M is For Mama’s Boy

NERDS: Book Two: M Is for Mama's Boyby Michael Buckley

If you could have your weakness upgraded and turned into a super power, what strength do you think you would have?

I came to the NERDS series just as the fourth had been published.  I have a hard time with name calling even if it’s supposed to be funny.  I know – snap judgments are not usually accurate – but I passed these books by in the bookstore with just a glance.  Then Ellie started reading them.  “Read from here to here,” she’d say.  “It’s funny.”  She was right.  It was.  While she was enjoying books one, two and three, talk of The Sisters Grimm series was filling our classroom.  That’s when I noticed they had the same author.  I loved his writing in the Sisters Grimm books.  “Okay,” I thought.  “Time to give this a chance.  It’s obviously not what you thought.”

I read the first as summer vacation started and just finished M is for Mama’s Boy, the second this week.  The third and fourth are sitting in one of my to-be-read piles.  I’ll get to them soon.  The NERDS are school-aged secret agents who save the world.  Selected for the team because of their unique qualities, these perceived weaknesses have been highlighted and upgraded with nanotechnology to create super skills.  Together the team has the resources and abilities to save the world from every and any super villain.  The villain in this case is Simon.  He has reappeared with squirrel squadron to do his bidding – along with one Goon.

When the robberies begin happening there is no sense of urgency.  Just another bad guy to be stopped, but Albert Nesbitt notices something odd.  He spends his time locked in the basement of his mother’s house watching TV, building computers, reading graphic novels and dreaming of becoming a super hero.  Albert dreams of doing good in the world and of becoming Captain Justice.  Somehow his dream is twisted around and he becomes entangled with Simon, the evil genius bent on humiliating the NERDS and taking over the world by controlling every computer on Earth.

In disabling Earth’s computers, Simon also disables the super power upgrades of the NERDS.  That’s especially challenging for Duncan, a.k.a. Gluestick.  Always a thoughtful, kind person, Duncan isn’t sure he has any worth without his special powers or his gadgets and gizmos.  Duncan loses confidence.  He’s sure he can’t do anything.  He can’t fit in even when he is trying to be “normal.”  But, he realizes he also can’t sit around and see his family threatened or let his friends face life-threatening danger alone.  Can “ordinary “save the world?  Maybe.  You’ll have to read M is for Mama’s Boy to find out.

The Vengekeep Prophecies

The Vengekeep Propheciesby Brian Farrey

Every person is much more than they seem.

The Vengekeep Prophecies has been sitting in my pile for nearly a year.  I got it just as the school started and there it sat waiting to be read.  I’m glad it was patient.  Reading it made me think about the idea of choosing between what you should do and what you want to do.  It led me to think about the importance of finding a way to contribute by following your passion and knowing what you are good at.  If you haven’t had a chance to read it yet, pick it up and give it a try.

Vengekeep is the name of the town where Jaxter and the Grimjinx family live.  The family makes their living by pulling cons, creating forgeries and pickpocketing.  The wisdom and skill of the profession has been passed down for generations in the family album detailing the Grimjinx history; each entry ending with ‘and then we were rich beyond belief.’   Jaxter is twelve and now is his time to add to the family legacy and continue the story.  The only problem is that Jaxter is a klutz of the very worse kind and that doesn’t bode well for his future success.

On his first solo mission, Jaxter burned the Castellan’s house down and landed the family in gaol.  But staying in gaol wasn’t what the Grimjinxes were destined for.  Each year Vengekeep has an Unveiling of the five hundred year old tapestry foretelling important events for the town’s upcoming year.  For centuries the Vengekeep scholars have been studying and interpreting the tapestry, making plans to avert any foretold danger and keeping the city prosperous.  This year the tapestry predicts a very bleak future that can only be overcome by the family marked by the star.  The Grimjinxes are that family.

Jaxter looks at all the horrors depicted on the tapestry.  How are they ever going to survive them? Each one seems to be a worse horror than the one before. It is going to be a disastrous year – why then are his parents so calm?   They seem to be enjoying their status as the keepers of the city.  That is until the lava monsters arrive and their plan unravels.  Jaxter may not have inherited his family’s skills but he does have knowledge.  Nanni had said, “The things you learn in books will outshine all of us someday, you mark my words.”  Maybe that is true.  Jaxter is going to need everything he has learned along with courage, friendship and creativity if he is going to beat the Vengekeep prophecy.

