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Wonder

Wonder coverBy RJ Palacio

Published 2012, 322 Pages

Synopsis: A ten year old boy with a disfigured face is about to go to school for the first time in his life. Since people often stare at him, he has been homeschooled through fourth grade. But now his parents think he can’t just hide away from the world; he must face it head on. Middle school is challenging enough for most kids, but nothing compares to the challenges faced by this brave boy with a heart of gold.

Review: I was going to say that this is an important book that everyone should read; but that almost makes it sound educational and boring. Though the book teaches many a lesson, it is far from boring. The story starts out from August’s point of view; August is the 10 year old with the misshapen face that causes most people to look away in disgust. He is immediately likeable which leads the reader to feel empathy for him and gratitude for their own blessings. But then the story changes perspective; we get to see August from the points of view of some of the kids at school and his own sister. I thought it was very clever to include multiple perspectives on such a difficult subject because we start to realize that everyone has good intentions–almost everyone. I like that the boy’s parents loved him unconditionally and I LOVED that others found themselves envying August’s family’s closeness and loving attitude toward one another. Everyone has some kind of burden in this book; it’s just that August’s is more noticeable. A wonderful lesson for all of us.

Rating: 5 Boots!

Recommendation: Ages 10 and up–especially all middle-schoolers–this book could offer you the encouragement and guiding principles you may be looking for.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

HP CoverBy JK Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne

Published 2016, 330 Pages

Synopsis: Harry Potter is an adult now with three kids and a job at the Ministry of Magic. For the first time since Voldemort’s defeat, pain returns to Harry’s scar and dark dreams begin to plague him. Harry’s son, Albus, isn’t doing so well at Hogwarts, but he makes the most unlikely of allies in the son of none other than Draco Malfoy. Harry receives a warning that “darkness” surrounds his son; he immediately assumes that the darkness is coming from the Malfoy boy. He soon discovers that he still has a lot to learn when it comes to the Dark Lord, friendship, and time itself.

Review: When I read the first Harry Potter book, I was an adult and was delighted to find that a book meant for kids could be so thoroughly entertaining. I enthusiastically awaited each new HP book and was always so pleased when they each turned out to be even better than the previous ones. To me, and I know to so many others, the Harry Potter books were books I could read over and over again and always be as enthralled as I was the first time. I was so nervous when I heard that a new book was coming out in this series. After all, the story ended. It was over; there had been a satisfying conclusion. No more could be said. Could it? The answer… heck yeah.

This 8th story in the Harry Potter franchise is just as wonderful as the first seven books. It’s different, yes. For one thing, it’s a play; it’s not a narrative with tons of description. But that fact did not end up bothering me as much as I thought it might. It was very fun to read and moved along at a very nice pace. Man I love when a story moves along. Sometimes it seems like authors get so caught up in describing every little thing that it makes the plot drag on and on. But not so in this story. It was swift, funny, surprising, and had twists and turns that made my mouth fall open more than once. More than that, it was completely wonderful to see our old friends Harry, Ron, and Hermione, and then meet a whole new set of characters as well.

Rating: 5 boots!

Recommendation: Anyone would enjoy this; it’s fantastic.

Serafina and the Black Cloak

serafina book coverBy Robert Beatty

Published 2015, 293 pages

Synopsis: The year is 1899. Twelve-year-old Serafina lives with her father in the basement of Biltmore Estate. Her father is a maintenance worker there and for reasons of his own, he keeps his daughter hidden from everyone. She is only allowed to roam the grounds at night. It is during one of her nighttime jaunts that she witnesses the Man in the Black Cloak kidnap one of the children who is visiting Biltmore with her parents. Never having had any friends, Serafina is compelled to rescue this child. But as other children start to disappear, she begins to feel that all hope is lost. As she unravels the mysterious kidnappings, she also unravels the details of her own past and finds that the two stories are related.

Review: The only reason this is four stars and not five stars is because it took me a bit of time to get involved. But then, about 1/4 of the way into it, it just took off and never slowed down. It was a very quick read but a lot happened and it got pretty deep. There were a few mysteries surrounding the main character and they were addressed in a satisfying way by the end of the book. I was glad it didn’t leave questions unanswered.

