everyone he has met in the past and present, living or not.  Everyone and everything will be needed to bring the evil begun DomDaniel to an end.

Septimus is the seventh son of a seventh son who must study his craft for seven years and a day before becoming the new head wizard.  It is fitting that his tale comes to a close in the seventh book of this series.  Unpredictable, funny and exciting – you’ll love reading Fyre even though it means leaving behind characters and a story you can’t get tired of.  I loved reading this series and I think Fyre is the best of them.  Enjoy!