At the beginning of the book Jaxter wonders if his family is ashamed of him.  It can be hard to choose – doing what you think you should or doing what you want.  Do you have to choose?  Read The Vengekeep Prophecies to find out.



The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop

The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shopby Kate Saunders

You may not know it, but magic is everywhere.  You go through your day never noticing it, but it’s there.  Well, at least it is in The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop.

Oz and Lily didn’t know about magic either until their family arrived at 18 Skittle Street. Their dad had just inherited the property from his Uncle Pierre.  A bit strange because he had never met his uncle and the house had been empty for nearly seventy years. The twins hadn’t been expecting much, but everything seemed perfectly intriguing once they got there.  The house was large and homey, with a terrific backyard, and the workshop where the, once famous, Spoffard confections had been made still smelled of chocolate. There seemed to be a cat (something Lily had always wanted); maybe the same one in the photograph of Great Uncle Pierre if that could be possible. The electricity was still on.  Incredibly, the house was everything they could possibly want or need and so the family moved in.

In their first night at the house Oz and Lily learn they have been brought there for a reason.  They are the only ones able to keep Isadore Spoffard from selling Immortality Chocolate to the terrorist group known as the Schmertz Gang eager to take over the world.  Recruited by Demerara – indeed the exact same cat in the seventy year old photograph, the twins join the Secret Ministry of the Unexplained, a division of M16 (of 007 fame.) The SMU polices the misuse of magic to help maintain the world’s equilibrium.  Right now that balance in teetering on the edge.   You’ll have to read The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop to discover how it the plots and plans “unmold.”  You’ll be smiling through every page.

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.

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.


Ordinary Magic

Ordinary Magicby Caitlen Rubino-Bradway

278 pages for intermediate and middle grade readers who want a little magic and a little fairness in their lives.  Ordinary?  What is that?

When ordinary is not normal and normal is an illusion, how can you be sure of what you know?  Abby Hale is the youngest of five.  On her twelfth birthday she heads to the guild where the mages will give her some tests and learn what magical abilities and talents will be.  The Judging is an exciting to day!  Abby can hardly wait to discover her magical ranking.  Her family has gathered.  A celebration has been planned.

Abby walks through the door and into the testing – her score… zero.  Abby Hale – youngest of an important magical family, sister of one with a nearly perfect score … has no magic.  She has nothing.  She is nothing.  She is an “ord.”

In one moment Abby’s life is changed.  What will she do?  How will she survive in a place where she is no longer wanted and no longer safe?  Though Abby has a family who loves and accepts her for who she, that is not typical.  Traditionally Ords are abandoned or sent away.  Having no value to society, they are sold or stolen and forced to do things only the non-magical can do.  King Stephen wants to change that – but will it be in time to help Abby?

Ordinary Magic is fun.  You’ll like the new places this book takes you, but it will make you think.  Ordinary…what does that really mean?

Knightly Academy

if you like reading The Ranger’s Apprentice and Harry Potter, you’ll certainly like Henry Grim and his story

Knightley Academy (Knightley Academy, #1)Henry Grim doesn’t know anything about his past.  He was left on the steps of an orphanage.  Now he is a servant boy at  Midsummer School.  He cleans up after and serves the wealthy boys who are planning to pass the exam that will allow them to enter into Knightly Academy for the training they will need to become leaders of the realm.  The only problem though is that no one from Midsummer had passed the test for years – is the school cursed?

This spring is different.  When the test is announced is it clear that Henry may take it too – he does not have to be a enrolled to take the exam and he’s ready.  While the other students of the academy have been whiling their time away, Henry has been studying.  He’s been working to learn everything he can during every spare minute of the day and night.  Henry is prepared – without missing a moment of his work and chores Henry does it all.  He is the only one from Midsummer school to pass.  A commoner,perhaps, but  Henry is going to become a knight one day.