Side note: I love books that take place in my home state of North Carolina, especially in the mountains. There is magic, mystery, darkness, and beauty in the Blue Ridge Mountains; that much is clear from the sheer volume of books written about them. I’m happy that this great little book added another tale to the folklore of this place.

Rating: 4 boots

Recommendation: Ages 10-12. It’s easy to read, but at times was quite scary!

Under the Harrow

Under the Harrow coverBy Mark Dunn

Published 2010, 590 pages

Synopsis: In a hidden valley cordoned off from the rest of the world, a civilization exists in a permanent Victorian stance, even though the year is 2003. Their ancestors were told that the “Outland” was a disease-ridden wasteland from which no one who ventures ever returns. Their society was begun by a group of orphaned children who had the Bible, the Encyclopedia Britannica, and the entire works of Charles Dickens as their only source of writing. From this limited information, they build their community. Over time, the civilization becomes divided into an unfair, sometimes cruel caste system. But soon, some of the citizens begin to piece together the puzzle of what the outside world is really like and why the orphans were abandoned there in the first place.

Review: I was looking forward to this book because I loved everything I ever read by Mark Dunn. And I thought I would love that the isolated valley remained a Dickensian society; but I have to say, I found it to be difficult to read at times. The narrator seemed to take many words to get to the heart of what he was saying; largely due to the fact that he only speaks and writes in Dickensian prose. At some point in the book I realized that maybe I don’t like Dickens that much.  I’m a fan of brevity; I like when authors get to the point. I felt like this story could have been told a lot quicker. That being said, the story itself is excellent. There is a lot of suspense and it is cool to think of an isolated place that is still very much the same as Victorian England. Kind of like Colonial Williamsburg without the tourists. I like the premise and the way the plot developed. Overall, for me, it just dragged a bit too much.

Rating: 3 boots

Recommendation: Oddly enough, given the synopsis, I would recommend this book to someone like me–someone who enjoys reading Victorian-style dramas combined with a suspenseful thriller. All you need is a bit more patience than I have. This is clearly and adult novel, though, as there is a lot of violence.

Legends of the Mountain State

legends coverA little background: I have always had an affinity for spooky stories. When I was a kid I read all the old favorites, like R.L. Stine and the “Spooky Stories to Tell in the Dark” series. Now those old stories read more like urban legends to me; either I’ve heard similar tales already, or they are too predictable, or they end on a funny note instead of a scary one.

I recently discovered a new way to get my spooky fix–tales based on true stories that became urban–or, in some cases, rural–legends that are written by local authors. For example, I recently went on a hiking trip to West Virginia. My family stayed in a cabin in the woods at Blackwater Falls state park. Browsing through the gift shop I found some books written by West Virginian authors about local legends and ghost stories. Legends of the Mountain State is just one of many such books that contain stories based on actual myths from that state. I’ve noticed that these kinds of books can be found in local bookshops almost anywhere you travel. While in Wilmington, North Carolina last summer I bought a book called Haunted Wilmington that tells of strange happenings and ghostly sightings that have occurred there. That you’re reading spine-tingling tales based in part on actual stories is spooky enough, but with the added chill of knowing you’re in the very same spot where these stories take place there’s a whole new thrilling dimension.

Review: Legends of the Mountain State: Ghostly Tales from the State of West Virginia is a compilation of stories by local authors based on tales of hauntings that have taken place there. The authors are experienced writers, some of whom have won various awards for short stories, including the Bram Stoker Award and the International Horror Guild Award. The stories contain urban myths, unsolved mysteries, and ghost sightings–one of which is cleverly written from the ghost’s point of view.