Once at Knightly, Henry discovers he is one of three commoners – the only commoners ever allowed into the school.   Valmont and Theobold are not about to let forget that they are different – and not wanted.  Despite their challenges, Henry continues on in his same determined fashion until the undercurrent of prejudice and injustice pulls him under and puts him near expulsion.  Poised to lose the only thing he has ever dreamed of, Henry discovers a conspiracy that violates the Hundred Years’ Peace treaty—and could lead to war.   The question is can Henry find a way to save his school and country from enemies who want to change everything, and keep his place at the Academy?

The story continues with The Secret Prince – you won’t believe how Henry’s story unfolds and you’ll be left wondering about the power of people to do good or evil.  What leads us to our choices?The Secret Prince (Knightley Academy, #2)


George and the Big Bang

George and the Big Bangan exciting exploration of space and emerging science

while you don’t have to have read the first two books in the series there are pieces for each of the first two books wrapped into the story of the third.  If you know about Dr. Reeper and Pookie, Cosmos and the real cosmic adventures you’ll enjoy this book even more.

In this third science adventure George finds himself surrounded by change.  Freddy really has gotten too big for the backyard.  His new baby sisters are loud and demanding – twins take both parents.  Annie has some new friends and George doesn’t know quite where he fits in anymore. On top of that Eric has the opportunity to begin working on one of the biggest science experiments of all time. He’s going to be working at the Large Hadron Collider to explore the earliest moments of the Universe – the big bang.

It would be a dream job, but TOERAG (‘Theory of Everything Resists Addition of Gravity’) an anti-science group of protesters, are claiming the Collider will create a black hole and destroy the world. Everything is not as it seems – is anything ever?  George and Annie discover a plot to try and destroy the experiment and the collider and cause a huge set back for all science. George and Annie have to find a way to outwit this group intent on stopping the experiment forever. Will they be in time to expose the plot and keep Eric safe?  Of course – but it is great fun discovering how they do it and learning some of the science that is currently being discovered and explored.  The mix of story and science (though some of that science is pretty dense!) make George and the Big Bang a great book to read and explore.  Read all three and find someone to discuss the science essays with even further.  It is especially fun to explore information about space at George’s website.  Enjoy!

Mark of Athena

The Mark of Athena (Heroes of Olympus, #3)I thought the challenges and actions in this book were outstanding.  I appreciated the twists and turns that were added as new myths and legends were told.  I think it is one of Riordon’s best stories so far.  My review definitely sounds like a teacher – I really appreciate when people are challenged and their efforts are respected.  I’ll try to tone it down, but if you know me, you know that taking risks, being committed to achieving greatness and being kind are my top three.  I think this book has that, along with lots of interesting twists. Enjoy!

574 exciting pages of adventuring quest

Working together is the only way to save humankind.  This is more challenging than it seems. The Greeks don’t like the Romans.  The Roman’s don’t trust the Greeks.   Gaea is working to gather  the power and energy she needs to reawaken,  That means that  nothing touching earth is as it seems when you’re a demigod.  The Giants are hoping to regain their authority.  That means nothing is as it seems underground.  The Gods are in chaos – which strength, which image should they let appear to the demigods charged by Hera/Juno to bring peace to Earth.  That means being in the air may not be safe either.  This is the turmoil Leo, Hazel, Jason, Percy, Annabeth, Piper and Frank must journey through.  If they fail, our world will fail too.  What will rise in its place?

The Mark of Athena continues the story begun when the Prophecy of the Seven was foretold.   Greek and Roman demigods must not let Gaea rise while defeating the giants, thwarting the eidolons and gathering long lost secrets along the way.  When the way for the quest was established, the makers could not conceive of cooperation among enemies, but so far in the quest it has been cooperation that helped them through each challenge; cooperation and genuine care for others and humanity.  Each one of the heroes has his or her special talent and unique weaknesses.  Only through accepting both the good and the bad and making a total commitment to  respect and trust each other can they discover what the world needs.

It is comforting to know that gods get scared, that they make bad decisions and that they have to deal with the consequences of their mistakes.  It is also comforting to know that self-centered, egotistical power is undone and outwitted while friendship, family and dedication struggles on.  There is strength in this quest because of the trust and respect shown by and for each of the characters.  You’re sure to enjoy The Mark of Athena.  The only down side is that The House of Hades is a year away.