Rating: 4 boots

Recommendation: Not for the faint of heart! These are tales that will creep you out, especially if you’re in a cabin in the woods in the state where they take place!

chain letter coverSide Note: Not to digress too much, but this seems like a good time to mention that when I was a young adult, my favorite scary story was Chain Letter by Christopher Pike. Sure, it was written in the 1980s but it still holds up as a very good read for fans of horror and suspense. It’s based on the practice that was popular back in the day of sending and receiving chain letters–once you received one you had to send it on to the next person on the list; the letter promises that bad things will happen to you if you break the chain. A group of teenagers in Chain Letter receive the letter one at a time and they start to realize they are being “punished” by someone who knows the terrible deed they did the year before. This book had me stumped and spooked until the very end. An oldie but a goodie!

The Adventures of the Bailey School Kids

Screen Shot 2016-07-14 at 5.30.01 PMBy Debbie Dadey and Marcia Thornton Jones

Chapter Book Series Published in the 1990s and early 2000s

Age range: 7 to 9

Backstory: (You can skip this part if you want) I never reviewed chapter books before but I have to say something about the Bailey School Kids books. I have a 12 year old son and an 8 year old daughter. My 12 year old has always been a good reader and has interest in several genres. My 8 year old, however, is a very reluctant reader. She loses interest in books and can never seem to get hooked and engrossed the way my son and I do. For a while I thought maybe reading just wasn’t her thing, and I was going to be okay with that. She tried the Magic Tree House books, Ivy and Bean, Scholastic readers, and dozens of others. One day a cousin of hers gave her a Bailey School Kids book called Ghosts Don’t Eat Potato Chips and my daughter read the entire book in a couple of days without any prompting. For the first time, she actually looked forward to reading. She checked out a couple more of these books from the library and read those quickly and in earnest. I couldn’t believe it! For that reason, I need to write this review.

Review: Since this is a chapter book series, it’s not something I would normally choose to read on my own and it’s not something I would necessarily consider a book trek. However, these are really great little stories. I love that they have the same four main characters in each book but each book is a stand-alone story. Something that always frustrated me about the Magic Tree House books was that you had to read each one in order so you could follow along the over-arching story. But with the Bailey School Kids books, each one is a separate mystery and can be read in any order. Certain adults in the neighborhood appear to be characters from mythology or fairy tales, like vampires or Santa Claus. These four friends take it upon themselves to find out.

What Jane Says: Directly from the mouth of my 8 year-old, “Other kids should read these books because they’re interesting and it’s kind of a mystery. Four kids are trying to find out if some grown-ups are really from fairy tales or legends. My favorite was Wizards Don’t Use Computers which had a man named Merlin who worked at the library and with a snap of his fingers the library became a kingdom of reading. My second favorite so far is the one I’m reading now called Angels Don’t Know Karate.

Rating: Jane says 5 Boots!

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

MissPeregrineCoverBy Ransom Riggs

Published 2011, 384 pages

Synopsis: Following a family tragedy, a teenaged boy, Jacob, discovers clues among his grandfather’s belongings that lead him to an abandoned home for orphans. This is no ordinary home; it contains a time portal that allows the boy to see the home as it was many years earlier, with its original orphans. What makes these children peculiar is their extraordinary qualities, like a girl who can control fire with her hands.  Trouble ensues when the boy learns that the children’s caretaker, Miss Peregrine, is in danger and they must leave behind the only home they have ever known in order to rescue her. Thankfully, Jacob also learns that he has a peculiarity all his own that may be the key to saving them all.

Review: I love strange old black and white photographs. There is something so intrinsically haunting about looking at pictures of people no longer living and wondering what their lives were like. I imagine the author looking through boxes of old photos and becoming engaged with the odd children, their faces beckoning him to tell a tale.

This story is very different from anything I’ve read in that it seems to revolve around these photos; that is, the photos serve as the illustrations to bring these characters to life. It starts out with a gruesome death and gets creepier and creepier as you follow this boy’s incredible journey into the lives of these strange children. At first, we’re with Jacob as everything he thought he knew about the world becomes distorted. Then we learn that he’s no outsider; he’s as peculiar as they are and the story really takes off from there.

I’m so excited that this is being made into a movie, but what drew me to the book were the strange photos and I wonder how that haunting feeling can be captured with actors.

Rating: 4 boots

Recommendation: I think this book is best for those over 12 because there are some scary scenes that I don’t think younger audiences should read.

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